Iowa is more than 1,000 miles from the U.S. border with Mexico. But Republican primary voters in the Midwestern state have embraced what has become almost orthodoxy among the G.O.P. candidates vying for their votes: deploying military forces to fight drug cartels and secure the border.
Just years after former President Donald Trump mused about it in the Oval Office, the idea of using the country’s military might at the border — without the consent of the Mexican government — has made its way into barns, diners and other haunts along the campaign trail. The Times reported Tuesday on Mr. Trump’s plans to make the idea a reality in 2025 should he ultimately win the White House.
At a Pizza Ranch restaurant in Orange City, Iowa, last month, Vivek Ramaswamy suggested that the United States should “use our own military to secure our own southern border.” He drew cheers before he finished the line: “and if necessary, our northern border, too.”
Senator Tim Scott of South Carolina received claps for his border policy pronouncements at the Iowa State Fair in August, during which he said, “We have to crush the cartels.” He added that the United States had “the available military-grade technology to stop the fentanyl flow across our borders.”
And one of the most reliable applause lines for Gov. Ron DeSantis of Florida — who frequently promises military strikes against Mexican drug cartels and deadly force against people crossing the border — has involved a declaration that his administration would leave drug traffickers “stone-cold dead.”
A Reuters/Ipsos poll found that around two-thirds of Republicans support the idea of military intervention to take on cartels, though that percentage dropped when respondents were asked whether the United States should do so without Mexico’s permission.
Unilaterally sending U.S. troops into Mexico is a nonstarter for President Andrés Manuel López Obrador, who said the move would constitute “an offense to the people of Mexico.” Policy experts and even senior aides in the Trump administration also decried the prospect as an extreme escalation.
But that hasn’t stopped G.O.P. presidential candidates from using the threat of taking out cartel members abroad through military force as both an effective rallying cry and a solution for what many Republicans see as an unchecked border and an opioid epidemic, even if promises of military intervention may prove difficult to keep.
The line has received a warm welcome in other early voting states, too. Nikki Haley, who served as U.S. ambassador to the United Nations under Mr. Trump, often pledges to send special military operations “to take out the cartels in Mexico.”
At an event in Hampton, New Hampshire, last month, it really landed. “If Mexico is not going to do it, we will do it,” she told a crowd outside a cozy bed-and-breakfast, who began clapping before she finished her delivery. The small state has been ravaged by fentanyl.
Few candidates have offered alternate thoughts. Former Gov. Asa Hutchinson, who once led the Drug Enforcement Administration, has rebutted the idea of military intervention — a response that might partly explain why Mr. Hutchinson did not even make the G.O.P. debate stage last week.
“It doesn’t make sense, as some candidates say, that we ought to start dropping bombs or invade Mexico,” Mr. Hutchinson said at a Republican tailgate for an Iowa-Iowa State football game in September. “Mexico is still a friendly country to the United States and economic partner, and you don’t invade another country.”
The crowd didn’t seem convinced: Many resumed chatting or searched for refreshments during his remarks.
Nicholas Nehamas, Jazmine Ulloa, and Jonathan Weisman contributed reporting.