Warfare is a collective action problem, and groups often stand to benefit from the quick and coordinated action that leaders can provide. This basic principle is as true in modern political contexts as it has been across our evolutionary history, and there is growing evidence that leadership has evolved, in part, to solve such collective action problems. Despite the material and reproductive benefits of leadership for groups, leaders may also seek private gains at the expense of group interests. Drawing upon insights from social and evolutionary psychology, I explain how leaders solve collective action problems in warfare, but also how leaders manipulate audience preferences when their own interests do not align with group interests. Specifically, when leaders anticipate great private gain from foreign aggression while facing steep public resistance at home, leaders will misframe the conflict as defensive rather than offensive in nature. I provide an evolutionary analysis that explains why leaders exploit this framing specifically, and I identify the specific aspects of conflict framing that are most likely to be exploited toward this end.