The 2016 presidential election is shaping up to be a very strange one for the Republicans. The oddest aspect of the campaign is that the one issue that should boost the GOP, terrorism, will not help it one bit.
There are four big reasons why terrorism will not help the Republicans even in the wake of the San Bernardino massacre. They are:
- The Republicans have no real foreign policy or new ideas on national security. Instead, all Donald Trump and U.S. Senator Ted Cruz (R-Texas) can come up with is to bomb ISIS, something President Obama is already doing. Cruz has even mentioned carpet bombing (a tactic that did not work in the Vietnam War) and “the sand glowing in Syria,” which The Week’s Paul Waldman thinks is a cryptic reference to using nuclear weapons. Neither strategic genius revealed how bombing sand in Syria is going to stop ISIS from carrying out terror attacks in Dubuque. No GOP candidate has revealed any sort of strategy for the war or even national security. To counter Democrats, Republicans need a policy, not tough rhetoric.
- The few ideas put forward on National Security, such as Donald Trump’s well-publicized and imbecilic proposal to bar Muslim immigrants from the United States, are divisive and potentially destructive. Even though Trump’s proposal seems to play well with the mob, it seems designed to set Republicans at each other’s throats. One result of Trump’s blather could be to drive away Cultural Conservatives, who value freedom of religion, and libertarians, who value individual rights. That’s potential political suicide because those two groups are the Republican party’s base. A side effect of a Trump candidacy could be to cause many normally Republican voters to stay home on Election Day rather than face the stomach churning choice between Trump and Hillary or Trump and Sanders.
- Voters do not trust either party on terrorism. They think Democrats will do nothing while Republicans will get us into an all-out war and waste our military resources on targets other than our enemies. This is particularly problematic because the one Republican candidate to have openly repudiated the Bush–Cheney imperialist foreign policy, U.S. Senator Rand Paul of Kentucky, is poised to drop out, according to The Hill. Faced with the choice of Hillary and the blood and thunder coming out of the GOP, Americans, who are sick and tired of casualty lists, will choose Hillary. The times also favor Hillary because the country seems to be moving to the Left or Center Left.
- Hillary and Democrats have a high-profile issue that makes them look strong on security and Republicans look bad: gun control. Hillary is in a position to talk terrorism without bringing up military action, national security or foreign policy by mentioning the word guns. This makes her look strong on national security without having to drop any bombs or deploy a single soldier. It also puts her safely in the majority because 55% of Americans want more restrictions on gun sales, according to Gallup. This makes Republicans look bad because Democrats can paint them as favoring ignorant gun nuts’ votes over our children’s safety. Taking a tough stance on gun control can help Hillary appeal to law and order types, some cultural conservatives and the all-important soccer moms, who are the most important voters in America today. Hillary is also helped by a noisy, well-financed and well-organized gun control movement that has put initiatives on the ballot in Nevada and California.
This should not be happening, because Hillary and Democrats are weak on national security and foreign policy. With the interesting exception of Bernie Sanders, the Democrats actually have no foreign policy or national security policy for that matter. Hillary in particular seems to favor her husband’s policy of “don’t think about or talk about foreign policy, but make sure to get lots of TV time with foreign leaders, particularly ones wearing funny or exotic clothes in order to make it look as if you have one.”
Besting such a candidate, particularly one who helped create the useless Obama foreign policy as Secretary of State, should be child’s play for Republicans. Instead, they seem to be doing everything in their power to make Hillary, or any Democrat, look good.
My prediction is that all it will take is one more high-profile mass shooting in the U.S., something that is highly likely, to make the current crop of GOP presidential candidates unelectable. If that mass shooting is linked to terrorism, Republicans could find themselves facing their worst presidential electoral defeat since 1964, when Barry Goldwater only carried six of the 50 states.