Published on TheHill.com on October 7, 2014
Increasingly, the midterm elections are trending toward the Republican candidates throughout the nation. While some states are behind the curve — for instance, North Carolina and Michigan — many others show mounting GOP leads.
Beyond disapproval of President Obama and his policies, the impetus for this trend lies in the renewed focus on national security, terrorism and foreign policy issues that have suddenly gripped the nation. A content analysis of the daily news shows that, with each beheading, the focus on the disastrous events in the Middle East grows. With attack helicopters now flying missions against the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS), we are, effectively, in our third Iraq war.
Every issue has an innate and largely immutable partisan skew, and voters have come to see each as “belonging” to one party or the other. Only through great effort and massive expenditure can the other party win an edge on a given issue biased against it.
Education, environment, poverty, Social Security, the elderly and healthcare are almost always Democratic issues. Taxation, budget deficits, defense, national security, social values and crime have an innate Republican bias. Usually the topic that gets the most national attention is a sure indicator of which party will win the next election.
The increasing focus on national security issues as Obama’s amateurish foreign policy unravels is likely a preview of big Republican majorities after the November vote.
It generally doesn’t matter how the flow of argument goes — it is the topic itself that dictates the outcome.
Rarely, very rarely, a party can temporarily steal an issue from its rival. George W. Bush neutralized the education issue by focusing on it almost exclusively in his 2000 convention speech and by proposing the No Child Left Behind law. Soon, however, the issue was back in the Democratic camp. Similarly, Bill Clinton borrowed the crime issue in 1996 with legislation on providing extra police, a federal death penalty, more prison space and gun control.
Obama’s terrible healthcare program has driven that issue into Republican hands since 2010. But the president’s foreign policy is — to say the least — not sufficiently effective to compel support that would cut against the natural grain of the issue.
The domination of foreign and defense issues in the news cycle is likely to accelerate, not slacken, as the midterm elections approach. Obama is out of control. Russia and Ukraine come into the news whenever President Vladimir Putin wants them to. ISIS dominates coverage by its barbarity and military progress — and the inability of American fixed-wing airstrikes to stop it ensure the issue will continue to be at the forefront of the news.
The failure of Obama’s foreign policy — in particular his withdrawal from Iraq and his betting on the Arab Spring — is a uniquely personal one to the president. It was his advocacy that now looks absurd in light of developments. Neither the Russia reset button nor his overtures to Islam seem particularly prescient in the current crisis.
Nor are there other issues in Obama’s quiver to take away focus from national security. He can’t suddenly make abortion, birth control or climate change central national issues.
If the focus on national security ever does dim, his deeply unpopular healthcare law, the torrent of illegal immigration at the southern border and the possibility of an Ebola outbreak in the U.S. loom in the background ready to step into the breech — none of it good for Democrats or for Obama.
As political consultants, candidates and armchair quarterbacks focus on each day’s new polling in the 12 key battleground states this cycle, it is easy to ignore the macro developments that are shaping the race. But none of them are helpful to the president or to his party’s Senate candidates.
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