Virginia for the Win is a series examining Virginia’s crucial role in the 2016 presidential race and national politics.
With Republicans claiming that last Friday’s attacks in Paris call into question the president’s anti-terrorism policies, it’s useful to revisit the Electoral College landscape. Will whay happened on the streets of the City of Light alter the 2016 presidential race?
Of the seven swing states likely to decide the next presidential election, three of the four most important are in the South: Florida (29 electoral) votes, North Carolina (15) and Virginia (13). Any plausible GOP path to an Electoral College majority requires the Republican nominee to win all three. There are no Democratic, must-win swing states next year.
Virginia has proved to be the most Democratic of these states in the last two presidential elections. Southern swing voters have tended to be more “hawkish” on national security issues than the nation as a whole. Virginians previously followed that trend.
During the Cold War era, from 1952 to 1988, Southern voters generally viewed Democratic presidential candidates as lacking the toughness needed to keep us safe from the Soviet Union and its allies.
The Soviet Union’s collapse in 1991 ended Cold War politics. Except for the 2004 presidential election, held in the shadow of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, where the swing voters were “security moms,” not the “soccer moms” of four years earlier, Democrats have won the popular vote five times on the prosperity issue. The GOP’s “peace through strength” mantra lost its political swagger.
Now comes the Paris tragedy amid a refugee crisis. The French president called it an act of war. War is a political act.
Before Paris, the Electoral College tilted heavily Democratic. Has this changed?
Religious fanaticism is older than the pyramids. Suicide attackers have long been motivated by their religious beliefs. Political correctness is no substitute for this historic truth.
There are roughly 1.6 billion Muslims worldwide. “Radical Islam” is a fact. But it is not a legitimate form of the faith. All religions have, at times, been used to try to justify the unjustifiable. This doesn’t reflect on the faith, only the false believers.
We are puzzled why the phrase “radical Islamic terrorists” bothers the sensibilities of some in high places. They claim it is anti-Islam. Yet they find the term “jihadist” acceptable. The dictionary defines a “jihadist” as a Muslim who believes in jihad. What’s jihad? “A war fought by Muslims to defend and spread their beliefs” according to one respected online dictionary.
A jihadist is a Muslim at war with those who disagree with his or her reading of the Koran. They accept no other view. The truth is that the overwhelming majority of Islam’s believers are likewise at war with the “radical Islamic” views of these terrorists. Indeed, these murderers kill many Muslims because their victims believe in an Islam that doesn’t conform to their own, twisted interpretation of it. “Radical Islamic terrorists” is a fair description of what they are. Why pretend otherwise? They have hijacked the faith of more than a billion people. They won’t be stopped by political correctness.
At the same time, it is not clear whether the West generally, or believers in the true Islamic faith specifically, are willing to do what it will take to eliminate groups like the Islamic State. Anyone who suggests the choice is clear and its implementation easy deserves derision. It will be a bloody, messy, costly and dirty business. And then some.
This brings us back to Virginia’s 13 electoral votes. Political history suggests the Paris attack will be followed by other attempted attacks. Hopefully, they will be stopped.
But even the best defense might not succeed against a fanatic willing to die.
Republican and Democratic presidential candidates already disagreed over the strategy on the war on terrorism. Paris will deepen the divide. Saying either party is trying to capitalize on the Paris slaughter is unfair. Republicans will say, as they always do, that Democrats are too weak. Conversely, Democrats will say, as they always do, that Republicans are too trigger-happy.
Voters want to see progress, not hear rhetoric. This gives Democrats a potential advantage, because the president can take unilateral action without needing congressional Republicans’ approval. But as the in-party, voters will hold Democrats responsible if they believe progress is not being made.
Virginia figures to be the hardest of the must-win states for the GOP. If the polls here start showing the Republican’s “hawkish” posture gaining swing votes, it would suggest a far more competitive presidential election than appeared prior to Paris.
Watch the developing fight over the Syrian refugees. It is a potential surrogate for the terrorist issue. When emotions run hot, politics often boils over.