The big news of the day is that, after Congress (sort of) voted to go to war, Republican strategists are rolling out a new line of attack on Democratic candidates over national security.
The NRCC today unleashed a fearsome barrage of new ads accusing multiple House Democratic incumbents and candidates of being soft on terrorists — spots that feature grainy footage that hearkens back to 2002 attack ads. This comes after a fusillade of other similar attacks, including some in ads running in key Senate races such as those in Arkansas and Kentucky.
Do Republicans really want to go here, given that many GOP lawmakers’ position is to send in ground troops, a course of action that is broadly opposed by the American mainstream?
Obama and Democrats are probably somewhat vulnerable on national security in a general sense. The President’s approval on terrorism has plummeted and the GOP now holds a huge advantage on foreign policy. Republican strategists see this as a way to exploit what they see as a general sense that things have gone off the rails, and Dems aren’t doing anything about it.
“There is just this growing sense that things are a little out of control,” says NRCC chair Greg Walden, adding that Republicans are making a bid for so-called “security moms” whose national security anxieties may have been stirred by imagery of beheadings and other international turmoil. In other words, for Republicans this is all about opening up a new front in the battle for worried female voters.
But there are some factors that could — or at least should — complicate this new strategy. For one thing, a large number of GOP lawmakers voted to authorize Obama’s plan to arm and train the Syrian rebels, which gives Democrats a pretty easy response to GOP criticism.
Apparently Republicans think they can endorse Obama’s strategy grudgingly, as a step in the right direction, while saying they don’t think it goes far enough, in order to be able to continue hitting Democrats on the issue. Maybe that will work, but point number two is that the response to ISIS preferred by Republicans themselves is broadly unpopular. Dana Milbank had a good piece the other day detailing just how many GOP lawmakers have called on the administration to be open to sending in ground troops. Milbank concluded: “it would appear that many Republicans are clamoring for a new ground war in the Middle East.”
That’s not a popular position. This week’s NYT/CBS poll found that Americans oppose sending in ground troops by 55-39; independents oppose it by 59-34. Of course, Republicans support this course of action by 62-35, so perhaps this new strategy is yet another way to get all those GOP voters out to the polls.
And yet, when a leading GOP Senate candidate was pushed to say how he would respond to ISIS, he pulled a “homina homina homina.” North Carolina Senator Kay Hagan voted Yes on this week’s measure, but GOP challenger Thom Tillis and his spokesman both declined to say how he would have voted on it.
Perhaps on this issue — as on the Affordable Care Act — Republicans can get away with running against Obummer and keeping their own ideas vague. But on the other hand, if Republicans really want to make these elections about national security, you’d think it just might prompt some media pressure on GOP candidates to say what course of action against ISIS they support and to clarify whether they support another ground war in the Middle East.