Yes, Republicans voted to support part of Obama’s plan for combating ISIL. But even if they make some positive statements about today’s operation (which some have) or future ones like it, for the most part, we’re going to see a repeat of what we saw in the early 2000s: Democrats saying, “Hey, we’re all fighting this battle together,” while Republicans say, “Terrorists are coming to kill us all, and when they do it’ll be those weak Democrats’ fault!”
This morning, Greg noted a new ad from New Hampshire Senate candidate Scott Brown, saying that terrorists are “threatening to cause the collapse of our country,” and it just might happen because Obama and Brown’s opponent, Jeanne Shaheen, are “confused about the nature of the threat.” And if you want an attack with even less subtlety, check out this ad from the National Republican Congressional Committee:
Despite the surface similarity between political attacks like those and the ones we saw when George W. Bush was president, there’s a crucial difference. Back then, there was a Republican president taking actions against America’s enemies, while Democrats supposedly didn’t want to protect the country (even if, in reality, elected Democrats gave ample support to the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq and other elements of the “War on Terror”).
Today, however, it’s a Democratic president who is taking action against terrorists. Even if you believe that action is inadequate, it still creates a fundamentally different impression with the public when they see Tomahawks launching and jets taking off from aircraft carriers on Barack Obama’s orders.
What the public is primarily witnessing right now is a war being waged by the head of the Democratic Party. Twelve years ago, Republicans successfully argued that they were the ones favoring action, while Democrats were a bunch of wimps who wanted to stand on the sidelines. And the Democratic party was deeply divided over Bush’s wars, its own internal arguments only lending credence to the GOP claim that only Republicans would stand up and protect America.
In contrast, no matter how hawkish some Republicans sound right now, they’re in the role of commenting on what the Obama administration is doing, while televisions play images of American military power — again, launched on Obama’s orders — on an endless loop.
So what Republicans are left with is the fear component: Terrorists are coming to kill your children, so vote GOP. That’s not nothing — fear can be effective, and research has shown that reminding people of terrorism and their own mortality can be enough to push some to support more conservative candidates. But it won’t have nearly the power it did in the days after September 11, when Democrats lived in desperate fear that Karl Rove might call them weak.