Opinion writer

Will the terror attacks in France make it more likely that the 2016 election will be about foreign policy and national security, thus giving an automatic edge to the GOP?

Some Republicans appear to think that’s the case. Marco Rubio’s first television ad proclaims: “What happened in Paris could happen here.” And Donald Trump is road-testing a new terrorism-related attack line on Hillary Clinton, claiming that Clinton lacks the “stamina” to be president and deal with the terrorists, who “only understand strength.”

Well, the new Washington Post/ABC News poll would seem to undercut this pleasing little story-line. It finds that Americans trust Clinton more than all her GOP rivals to handle the terrorism issue:

On the question of who is more trusted to handle terrorism, Clinton leads Trump among Americans by 50-42; she leads Ben Carson by 49-40; she leads Ted Cruz by 48-40; she leads Marco Rubio by 47-43; and she leads Jeb Bush by 46-43. In fairness, the last two of those are not statistically significant leads, and among registered voters, her lead “slims or disappears.” But this poll does suggest at a minimum that there is no clear edge for the GOP candidates over Clinton on the issue.

What’s striking here is that it comes even as Obama’s approval on terrorism is down to 40 percent. As Post polling guru Scott Clement notes, the poll shows a sizable bloc of voters who disapprove of Obama on terrorism but nonetheless say they trust Clinton over her GOP rivals on the issue. There is little question that, if the election is focused on foreign policy, her role in helping the Obama administration formulate the same will come under intense scrutiny, and certainly could emerge as a major vulnerability for her, depending on how international events go over the next year. But this poll suggests voters may at least be open to evaluating Clinton — who has received good press for her detailed and knowledgeable public discussions of foreign policy — independently of the administration in which she served, and on her own terms.

To be clear, I don’t think this new polling is necessarily predictive of anything. It is only one poll, and others may show the opposite. We don’t know how important terrorism and foreign policy will prove to be in an election a year away. And polling this far out generally tells us little, since most voters aren’t paying attention. But this poll does show that it may be folly to assume at the outset that the attacks will give a boost to the GOP’s 2016 hopes, simply on the strength of a presumed GOP advantage on national security issues. It’s possible, after all, that voters will compare the two nominees to one another in deciding who is better on them.

One last point: While it’s true that Clinton has advocated for a significantly more aggressive approach to ISIS than Obama has, Clinton has said we must accept the Syrian refugees, in contrast to her GOP rivals. That is not a popular position right now. Still, if Clinton retains her advantage on terrorism over her GOP rivals nonetheless, it might show that one doesn’t have to embrace a politically easy hard line on refugees to be trusted to handle terrorism. Stranger things have happened.

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* TRUMP-MENTUM RAGES IN IOWA AND NEW HAMPSHIRE: New CBS News polls find Donald Trump leading in both early states by sizable margins: In Iowa, he has 30 percent of likely GOP primary voters, to 21 percent for Ted Cruz, 19 for Ben Carson and 11 for Marco Rubio. In New Hampshire, Trump has 32 percent, Rubio has 13 percent, and Cruz and Carson each have 10 percent. Note both Cruz’s surge in Iowa and  Jeb Bush’s drop to 6 percent in New Hampshire. Trump also holds a large lead in South Carolina.

As we keep repeating, it can no longer be dismissed as impossible that Trump wins one of the early states. Then things will get really crazy.

* DEM WIN IN LOUISIANA MAY BE GOOD NEWS FOR OBAMACARE: After Democrat John Bel Edwards’ victory over David Vitter in the Louisiana governor’s race, the Times-Picaune reports that he told reporters that opting into Obamacare’s Medicaid expansion will be “among the highest priorities” of his administration, though there may be some differences of opinion among Louisiana legislators about how to do it.

The Kaiser Family Foundation’s Larry Levitt calculates that nearly 200,000 Louisiana residents may be eligible for expanded Medicaid. It’s all a reminder that in order to advance progressive priorities, Democrats really have to make up more ground on the states.

* HOW BAD IS THE BAD NEWS ABOUT OBAMACARE? Paul Krugman runs through all the ways Obamacare has been a clear success story, and compares that to the run of bad news the law has gotten lately:

Without question, the run of unexpectedly good news for Obamacare has come to an end, as all such runs must. And look, we’re talking about a brand-new system in which everyone is still learning how to function. There were bound to be some bobbles along the way. But are we looking at the beginnings of a death spiral? Some people are indeed saying that, but as far as I can tell, they’re all people who have been predicting disaster every step of the way, and will still be predicting imminent collapse a decade from now.

It’s not surprising that a major reform would hit some difficulties. Nor is it surprising that the usual Obamacare-hating suspects would hype these difficulties into worse news than they are while pretending the law’s clear successes (Krugman documents) don’t exist.

* CONSERVATIVES PUSH CONGRESS TO BLOCK SYRIAN REFUGEES: The Hill reports that conservatives are gearing up to insist that GOP leaders agree to use the coming government funding fight to defund Obama administration efforts to relocate the Syrian refugees here. Note this:

They’ve been emboldened by their big victory last week, when 47 Democrats defied a White House veto threat and backed a GOP bill boosting screening requirements for Syrian refugees. The large number of Democrats breaking with the administration shows they are on the winning side, conservatives say.

Great move, Democrats.

 * REASONS FOR OPTIMISM ABOUT CONGRESS??? E.J. Dionne notes the ways that Congress is, surprisingly, showing quiet progress behind the scenes. A package of tax breaks for low-income Americans might move forward. And while some are calling for a government shutdown fight to block the Syrian refugees, it might not end all that badly:

Yes, Republicans could try to use the budget to continue their misguided efforts to block Syrian refugees. But there is a fair chance that a few weeks will cool passions and open the way for a more humane and sensible approach to keeping Americans safe. Some Republicans may still insist on dealbreaking riders. But the realists among them should realize that the changes they seek will be achieved only by winning the presidential election — a cause they would set back by picking their fights now.

The Thanksgiving recess really could end up cooling passions and allowing for a not-terrible compromise in the end.

* RUBIO CLEANS UP HIS MOSQUE QUOTES: We noted on Friday that Rubio had stopped well short of repudiating Trump’s call for closing mosques. In an interview with the Guardian’s Sabrina Siddiqui, Rubio went further than before, saying:

“On the issue of mosques, no, we’re not going to target any specific facility. Anywhere that terrorism is being inspired. It could be a community center. It could be an online site. We need to focus in on areas where people are being radicalized. But that doesn’t mean you go around saying you’re going to target specifically centers of worship. The enormous majority of mosques in this country have nothing to do with radical Islam. So that’s not a serious proposal. We need to target anywhere where people are being radicalized.”

It’s still unclear what Rubio means when he says we need to “target” and “focus in” on these places, mosques included, but he may mean intensified surveillance.