In this image provided by the U.S. Navy, the guided-missile cruiser USS Philippine Sea (CG 58) launches a Tomahawk cruise missile as seen from the aircraft carrier USS George H.W. Bush on Tuesday, Sept. 23, 2014.
Mass Communication Specialist 1st Class Eric Garst/U.S. Navy/AP

On Syria, ‘reflexive partisanship’ doesn’t apply to both parties

What do Americans think of U.S. military intervention in Syria’s civil war? The Washington Post noted yesterday that “reflexive partisanship” is evident in the latest polling.
More Americans than ever view the news through red-colored glasses. In 2013, when Barack Obama was president, a Washington Post-ABC News poll found that only 22 percent of Republicans supported the U.S. launching missile strikes against Syria in response to Bashar al-Assad using chemical weapons against civilians.

A new Post-ABC poll finds that 86 percent of Republicans support Donald Trump’s decision to launch strikes on Syria for the same reason. Only 11 percent are opposed.
That’s an astounding shift in attitudes, and partisan instincts almost certainly explain the rapid change. Republican voters opposed Obama, so they had no use for his plan to attack the Assad regime, and Republican voters generally back Trump, so they support last week’s strikes.

But look a little closer at the details, and the asymmetry between the parties becomes more obvious: four years ago, 38% of Democratic voters backed Obama’s proposed strikes in Syria, and now, 37% of Democratic voters support Trump doing the same thing. In other words, there’s been effectively no change.

This isn’t limited to rank-and-file voters; the dynamic affects elected officials, too. Republican leaders on Capitol Hill have been brazenly inconsistent on the issue, opposing Obama’s approach because it was Obama’s approach, and supporting Trump’s offensive because it’s Trump’s offensive.

This isn’t limited to foreign policy, either. The New Republic’s Brian Beutler had a good piece on this yesterday, noting the changes in Americans’ perceptions of the economy in the immediate aftermath of last year’s presidential election.
Actual, measured economic conditions did not materially change with partisan control of the White House, but Republican perceptions of them have improved dramatically, while Democrats’ perceptions have deteriorated little, if at all – despite Trump’s massive unpopularity among liberals.

You can draw any number of inferences from this observation, but the most inarguable, in my opinion, is how devastating it is to the conceit that U.S. political dysfunction … should be attributed to both parties in equal measure.
Quite right. There’s plenty of “reflective partisanship” on display, to borrow the Post’s phrasing, but the usual rules – both sides must be blamed equally, at all times, no matter what – clearly don’t apply. As a quantitative matter, Democrats have approached many of these issues in a principled way and Republicans haven’t.