In the wake of the terrorist violence in Paris, Republicans saw an opportunity to change the direction of the political conversation. The attacks reminded American voters about national security threats, which GOP officials necessarily see as good news for their party – since polls have consistently shown the public siding with Republicans on the issue, the party’s woeful track record notwithstanding.
But these assumptions may be due for a reevaluation. Consider the latest Washington Post/ABC News poll.
A crescendo of tough talk on Syrian refugees and terrorism seems to be elevating the toughest talkers in the GOP primary – most notably Donald Trump. But among the broader American public, the most trusted person to handle the issue is Hillary Clinton. […]By 50 percent to 42 percent, more Americans say they trust Clinton to handle the threat of terrorism than Trump, who leads the Republican field and responded to the Paris terrorist attacks by calling for heightened surveillance of mosques and redoubling his opposition to allowing Syrian refugees to settle in the U.S.
Clinton’s eight-point advantage over Trump wasn’t unique: the same poll showed the Democratic frontrunner also leading Ben Carson, Ted Cruz, Marco Rubio, and Jeb Bush when respondents were asked, “Who would you trust more to handle the threat of terrorism?”
This is obviously just one poll, and we’d need more data before drawing sweeping conclusions, but if the results are accurate, there’s a rational explanation. The question, after all, deals with preparedness. Clinton has the most foreign-policy experience of any presidential candidate in a generation, while nearly all of her Republican rivals are either literal or practical amateurs.
Why does this matter? Because of the degree to which it challenges preconceived ideas about which issues benefit which parties. Republicans widely believe they benefit most when elections focus on the issues where they’re strongest: national security, foreign policy, counter-terrorism, etc. Just so long as voters overlook their discredited ideas and track record of failure on the international stage, GOP officials are certain they’re on firmer ground when voters’ attention moves away from the economy, health care, education, and the environment.
But this poll is a reminder that Clinton’s resume is unique, and with her background comes an ability to speak with authority on an issue Republicans claim as their own.