In the wake of the first Gulf War, which pushed then-President George H.W. Bush’s approval score to the 90 percent range, one of the Democrats who had backed the military action had a warning for his party.
“My party can’t win the next presidential election on foreign policy,” Stephen Solarz, then a top Democrat on the House Foreign Affairs Committee, said, “but we can lose it on foreign policy.”
It was advice that Bill Clinton, who ran with Solarz’s support, took. In his race against Bush, Clinton largely avoided picking fights on international issues, playing up his own support for the Gulf War and picking a running-mate, Al Gore, who had voted for it in the Senate.
To most Americans, the question of which candidate would be better at handling foreign policy was a no-brainer; a late-September poll showed Bush leading on the subject by a 73-20 percent margin. But for the all of the momentous international events that had played out on Bush’s watch, foreign policy wasn’t at the heart of voters’ concerns in 1992. The economy was, and Clinton worked diligently to capitalize on Bush’s weaknesses there, ultimately producing a six-point victory.
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