Team Trump scrambles to turn Soleimani strike into campaign tool

As Team Trump scrambles to capitalize politically on the Soleimani airstrike, it's hard not to wonder anew about what motivated Trump's dangerous decision.
Qassim Suleimani
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By Steve Benen

At roughly this point eight years ago, Donald Trump seemed preoccupied with the idea that President Barack Obama would launch a military confrontation with Iran in order to boost his 2012 re-election campaign prospects. Indeed, the Republican was obsessive on the subject, publishing a series of tweets, releasing videos, and making Fox News appearances to warn the public about what he saw as the inevitability of the Democratic president starting a new war in the Middle East.

In fact, exactly eight years ago this week, Trump predicted that Obama was so desperate for a political boost, there would be "some kind of a war" with Iran prior to that year's election. Sean Hannity responded at the time, "That would be the single most chilling abuse of power in American history."

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I'll just leave that there without comment.

We now know, of course, that Obama did not launch a war with Iran, and he went on to win re-election with relative ease. But the underlying point of Trump's hysterics on the subject showed that he believes there are inherent political benefits for an incumbent president who chooses a military confrontation with Iran ahead of Election Day.

It's against this backdrop that Donald Trump's re-election campaign started running online advertising, bragging about the airstrike that killed Iranian Gen. Qassim Soleimani, four days after the military offensive. The New York Times reported:

"Thanks to the swift actions of our commander in chief, Iranian General Qassem Soleimani is no longer a threat to the United States, or to the world," several of the Trump ads read, using an alternate spelling of the Iranian general's name. Some featured pictures of a beaming Mr. Trump from one of his campaign rallies; others showed a stoic, finger-waving president, also in front of supporters.

The ads asked voters to take the "Official Trump Military Survey," directing users to Mr. Trump's re-election campaign website.

The article added that the Republican campaign has run "nearly 800 distinct Facebook ads" about last week's airstrike. The ads, the Times noted, are "known as acquisition ads, are intended to help campaigns gather more information about internet users with the goal of turning them into online donors."

The Associated Press added that Team Trump has "seized on" the Soleimani slaying and has begun using it as a campaign "cudgel."

Late last week, the official explanation for the Soleimani airstrike was that the move was necessary to prevent an "imminent attack." Even the Trump administration itself seems to have moved away from the claim and has refused to offer any evidence to substantiate it. All of which raises anew the question of why the president did what he did, and whether electoral considerations were part of Trump's dangerous gamble.

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