On the one hand, the United States is in the midst of a political campaign season. On the other hand, the United States is also in the midst of an aggressive military campaign against Islamic State terrorists. There's apparently an ugly point at which the two intersect.
Evan McMorris-Santoro reported
this week that the White House has made a conscious decision: "President Obama will not tout his war on ISIS on the campaign trail." Polls generally show support for the president's approach, but there's no appetite to even try to exploit this for partisan gain.
[The National Republican Congressional Committee] airing TV ads on the issue, questioning whether Democrats are tough enough on terrorists (see here, here and here). It's 2002-2004 all over again! Here we are, six weeks from Election Day and the GOP is potentially going to close with a message on national security -- not on health care or the economy. Who would have thunk it 6 months ago?
To say this is getting ugly in a hurry is to understate matters. It arguably started
in late August when Sen. Tom Udall's (D) Republican challenger in New Mexico featured footage of an ISIS beheading video in a campaign ad, but Republicans have only grown more aggressive
An ad cut for Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) earlier this month suggests that Democrat Alison Lundergan Grimes is unprepared to handle "serious times," such as the extremists that appear at the outset of the ad. Over in the Georgia Senate race, Republican David Perdue is taking flack for a dubious ad that linked Democrat Michelle Nunn to "terrorists." Another Perdue ad suggests support for immigration reform is somehow related to the Islamic State.... Sen. Thad Cochran (R-Miss.) sent out a fundraising email this week titled "Fighting ISIS" that declared, "In a dangerous world, we need Thad Cochran in the Senate now more than ever."
As this continues to unfold over the next seven weeks, keep a few key details in mind.
First, congressional Republicans who want voters to see them as "tough" should probably explain why they're not actually doing any substantive work on counter-terrorism right now. Congress just gave itself another 54 days off
-- time that could be spent debating, and possibly authorizing, a U.S. combat mission.
Second, as this week's votes in Congress on aiding Syrian rebels should have made clear, this isn't exactly a partisan fight. When the House took up
the measure, 85 Democrats voted against it, but so did 71 Republicans. When the Senate voted on
a spending bill with Syrian policy, some liberal Democrats opposed it, but so too did some conservative Republicans. To see this as campaign fodder is a stretch.
Third, Republicans may see value in trying to terrify Americans into voting for them -- a step that really shouldn't be necessary if the GOP were as confident as they claim -- but let's also not forget that many Republican lawmakers on the right are demanding a far more expansive military operation, including American ground troops, that much of the country is deeply skeptical of. The GOP may soon find itself trying to exploit an issue on which they're not on the same side as the American mainstream.