THE BRIEFING: VOLUME II, ISSUE 32

THE BRIEFING: VOLUME II, ISSUE 32

THE BRIEFING: VOLUME II, ISSUE 32

To: Our readers

From: David Freddoso

 

This week:

  • Republicans suddenly regain huge upper hand on terror fears
  • Conservatives win the last big primary in New Hampshire
  • Rhode Island GOP narrowly avoids nominating Obama voter

 

Outlook

 

Fear Factor: The 2014 election already looks like it’s going to be rough for Democrats, but it doesn’t look yet like a classic wave election (like 2006 of 2010) that delivers a stunning repudiation to one party or the other. Even so, it can always get worse. And it might soon.

Here’s a new reason Democrats are fearful: The polling indicates some deep cracks in the facade of the permanent future majority they have been been boasting about.

It’s not just that they probably won’t do well in 2014 – it’s that groups and issues they have taken for granted in positing their future dominance are slipping away. Specifically, the terrorism issue, on which Democrats have long been doing fine, has suddenly shifted dramatically in favor of the GOP.

On the surface of the problem, it is already evident that a few groups key to the emerging Democratic majority are beginning to stray. President Obama’s performance among women and Hispanics is beginning to sag. The latest Washington post poll shows Obama’s approval ratings among womenupside down at 44/50 percent, despite the ongoing (and perhaps a bit tired) war on women theme. This despite a rather constant campaign in some quarters against the Hobby Lobby ruling on compulsory funding of contraception by all business owners.

Gallup, meanwhile, shows Obama steadily slumping with Hispanics with just 44 percent approval, down over the last few weeks from an already relatively low 55 percent in mid-August. The slump among Hispanic voters is especially interesting as it seems to have occurred entirely before any of the recent immigration-related controversy.

But the biggest and most dangerous change for Democrats comes from another unexpected angle. Suddenly, as the conflict with the Islamic State intensifies and fears related to Russian aggression come to the forefront, terrorism and foreign policy are major issues that favor the GOP once again. One would have to go back to 2004 for the last time this was the case.

Despite having blundered this issue away last decade between the Iraq War and a general slackening of concern among the general population, Republicans suddenly find themselves enjoying the largest advantage on the terrorism issue in the history of Gallup polling, which goes back on this question to 2002. Democrats are distrusted on this issue more than at any point since 2002. And indeed, the shift seems to be the result of distrust of President Obama and Democrats, rather than any particularly wise moves or messaging by the GOP.

This is a very subtle but hugely important development, and surely related to the sudden drop in Americans’ trust in the U.S. government’s ability to handle international issues. Up to and including the 2004 election, Republicans had a significant “fear factor” advantage built into the electorate. The 2004 presidential election was likely decided on the issue, over issues that seem strange and even inconsequential today. (For example, remember John Kerry’s “global test” for U.S. military action?)

Before 2006, voters were clearly concerned about security threats, and they clearly trusted Republicans more to deal with that particular issue. But that changed dramatically as the Iraq War headed south and terrorism against the homeland became more of a distant memory.

Republicans, who had counted on fear of terrorism and general global insecurity (at times quite cynically) to bolster them up to 2004, were already losing their advantage on the issue in 2006. By 2007, the public actually trusted Democrats more on the issue, albeit narrowly. Republicans reclaimed a narrow edge on the issue in subsequent years, but nothing large enough to turn elections on its own. Indeed, the Tea Party year of 2010 is noteworthy for the fact that Republicans won a resounding victory despite the complete deemphasis of national security issues. Indeed, many of the conservatives who won that year would go on to embrace more or less libertarian ideas about the security state.

In 2012, right after President Obama took what was then the highly popular step of withdrawing from Iraq, the GOP actually lost its advantage on this issue again. But suddenly, the “fear factor” is back as never before, and Republicans are once again the party that the public looks to for answers. This is an event-driven development, as GOP candidates have generally been running their campaigns on domestic issues where Obama is weak: The economy, Obamacare, etc.

It could be that the public recognizes a connection between the sloppy abandonment of Iraq in 2011 and current events with the Islamic State. It could also be that there is some recognition of how Russia is currently exploiting American weaknesses to subjugate its neighbors.

One way or another, Americans seem concerned again about the security of their country. They have decided that Democrats aren’t the party to handle the question. It’s like living in 2004 again.

Governor 2014

Rhode IslandBy a ten-point margin, Republicans in Rhode Island avoided nominating Ken Block, a two-time Obama voter who supported Obamacare. That it was so close explains a lot about the state’s Republican Party.

Of course, the state is dominated by Democrats. The only reason the party has any hope of electing its nominee, Allan Fung, as the heavily Democratic state’s fourth consecutive non-Democratic governor is that the Democratic nominee, state Treasurer Gina Raimondo, may have shown a bit too much courage and public-spiritedness in tackling the issue of pension reform in the state. In fact, she sounds uncannily like conservatives in several other states who have been making the same case when she argues that out-of-control pension promises threaten to squeeze out and kill off critical public services.

If the state’s public employee unions sit this one out in protest, it could get interesting. (The current governor, Lincoln Chafee, now calls himself a Democrat but was elected in 2010 as an independent. He abandoned his re-election bid when his approval ratings sank to 26 percent.)

House 2014

New Hampshire-2: Republicans probably nominated the best possible candidate with their choice of conservative state Rep. Marilinda Garcia, R, who easily won her primary last Tuesday. Garcia, who began this primarly as a longshot underdog, gained support from outside funding sources (including both the Club for Growth and the Koch Brothers) and did not face a hostile party establishment. Her colleagues in the legislature were supportive, the Beltway party remained neutral, and even liberal reporters portrayed her as the sort of candidate who could broaden the GOP’s appeal. (It is worth noting, however, that Garcia is half-Spanish, half-Italian – Hispanic by census definition but not of any Latin American ancestry.)

Garcia begins the general election at a huge financial disadvantage against Rep. Ann Kuster, D, but Kuster’s polling is abysmal. And with outside funding driving so much election spending nowadays, the financial disadvantage might mean less than meets the eye. New Hampshire’s congressional delegation has flipped between the parties repeatedly over the last decade, with both seats swapped in 2006, 2010, and 2012. 

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