9 December 2015

Trump can’t mask Democrats’ anti-terror failings


“There is one conclusion to be drawn from this contretemps that is not open to debate: Trump has done an enormous favor for President Obama and Hillary Clinton,” declares Commentary Magazine’s Jonathan Tobin.

Tobin is perfectly correct that Republican frontrunner Donald Trump sounding like xenophobic isolationist should be the gift that keeps on giving to Democrats and especially prospective nominee Hillary Clinton. And yet, as several commentators are noting, Trump is only temporarily masking a serious hole in the Democrats’ argument toward retaining the White House next year: When it comes to national security, Americans just don’t trust them.

As Josh Kraushaar points out at National Journal, Democrats have a serious national security problem when they cater “to a base that seems dis­con­nec­ted from the grow­ing anxi­ety that the pub­lic feels over the threat from Is­lam­ic ter­ror­ism.”

Kraushaar continued,

That it took four days for the pres­id­ent to un­equi­voc­ally call the San Bernardino at­tacks “ter­ror­ism” un­der­scored how his own in­stincts are at odds with the Amer­ic­an pub­lic’s. The de­cision to give a na­tion­ally tele­vised speech without out­lining a change of course sug­ges­ted that ad­min­is­tra­tion of­fi­cials were wor­ried about de­clin­ing poll num­bers and that he was try­ing to lim­it the polit­ic­al dam­age. And for an ad­min­is­tra­tion that likes to nar­rowly tail­or Obama’s mes­sage to his most en­thu­si­ast­ic sup­port­ers, schedul­ing a prime-time speech for many mil­lions to see (it was his first Oval Of­fice ad­dress since 2010) was a con­ces­sion that he’s not per­suad­ing the lar­ger pub­lic.

William Galston’s Wall Street Journal column (subscription required) is devoted to arguing the White House should fix the president’s “credibility gap” on fighting terror. He quotes at length all the polls highlighting Kraushaar’s point that Americans fear terrorism much more than the White House realized and as a result judge Mr. Obama poorly on his handling of terrorism (only 38 percent).

Bernie Sanders agrees that terrorism is a huge problem but he argues that there are lots of big, domestic problems facing America – not to mention climate change – so really it’s just one of the issues he’ll have to deal with as president.

Given that polls show nearly 70 percent of Americans think the nation’s response to ISIS has been insufficient, Sanders’ ordering of concerns isn’t likely to calm voters’ shaken nerves.

And what about the Democratic front-runner, the one who was Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton? Kraushaar calls her situation a “political pickle” between shoring up Obama’s liberal base and the wider public’s new hawkishness.

Ideally, she’d be able to stand lock­step with the pres­id­ent’s policies, tout­ing his lead­er­ship in a time of crisis. In­stead, she is try­ing to care­fully bal­ance her sup­port for the pres­id­ent while subtly ex­press­ing areas of dis­agree­ment.

On ABC’s This Week, she said she be­lieved there were “ad­di­tion­al” un­named steps to take against the ter­ror­ist group bey­ond what the ad­min­is­tra­tion is do­ing. At Sunday’s Saban Forum, she said the need for “ac­tion is ur­gent” against IS­IS, spe­cific­ally call­ing on Sil­ic­on Val­ley firms to do their part to dis­rupt the ter­ror­ist group’s on­line com­mu­nic­a­tions. At the same time, she ruled out de­ploy­ing Amer­ic­an troops to fight the ter­ror­ist group and, like Obama, ar­gued that la­beling the threat as “rad­ic­al Is­lam” would only in­flame the prob­lem.

Is banning speech and unnamed steps against ISIS really the best Clinton can offer? Trump is only going to be a smokescreen for a limited time. When that smoke clears, the Democrats and Clinton especially will have to make a better argument.

Abby W. Schachter is editor of CapX America.