In 2012, Democrats Had The Advantage On Foreign Policy
Dan Drezner takes a peak at the exit polls and finds something significant:
A glance at the exit polls showed that Obama won the foreign policy question pretty handily. Only five percent of respondents thought that foreign policy was the most critical issue in this campaign — but of those five percent, voters went for Obama over Romney by 56% to 33%. Voters were also more likely to trust Barack Obama in an international crisis (57%-42%) than Mitt Romney (50%-46%).
This is the first exit poll in at least three decades where the Democrat has outperformed the Republican on foreign policy and national security. And I guarantee that whoever runs from the GOP side in 2016 will not have a ton of foreign policy experience. The GOP has managed to squander an advantage in perceived foreign policy competency that it had owned for decades. This — combined with shifts on social issues and demographics — will be a problem that the Republicans are going to need to address.
This isn’t really surprising. Although foreign policy wasn’t a central issue in the campaign by far outside of one 90 minute debate in late October, polling throughout the race showed the the President far ahead of Mitt Romney on the question of who the voters trusted with regard to foreign policy. That was true before the foreign policy debate, and it was true after the foreign policy debate. Moreover, the President’s job approval on foreign policy matters remained positive throughout the election season. While the GOP has spent the last four years accusing the President of being weak on foreign policy and claiming, falsely, that he has gone around the world “apologizing for America,” that has been little indication that the public disapproved of anything that the President has done in the foreign policy realm, and absolutely no indication that they support the more aggressive foreign policy positions advocated by Mitt Romney and the Republicans. Additionally, outside the vague comments and largely unfounded criticisms of the President, Mitt Romney and the GOP never really offered a coherent alternative in this area. Finally, and perhaps most importantly, to a nation weary of war, they seemed to present the image of a party that would engage in policies that would only serve to get the nation more involved in war in regions of the world that have been nothing but trouble for us from the beginning.
Kevin Drum comments:
Thanks, George Bush! We like to say that Americans have short memories, and that’s true in a way. On the other hand, a majority of voters still blame Bush for the lousy economy more than they blame Obama, and the Bush destruction of the Republican brand on foreign policy still seems to be going strong too.
The question at this point is whether Republicans realize just how much they’ve lost the advantage on foreign policy. Gone are the days of the Cold War, especially post-Vietnam, when Democratic infighting essentially handed the issue to the GOP on a silver platter. Gone too are the post 9/11 days when the GOP could unite the nation around the issue of terrorism without having to worry about the taint of the failed War In Iraq. Barack Obama has not been perfect in foreign policy. Specifically I’d say that his actions in Libya without the consent of Congress and his decision to launch essentially unrestricted, secret, and unreviewable drone warfare in countless countries around the world are rather egregious mistakes. Additionally, I think the Administration put far too much faith in the Arab Spring to bring about “democracy” in the Arab world, only to now find itself faced with instability in nations like Egypt and Libya, a civil war in Syria, and the ever-present threat that the forces that led people to Tahrir Square in 2011 will find themselves in Saudi Arabia, potentially leading to events that could send the whole region into chaos.
That said, there was absolutely nothing about Mitt Romney’s foreign policy that recommended itself to me, to the extent there was a coherent foreign policy. For the most part, it was little more than warmed-over repeats of the Bush Era which were already being repeated by the Obama Administration. Indeed, the most noteworthy thing about the foreign policy “debate” is that it wasn’t very much of a debate at all since the candidates seemed to agree far more than they disagreed. To the extent that they disagreed, Romney seemed to be influenced to a disturbing degree by the kind of reckless confrontation advocated by people like John Bolton, who was among his group of foreign policy advisers.
Perhaps that’s why it’s a good thing that Mitt Romney lost. Perhaps this will lead the GOP to open a debate on foreign policy that will move beyond the neo-conservatism that has dominated the party since the George W. Bush Presidency. Alternatives have already been offered by people such as Senator Rand Paul, who endorsed Romney in the General Election but was sharply critical of his foreign policy positionsseveral times during the course of the campaign. Paul gave a hint of where he stands on these issues during his speech at the Republican National Convention:
Republicans and Democrats alike must slay their sacred cows. Republicans must acknowledge that not every dollar spent on the military is necessary or well- spent, and Democrats must admit that domestic welfare and entitlements must be reformed.
Republicans and Democrats must replace fear with confidence, confidence that no terrorist, and no country, will ever conquer us if we remain steadfast to the principles of our Founding documents.
We have nothing to fear except our own unwillingness to defend what is naturally ours, our God-given rights. We have nothing to fear that should cause us to forget or relinquish our rights as free men and women.
To thrive we must believe in ourselves again, and we must never — never — trade our liberty for any fleeting promise of security.
It’s still a minority position in the GOP, but I bet it’s one that would resonate quite well with the public as a whole. Perhaps Republicans should give it a try.