Now that Donald Trump is the presumptive Republican nominee, Hillary Clinton is guaranteed to become president. It’s obvious Trump can’t win. He’s utterly unqualified. His negatives are too high. Everyone of sense can see he is doomed in the general, just as we all knew his candidacy was going nowhere in the primaries. Okay, so he won almost all the primaries, but that was a fluke. This time, there’s no way. Democrats will keep the White House in 2016, because all of Trump’s signature issues appeal to fundamentally limited subsets of voters. He’s not selling anything the majority of Americans can agree on. On a completely unrelated note, the Intercept has reported that Trump called Hillary “trigger happy” at a rally in Lynden, Washington, where he warned that she would embroil the United States in another land war in the Middle East. Meanwhile, Hillary is courting neoconservatives put off by Trump’s isolationism. Here’s Republican strategist Steve Schmidt:
Donald Trump will be running to the left as we understand it against Hillary Clinton on national security issues. And the candidate in the race most like George W. Bush and Dick Cheney from a foreign policy perspective is in fact Hillary Clinton, not the Republican nominee.
Finally, the Democrats have an opportunity to position themselves as the party of hawks—and at a moment when war is so popular!
That was sarcasm, as the exclamation point indicates. Since George W. Bush ordered the invasion of Afghanistan in 2001, the United States has been at war for 15 years. The New York Times observed yesterday that President Obama has been at war for the entirety of his tenure, longer than any other US president. Granted, the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq—plus drone strikes in Libya, Somalia, Pakistan and Yemen, as well as impending special operations in Syria—are not total national efforts like World War II. But Afghanistan and Iraq each cost more than World War I, and the post-9/11 wars together exceed the cost of Vietnam.
We all support the troops, of course, but more than a decade after we brought democracy to the Middle East at the expense of trillions of dollars and hundreds of thousands of arms and legs, few of us view these wars as great ideas. There are probably complex arguments to be made for invading Iraq and Afghanistan then and Syria and maybe Libya next year, but ordinary Americans don’t know them. They appeal to wonks. As much as foreign policy heads in both parties like military intervention in the Middle East, ordinary Americans do not. That’s the kind of gap in which Trump likes to insert himself.
The great divide between leadership and voters in the Republican Party was on the issue of immigration. In the primaries, Trump made immigration the central focus of his campaign and used it to usurp establishment candidates. I submit that one great divide between the American electorate and our leaders in both parties is on the issue of foreign wars, particularly in the Middle East. If Trump makes that a focus of his campaign in the general and uses it to usurp Hillary, he will only have repeated the strategy that shocked us all in the primaries.
As one of the most hawkish Democratic candidates for president since John F. Kennedy, Hillary is playing right into this narrative. She could not be blamed for seeing Trump’s isolationism as an opportunity to win over disaffected parts of the Republican establishment, particularly neoconservatives loyal to the Bush family. Probably, someone has told her that the first woman president will have to be a hawk.1 From a certain perspective, it makes perfect sense for Hillary to contrast herself with Trump as the candidate who is willing to use force wisely overseas.
That’s the same perspective that made Trump the Republican nominee for president: privileged, wonkish, steeped in the culture of federal politics. Trump does not campaign from that perspective, and the vast majority of Americans do not vote from it. They do understand, however vaguely, that the country has been at war for 15 years and gotten nothing tangible from it, besides a noticeable uptick in prosthetic legs. If given the opportunity to vote according to which candidate is likely to get us into another war, many of them may go Trump without reading up on the nuanced reasons why invading Syria now prevents something worse down the line.
How many Americans are medium-information, single-issue voters on war in the Middle East? Could it be as high as 5%? Gravis has Hillary ahead by 2% nationally. Rasmussen has Trump up by the same margin, although we all know Rasmussen is biased. There’s no way he can win. All Hillary has to do is be more like the moderate Republicans he beat in the primaries, and everything will probably be fine.