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Monday, December 09, 2019 {{ new Date().getDay() }}

WASHINGTON — We expect some hypocrisy in politics, but it was still jaw-dropping to behold Republicans accusing President Obama of politicizing the anniversary of the killing of Osama bin Laden. Wasn’t it just eight years ago that the GOP organized an entire presidential campaign — including the choreography of its 2004 national convention — around the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, and George W. Bush’s response to them?

Obama’s opponents don’t just think we have short attention spans. They imagine we have no memories whatsoever.

Yet very quickly, Mitt Romney and the rest of his party began slinking away from their offensive. It’s true, of course, that Obama played the ultimate presidential trump card. He visited our troops in Afghanistan on Tuesday, the anniversary of the bin Laden raid, and, with military vehicles serving as a rough-hewn backdrop, addressed the nation from the scene of our longest war.

But the GOP retreat reflected something else as well. For the first time since the early 1960s, the Republican Party enters a presidential campaign at a decided disadvantage on foreign policy. Republicans find it hard to get accustomed to the fact that when they pull their favorite political levers — accusations that Democrats are “weak” or Romney’s persistent and false claims that Obama “apologizes” for America — nothing happens.

The polls could hardly be clearer. In early April, a Washington Post/ABC News Poll found that 53 percent of Americans trusted Obama over Romney to handle international affairs. Only 36 percent trusted Romney more. On a list of 12 matters that a president would deal with, Obama enjoyed a larger advantage only on one other question, the handling of women’s issues. And on coping with terrorism, the topic on which Republicans once enjoyed a near-monopoly, Obama led Romney by seven points.

How did this happen? The primary reason, to borrow a term from science, is negative signaling: By the end of Bush’s second term, the Republicans’ approach to foreign policy was discredited in the eyes of a majority of Americans. The war in Iraq turned out (and this is being quite charitable) much differently than the Bush administration had predicted.

It is always worth recalling Vice President Dick Cheney’s interview with Tim Russert on NBC’s “Meet the Press” on March 16, 2003. Among other things, Cheney famously declared that “I really do believe that we will be greeted as liberators.” And when Russert asked whether “we would have to have several hundred thousand troops there” in Iraq “for several years in order to maintain stability,” Cheney replied, “I disagree,” insisting: “That’s an overstatement.”

It was not an overstatement.

More generally, Americans came to see that the war in Iraq had nothing to do with what they cared most about, which was protecting the United States against another terrorist attack. Indeed, the war in Afghanistan, which was a direct response to 9/11, was pushed aside as a priority. At one point, Bush declared of bin Laden: “I don’t know where he is. You know, I just don’t spend that much time on him … to be honest with you.”

And this is where negative signaling turns into a positive assessment of Obama. He understood the importance of bin Laden. He addressed the broad and sensible public desire to get our troops out of Iraq. He focused on how to get a moderately satisfactory result in Afghanistan — which is probably the very best that the United States can do now.

The Afghan policy Obama announced Tuesday reflected the president’s innate caution. He wants to withdraw our troops but not so fast as to increase the level of chaos in the country. He imagines a longer engagement with Afghanistan because he does not want to repeat the West’s mistake of disengaging too quickly after American arms helped the mujahedeen defeat the Soviet Union there in the 1980s.

Public opinion is on the side of getting out sooner. But most Americans are likely to accept the underlying rationale for Obama’s policy because it is built not on grand plans to remake a region but on the narrower and more realistic goal of preventing terrorist groups from regaining a foothold in the country.

And that’s why Republicans finally seem to realize that driving foreign policy out of the campaign altogether is their best option. After a decade of war, Americans prefer prudence over bluster and careful claims over expansive promises. On foreign policy, Obama has kept his 2008 promise to turn history’s page. The nation is in no mood to turn it back.

 

E.J. Dionne’s email address is ejdionne@washpost.com.

(c) 2012, Washington Post Writers Group

Many Democrats are getting nervous about the upcoming presidential election. Ominous, extensively reported articles by two of the best in the business—the New Yorker's Jeffrey Toobin and The Atlantic's Barton Gellman—outline Boss Trump's plot to keep control of the White House in 2021 no matter how the American people vote.
Trump is hardly making a secret of it. He's pointedly refused to commit to "a peaceful transfer of power."

"Well, we're going to have to see what happens," is how he answered the question. He added that after we "get rid of the ballots"—presumably mail-in ballots he's been whining about for weeks--"there won't be a transfer, frankly. There'll be a continuation."

Of course, Trump himself has always voted by mail, but then brazen hypocrisy is his standard operating mode. If you haven't noticed, he also lies a lot. Without prevaricating, boasting, and bitching, he'd be mute. And even then, he'd still have Twitter. He recently tweeted that the winner "may NEVER BE ACCURATELY DETERMINED" because mail-in ballots make it a "RIGGED ELECTION in waiting."
Gellman gets this part exactly right in The Atlantic: "Let us not hedge about one thing. Donald Trump may win or lose, but he will never concede. Not under any circumstance. Not during the Interregnum and not afterward. If compelled in the end to vacate his office, Trump will insist from exile, as long as he draws breath, that the contest was rigged.
"Trump's invincible commitment to this stance will be the most important fact about the coming Interregnum. It will deform the proceedings from beginning to end. We have not experienced anything like it before."
No, we haven't. However, it's important to remember that Trump makes threats and promises almost daily that never happen. Remember that gigantic border wall Mexico was going to pay for? Trump has built exactly five miles of the fool thing, leaving roughly two thousand to go.
His brilliant cheaper, better health care plan? Non-existent.
On Labor Day, Boss Trump boasted of his unparalleled success in strong-arming Japan into building new auto-manufacturing plants. "They're being built in Ohio, they're being built in South Carolina, North Carolina, they're being built all over and expanded at a level that we've never seen before."
Not a word of that is true. Two new plants, one German, another Swedish have opened in South Carolina, but construction began before Trump took office. Auto industry investment during Barack Obama's second term far exceeded Trump's. His version is sheer make-believe.
But back to the GOP scheme to steal the election.
First, it's clear that even Trump understands that he has virtually no chance of winning the national popular vote. He's been polling in the low 40s, with no sign of change. To have any chance of prevailing in the Electoral College, he's got to do the electoral equivalent of drawing to an inside straight all over again—winning a half-dozen so-called battleground states where he defeated Hillary Clinton in 2016 by the narrowest of margins.
At this writing, that looks highly unlikely. The latest polling in must-win Pennsylvania, for example, shows Trump trailing Joe Biden by nine points. That's a landslide. Trump's down ten in Wisconsin, eight in Michigan. And so on.
So spare me the screeching emails in ALL CAPS, OK? Polls were actually quite accurate in 2016. Trump narrowly defeated the odds. It can happen. But he's in far worse shape this time. Furthermore, early voting turnout is very high, with Democrats outnumbering Republicans two to one.
Hence, The Atlantic reports, "Trump's state and national legal teams are already laying the groundwork for post-election maneuvers that would circumvent the results of the vote count in battleground states."
The plan is clear. Because more Democrats than Republicans are choosing mail-in voting during the COVID pandemic, Trump hopes to prevent those ballots from being counted. Assuming he'll have a narrow "swing state" lead on election night, he'll declare victory and start filing lawsuits. "The red mirage," some Democrats call it.
"As a result," Toobin writes, "the aftermath of the 2020 election has the potential to make 2000 look like a mere skirmish." With Trump in the White House urging armed militias to take to the street.
Mail-in votes take a long time to count. Things could definitely get crazy.
True, but filing a lawsuit to halt a Florida recount was one thing. Filing suits against a half dozen states to prevent votes from being counted at all is quite another. Public reaction would be strong. Also, winning such lawsuits requires serious evidence of fraud. Trumpian bluster ain't evidence.
The Atlantic reports that GOP-controlled state legislatures are thinking about sending Trumpist delegations to the Electoral College regardless of the popular vote winner—theoretically constitutional but currently illegal.
Fat chance. If that's the best they've got, they've got nothing.
Anyway, here's the answer: Vote early, and in person*.

[Editor's note: In some states, receiving an absentee ballot means that a voter can no longer vote in person* or may have to surrender the absentee ballot, including the envelope in which it arrived, at their polling place. Please check with your local election authorities.]