The “Student Blog Post” series invites students from my PLS 321: Electoral Process course to author their own blogs about recent election events.
In the aftermath of the terrorist attacks on Paris on the 13th of November, there was a major shift in discussion by presidential candidates from both major political parties regarding not only the attacks but also American foreign policy. The question of American foreign policy has been a hot topic discussed on the campaign trail by many Republican candidates, who see these attacks as confirmation of their assertions: That the United States’ current administration has a foreign policy that puts the US at far too great of a risk of attack.
On the Republican side, we can note the comments made in the days following the Paris Attacks by Jim Gilmore, Carly Fiorina, Rand Paul and John Kasich, as well as the positions adopted by Jeb Bush, Donald Trump, and Marco Rubio. Gilmore, Fiorina, Paul and Kasich, who were present at the Sunshine Summit, a meeting of major conservative activists with the Republican candidates, focused on the need for a more expansive and realist approach to foreign policy, especially in regards to dealing with the Islamic State. Gilmore described the Paris Attacks as being “basically 9/11 for France”, emphasizing that “it should be bringing to the forefront of the American people that we are at war, that we’re still in danger, that if anything things have deteriorated under this administration.” Similarly, Carly Fiorina was strongly outspoken on the topic, stating that “the murder, mayhem, danger and tragedy we see unfolding in Paris, throughout the Middle East and too often in our own homeland, are the direct consequence of this administration’s policies”, also emphasizing that the United States must make an active and overt effort to rout the Islamic State and other transnational criminal organizations.
On the other side of the aisle, Democratic candidates Hillary Clinton, Bernie Sanders and Martin O’ Malley were asked during the second Democratic Debate, held on the 14th of November, to discuss their views on the Paris Attacks and what, if any, reaction should be made by the United States. Clinton focused on the United States playing an active role, but emphasizing that while this “cannot be an American fight”, it is vital that the US be willing to take a leadership role. This is juxtaposed with the position taken by O’Malley, who stated that the United States had an obligation to “stand up to evil” and lead from the front. This difference of opinion can in many ways be traced to Clinton’s role as a former Secretary of State, and O’Malley’s role as Governor of Maryland. In Clinton’s case, the success of the Obama Administration, which Clinton was a member of from 2009 to 2013, will reflect her success as a candidate; so long as the Obama Administration’s foreign policy is favorable, Clinton does well in the polls. Conversely, the more of a negative impression the American people have of current foreign policy, the more likely Clinton will see a decline in polls. O’Malley, on the other hand, has taken a strongly proactive stance of dealing with crime domestically since his tenure as the Mayor of Baltimore, a viewpoint he (based on his comments at the debate) will carry over into his stance on transnational crime as it applies to foreign policy.
In summation, the Paris attacks indicate one key change in the presidential race for 2016; where the battlegrounds outlined initially seemed to be centered on domestic and economic policy, the major battleground for this election now appears to be over American foreign policy. As few of the current candidates have built a strong name for themselves on this topic, we may see the race narrow quickly in the coming weeks leading up to the Iowa Caucus on February 1st.
Samir Warudkar is a sixth year political science student at Cal Poly Pomona who enjoys playing video games, watching movies and philosophical discussion.