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David Hill: National security a key issue

Greg Nash

Since the beginning of this year, there have been an abundance of issues in the national security category that hold great promise for Republicans, if we only have the courage and skill to leverage them. 

Ukraine and Russia’s meddling there, Syria’s implosion, Edward Snowden’s revelations, President Obama’s giveaway of hardened Taliban commanders from Guantánamo, the brazen kidnapping by terrorists of almost 300 girls in Nigeria, China’s strange and persistent commitment to some hard-line strategies, including persecution of Christians and some ethnic minorities at home, and expansionist actions in the South China Sea that threaten neighboring nations. 

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The common thread in these issues is that responses to them cross partisan divides. If Republicans really and truly want to win elections by persuading some Democrats to cross over at the polls, these issues offer that opportunity. But it’s a delicate matter. Opinions on these issues don’t always follow party lines, and developing policy responses can offend part of the Republican base vote, too.

In an era when opinions are typically polarized, there is some impressive consensus on key foreign policy issues. Consider the results of a March 2014 poll by the Pew Research Center on America’s best response to Russian tampering in Ukraine.

When asked whether the U.S. should take a firm stand against Russian actions or not get too involved in the situation, the partisan split was reasonable. Forty-five percent of Republicans and 35 percent of Democrats said they wanted the U.S. to take a firm stand. The pollsters then asked those respondents who chose the “get firm” option what they would do, and there was perfect agreement between the interventionist partisans that only economic and political sanctions would be on the table, setting aside the thought of the military option. Exactly 28 percent of Democrats and 28 percent of Republicans agreed to reject the use of troops. Who says we cannot find common ground? 

Even the 52 percent majority position in that poll, those choosing “to not get too involved in the situation,” was not overly partisan. Fifty-six percent of Democrats and 47 percent of Republicans preferred to side-step the matter at that time. That limited partisan split is remarkable in this dogs-and-cats-fighting era of partisan politics.

A similar bipartisan response is evident in responses to Snowden. A January Fox News poll revealed almost perfect consensus among Republicans and Democrats on the benefits of Snowden’s revelations of government data-mining programs designed to entrap terrorists. When asked to set aside their feelings about Snowden personally and his actions and to reflect narrowly on whether respondents were happy that information about the program was made public, 68 percent of Democrats and 69 percent of Republicans agreed they were glad about the revelations. Going deeper into the policy, when Fox pollsters asked about the level of trust that government-collected personal data would be kept confidential, just over 60 percent of both Republicans and Democrats said they were dubious their personal privacy would be respected.

An interesting survey series by Gallup, last taken in February, asks Americans in an open-ended question to name the nation’s greatest enemy. The latest asking moved China into the No. 1 enemy spot. Again, there is bipartisan agreement, with 19 percent of Republicans and 17 percent of Democrats identifying China as the culprit. That old saying about partisanship ending at the water’s edge: It may be true. There may be some consensus on foreign policy and national security that flips some Democrats to support savvy GOP candidates.

That the president’s job performance ratings are especially weak on these issues makes it easier. The latest approval rating of Obama on foreign policy from CBS News, at 39 percent, is lower than his scores for handling the economy and healthcare. It’s his Achilles’s heel.

 

Hill is a pollster who has worked for Republican campaigns and causes since 1984.