Nikolas K. Gvosdev: How the GOP Lost National Security

Roundup: Media's Take

Nikolas K. Gvosdev, a senior editor at The National Interest, is a professor of national-security studies at the U.S. Naval War College.

In the wake of the 2012 election, it is clear that there has been a sea change in the perceptions of the American electorate on which party is the better steward of the country’s national-security interests. Traditionally, Republican candidates had always enjoyed a so-called "national-security advantage" (at least in those elections where foreign and defense policies were major issues). Only a short eight years ago, George W. Bush enjoyed a eighteen-point lead over John Kerry when exit polls asked voters to rate who they trusted to wage the "war on terror" more effectively, and of those voters who made national security a voting issue, sixty percent favored the Republican incumbent. No longer.

The November 2012 Rasmussen report now gives Democrats the edge when the question is posed as to which party is better equipped to deal with national security. Veterans and active duty military are more likely to split their votes rather than acting as a reliably Republican voting bloc, as occurred in other recent past elections. Exit polling after the 2012 campaign concluded suggested that President Barack Obama and his challenger, Governor Mitt Romney, polled "equally on national security" and that voters "trusted the president 11 points more on the broader category of international affairs." Peter Beinart concluded that, in winning reelection, Obama has "broken the GOP’s decades-old advantage on foreign affairs."

What is clear, however, is that this shift has not been generated by any particular new vision of foreign affairs being proffered by the Democrats. Most commentators have noted the high degree in continuity in national-security affairs between the George W. Bush and Barack Obama administrations. Many of the signature achievements of the current administration, such as "resetting" relations with Russia, could have come verbatim from the foreign-policy playbook utilized by the national-security team of Jim Baker, Brent Scowcroft and President George H.W. Bush. Notwithstanding the use of buzzwords like "smart power," Democrats have filled the long-standing national-security gap with Republicans not by offering an alternative vision for international affairs, but by demonstrating to voters greater competence in executing foreign policy—and successfully framing Republicans as reckless and irresponsible when it comes to national security... 

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