How to Run Against ISIS If You're a Republican, in Three Videos

Republicans have figured out how to attack the Obama administration's terror strategy without actually proposing a new one.

Iraqi Kurdish Peshmerga fighters look on as smoke billows from the town Makhmur, about 280 kilometres (175 miles) north of the capital Baghdad, during clashes with Islamic State (IS) militants on August 9, 2014. Makhmur, is one of the areas that had been attacked by jihadist fighters in recent days.


It used to be so easy to warn voters about the inevitable terrorism that would result from electing Democrats. Republicans were tough on Islamists and the other people attacking our country; the other party kept second guessing. To wit:

A decade later, there's a Democratic president waging war over Iraq and Syria, on the Islamic state. Public approval of the airstrikes is solid -- more solid, actually, than support for the Iraq War was after its first few months. There's no real enthusiasm for calling back Congress to vote on the airstrikes, least of all from Congress. Simultaneously, the public's faith in the president's handling of foreign policy has cratered. There's a gap here, between the threat of ISIS as seen by analysts and the threat seen by a pearl-clutching public, and the GOP is demo-ing a few vehicles that can drive through that gap.

Prototype one: New Hampshire's Republican candidate for U.S. Senate, Scott Brown.

"Radical Islamic terrorists are threatening to cause the collapse of our country," says Brown. (Not really true.) "President Obama and Senator Shaheen seem confused about the nature of the threat."

Confused? Yes, that's it -- there is no specific failing cited, and no alternate plan from Brown except "securing the homeland." Alternate plans are tricky, as North Carolina's Republican candidate for U.S. Senate found when Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) stumped for him and suggested that ISIS needed to be challenged by ground troops. This is an unpopular plan. "I've made a decision that I'm not going to, as a civilian, make a decision unilaterally or in a vacuum, without the advice of the people on the ground," said Tillis.

This may have sounded like a dodge; it may have been, instead, a clever wind-up. Tillis's latest ad, which debuted to Politico today, attacks Hagan not for any particular stance on the Islamic State, but for failing to punch in at a February meeting of the Armed Services Committee. "While ISIS grew, Obama kept waiting, and Kay Hagan kept quiet," rumbles a narrator, as ominous music builds.


It's a direct hit; the Islamic State was indeed mentioned at the hearing, by DNI James Clapper, as an insurgency taking advantage of "a growing center of radical extremism" in Syria. The subject is shifted from what Hagan did (voters like that!) to why she didn't do it earlier (voters are less keen on that). There is a "While Obama slept" narrative emerging, or perhaps a "who lost Iraq?" narrative, and both can be deployed without much focus on an alternative plan, or anything politically dangerous like a boots-on-the-ground response to ISIS. Brown's insistence that ISIS may break through the Southern border, though flimsy, is the bugaboo to copy.

Before it's here, it's on the Bloomberg Terminal.