Conventional wisdom says voters don’t care about foreign policy.
Nearly two years into Europe’s largest conflict since World War II, the conventional wisdom seemed to be right.
Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has had little effect on the GOP presidential nomination race and opened no room for a challenger to Joe Biden among the Democrats.
But the butchery Hamas perpetrated against Israeli civilians Oct. 7 has shocked Americans like nothing since 9/11.
Memories of the war on terror have come flooding back: the Twin Towers burning, Daniel Pearl’s murder in Pakistan, bombings in London, a massacre in Paris, ISIS cutting the heads off kneeling prisoners.
So many of those images have been compressed into a single day of horror in Israel.
Will this, then, make an exception to the rule that voters don’t think about foreign affairs when they cast their ballots?
So far, the Republican race looks unchanged at the top, but 50 points below Donald Trump, there are tremors.
Second place now looks to be a contest between Nikki Haley and Ron DeSantis: A USA Today/Suffolk poll released Monday showed a one-point margin between them, with Haley’s support at 11 points and DeSantis’ at 12.
An Emerson poll Friday showed the former United Nations ambassador and the Florida governor neck-and-neck at 8 points each.
Both aspiring alternatives to Trump make a point of their anti-terrorist and pro-Israel stance.
As a sitting governor, DeSantis took the initiative to organize flights to bring Americans home from Israel.
Haley, leaning on her UN experience, has made foreign policy a cornerstone of her campaign all along — before the Hamas atrocity, she had already staked out a niche for herself as champion of the GOP’s more hawkish and internationalist wing.
At first that positioning seemed to offer few electoral benefits — and now it’s complicated by the fact that while DeSantis is closer to Trump on the Ukraine conflict, he’s no less outspoken than Haley on Israeli security and has a record from his time in Congress to back it up.
The trouble for DeSantis is that his poll numbers were already slipping, and now a galvanizing new issue puts the spotlight on a rival as much as on him — while Trump continues to drift above the clouds, a political world unto himself.
Trump unquestionably advanced peace in the Middle East, through the Abraham Accords.
The contrast between his tenure in office and the global chaos that keeps growing worse under Biden couldn’t be more stark.
Ordinary voters might not think much about foreign policy, but they can see the difference between the Trump and Biden records, and they feel it, too.
The Taliban are back in power in Afghanistan, Russia is in Ukraine, and the Holy Land bleeds.
In matters of war, Biden makes Jimmy Carter look like Dwight Eisenhower. And Trump looks Reaganesque in comparison with Biden’s worse-than-Carter record.
Going to Israel himself was a way for President Biden to hide his hellish record behind a photo op, and in the short run, that ploy might shore up his polls.
The most recent surveys still show him with a slim-to-none lead over Trump, but just imagine how he’d fare if he looked even weaker now.
Democrats, of course, have a history of bitter division over war — as well as “anti-colonialism” and Israel.
Eugene McCarthy and Robert F. Kennedy Sr. chased President Lyndon Johnson out of his bid for renomination by giving antiwar Democrats candidates to rally around.
And even more fatefully, in 1972 the New Left dragged George McGovern down to a landslide defeat and provoked a realignment in American politics, driving Cold War liberals and many Jewish voices out of the party.
The radical left of McGovern’s day wasn’t just antiwar, it was outspokenly “anti-colonialist,” which translated into sympathy for Third World revolutionary movements and post-colonial dictators, as well as reflexive hostility to Israel.
Biden’s party suffered no split over the Russian invasion of Ukraine — the antiwar left was nowhere to be seen.
But the anti-Israel left has been out in force since the Oct. 7 terror attacks, and it reviles Biden, despite his efforts to keep the Democrats’ left fringe wedded to his coalition.
The new New Left may be a minority even in today’s Democratic Party.
Yet like the old New Left, it has the potential to spark a civil war among progressives, especially as causes like Black Lives Matter and anti-police politics entwine with “anti-colonial” and anti-Israel ideology.