Foreign Interference in the 2020 Election

Liberals and the media (but I repeat myself) are falling all over themselves attacking President Trump’s decision to take out Qassem Soleimani, defaulting to all the old clichés that this is a “wag-the-dog” move to distract from impeachment, a dangerous escalation in the Middle East, and an illegal military action. This last point receives an effective smackdown from David French—a leading Never-Trumper—over on Twitter. (Short version: Trump’s action was entirely lawful in service of defending American troops placed in Iraq by the Obama-Biden administration. Heh.)

The claim that Trump is eager for war as a political boost for the upcoming election is entirely wrong-headed—a real blast from the liberal past. One of the biggest threats to Trump’s re-election is a major war overseas, especially in the Middle East. There is good evidence that Trump attracted a non-trivial number of votes in those key upper-midwestern states from war-weary independent voters who responded to Trump’s criticism of our military commitments and conflicts in the Middle East. I have written previously on this point, and referenced a good academic paper based on survey data entitled “Battlefield Casualties and Ballot Box Defeat: Did the Bush-Obama Wars Cost Clinton the White House?”, highlighting in particular this part of the authors’ conclusion:

There are many implications of our findings, but none as important as what this means for Trump’s foreign policy. If Trump wants to win again in 2020, his electoral fate may well rest on the administration’s approach to the human costs of war.

To be sure, Iran’s theocratic hostility to America, and de facto state of war against us, goes back 40 years, but Iran’s provocations of the last year—attacking shipping in the Persian Gulf, attacking a major Saudi oil field, shooting down an American drone—should be understood as acts intended to draw armed response from the U.S., and thereby weaken Trump’s political base here at home. Think of these escalations as the Iranian equivalent of the Viet Cong’s Tet Offensive in 1968, which finished off Lyndon Johnson’s prospects for re-election. In other words, Iran’s grand strategy right now amounts to an attempt at election interference. Russia must be envious.

Remember that Trump called off a retaliatory strike after Iran’s downing of our drone aircraft last year. Trump cited the potential Iranian casualties as a principal reason for calling off the strike, drawing a lot of criticism from all sides that his weakness would embolden Iran. This week Trump has made clear he means his red line—direct harm to American lives will be met forcefully. Iran will surely respond in the coming weeks or months, but Trump has shown he is no Carter or Obama. The risks are undeniable, but Trump has made it clear to Iran that the costs of its provocation have ratcheted to a new level. As a New York real estate man might put, it, I just raised the rent. I expect a fellow named Kim Jong Un may be taking notice, and hoping for rent control.

Meanwhile, sit back and watch liberals make fools of themselves. Like Connecticut Senator Chris Murphy, who offers these two contrasting tweets on what a difference two days makes (these are in Scott’s roundup below, but deserve a special callout):

This one is pretty good, too:

And then of course there’s Hollywood, which never disappoints: