Third Way and Greenberg Quinlan Rosner have recently conducted a survey of public attitudes on national security issues that should be a bright red blinking light for Democrats.
The bad news is that the ancient “credibility gap” between Ds and Rs on national security issues has reemerged during this presidential campaign. The good news is that is can be reduced or erased if Democrats continue to show they are willing to use military force when necessary, support the military in its essential roles, and have a “smart but tough” strategy for defending the country. And the present opportunity for Democrats is that Americans are open to the argument that Republicans, including John McCain, have “reckless” views on national security issues. Here’s the key paragraph from the study:
As suggested by the most effective political ads from the past—from the “daisy ad” against Barry Goldwater, to the ads showing images of Michael Dukakis in a tank—the central question when it comes to national security is usually “which party represents the greater risk?” To change the historic perceptions about Democrats and Republicans for the first time since Vietnam, Democrats must win that argument. They must prove that they are just as tough as Republicans—unblinking in their willingness to use every tool at their disposal, including force, to protect the country. But now Democrats also have an opportunity to prove that Republicans pose a greater risk on security by defining their own approach as smart and contrasting the approach of Bush-era Republicans as reckless and out of touch.
In the end, this issue represents a subset, and perhaps the most important subset, of the election’s key question: at a time when Americans are very unhappy with their governance, who offers the best chance for “responsible” change: the supposedly “mavericky” Republican ticket that actually maintains the domestic and national security policies of the current administration? Or Democrats who have learned the key lessons about their own past political weaknesses, and the real-life failures of the GOP?