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The Democratic Strategist

Political Strategy for a Permanent Democratic Majority

Political Fallout of Trump’s Attack Against Syrian Air Bases Challenges Dems

President Trump may get a temporary upward bump in his poll numbers, following his decision to launch tomahawk mssiles at Syrian air bases. Such is often the case after Presidents order a major military action. But Trump is already getting a harsh reaction from isolationist right-wingers in his party, even though conservative neocons, incuding Sens. John McCain and Lindsey Graham, have turned from criticizing his foreign policy to praising his attacks against the Assad regime’s air force.

At Talking Points Memo, Allegra Kirkland reports,

Conservative pundits and members of the white nationalist-friendly alt-right, who triumphantly boosted Trump’s “America First,” anti-interventionist campaign message, found themselves at a loss. The Breitbart News commentariat was outraged by support for the attack from “neo-conservatives” like Sens. John McCain (R-AZ) and Marco Rubio (R-FL).

Paul Watson, a writer for the conspiracy theory website InfoWars, pushed out dozens of tweets lashing out at Trump for being a “deep state/Neo-Con puppet.”

“I’m officially OFF the Trump train,” he wrote.

Expect more such whining from the hard right, depeening divisions among Republicans.

Will the divisions inside the GOP over Trump’s Syria policy further restrain the GOP’s ability to act in concert on legislation in congress? It’s quite possible that his right flank will view his foreign and trade policy with even more skepticism. And Democrats can certainly hope that the divisions within the GOP will spill over and further impair their ability to unify on major domestic projects, like a renewed effort to dismantle the Affordable Care Act.

The concern is that Trump may discover that the power of taking sudden military action is a potent distraction from his deepening problems, and he is prone to leverage the power of distractions far more frequently than any other U.S. President.

The main story Trump wants to smother with distractions has to be his Administration’s unsavory ties with Putin and Russia’s kleptocratic oligarchy. Now Trump will trumpet his bombing of Syria as proof that he is not Putin’s puppet, and don’t be surprised if some media falls for that spin with stories about “Trump’s break with Putin.”

There is already lots of spin comparing Trump’s Syria bombing favorably with President Obama’s more cautious approach to U.S. military action against Syria. Democrats ought to avoid getting bogged down in defending past policies, and focus more on what should be done now in their public statements.

None of Trump’s actions will change the fact of Russia’s unprecedented interference with U.S. democracy at his invitation. But it might help his spin team to project it as old news, arguing that what is really important is what he is doing now. It’s up to Democratic leaders to challenge that pitch at every opportunity, and it is important that they keep the heat on regardless of what happens in Syria.

As for the optimum progressive response to Trump’s attack on Syria, Mike Lillis reports at The Hill that “House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) on Friday called on Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) to bring House lawmakers back to Washington in light of the United States’ airstrikes against Syria.

The lower chamber recessed Thursday for an 18-day spring break, but Pelosi says that’s too long to avoid debate over “any decision to place our men and women in uniform in harm’s way.”

“The President’s action and any response demands that we immediately do our duty,” Pelosi wrote to Ryan…“Congress must live up to its Constitutional responsibility to debate an Authorization of the Use of Military Force against a sovereign nation.”

Pelosi’s call got some support from Republican Senator Rand Paul, who argued “While we all condemn the atrocities in Syria, the United States was not attacked…The President needs Congressional authorization for military action as required by the Constitution.”

Democrats should also check out Ezra Klein’s analysis at Vox, which warns,

The cruise missile strikes President Donald Trump launched in reprisal for Bashar al-Assad’s chemical weapon attack in Syria are well within the norms of American foreign policy. But they fall far outside the stated boundaries of Trump’s foreign policy, and reflect an administration bereft of a consistent, considered approach to the world — an approach that would make America’s actions predictable to both our friends and enemies, and guide the commitments we’re willing to make in the event of escalation or reprisal.

What we are seeing, instead, is a foreign policy based on Trump’s gut reactions to the images flashing before him on cable news. And that’s dangerous.

…While President Trump publicly worries over the fate of Syrian children, he is also barring them from fleeing to the US. While he speaks of “beautiful babies” dying, he is trying to slash what America spends on foreign aid, consigning many more beautiful babies to death and disease.

This, above all else, is what is worrying about Trump on foreign policy: He is unpredictable and driven by whims. He is unmoored from any coherent philosophy of America’s role in the world, and no one — perhaps not even him — truly knows what he’ll do in the event of a crisis.

When the bombing of Syria fades from the headlines, the issues of Russian meddling is the 2016 election, health care reform, immigration, trade policy and infrastructure investment will once again return to the forefront of media coverage. At that point Democrats should be ready to lead the national discussion as the party of progress with increasing clarity and conviction.

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