Robert W. Merry: The GOP Can Survive Its Iraq Wounds

tags: Republican Party, GOP, Vietnam War, Iraq War, Democratic Party, Robert W. Merry



Robert W. Merry is editor of The National Interest and the author of books on American history and foreign policy. His most recent book is Where They Stand: The American Presidents in the Eyes of Voters and Historians.

A passel of punditry has emerged recently questioning whether the Republican Party will soon recover from the foreign-policy incompetence of the George W. Bush presidency. Some pundits foresee a long period of eclipse before the party will recapture the full confidence of the American people, so seared have they been by the U.S. fiasco in Iraq and the ongoing muddle in Afghanistan. Thus, in this view, the GOP’s fate is set—a long winter of minority-party status.

Perhaps, but not necessarily. Certainly, these pundits are correct in perceiving the magnitude of the blow sustained by the party when it lost its identity as the country’s most sober and adroit manager of U.S. foreign affairs. But these analyses miss a fundamental reality of U.S. presidential elections. They’re largely referendums, which means the GOP can recoup when—but only when—two things happen: first, an incumbent Democratic administration forfeits its standing with voters through a faltering presidential performance; and, second, the succeeding Republican president recaptures voter confidence with a winning four-year term.

The prediction of an inevitable dark period for Republicans was captured in three recent articles of note. An Iraq veteran and think tank fellow named Phillip Carter, writing in The Washington Post, notes that for three decades voters trusted Republicans more than Democrats on national security. Then came the Iraq War. "It shattered Republicans’ monopoly on national security and eroded service members’ allegiance to the GOP," writes Carter. He marshals polling statistics to demonstrate just how far the GOP has fallen when it comes to voter trust on issues of war and peace....



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