By a margin of 39 to 32 the GOP is the party that’s more trusted with the country’s foreign policy. That points to an optimal political strategy for Republicans of complaining loudly and repeatedly about Obama’s lack of leadership in various foreign crises without saying too much in detail about what they would do specifically. In other words, what the GOP is already doing. Most people, it turns out, don’t have detailed and fully coherent ideas about the whole range of public policy issues so they can turn toward the more hawkish party without embracing any particular hawkish ideas.
It’s true that more respondents chose the GOP as the party they trust on foreign policy, but Yglesias doesn’t mention the 28% that were unsure which party they preferred. This 28% figure is interesting, since it suggests that there is a large percentage of the public that may be open to trusting either party. Most Americans still don’t trust Republicans on foreign policy, and with good reason, but most lack confidence in the other party as well. The GOP could continue to indulge its worst hawkish habits, but the rest of the poll’s results suggest that consistently agitating for greater involvement in any and all crises and conflicts overseas is still a serious political liability. The GOP might momentarily have a plurality lead in this poll, but that still means that at least six in ten Americans don’t trust the party on foreign policy. As long as it is the party pushing deeply unpopular policies with the intention of dragging the U.S. deeper into foreign conflicts, it isn’t going to win those Americans over anytime soon.
As Yglesias notes, the support for relatively more hawkish measures is quite limited and never even reaches 25% on any issue. Support for reduced involvement is significantly higher in each case: 34% want less involvement in Ukraine, 44% want less involvement in Iraq, and 42% want less involvement in Syria. Considering how limited direct U.S. involvement in all three countries is, these numbers are remarkably high. That would appear to support my earlier view that the public is souring on Obama’s foreign policy in large part because he has insisting on trying to take the “lead” in these crises when that is just what large percentages of Americans don’t want him to be doing.
These results also point to the reason why Republican hawkish critics have to remain as vague in their complaints as possible: as soon as they begin to argue for their preferred policies in some detail, they are bound to run into a wall of public disapproval. The GOP’s optimal strategy is to make substantial, credible changes on foreign policy so that it is not so completely at odds with the vast majority of Americans. That has been the lesson from at least three of the last four elections, but it remains one that GOP leaders stubbornly refuse to learn.