Foreign Policy is Scrambling an Already Confusing Presidential Race

By an rational account Hillary Clinton has had a terrible, no good, very bad year. Her family’s foundation was linked to possible quid pro quo arrangements with foreign regimes. Her email server scandal, and her inability to come up with reasonable explanations for it, has been a constant thorn in her side. And she’s proven herself to be tin-eared and tone deaf on the stump, leading to multiple “did she really say that” moments while on the stump. Despite all that, she’s still always been seen as the odds on favorite to be the next president.

Why? Because on the Democrat side she’s the only really serious candidate. Sure, the media was briefly fascinated by Bernie Sanders’ “democratic socialism,” and tried to hype him into a legitimate candidate with real ideas. But at the end of the day he’s proven to be a one trick pony who can provide little substance outside of discussions about economic inequality, and even there his ignorance of common economics is appalling.

And on the Republicans side, well, prognosticators and forecasters just can’t wrap their minds around the field of candidates.

If everything went as usual, Donald Trump would have soared like a shooting star before flaming out spectacularly once he hit the atmosphere of a political campaign. But nothing has gone as usual. Trump isn’t just gaffe proof. His gaffes are actually proving to be the guiding tenets of many frustrated voters. Nevertheless, political watchers continue to underestimate his chances for success and seem absolutely certain that Clinton would dismantle him piece by piece in a general election contest.

As for the rest of the field, the political class has already forgotten about Jeb Bush, they love to loathe Sen. Ted Cruz, and they tend to be believe that Sen. Marco Rubio will be the last one standing at the end of the day. In short, the pundits and prognosticators don’t really have too much of a clue as to what’s going on, and the confusion just makes them feel that much more strongly about Clinton’s chances.

But they’re wrong. Josh Kraushaar, writing for National Review, explains why:

For Republicans and independents, national security has been a first-tier issue since the ISIS beheadings of American journalists in Syria last summer. But for Democrats, the issue lagged as a secondary one, even behind climate change-a point Bernie Sanders continued to make after the Paris attacks. Hillary Clinton’s experience in foreign policy is an asset, and she showcased her smarts–and differences with the president’s view of ISIS and urgency of the terrorist threat–at a Council on Foreign Relations speech last week. But she’ll be saddled by the record of the administration she served, under which ISIS metastasized as a threat. If experience was the most important factor in today’s politics, Clinton might have a lifeline. Republicans, however, will have loads of material with which to question her foreign policy judgment.

Granted, foreign policy issues typically do not play much of a role in voters’ decisions. But again, this is far from a typical election. The group called ISIS is a force unlike anything we’ve ever seen — killing with impunity in the Middle East and spreading terror across the globe. And for better or worse, that means it’s a foreign policy voting cue unlike anything we’ve ever seen.

That puts Clinton in a very odd spot. For the past several months she’s done her best to align herself with President Obama’s policy legacy, saying regularly that she plans to “build on the progress” of the Obama administration. As Obama’s longest-serving Secretary of State she’s also closely tied to his foreign policy record, one that mishandled the winding down of several foreign wars and minimized the relevance of the terrorist group that formed to fill the resulting vacuum.

But now, with Obama’s complacency coming under fire from all sides, Clinton is being forced to put distance between herself and the president. She’s called for more troops to “support local and regional ground forces,” and she issued an oblique rebuke of the president’s comments that ISIS had been contained, saying that ISIS “cannot be contained, it must be defeated.”

Is this an honest change in thinking? Or is this just more of Clinton’s attempt to calibrate her message according to President Obama’s poll ratings? Either way, it’s too little too late, which could throw the very little we knew about this race out the window.