Another month in the books, and the big campaign news in America has revolved around national security in the wake of the Paris attacks.
That is reflected in this month’s ‘Stock Up, Stock Down’: all of the changes this month are at least in part related to the terrible events in Paris, and the growing anxiety over ISIS.
Until the attacks in Paris this month national security and foreign affairs had played a relatively limited part in this primary season.
The Democrats were preoccupied with the contrast between Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders, a debate primarily confined to arguing over how to deal with Wall Street. The Republicans were focused on how the political outsiders, Trump and Carson, were upsetting early predictions and whipping up nativist anger over immigration.
The events of 13 November have shaken the contest on both sides of the political debate. While there is no consensus within either party on exactly how to respond to the threat of ISIS and connected refugee flow, the recalibration of national security as a higher priority in voters’ minds has been reflected in the second Democratic debate hosted in Des Moines, and on the Republican campaign trail.
The result has been to boost some candidates’ appeal, and diminish others.
Considered to be the potential beneficiary of a Trump/Carson collapse, Ted Cruz has risen in prominence in the Republican field without a substantial fall of these two rivals.
Cruz has consistently presented himself in the Republican debates as hostile to the current D.C. governing machinery, music to the ears of Trump’s acolytes. In addition, Cruz speaks with far more authority on foreign affairs and security than either Mr Trump or Dr Carson.
The Senator from Texas has now seen his popularity in Iowa surge, rising to second place over Carson.
That said, fighting between Cruz and Senator Marco Rubio might just leave the field open for Donald Trump to actually win some of these primaries next year, as GOP elites have failed to unite against the disruption of the outsider candidates.
With national security gaining such prominence in recent weeks, the candidate who may have gained the most in the Republican field is Chris Christie.
While Ted Cruz, Donald Trump, and Marco Rubio have also captured the current mood of anxiety to reaffirm their reputations as internationalist hawks, for Christie this is focus on security is keeping his campaign alive.
The former governor of New Jersey had thus far been unable to gain momentum in the early polls of New Hampshire and Iowa, crowded out of a busy and boisterous Republican contest. The narrative seemed to be that Christie had missed his golden moment in 2012, and was bound to bow out before the early states cast their ballots next year.
But Christie has renewed his appeal as a strong foreign policy leader in November, featuring campaign ads directly focusing on ISIS.
Added to which, his consistent invoking of 9/11 as a central moment in his world-view appears to be paying off for some voters, as there are signs of a Christie surge in New Hampshire.
Whether Christie can make this pay off with the limited time he has left in the volatile and bustling Republican primary is doubtful; but it might keep him alive long enough to steal some votes in the early states.
The summer of Sanders is over. After grabbing headlines and support from young Democrats in the middle of the year, the slow creep into winter has seen Sanders’ star diminish, and Hillary Clinton command centre stage.
Though Sanders has agreed that the threat of ISIS requires American action, in conjunction with local allies, particularly the Emirate states, Hillary Clinton has far more experience and authority on foreign affairs. This could be pivotal for swing voters who have not already been won over by Sanders’ democratic-socialist message.
On the campaign trail, Hillary Clinton has extended her lead over Sanders in Iowa, with 51% support to Sanders’ 42%, and has narrowed the lead of the former Senator of Vermont in New Hampshire.
Added to which, Sanders’ has been unable to galvanise his campaign in South Carolina, one of the earliest states to declare their electoral votes next year.
Sanders’ will remain the only real competition for Clinton next year, but a renewed focus on national security does little to help him get over the hump.
Ben Carson has also suffered in November, as the ISIS threat has shined the spotlight on his inexperience and poor grasp of foreign affairs.
International issues have never been a focus of the Carson campaign. In November, one of his advisers reported how Carson has struggled to grasp foreign policy questions, and in the last Republican debate he erroneously asserted that the Chinese were deploying forces in Syria, a claim his campaign staff were forced to walk back. Though Carson struck out against his critics, arguing that all candidates face a learning curve in current times, the damage has been done.
Carson’s appeal lies in his outsider credentials, his soft-spoken tone, and outspoken devotion to his religion. Though Trump is likely little better schooled in foreign policy, the business mogul has at least made challenging American rivals overseas more of a concern in his speeches and has recently been calling for extremely aggressive responses to ISIS. As a result, Trump has been able to weather the current anxiety over foreign affairs relatively well, given his lack of experience.
Carson has not fared so well. He has announced an impromptu visit to Jordan to visit Syrian refugee camps, but this photo opportunity will do little to improve his image as a potential Commander in Chief.
When 88% of Iowa Republicans say they are ‘very worried’ or ‘somewhat worried’ about a Paris-esque attack happening on home soil, this does not bode well for Dr Carson. One poll now has Carson dropping from first in Iowa to third, behind Trump and Ted Cruz.
Foreign policy and national security will play a more significant role in the 2016 primaries from now on, and Carson needs to find a way to avoid slipping even further down into the Republican pack.