Exit polls from last week’s midterm elections challenged the conventional “it’s the economy, stupid” wisdom, as the number of voters who said the economy was the most important issue fell to just four in 10. The dark horse issue of the 2014 election was foreign policy.
Our experience campaigning on the ground in a battleground state reflected this reality. We were in Arkansas last week helping with get-out-the-vote efforts for Republican candidates. Foreign policy doesn’t usually make its way into campaign speeches, but this year’s midterm election cycle was different. At a rally the day before the election, Senate candidate Tom Cotton discussed international threats—ISIS and Iran—and the need for a strong national defense to combat these threats. And on election night, Congressman-elect French Hill talked about the need for American leadership in the world during his acceptance speech.
Candidates were talking about foreign policy issues because 2014 saw crises emerge in nearly every region of the world – and in poll after poll we saw the issues skyrocket to the top of voters’ priority lists in the weeks leading up to the elections. A Wall Street Journal/NBC News poll from October ranked national security as the third most important issue to voters. Exit polls last week showed foreign policy was on voters’ minds on Election Day too, staying at third on their priority lists, behind only the economy and health care and tied with immigration. Nearly 3 in 4 Americans said they were worried about a terrorist attack on U.S. soil – the highest number since the post-9/11 elections.
Republicans in Arkansas and around the country benefitted from the increased emphasis on national security issues this election cycle. Exit poll data indicated that a majority of voters who said foreign policy was the most important issue voted for Republican candidates. Now that Republicans will have majorities on both sides of Capitol Hill in January, the question remains what if anything they will do to steer the direction of foreign policy.
When it comes down to it, the president makes U.S. foreign policy. Aside from some advice and consent from the Senate and budgets for aid and defense programs initiated in the House, America’s international affairs are in the hands of the executive branch. But there are things that Congress can do to shape foreign policy.
As Americans demonstrated when they went to the polls last week, the world is becoming an even more dangerous place. The proliferation of nuclear weapons, the return of great power rivalry, and the resurgence of terrorist networks have emerged as the greatest threats to American security. As these threats continue to grow, Congress has a role to play on all three:
The Obama administration has been negotiating with Iran over its illicit nuclear program since 2012. Thus far in the negotiations, the administration has given billions in sanctions relief to Iran, and Iran has yet to dismantle a single centrifuge. Recent reports revealed that American negotiators would allow Iran to keep centrifuges in place if they were to disconnect them—a move that is easily reversible. Concessions like this indicate that the administration is trying to achieve a deal at almost any cost. It is essential that Congress stands firm that no deal is better than a bad deal.