Sunday, May 1, 2011

Will Bin Laden's Death Affect the 2012 Republican Primary?

The United States has finally eliminated its hated enemy, Osama bin Laden. How will this affect the race for the Republican nomination? While the news will dominate the headlines for awhile, Bin Laden's death is unlikely to make a difference in the kind of candidate the Republican primary voters select.

For a number of years, the conventional wisdom has been that the economy is likely to be the focus of the 2012 election. The Al Qaeda leader's death would tend to make it all the more probable that the focus will not be on national security or foreign policy--if it has any effect. The winding down of the War on Terror means the economy would remain unchallenged as voters' chief concern.

It's possible, of course, that Bin Laden's death may lead to renewed pressure on Obama to withdraw troops from Afghanistan. If Obama does so, there may be negative ramifications which renew the debate over America's foreign policy.

Still, the Republican field does not contain any candidates who are uniquely tied to the military, foreign policy, or the War on Terror. This presents a contrast with the Republican field during the 2008 primary. At that time, Rudy Giuliani was seen as the "anti-terrorism" candidate, and John McCain was the "surge strategy" candidate. Giuliani was harmed by the lack of focus on the War on Terror at the time; McCain was greatly assisted when the "surge" strategy in Iraq bore fruit.

This time around, all of the Republican candidates are focused on domestic policy. It's true that some are more "invested" in the economy than others: Romney has staked out the economy as his issue, and Cain's experience is limited to the business world.

If Bin Laden's death leads Americans to believe that foreign policy is less important, that works to the benefit of business-minded candidates. But because the economy was already the focus of everyone's attention, little has changed.