Why Shifting Focus From The Economy To National Security Is Good For Republicans

Matt K. Lewis Senior Contributor
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NBC News’ senior political editor Mark Murray made an interesting point Thursday on Twitter: “[Rick] Perry’s speech,” he wrote, “epitomizes GOP’s rhetorical shift from economy/debt (No.1 issue in 2012) to national security/foreign policy.”

This does seem to be the case, and while we should obviously not put the economy on the back burner, there is reason to believe that this is not only the organic result of a changing world (the rise of ISIS, for example), but also a politically fortuitous shift for Republicans.

That is to say that — for Republicans, the “It’s the economy, stupid” mantra is flawed. You don’t have to go back far for an example of how running on the economy didn’t exactly work for them. And, frankly, it was somewhat predictable.

In September of 2012, I argued “a bad economy won’t elect Mitt Romney” — and as far back as February of 2012, I wrote this:

[T]he notion that running on the economy (what Mr. Romney presumably seems comfortable doing) is a panacea, is dubious. The economy appears to be recovering (at least, the unemployment rate is dropping), a point which will obviously make it harder, should the trend continue, to oust Obama.

Even more to the point, history does not seem indicate that a struggling economy — regardless of who is to blame — or who currently occupies the White House — will ultimately benefit the Republican candidate in a general election. (This, of course, is controversial. Jimmy Carter’s handling of the economy was surely one cause of his 1980 defeat, but would he have been defeated had it not been for the Iranian hostages?)

The trouble for Republican presidential hopefuls trying to make hay of a struggling economy is that, when times are hard, liberals can always out-promise and out-class-warfare their adversaries. Thus, national elections that focus instead on foreign policy or cultural issues have tended to skew more favorably to the GOP.

I’m not suggesting Republicans are shifting their rhetoric for strategic purposes; I suspect it’s the result of shifting priorities brought on by a changing world. But it just so happens to be politically fortuitous — and yet another reason why 2016 could be vastly different from 2012.