The resurgence of Islamic terrorism and President Obama’s nuclear deal with Iran is shaking up the race for the White House, pushing national security to the forefront of the GOP primary debate.
The primacy of foreign policy could be a problem for Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.), the libertarian Tea-Party favorite, who is set to launch his presidential campaign next week in Louisville. He proposed steep defense cuts when he first came to the Senate and has expressed wariness about foreign military interventions.
On the other hand, the new dynamic could help Sens. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) and Ted Cruz (R-Texas), who have touted their experience on the Foreign Relations and Armed Services committees, respectively, as they make the case for their candidacies.
Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), the 2008 Republican presidential nominee, said the public executions by Islamic terrorists of American journalists James Foley and Steven Sotloff last summer were a turning point for voters.
“There’s such a thing as a seminal moment, and that was the beheadings,” McCain said.
“We saw immediate shift, and then you saw the other atrocities that took place. But the beheadings, really, when it went viral, that’s really when opinions started changing, especially among Republican primary voters,” he said.
McCain has signaled his support for Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) in the 2016 race, a close friend who is a leading voice on national security issues in Washington but is not widely viewed as a top-tier contender.
Bill McInturff, a partner at Public Opinion Strategies, a GOP polling firm, said polling backs McCain’s take on the 2016 race, and pointed to a nationwide March NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll conducted by his firm in conjunction with Hart Research.
The survey found that 79 percent of Republican primary voters favor a candidate who supports sending combat troops to Iraq to fight the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS). Eighty-seven percent of very conservative GOP primary voters favor a candidate who would deploy ground troops against Islamic militants.