Will Iraq be the prominent issue of 2008?

As I wrote earlier, Joshua thinks "no," and I think "hell yes." Neither of us can really know, of course, but that doesn't stop either of us from electoral prognostication. Yesterday, Josh sent me the following email:

Asked of Republican primary voters:
Which is more important to you in a presidential nominee — someone who commits to staying in Iraq until the U.S. succeeds, or someone who is flexible about when to withdraw U.S. troops from Iraq? 

39% committed to winning
58% flexible

This is coming from primary voters, mind you. The GOP voter is way more on top of this Iraq shit...they aren't going to shoot themselves in the foot over it. Bush might shoot them in the foot, however.

52% believe that the winning candidate will oppose the war. They aren't gonna run on it, and if both parties won't run on it, then it won't be an issue. Might it make sense for a Democrat to try and pin the other guy w/ it? Not really. It goes to Bush and he's in his private wilderness. The press will keep doing stories on it, but since both sides will be messaging the same message (get out), what will matter is health care, education, economy. Domestic issues election, this one.

There are three reasons why I think Josh is wrong.

First, Bush will probably shoot the Republicans in the foot (better than Cheney shooting them in the face, I guess). He's going to be president throughout the campaign, and if there's one thing we can apparently count on from Bush, it's that he will continue to mess things up real good. If we end up with a broader war in the Middle East, for example, I think even Joshua would agree that this would become the major issue in 2008.

Second, even without a foot-shooting-related incident, Iraq is on track to be in a significantly more horrific situation in mid-to-late '08 than it is right now. Top of the evening news, on the front page every day... that kind of horrific. There is no way that this doesn't become an issue in the primaries, where the "mainstream" candidates of both parties will face challenges from the left and the right. Candidates will need to put up specific proposals, and then those proposals will be savaged by both the "get out now" and the "stay to win" crowds.

Third, in the general election, I just can't see the Republicans not taking another tug at the national-security lever, especially if the race is tight. Perhaps their strategists will look at these polls and consider it a losing proposition, but I think it's more likely that they will suggest a series of slash-and-burn (political) attacks designed to move the electorate, and change that polling. The context of this poll is widespread malaise about Iraq, and nobody out there trying very hard to beat the drums of war. In full-on campaign season, the rhetorical landscape will be very, very different.

This has been my first prognostication entry for '08. Discuss.

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