One week after the terrorist attacks in Paris, Diane Lochocki drove with her boyfriend from New York to New Hampshire’s state house. Ben Carson was filing for the presidential primary, and Lochocki, 78, wanted to see him. It was time for a new president, one who actually took the threat of radical Islam seriously.
“Terrorists are insidious people,” said Lochocki. “Your neighbor could be one, and you wouldn’t know. I feel we should close our borders until we get the rest of the world under control. If that’s inhumane, then I’m inhumane. You think what you want.”
The attacks that killed 130 and injured more than 350 in France’s capital Nov. 13 changed the 2016 contest for president – by changing what voters worried about. Across the country, among both Republicans and Democrats, have come pronouncements of anger and fear not seen after the terror attacks in London or Madrid – or even, in some ways, after Sept. 11, 2001. Suspicion of Muslims and intolerance of refugees have exploded; so has criticism of President Barack Obama’s handling of the terror threat.
42 Percent of likely voters in New Hampshire’s upcoming GOP primary calling terrorism and national security the country’s most important issues
A Saturday Suffolk University/Boston Globe poll confirmed it, with 42 percent of likely voters in New Hampshire’s upcoming GOP primary calling terrorism and national security the country’s most important issues. Before Paris, they’d worried most about the economy.
In more than two dozen interviews over the weekend in New Hampshire, South Carolina and Alabama, voters offered some clues as to why Paris has altered the consciousness so dramatically. They described feeling more afraid of the Islamic State, more horrified by the imagery of beheadings and other atrocities. They are not comforted by Obama’s leadership. And, with the pain of the Iraq War still weighing on the nation, they are even listening to the people who say America must send troops to the Middle East to fight the Islamic State.
But it was the refugee question that concerned them first and most.
“I feel safe now, but if we start letting in a bunch of people who are associated with the terrorists, that’s dangerous,” said Jeff Warcholik, a 41-year old carpenter standing outside the New Hampshire statehouse Saturday, craning his neck for a view of the candidate. He’d driven with his wife and son from Connecticut, where the Democratic governor was welcoming Syrian refugees when other states closed up.
“I don’t know what happened to democracy. If you’re going to risk peoples’ lives, you should have a say in it.”
This weekend, as candidates barnstormed in the first primary states, the fear of terrorism dominated the questions they got from voters. Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., and Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., courted those questions, making eight weekend stops on behalf of the South Carolina senator’s campaign. As they trekked from VFW hall to diner to VFW hall, the senators were really selling a new military commitment in Iraq and Syria – 10,000 American soldiers bolstering an allied (mostly Arab) force, and crushing the Islamic State.
The presidential primary, said Graham, could be cleaved between “before Paris and after Paris.”
“If you’re worried about going to the mall, you won’t worry if I’m president,” said Graham at a town hall in Manchester. “If you’re worried about your kids getting on the planes going home for Thanksgiving, you won’t worry if I’m president.”
Few voters saw Graham as the natural successor to the president, but plenty wondered what had been lost in seven years of the Obama presidency.
Few voters saw Graham as the natural successor to the president, but plenty wondered what had been lost in seven years of the Obama presidency. His pre-Paris comment that the Islamic State had been “contained” weighed on them. Some couldn’t believe that he continued to argue for settling Syrian refugees in the United States. Every Republican candidate for president, and even New Hampshire’s Democratic governor – a candidate for U.S. Senate – disagreed.
“I wonder what’s in his mind that’s not in mine,” asked Brian Moul, 66, after a McCain/Graham event in Manchester. “That concerns me – that really concerns me. He said, we’ve got them contained.”
Raymond Wieczorek, the 86-year old former mayor of Manchester, interjected with a laugh. “Oh yeah – Iraq, Syria, France,” he said. “That’s where we’ve got them contained.”
Questions about Obama – his courage, and even his basic interest in defeating the terrorists – permeated everything. In New England, where memories of the 2013 Boston Marathon bombing are fresh, the Paris attacks sent voters wondering about what could disrupt their own lives.
Questions about Obama – his courage, and even his basic interest in defeating the terrorists – permeated everything. In New England, where memories of the 2013 Boston Marathon bombing are fresh, the Paris attacks sent voters wondering about what could disrupt their own lives. Old facts and stories tumbled forth from their memories. Didn’t the 9/11 hijackers get here legally? Didn’t the Tsnarnaev brothers?
But the fear spread far beyond the places that terrorists had actually targeted. In his first TV ad, which debuted on Sunday, Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., said bluntly that “what happened in Paris could happen here.” At a Saturday rally for Donald Trump, in Alabama, voter after voter described some hard new thinking about safety in the wake of Paris.
“I have never been fearful of anything in my life because I put my faith in God,” said Kathleen Jones, 58, a vice president at a medical equipment company. “But I went out this week and bought a pistol.”
In addition to getting a gun, Jones said she also cancelled a trip to New York on Thanksgiving, feeling it was safer to avoid the big city after the attacks in Paris.
“How are we to determine if they are a good Muslim or ISIS? Unfortunately we have to be cautious of all Muslims.
Kathleen Jones, 58, a vice president at a medical equipment company
“How are we to determine if they are a good Muslim or ISIS? Unfortunately we have to be cautious of all Muslims,” she said, agreeing with Trump’s call again Saturday for the country to reject Syrian refugees.
Jones said in the wake of the 2001 attacks, she felt that George W. Bush took strong action, and even went to war. Now, under Obama, she said, “I don’t feel safe.”
Amber Jean Hyde, 27, said she feels less safe than after 2001 because she has seen the beheadings, the London bombings, the Paris attacks – and watched the “hate against Americans, against Christians, grow.”
“People are more afraid,” she said, adding she drove an hour from her home in Gadsden, Ala., to hear Trump.
Even the Democratic candidates for president, who had condemned the Trump-led call to freeze new refugee arrivals in the United States, confronted the heightened level of fear and anxiety as they made weekend campaign stops in South Carolina. Repeatedly, they addressed voters who intended to support them yet were also worried about infiltration.
At an event for Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., in Orangeburg, South Carolina. Democratic county treasurer Steve Summers said that many of the Republicans are appealing to people’s base instincts. He saw no imminent terrorist threat. But he parted with Sanders, and the president, on whether Syrian refugees should keep flowing into the United States.
“I think they need to slow that down,” said Summers. “We don’t want to have thousands and thousands of people running in and out of here.”
There were risks in the refugee issue – and not just for Democrats, but for Republicans too. Both McCain and Graham argued that colleagues like Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Tex., and Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., are using the no-refugees issue as a smokescreen to distract from their skepticism about fighting the Islamic State on the ground.
There were risks in the refugee issue – and not just for Democrats, but for Republicans too. Both McCain and Graham argued that colleagues like Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Tex., and Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., are using the no-refugees issue as a smokescreen to distract from their skepticism about fighting the Islamic State on the ground. But keeping refugees out isn’t enough to keep the country safe, according to McCain and Graham – and voters still need to be sold on that.
Town hall by town hall, the pair of friends and colleagues were trying to move voters from a general sense that the Islamic State needed to be beaten to a certitude that American troops needed to be on the ground. That was not happening yet. Donald Trump could promise to “bomb the sh– out of” the Islamic State, and get an ovation for what Graham saw as a laughable half-measure.
“People want to cheer for being tough. When I say, ‘We need to go on the ground and kill every bastard we can find,’ I find that they cheer that, too. The Donald’s taking Obama’s approach and making it sound tough – but Obama’s approach doesn’t work.
Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-SC
“People want to cheer for being tough,” said Graham. “When I say, ‘We need to go on the ground and kill every bastard we can find,' I find that they cheer that, too. The Donald’s taking Obama’s approach and making it sound tough – but Obama’s approach doesn’t work.”
Republican voters needed no one to convince them to distrust Obama – but GOP candidates kept trying anyway. Gov. Chris Christie, R-N.J., who held his 34th and 35th New Hampshire town halls this weekend, started both of them by saying that “Paris has changed this election.” Christie condemned a “weak, feckless” president. His crowds spilled out of the venues, and in quiet moments, the chatter was all about Paris.
“I was impressed with the president of France, very much so,” said Diane Bardorf, 65, before a Christie event at the Park Place Lanes bowling alley in Windham. “He got up and he said: ‘This is what we’re doing, this is not going to happen again.’”
Just thirty minutes into the town hall meeting, after he had called for aiding Arab armies in “with arms, with training, with air strikes,” Christie made Bardorf’s argument for her.
“Who would have ever thought we’d see the French pounding the war drums? The French president understands it a heck of a lot more than our president does. His people were killed. Look at his actions in the last week. He means business.
Gov. Chris Christie, R-NJ
“Who would have ever thought we’d see the French pounding the war drums?” he asked. “The French president understands it a heck of a lot more than our president does. His people were killed. Look at his actions in the last week. He means business.”
The crowd was with Christie, and he piled on, paraphrasing an Obama adviser who had said that America would “see what the French do” before expanding military action against the Islamic state.
“I guarantee you one thing,” said Christie. “When I’m president of the United States, that’s a sentence you'll never hear coming out of my mouth.”
A ranking of GOP presidential candidates who can still make a case
For all of the candidates, all of the debates and all of the unpredictability, the race for the Republican presidential nomination in 2016 has taken a clear shape over the past month or so. There’s a four-candidate top tier that has separated itself from the rest of the pack. Below are my rankings of the candidates who can still make a plausible case for being the nominee. (By plausible, I mean that someone who is not directly related to them could listen to the case and not laugh out loud.) The No. 1 ranked candidate is the most likely to be the GOP nominee.
7. Chris Christie: The New Jersey governor has (finally) moved beyond Bridgegate, allowing his natural candidate skills to shine through. He has focused heavily on New Hampshire throughout the campaign, a smart move given that Iowa’s caucuses have been less than predictive in the past two Republican presidential nomination fights. Christie still needs a stumble or two by the establishment types in front of him but he has fought his way back to respectability.
6. John Kasich: The Ohio governor is in a similar place to Christie, putting a huge emphasis on New Hampshire in hopes of a breakthrough in a state known for rewarding more moderate types. Kasich’s numbers in New Hampshire are slightly better than Christie’s, which is why he is ranked slightly higher, but some of that is simply the residual effect of a major TV buy his super PAC made in the state a few months back.
5. Jeb Bush: The former Florida governor took just 6 percent of the national vote in a Washington Post-ABC News poll released on Sunday, his worst showing in the survey in two years. What he has going for him is what he has always had: money. His super PAC remains well stocked, although the fact that $20 million has been spent on his behalf on TV ads in Iowa, New Hampshire and South Carolina without moving his numbers in any sort of positive way should be a big concern for his campaign.
4. Ben Carson: For the briefest of moments, the retired neurosurgeon was the front-runner for the GOP nod. But Carson has slipped from that perch largely because of self-inflicted errors, including a national security adviser to his campaign acknowledging to the New York Times that the doctor simply doesn’t get it when it comes to foreign policy. That, plus Carson’s struggles in debates to demonstrate know-how on world affairs, have raised questions about his readiness for the top office. His strong – and largely unwavering – support among social conservatives still make Carson dangerous, however, particularly in Iowa.
3. Ted Cruz: The senator from Texas continues to run the best campaign of anyone in the field. He has carefully avoided alienating supporters of Carson and Donald Trump in hopes that if and when the two political newcomers flame out, he will be the natural receptacle for their supporters. Cruz also has a conglomerate of well-funded super PACs that will be able to make the case for him (and against his opponents) between now and March. His biggest problem is that no matter how many mistakes and misstatements Carson and Trump make, their supporters stand by them. Cruz needs one (or both) of that duo to begin to collapse to move up.
2. Donald Trump: In the new Post-ABC poll, the real estate mogul wins about one in three GOP primary voters and has a double-digit edge on his next closest rival (Carson). In Iowa, Trump is in first, according to the Real Clear Politics polling average, although Carson keeps it competitive. Trump remains ahead by a wide margin in New Hampshire. No one else in the field is in that strong a position in the first two voting states. And, as a billionaire, Trump can simply cut himself a check for any amount at any time in the next few months. Running counter to all that is that Trump seems intent on pushing the boundaries on every single issue, including immigration and national security. That tendency should eventually catch up with him, although he has resisted the political rules of gravity for months now.
1. Marco Rubio: The senator from Florida is the most complete candidate in the field today. He is a skilled debater. His personal story is compelling and well told. He has positioned himself solidly in third place nationally without spending heavily from his own coffers or running the risk of peaking too early. He survived what many people believed to be a campaign killer when the stories about his credit card use in his younger days wound up being largely a nothingburger. Rubio’s biggest problems are basic ones: money and organization. His haul in the third fundraising quarter of the year – $6 million – was far less than someone in his position could be expected to bring in. And his early state voter ID and turnout operations are less far along than those of Trump and Bush. Still, if you were betting today, you would bet on Rubio.
The Washington Post