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Road to the White House: Paris changes everything; Paris changes nothing

Road to the White House: Paris changes everything; Paris changes nothing
Published 17 Nov 2015   Follow @EmmaMConnors

Here's our weekly selection of commentary from the fair-minded, the partisan and the light-hearted as the action progresses in one of the world's most enduring (and lengthy) democratic processes.

As news of the Paris attacks filtered through, so did the realisation the US presidential race needed to be viewed through a different lens.

Gone was the focus on the would-be nominee's character traits, personal histories and slogans so broad as to be, essentially, free of any meaning at all. After months of concentrating on the race (remember, Hillary Clinton announced in April and Donald Trump in June), suddenly what-happens-after came into sharp focus. John Avlon editor-in-chief of The Daily Beast, described the impact thus:

Tough times can be clarifying. They raise the stakes and impose a sense of perspective. They make so many of the debates that preoccupy us seem small.

The politics of the 2016 election have been for the most part petty, bitter and divisive. These attacks should help dispel the fascination with the assorted celebrities, ideologues and demagogues masquerading as serious presidential candidates. Experience matters when the 3am call comes. Foreign policy and national security is the primary responsibility of a president. It can’t be outsourced to others or learned entirely on the fly. Bluster is not a substitute for strategy.

Few come with as much experience as Hillary Clinton. The Democratic candidate debate on Saturday night focused on security and foreign policy and, while commentators gave Clinton mixed reviews, Democratic voters overwhelmingly scored the debate for Clinton. This report from The Des Moines Register gives more granular insight, with interviews from a focus group conducted hours after news of the Paris attacks. These voters like Clinton's rival Bernie Sanders better but it's Clinton they would trust to run the country. 

In the much harder to call contest for the GOP nomination, the commentariat is divided over what impact it will have on frontrunners Donald Trump and Ben Carson. [fold]

Rem Rieder, writing in USA Today, posed the question: Could the circus be heading out of town?

While [Trump and Carson] couldn't be more different, what they have in common is a complete lack of political experience. Which so far has proven to be a huge plus. To the Republican base, with its disgust for the state of the union, experience has become a mark of shame. Being an 'outsider' is the coin of the realm. And so Trump and Carson have lapped a crowded field packed with candidates with extensive résumés in government.

But that could change in a hurry.

... terrorism has returned to the fore as an overarching issue. Foreign policy chops, government know-how and temperament become crucial. Suddenly it seems more important to have a president you can actually picture making hard, intelligent decisions in the Oval Office than one whose pronouncements make you feel good.

Others are not so sure. Slate's chief political correspondent Jamelle Bouie, drawing on an interview in which Trump said he would 'strongly consider shutting down mosques' in the US, said this would be supported by many GOP voters.

GOP voters are attracted to Trump for his bravado and belligerent rhetoric against real and perceived foreign threats. Far from undermining his campaign, the Paris attacks strengthen the atavistic nationalism that fuels his campaign.

Conservative commentator Ann Coulter was more emphatic. On Friday night she ended a string of tweets with this: 'They can wait if they like until next November for the actual balloting, but Donald Trump was elected president tonight'.

 Photo courtesy of Flickr user Elvert Barnes

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