At least 34 people have died in terrorist attacks Brussels, Belgium, one in Brussels’ international airport on Tuesday, and the other in one of the city’s subway stations. The attacks have already resulted in a massive outpouring of sympathy from politicians, world leaders, and others throughout the world.
Such a devastating attack is bound to have a profound effect on the political conversation both in Europe and beyond, particularly on matters of security and counterterrorism. And it will surely affect the tone and tenor of the race for the presidency in the United States.
Counterterrorism and foreign affairs will likely become even more important to voters and to candidates. We had already begun to see this shift. After two presidential election cycles in which the economy took center stage, the 2016 election cycle has involved a fairly even balance between foreign and domestic issues. With the Brussels attacks, not to mention the terrorist attacks late last year in Paris and San Bernardino, Calif., that balance will likely tip towards foreign affairs and security.
Conventional wisdom would suggest that this shift spells good news for Republicans. In the two campaign cycles after the September 11 terrorist attacks — the 2002 midterms and the 2004 presidential election — Republicans cleaned up, largely by portraying Democrats as out of touch and soft on the War on Terror and foreign policy. In 2015, The Washington Times cited a Pew Research poll showing that 51% of people felt the Republican Party was best equipped to deal with terrorism, compared with 31% standing by Democrats on this issue.
But it is important to remember that we still don’t have a clear-cut Republican nominee. Many states have yet to decide whether Donald Trump, Ted Cruz, or John Kasich should be the one to take on Hillary Clinton in November. (No, Clinton hasn’t technically wrapped up the Democratic nomination yet, but her lead over Bernie Sanders makes that race all but over.)
Both Trump and Cruz have the potential to gain voters by touting their beliefs on counterterrorism and security. Trump’s anti-Muslim rhetoric, particularly his plan to put a ban on Muslim entry to the U.S., could win over even more voters than it already has. Cruz, meanwhile, has campaigned on an extremely aggressive foreign policy, with promises to “carpet bomb” ISIS. This tends to appeal to neoconservative voters who want an aggressive foreign policy pegged to the Bush Doctrine.