How Will The Paris Attacks Affect American Elections?

Photo: Matt Baron/REX Shutterstock
Friday night’s devastating terrorist attack on France may prove to have political ripples far outside Europe, as American presidential candidates turn their attention from the economy to issues of national security. CBS News, the network hosting tonight’s Democratic debate, already announced a change in its plans, with questions focusing more on terrorism, national security, and foreign relations.

The 2012 election cycle, much like what we have so far seen of 2016, focused primarily on issues of jobs and economic security after the 2008 banking crash that sent the United States into an economic spiral. The recession caused long-term unemployment to rise to 10% by late 2009, leaving most voters more concerned about what was in their wallets than foreign policy.

The shift in focus will likely benefit Hillary Clinton, the only candidate with significant experience in foreign affairs. Clinton served as Secretary of State under the Obama Administration from 2009 to 2013, when she was replaced by John Kerry. Clinton’s term as Secretary of State saw a significant amount of international turmoil, from the Navy SEAL raid that killed Osama Bin Laden to the rise of the Arab Spring movement. She will have a solid history of international experience and dealing with terrorism to draw from. Her Democratic challengers, Bernie Sanders and Martin O’Malley, are less experienced.

On the other side of the aisle, Republican candidates will have to attempt to refrain from allowing anti-immigration stances to turn xenophobic and nativist. In an interview with Fox News, candidate Ted Cruz used the Paris attacks, which have been claimed by the Islamic State group (ISIS) as its doing, as an excuse to call on Obama to not allow refugees from the Syrian civil war into the United States. Candidate Donald Trump also brought his personal brand of nuanced rhetoric to bear on the topic, saying that France’s strict gun laws contributed to the tragedy.
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