U.S. Public Increasingly Concerned by the Rise of ISIS

Tuesday, September 9, 2014
Mike Allen

Chief White House Correspondent, Politico

Michael Dimock

Vice President of Research, Pew Research Center

Betsy Fischer Martin

Former Senior Executive Producer and Managing Editor, NBC News Political Programming, NBC News

Politico's Mike Allen and Michael Dimock of the Pew Research Center join NBC's Betsy Fischer Martin to discuss the upcoming midterm Congressional elections. Recent military gains by ISIS fighters have once again placed foreign policy concerns at the center of domestic political debates and have led to renewed support for U.S. interventionism abroad. Despite this shift in the national mood, however, foreign policy is likely to play a relatively minor role in the midterm elections. The panelists agree that the Republicans are favored to retake control of the Senate in November.

MARTIN: Welcome, everyone. My name is Betsy Fisher Martin and I am a CFR member. And it is my honor to welcome you all to the first CFR meeting of this new school year. So welcome. And we are very happy to have two fine gentlemen here...

(UNKNOWN): Two Michaels.

MARTIN: Yes, two Michaels. We'll go Mike and Michael just to clarify. We have Mike Allen, of course, from Politico and you all have the bios there. And we have Michael Dimock from Pew. And we are going to start with just some basic questions. And then we'll open it up in about a half hour to your questions. So thank you all for being here.

So sort of like a kid on Christmas morning today because there is lots of new polling to talk about. We'll get to some of the foreign policy parts in a second, but I just wanted to start with just a brief overview of where you all see the 2014 midterms, not necessarily in foreign policy but overall.

DIMOCK: Well, I think from a polling perspective it looks nationally a lot like what we saw in 2010. You know if you look at most of the polls on registered voters you see a slim Democratic lead. But these differentials in engagement and turnout are tipping very, very sharply towards Republicans this year.

Really the differentials matching what we saw in 2010, which was of course a huge year for Republicans. I don't know that I would predict those kinds of gains for Republicans because they're not - the Democrats aren't as exposed as they were in 2010, having won big victories in 2006 and 2008. There aren't as many seats for Republicans to pick up.

But I think the differentials nationwide look very, very strong. And you don't see a lot of movement in them from what I've seen in most of the polls that have been conducted so far over the course of the year, at least at the national level. So it ends up being a ground game again at the state-by-state level of whether individual candidates can gut out some wins here and there and maybe flip the margins one way or the other.

ALLEN: Well thank you. And first, what a treat to be here. Betsy, who's been a friend for a long time, Michael who's work I've admired and helped me over the years, appreciative to that, and appreciative to the Council, Chris Haley (ph), all the people who worked so hard on this event. I appreciate your being here.

So when I want to know how a candidate is doing, whether they're really winning or losing, I go to the opposition and see what the opposition, how confident they are, how back on the heels they are. And if you use that formula to figure out who's going to win the Senate control contest, you're going to say that's clearly Republicans.

Like the White House, pretty pessimistic, Democrats, pretty pessimistic. I think the White House pessimism was very much reflected in the immigration decision that we saw over the weekend where the president said I'm going to do no harm. Like I don't want to get blamed for hurting in these races where it clearly would would, where it might help...

MARTIN: Even though he said it was not a political decision.

ALLEN: A little bit. But they said both. They're really candid about it. But you're right. He wrapped it in other things.

But that pessimism was reflected there. And amazingly, I couldn't believe this, Democratic senators talked to our reporters on the record about who was going to be the minority leader. Now that's pessimism.

MARTIN: Wow. Wow.

ALLEN: So the one caution I would give you, and some of you may have seen in Playbook this morning we rounded up the forecast from Upshot and Nate Silver and Stu and Charlie and wrapped up everybody who Betsy's put on TV over the years and seen what their forecast were. And they all were for at least the six seats Republicans need to pick up.

Stu Rothenberg, who is the most bullish says at least seven maybe more. So he's the only person that sees a wave. Also Sabito (ph) we picked up.

The one caveat that I would give you and the one indication there is to me that perhaps this conventional wisdom in Washington that the Republican majority is a sure thing is a little ahead of the facts, and that is Arkansas where Tom Cotton, who is a young veteran officer of both Afghanistan and Iraq, a House member, a great candidate who seems perfect for that state, running against Senator Mark Pryor whose family has been in office there for so long.

"[W]hen I want to know how a candidate is doing, whether they're really winning or losing, I go to the opposition and see what the opposition, how confident they are, how back on the heels they are. And if you use that formula to figure out who's going to win the Senate control contest, you're going to say that's clearly Republicans."
—Mike Allen

Tom Cotton was supposed to be way ahead. Republicans would've told you he was going to clean Mark Pryor's clock. Instead that race is probably a tie. And now they're saying, well it was always going to be close. That's not true. It was not always going to be close.

So the closeness of that race makes you wonder if maybe we're a little too sure. So that's the amazing thing about these midterms. And I think, Michael and Betsy will agree with this, that there's a bunch of important races and we really don't know what's going to happen.

MARTIN: Yes. Exactly. And to talk more about foreign policy, Michael, your new poll in Pew and a lot of new polls today showing a shift toward more American public being more supportive and more active foreign policy. Can you talk a little bit about what you found in the Pew poll and what surprised you, or?

DIMOCK: Yes. It has been a remarkable turn. On so many survey questions in our polls and then today you see Washington Post coming out, yesterday CNN poll, I think the Wall Street Journal poll may have just come out—NBC-Wall Street Journal...

MARTIN: 6:30 tonight, yes.

DIMOCK: It may have just dropped. It looked like very similar numbers from what I was seeing early on. That there seems to be a real turn in the public's willingness to engage that is particularly linked to this situation in Iraq and Syria with ISIS.

That is set in the context of a long stretch of American resistance and concern about getting too entangled in foreign affairs. It started in the mid-2000s, not surprisingly. It's been about 10 years of what some people characterize as a kind of an isolationist wave in American thinking.

I think that's sort of a stretch of a term in terms of what it really means. But clearly an unwillingness to engage in military affairs, even heavy diplomatic affairs, foreign aid, a lot of resistance to this for a lot of reasons, war fatigue, economic concerns, worries about problems here at home.

And I think broadly a sense of inefficacy, a sense that there's not a lot America can do to tackle these problems that doesn't sometimes just make them feel worse at the end of the day. We've seen just within the last three weeks or so there was a big turn on willingness to engage, particularly in this situation in Iraq.

I think the most compelling numbers this morning were in the Washington Post-ABC poll where two months ago they had a 50-50 split on whether air strikes against ISIS in Iraq would be something they would approve of. Now it's tipped to I think 71-26. It's really turned strongly. And a lot of that just happened within the last three weeks, which it's hard not to link it to Foley and the beheadings and the sort of vivid nature that America is at risk in this situation.

I wouldn't over-interpret that at this point as a sort of new American engagement in the world. I think it's very specific to this situation and the sense that people have that there is a real threat here to American security that's putting this in a different light.

MARTIN: Does it remind you at all after 9/11? Not to that extreme, but is that...

DIMOCK: Yes. You know you see a lot of different survey questions that haven't gotten to these levels since the early 2000s.

MARTIN: Exactly. Yes.

DIMOCK: So it's hard to compare this to 9/11 in any particular way. But there's a way in which Americans are seeing something that's tangible, that's something that really potentially affects the U.S.

The CNN poll released yesterday found 71 percent thinking that ISIS not only was a threat in the Middle East, but had the capacity to hit the U.S. directly. Now, that may or may not be true. But there's clearly an American perception right now...

MARTIN: Right.

DIMOCK: ... that this is something different. This is not what we've seen in Afghanistan and Iraq over the last 10 years.

MARTIN: And what about within the Republican Party? What sort of switch are you seeing there?

DIMOCK: That's been you know where the big movement has happened is in the Republican Party. Republicans—nothing is going about right under the Obama administration to Republicans. But they were ebbing in the direction of saying that Obama was overextending us overseas.

"[T]wo months ago they had a 50-50 split on whether air strikes against ISIS in Iraq would be something they would approve of. Now it's tipped to I think 71-26. It's really turned strongly. And a lot of that just happened within the last three weeks."
—Michael Dimock

Last November when we did our big study on American views on foreign policy I think it was more than 3-to-1, a margin of more than 3-to-1 Republicans were saying Obama's overextended us, we're doing too much. Now those numbers have turned and Republicans now feel like we're doing too little in foreign affairs.

Now you can say that that's partisanship and trying to find fault with the president. But I think it does reflect this shift from a period where it felt like our foreign engagements were about helping others to a period where now it feels like a security issue.

MARTIN: And Mike, can you talk a little bit about where you might see this more hawkish tone coming in play in the Senate races among Republican candidates? Where are we seeing that?

ALLEN: Well, one indication that, as Michael said, that this is not only specific but also potentially fleeting is that you're not hearing Senate candidates or senators or House members rushing to say that they want to take a vote on this. And if the American public were in these decisive numbers and were going to stay there, believe me, they would want a vote.

Instead you have Republicans who want to stay away from it. Democrats who are concerned about getting any more associated with the president. There's hardly any close Senate race where you're going to see the president in person. I think that's reflected in the points of view they're taking about this.

But this decisive swing that Michael was talking about is the reason that tomorrow we'll see the president not just giving a speech where he's giving a strategy. He does have a strategy, and we're going to hear it tomorrow night.

The reason that the president's not just giving an address to the nation, but is doing it in prime time, from the White House, the biggest possible stage, is because of public polling and private polling the White House is looking at that shows that people are worried. And they feel like the president hasn't been doing enough.

And that's such a switch in those six weeks or so, or three to six weeks that Michael was talking about. It wasn't too long ago, before the beheadings that you would look at polling and the country was where the president was. And you looked at the president's rhetoric and the president clearly was trying to turn down the temperature.

MARTIN: The junior varsity quote...

ALLEN: Yes. If there's one thing he could take back, right? But with that quote and others the president was clearly trying to amp things down to not take the bait. But he was maybe too successful in that. So people think he's been doing too little.

So tomorrow we're going to see the president saying I have a plan, here it is, and in laying out—there's going to be nothing in it that's a surprise. It's mostly what we've heard before.

The way the one person said it to me is the White House view of this is that Meet the Press on Sunday when the president outlined this for Chuck Todd on Meet the Press and said that we were going to be on the offense, that Sunday that Meet the Press was for Washington and that tomorrow night is for the nation.

So we're going to be similar substance, a similar message. But the president is going to be laying out words that he can later point to if he eventually goes after the Islamic State in Syria, for instance. He's going to have words that he can point to and say we were going to go after them wherever they were.

MARTIN: And Michael, talk a little bit about what you found in your polling about Obama specifically.

DIMOCK: Yes. At ours and others I think the pattern is fairly clear which is his overall job numbers haven't been moving that much. I mean his approval ratings it's hard to find a poll where you're seeing a deep trend on this.

He's been hovering in the low 40s. You know he might bounce into the high 30s, up and down a little. It's not like the bottom's falling out on public views of him. And maybe that just reflects the partisan...

ALLEN: He's sort of in a pretty bad place.

DIMOCK: Right. You know the drop happened last fall after Syria and of course Healthcare.gov going down. So since then it's sort of rambled along.

Maybe it reflects the partisan base that is going to stick with him through a lot of this. But it's in other perceptions of him that you've seen this kind of insecurity in his leadership.

MARTIN: Like that he's not tough enough?

DIMOCK: The percent—yes. The perception that he's a strong leader, the ABC-Post poll today had the lowest figure they've ever seen on that.

We have a question in foreign affairs, "Do you think Obama is too tough, not tough enough, or handle things about right?" And that not tough enough figure has been creeping upward, took another step up last week.

You see it in other measures of just his overall image. I mean one way of thinking about it, especially with foreign affairs is for almost his entire first term Obama's figures tracked on foreign—his handling of foreign affairs he got better ratings than his overall job ratings for almost his entire first term. And now in his second term that's inverted. Foreign policy is sort of a drag on his overall standing, not a lift.

ALLEN: So, Michael, does history suggest that he'll certainly get a bounce after tomorrow night, or not necessarily?

DIMOCK: I don't think you would certainly get a bounce out of one speech, no. I mean I think it's hard to turn things around. I mean...

MARTIN: What do you think the American public wants to hear from him though?

DIMOCK: They want to hear that it's going to work. They want to hear not just that we have a strategy but that it's going to work. That we can...

ALLEN: We love America (inaudible).

DIMOCK: But I think it reflects—I mean I don't know that the bar was that high all along. You know Bush got bounces in Iraq without clearly knowing how it was going to work. They were sort of a lick and a prayer.

I think the public was willing to give a little more deference. Now they feel a little burned. They feel right now that things are sort of out of control and that America doesn't feel, for many people, like we have a way to solve it, to grasp it, to deal with it. And they want to know that there's a way for America to be efficacious in the world. And what he's got to sort of communicate to people is that he's confident.

MARTIN: Right.

ALLEN: But today somebody described that to me as the Bush hangover because this president has a higher bar than a president usually would.

MARTIN: Yes. Yes. And then specifically about 2014, are some of these elections and campaigns are going to turn on foreign policy issues? Or is it mostly on Obama?

DIMOCK: It's hard to imagine, picking up on what Mike said, that a lot of candidates are going to go out and run on ISIS and Syria and whether we should be doing air strikes or whether we should have boots on the ground. I don't think they really want to have that debate in their races and states and districts.

I think it affects 2014 to the extent that it affects Obama. And to a large extent we all know that midterms are about turnout and differential turnout on each side. And right now, Obama is still inspiring Republicans to get out and vote. And he's not really inspiring Democrats to get out and vote. And until that changes or—and right now that imbalance seems to if anything just be getting worse.

MARTIN: And in terms of Congress we know their approval ratings are the lowest ever and they probably can't get any worse. But are we seeing any sort of attempt--

I know today I saw on The Hill newspaper that former 9/11 commission chair Lee Hamilton and basically laid the blame at Congress in saying they had been lax in their oversight of ISIS and these issues. Do you—is there a way that this plays out for our members of Congress?

DIMOCK: You know it's hard. I mean you know when it comes to foreign policy the American public looks to the president you know. And I don't think there are a lot of ways in which they're going to start to hold individual members of Congress accountable for what did or didn't happen in 2007-2008 when we could've nipped these things in the bud you know.

So I don't know that that's going to become a real issue. And the reality is that the public wasn't putting a lot of pressure on Congress or anybody to do anything about Syria until the last couple weeks.

ALLEN: A question that a Republican has yet to answer satisfactorily for me is I always say to them, OK you say that the president was asleep at the switch on the Islamic state. Over the last year have you spent more time talking about IS or Benghazi? And no one has a good answer for that.

MARTIN: Exactly.

Now just to fast-forward a little bit to 2016, the polling what we're seeing now, Hillary Clinton being more openly critical of Obama, what do you guys make of that?

DIMOCK: Well, I mean there is a division...

MARTIN: Kind of carve out...

DIMOCK: Yes. I mean look, I think you know any time a president is under 50 percent...


DIMOCK: ... people are going to distance a little bit. I think it's a natural phenomenon. And if she wants to lay a groundwork for how she would create a different kind of presidency from Obama's, that's an argument she has to make to people. Because if he's at 42 percent, that doesn't win. You know she can't just run on any coattails in that respect.

But I think it also reflects that there are divisions within both political parties right now over foreign policy. Ten years ago foreign policy was a Democrat versus Republican issue. It unified both parties in terms of what stance the public—the U.S. should be taking internationally. Now there are fissures within both parties that make it a much more interesting kind of hot button issue than it was when it was Kerry versus Bush.

MARTIN: Right.

ALLEN: You've put your finger on one of the biggest dilemmas for Secretary Clinton. And something that really worries the people who are going to be managing—brainstorming her campaign. And that is that she can't really separate herself from the president. His record is her record, literally. And it's very difficult to run for a third term.

Essentially Karl Rove in the Wall Street Journal column, called it the three-peat when a party asked for a third term in the White House, so rare of our history. We had two Reagans and a Bush, but that's almost the exception that proves the rule.

So in this interview with Jeffrey Goldberg that Betsy just alluded to, I think clearly Secretary Clinton wanted to create a little distance on Gaza. And I think that was specifically what she wanted to show some daylight on. I think maybe it went a little further than she intended.

MARTIN: And you know again, 2016. Somebody like Rand Paul, for instance, who has sort of made this anti-interventionist a part of his platform of what he's potentially going to run on. Is he now going to be more out of sync with the party? And so where do you see that within the Republican field?

DIMOCK: Yes. I mean the polling numbers today are the flip of what they were you know six to eight months ago in the Republican Party in terms of what stance the U.S. should be taking. Again, that may be temporary. It may be focused on this particular situation.

But you know when you look at the polling numbers a year ago, particularly if you look at the Tea Party, the Republicans who identify as Tea Partiers, by 3-to-1 they were saying America's too involved overseas six to eight months ago. Now they've flipped completely the other direction. They say we're not doing enough overseas.

You know the party was really where Rand Paul was in this space. Whether even with national security—sorry, even with kind of privacy and government issues domestically in terms of the post-NSA period, Rand Paul was very close to where his party was. A lot of frustration about government overreach in terms of national security structure. I think that that—there are signs that that may be flipping back too in the context of this situation.

ALLEN: And Betsy, in 2016 in the Republican contest we may have the rarest of conditions and one that is going to cause everyone in this room to really perk up their ears. And that is that national security, foreign affairs could decide the Republican nominee. This is such a fundamental split in the party.

Most likely the Republican presidential contest is going to come down to two people. One of them named Rand and one of them Not Rand. And Rand, who will tell you that he is not isolationist will say that that's sort of a bad rap that he's got, and he calls it guilt by association with his father, Congressman Ron Paul. He in the next few weeks is going to give a speech on foreign policy where he's going to try to correct.

But the biggest impediment to him getting the Republican nomination, and that is about foreign policy, probably at the National Defense University where he's going to argue that if you look at the spectrum of Republican views on international engagement that he is square in the middle. That he is exactly where President Bush 41 was, exactly where Ike was, exactly where Reagan was.

But, Not Rand is—wherever Rand winds up, Not Rand is going to be more internationalist, more oriented toward engagement. And that could be Jeb Bush. It could be Paul Ryan. It could be Marco Rubio. It could be Mike Pence.

It could be a lot of people. But any—it could be Chris Christie. But any of those people, based on their previous statements, are going to be more interventionist than Rand Paul would be.

"[W]hen you look at the polling numbers a year ago, particularly if you look at the Tea Party—the Republicans who identify as Tea Partiers—by 3-to-1 they were saying America's too involved overseas six to eight months ago. Now they've flipped completely the other direction."
—Michael Dimock

And the question that may determine who becomes the Republican nominee is can that more establishment candidate also steal a little bit of the Libertarian populism from Rand Paul that would be enough to get the nomination. So for the people in this room, it could be a very delicious Republican contest.

MARTIN: They like that.

Just to wrap up this section, and then we're going to get to your questions, the 2014 elections, results of that. How will that affect Obama's—the last two years of the Obama administration do you see?

DIMOCK: I'll give that to you.

ALLEN: Well, I can tell you.

MARTIN: Difference or not?

ALLEN: Oh, no question. And the White House is already planning for the idea that they're going to have a Republican Senate, which means that—and the truth is this could happen regardless of the outcome, that almost all of the president's like biannual (ph) actions are going to have to be regulatory. And they're planning for that. Business is planning for that.

And the truth is that like despite what Politico will try to tell you that the results of—in—the legislative results are going to be very little different whether it's 51 this way, 49 this way. It could even be a 50-50 Senate with Vice President Biden having the best two years of his life.


That's a very realistic numerical possibility. But the one big difference that will make is that if you're a Republican running for—Republican senator running for president, so if you're Marco Rubio, if you're Rand Paul, if you're Ted Cruz, the last thing you want is a Republican Senate.

MARTIN: Right.

ALLEN: Because if there's a Republican Senate, they're not free to travel around to Iowa and New Hampshire all the time. They're going to need to be in Washington. The spotlight is going to be on them. They're constantly going to have to take positions on difficult issues.

And it'll be tough on the other Republican candidates too because Chris Christie will constantly be being asked, Republicans on the Hill are doing x. Do you agree? Do you disagree?

DIMOCK: No, I think that's right. The—Obama's second term for him is going to be tough either way. And the opposition that he faces is already in place, whether the numbers are slightly over or under 50.

I think for 2016 the implications are very much like you say. I mean it makes it easier for the Democratic candidate in some respects if there is a unified Republican control whoever that Democrat is to be able to really try to lay more blame on the Congress for not doing anything, for impeding Obama, for setting up a situation where it's not all the Democrats who are at fault here.

MARTIN: Great. Well, I think we'll move onto some of your questions. So I think we have some microphones floating around. If you could make sure to please state your name and your affiliation, and ask a question not a speech, that would be awesome.

Yes, right here?

QUESTION: David Afkar (ph), Inter-American Investment Corporation. Usually I ask polite questions that have a sort of hidden sting, which remains hidden.

MARTIN: Uh-oh.

QUESTION: And this time I want to ask an impolite question. But I want you to take it seriously.

And that is that with—let's see. With economic growth in the U.S. I think at about 2.5 percent now, and with employment down to 6.2 percent, with the budget deficit below 3 percent, when did that happen? With the trade deficit, the current account deficit around 2.5 percent, is it possible that the winner in 2016 in the presidential contest will be whoever promises America a war?

ALLEN (?): No.

DIMOCK (?): No.

QUESTION: Please comment.


ALLEN: Well, just say one more sentence. What do you mean by—I sort of get what you mean. But just say one more sentence about what do you mean by promising a war?

QUESTION: A more polite version is, are people going to be less sensitive to a really nationalistic, maybe even militaristic presentation...


QUESTION: ... the American public? That's the more serious version.


DIMOCK: I—my instinct says no, as we kind of both reacted right out of the gate. You know I think that the notion that's getting involved in foreign problems of that nature is somehow going to rally us or lead to any kind of improvement for people's lives in America feels like a distraction to most people right now.

I mean again, if there is a fundamentally clear danger to the U.S. that's a different thing. And I don't know whether that can just be made. You know there are circumstances like a 9/11 type situation that can change everything, obviously. But I think just sort of leaning into foreign affairs or leaning into conflict is going to be met with a lot of resistance without that.

ALLEN: No, that's a great way to put it. And just to bolster Michael's point, we talked about how fleeting this sort of engagement by the American people may be on this. Definitely either an attack on the homeland, even a big attack on an American embassy like an American embassy will make a huge difference.

And that's why we have not only the potential for national security deciding the Republican race in particular, but there's—it's hard to imagine a situation where foreign affairs isn't a much more dominant issue in this presidential campaign than we're used to.

DIMOCK: I think that's probably true. Yes.


MARTIN: Great.

In the back there? That lady with the black on.

QUESTION: Marc Plattner, Journal of Democracy. I believe no one has mentioned Vladimir Putin or Ukraine in this whole...

MARTIN: Because I knew you guys would.

QUESTION: And you make American public opinion sound as if there has to be a gory beheading on TV to change anyone's minds about these matters. Has—is there no resonance from the crisis in Ukraine?

ALLEN: Well, I think that you make a great point and Michael can correct me on this. But I believe that Ukraine is among the crises that's creating a mood music that the beheadings perhaps just served as a punctuation mark for.

And because when you look at Gaza, when you look at Ukraine, when you look at Iraq, and you can argue that one of the most dangerous situations in the world is the South China Sea, which we don't even talk about. Like all of that I think is—the White House has been very much trying to make people see these as all separate crises. But I think for a normal person going about their daily life that these crises very much can run together, producing the sort of effect that Michael's been quantifying.

DIMOCK: Yes. I think that's right.

I mean unfortunately in some respects the situation in the Ukraine is interesting, but it doesn't feel tangible to people in terms of how it affects us, the tracking we've done on public views of Russia or Putin suggests that you know he's viewed unfavorably. But in Russia it's seen sort of as a problem for the U.S., but it's not seen as a threat or an adversary or something that really poses a risk to the United States at this point.

And so they look at the situation and they say this is really, really terrible. But what are we going to do that's going to make it better? And that's what I don't think people feel they have an answer to. And right now if they don't know the answer to that, their instinct is to not get involved.

MARTIN: Just to follow up on that, have you done questions in the poll, the standard sort of what are you paying attention to? Are you closely following this story?

DIMOCK: Yes. Yes.

MARTIN: How does that...

DIMOCK: You know there were moments in the Ukraine situation where the public was paying more attention. But as a general issue, it's not a top, top issue for...

ALLEN: I think Robin Williams was a little higher than...

DIMOCK: That's right. You know my poll better than I do.


MARTIN: Next to—yes, with your hand up there. Yes?

QUESTION: Kirsten Youngberg with the European Parliament. So we've talked a lot about—or you've talked a lot about how the foreign policy is very much centered around that crisis point around ISIS, and the opinion polls are kind of showing that it's that direct threat to the U.S.

Given that, how do you think with the midterms the kind of positions on other foreign policy issues, some of the less crisis-threatening kind of issues are going to evolve? I'm obviously, being from the European Parliament, interested in the E.U. perspective and relations there.

ALLEN: You have a lot of new colleagues coming up. It's a great story, right. Very fascinating. Go ahead.

DIMOCK: No. I mean in the midterm it's hard to see other than this general perception of Obama and whether that becomes even more of a rallying cry for Republican frustrations how a lot of these issues play into this midterm election.

Again, people just don't tend to connect what's happening in Russia and the Ukraine with Congress. That's something they associate with the president, the way they view leadership in those realms. And so I don't see a lot of direct—or really the only indirect sort of through Obama to some extent in terms of how it might affect the elections.

And I don't know that candidates want to really talk about it because it is intractable. I think the upside of this—you know this all sounds like a lot of dark clouds for Obama. But there's a possible upside of this for Obama.

I mean this is a crystalizing issue, ISIS. It's a very kind of clearly defined problem right now. It's not clear what the solution is in that it's going to be easy to solve. But it's not like Ukraine. It's not like Gaza where you start to get engaged in those and you really have no idea where it's going to go.

This is an issue that if he can come up with a strategy and execute on it and the public feels like real tangible progress is made, that could work to his benefit. And I think the other ones just feel much scarier and larger and harder to manage at this point.

ALLEN: Yes. Michael, I agree that one of the purposes for the speech tomorrow night is to convince people that he has a plan, he knows what's happening, try to articulate it. And the American public tends to react very well if a president has a plan. And then they start to unpack what it is.

But to get specific to your question, these other crises contribute to this sort of general unease. There's a fantastic polling organization called Pew that the other day had a poll that had the wrong track in this country at 70 percent. Like that's an astonishing number, right? And all of the crises that we've been talking about are unquestionably a part of that.

MARTIN: It's a pile on.

ALLEN: Yes. No question.


Over here?

QUESTION: Tad Gioni (ph), George Washington (ph). Is there wisdom in the crowds? What I mean, when I listen to the very things you report, aren't the American people awfully smart? Doesn't it sound like what they couldn't get it right? I mean Ukraine doesn't—I mean (inaudible). Do you find the public is very smart?

DIMOCK: I study the public so I like to give them a little bit of credit. But I think foreign policy is really hard.

I mean we all know the background and the history to this. Americans don't engage in world affairs the way a lot of other publics do. And you know they don't have the same tangible sense of it. And I think their perceptions of America's place in the world have been unique.

You know there's always been this special sense of America's role. And part of what's made the last 10 years so difficult for Americans is it feels like the rug's been pulled out in that. That sort of you know the role that the U.S. played, the leadership of the United States is really challenged.

And that's seen overwhelmingly in the poll that we did last week. People feel like we are weaker in the world, that we don't have the same respect in the world that we used to have. And that just makes Americans almost want to pull back more because...

ALLEN: Well, the president doesn't argue—the president doesn't argue that we have the clout in the world that we did.

DIMOCK: Right. And the turning point for that was not under Obama. The turning point was you know as the War in Iraq started to deteriorate, as that met more resistance domestically and internationally there was this—there was a real turn in how Americans viewed their role in the world. And that's really stayed the same for most of the past decade.

ALLEN: And taking Michael's point at the top is one of the factors that really worries people planning the Hillary Clinton campaign, and that is her record, her fluency, her credibility is on issues that are very difficult for people to connect with.

So I think we'll also hear her talking about income inequality. I think we'll probably also hear her talking about domestic education. But it's harder for her to make that leap. And at least initially it worries her messengers.

MARTIN: Yes, in the blue?

QUESTION: Thank you. Miriam Sapiro from Brookings.

To go a bit farther than foreign policy, back to where you started, you made the comments that the Republican base is energized for November 4, but the Democratic base is not. Some folks had thought that if the president had made a different decision in immigration that might've helped. Who knows? It's off the table in any case.

Less than 60 days, but still plenty of time in politics for things to happen. In your view is there anything that the president should have done or could do that would energize the Democratic base in a more positive way?

DIMOCK: It's tricky. If I knew the answer I'd probably be in a different job right now. But the immigration one is an interesting one. I think clearly this has frustrated a lot of people in the base.

I think the calculus of it was fairly straightforward from their perspective, which is the Latino turnout is already low. And if you look at the 10 or so states with the most competitive Senate races, there're almost no Latino voters in the first place.

So the—however that might depress turnout or disengage a segment of the electorate that is critically in a national sense to the Democratic Party in the presidential races, that was just not going to have enough upside to counterbalance the downside to Obama and the Democrats, which was creating yet another rallying cry for the Republican base. So I think that one you know when you just looked at the numbers, you looked at the races, it wasn't—the risks way outweighed the benefits.

So what else could they do? I think that's a huge question. I don't have an easy answer to that.

ALLEN: And just to agree, to be more specific, and Miriam as you know on immigration it was a state-by-state calculation. And you could argue that only Colorado...

DIMOCK: Right.

ALLEN: ... is the Senate race on the bubble or super competitive or it would've helped. The most competitive races...

MARTIN: (Inaudible) seem to be doing fine there.

DIMOCK: Yes. A good point, yes.

ALLEN: But the most closest race is it would've been—it would've hurt.

But you're right about this base turnout question. So if you ask Democrats how could you win, like how—like assume that everything we've said is wrong. What would we be writing the next day?

Like I sometimes ask them, I say OK let's say that you keep the Senate. Like what will Dan Balz write the next day about what—how you did there? What will Politico say about how you did?

What they'll say is well, we have five Senate races right now that are within 1 point and five races that are within 5 points. So you get to October. You're close. You're in the margin of error. And we're going to do 1 point better than any of the polls show us. And you say wait, well how do you do that? Well you know that's the fun part. Long shots come in.

So the point is that, as you suggest, that the base in turnout will make a big difference.

MARTIN: But is there any issue? Is there any issue that could move that for the president?

ALLEN: Yes. Were you thinking of one or?

MARTIN: No. I'm asking you.


You're the special adviser to the president here. Place that hat on.

ALLEN: OK. I'll be the moderator...

MARTIN: No, no, no.


Yes, in the back?

QUESTION: Hi. Doug Ollivant with Mantid International and the New America Foundation.

In the wake of the 2006 midterms President Bush fired Secretary Rumsfeld, brought on Bob Gates, later brought on Doug Lute as the war czar to clearly signal there was a change in foreign policy and his priorities. Are there equivalent moves that this president could make? And would it make a difference if he did them before the midterms?

ALLEN: You asked if he could. Sure. And probably everyone in this room would have an opinion about that. Will he? Not a chance. Like that's just not how this president operates, from two points of view.

One is that he's very—Betsy's talked about this over the years. He's very reluctant to do things for purely symbolic reasons. He doesn't want to just satisfy the press. And he's interesting.

He's like George W. Bush in this way. They look at things over the long term. And he counsels his people not to do something for the news cycle or for the Sunday show or to get us past this week to think about the long term.

And second, this president just doesn't cashier people that he's put in place. And he is happy to have Secretary Kerry doing what he's doing. And I don't think he wants to admit a mistake in some of the other places. And so I don't see...


MARTIN: And they're relatively new in those positions anyway.

ALLEN: That's a good point. Yes.


Anything to add?


MARTIN: Questions? Yes, in the back?

QUESTION: Hi. Steve Glickman at Georgetown University. I was hoping you could do a little handicapping for us. Maybe the five or six closest blue to red potentially states. And tell us who's most likely to lose. And then in the two red and blue states, I guess Georgia and Kentucky, maybe tell us out of those who's—which Democrat is most likely to win.

ALLEN: Yes. So just to do a couple of them, the most surprising state where Republicans now feel like they're going to win is Iowa. And what's fascinating is that Joni Ernst became the candidate because of that single ad a lot of you've seen about hog castration.

And she was in a big field of Republicans. And Todd Harris, who some of you know is an adviser to Marco Rubio, was making the ads for that campaign. And he was sitting down and having this sort of bio sort of conversation that a consultant has with their candidate.

And she was talking about what she did when she was growing up. And she said, oh, by the way, I used to castrate hogs. And Todd, who was on his game, was like really? And so he made this ad that highlighted that. It broke through. And she became the candidate because of that.

And on the Democratic side, Bruce Braley, who's turned out to be a weaker candidate than people thought. In part, he has been hurt by footage of himself talking. It's never good when you hurt yourself.

But there was some footage that you guys have seen of him talking to a group of trial lawyers, seeming to identify more with them than with his agricultural constituents. And Republicans very smartly found that footage and that hurt him. So you have a Republican who's strong in Iowa.

Somebody told me that in North Carolina both of the candidates are running such flawed campaigns that if there were a state where no one was going to win, it would be North Carolina.


But it does look like Kay Hagan, the Democrat, is certainly hanging in, maybe stronger than people thought the Republican, who has been hurt by educational cuts in that country—in that state by the legislature.

I mentioned Arkansas, such a fascinating race. There is Mark Pryor, someone who has been - whose family has been in the state for so long. Like will—somebody—the way somebody put it to me is he gets the rhythm of the state, which is a good way to put it. Or will this sort of up and coming House member be able to unseat him?

In Louisiana, so the most—from a news point of view, the most exciting outcome, and one that's possible that you would have a—you would have 50-50 results on Election Day and there would be a Louisiana runoff in December and a Georgia runoff in January. That would be the best outcome for political...

MARTIN: Leave it to Louisiana.

ALLEN: ... political reporter. But you do very—you do have a possibility that Mary Landrieu would be in a runoff where Betsy's people assume that she would win. Right?

MARTIN: Yes. I mean but she's taken some hits as of late on the residency issue and...

ALLEN: How many senators—three senators at least now have had trouble with that.

MARTIN: Pat Roberts in Kansas. Yes, several.

What about Kentucky? I mean I was surprised that the polling showed Mitch McConnell up by a pretty comfortable margin.

ALLEN: Yes. I think Democrats would tell you that Alison Lundergan Grimes hasn't been what they hoped. Mitch McConnell, who is just so unpopular in the state that he's defying political gravity a little bit in those polls...

MARTIN: But maybe Obama is more unpopular.

ALLEN: Right. That's right. And the New York Times Magazine last weekend had a fantastic article about this race where you saw that Mitch McConnell is someone who's been able to talk about what he's done and communicate big things that seem to be playing in that state where just as the president is hurting in Louisiana or Arkansas, the president certainly is hurting in Kentucky. You can count on not seeing the president there.

MARTIN: No, not at all. No.

Anything to add to that, Michael?


MARTIN: Yes, way in the back?

QUESTION: Jodie Allen, formerly Pew and also formerly the Washington Post. I wanted to ask you about E.J. Dionne's column this morning in which he alleges that there is a building—coming together of independents or predominantly independents and moderate Republicans to try to oppose current trends to the Republican Party, points to a couple of states where this is so.

Do you think that he is pointing to anything of any importance? Do the polls show this? Or, Mike, in your judgment does anything show that moderate Republicans are reemerging as a potent force?

ALLEN: I never disagree with E.J. I will say that he can be an optimist sometimes.

DIMOCK: Yes. No, I tend to agree.

I mean at the—I—we're mostly looking at the national level. And you do see fissures in the Republican Party. And it's still the case today as it was in 2010 that most of the real fire and activism and participation is coming from the real, down the line conservatives, socially conservative, economically conservative. Now as of today you know sort of foreign policy hawks that the energy is there.

But when you look at the demographics of it, it really is clear that something's going to have to shift there. I mean there are—there actually are young people who lean toward the Republican Party. Very few of them identify with the Republican Party nationally, but there are some who lean that way.

And when you look at why, it does have to do with the arguments about government, you know the idea—the idea of free enterprise, the idea that the engine of growth is linked to individuals kind of taking control of their own lives and moving ahead. It's something that's actually very Millennial in its thinking of what individuals can do.

And there is a kernel there that exists. But it's a kernel that's so alienated by the kind of down the line conservatism, particularly on issues like immigration and gay marriage and that sort of issue which already I think the party is—at least the latter of the party is shifting away from.

It's got to change. You know and I don't know whether you would call them moderates. They're not exactly moderate. I mean they may well be very passionate about some of those economic issues.

In some respects their distrust of government can be just as strong as the distrust among these sorts of more traditional Tea Party Republicans. But there's something that's going to have to give on some of those fronts at some point. It won't be in a midterm. It might be in a general.

ALLEN: Yes. That's right. And these factors that Michael's talking about is where Senator Rand Paul has been so smart and so intentional. And you talk about the invisible primary: message, staff, travel, fund-raising.

And this is why Rand Paul is unquestionably crushing it in the invisible primary. Because he goes out to Berkeley and he's very smart. He talks about the NSA, talks about intelligence, and getting a standing ovation.

What Senator Paul would say to you is, a lot of the young people that show up at my events that we want to reach, the Republican Party has not been talking to. They don't own businesses. And so a lot of our traditional Republican message doesn't reach them. A lot of them don't pay a lot of taxes. So that message doesn't reach them.

But all of them have a smartphone. All of them have a laptop. So let's talk to them about that. And that's what he's out doing. And he's going to keep doing that.


MARTIN: Sort of the original Howard Dean of...

ALLEN: Yes, that's right.

DIMOCK: And one thing that links it back to this about generational issues is that young people take a very different view of what's going on with ISIS and sort of Islam in general. There's a lot more fear and concern among older generations than younger generations.

And the piece from the ABC-Washington Post this morning that showed overwhelming support, I think close to 70 percent overall for military strikes in Iraq. You know this was this big surge that they found support for military strikes. It's 51 percent of 18- to 39-year-olds. It jumps to 66 percent, 70 percent plus among the 40 and olders. So...

MARTIN: Why do you think that is?

DIMOCK: Part of it is they're not paying a lot of attention. You know they're not following the situation terribly closely. But part of it is I think they in particular sort of—they—there's a tone to this that comes across as very us versus them. And there's a tone of it that comes across as a little bit associated with religion, ethnicity and divisions that really don't sit well with younger people. We've been tracking for more than ten years now views of Islam, and whether Islam is a religion that encourages violence, and what people's perceptions are of that.

This will be in a poll that we're putting out tomorrow. Young people are completely convinced that there's nothing about Islam that's linked to violence. It's when you get up in the older generations that there is.

And I think that that plays into why they're reacting to the situation differently. It doesn't seem like a big, broad existential threat. It's a situation in a place that's pretty far away from us. It's not something that's linked to a broader web of concern.

MARTIN: Just to follow-up too, since you mentioned that your poll coming out tomorrow, can you give us a preview on some of the issues of civil liberties?

DIMOCK: Yes. I mean the civil liberties side of it...

MARTIN: Maybe connect them to...

DIMOCK: It does. And I think it's connected, as you say, with younger folks too.


DIMOCK: I mean the civil liberties, the public a year ago was tipping very much toward the civil liberties argument, post-NSA, Snowden, a sense of government overreach. And the polls were—our poll and many others were tipping in the balance between protecting the country from threats and protecting our civil liberties, you know what should take priority. It was tipping more and more towards civil liberties.

I think in the context of this you know that may shift. Or we'll see. I was telling Mike as we were getting ready, the poll's still in the field. I don't want to get out in front of it. But it's coming in later tonight, so.

MARTIN: Yes? Over here?

QUESTION: Larry Korb, Center for American Progress. Speaking of foreign policy, will Michelle Nunn be able to ride on her father's foreign policy credentials in Georgia? Is that going to help her?

ALLEN: It'll help her. There's no indication that it's enough, right. She was really hurt—this is really fascinating. She was really hurt by—some of you saw this. Her campaign plan that included the finance plan, the press plan, the political plan, was leaked.

Like we think that what happened was that it was a—so this was the most sensitive possible campaign document. It included OPO (ph). It included her own vulnerabilities, how she should answer them. And we think what happened is that it was a Google Doc that was being shared...

MARTIN: On iCloud?

ALLEN: That's right. That was briefly made public and somebody grabbed it and the National Review posted it. And it is astonishing.

If you all haven't looked—everybody here is interested in politics. I have never seen something like this even after a campaign, let alone during it. It's so fascinating, and it's the ultimate behind the curtain. But that really hurt her.

And that's another candidate that just hasn't-- I think Democrats would tell you that hasn't necessarily gotten that altitude that they'd hoped for.

MARTIN: But she's definitely benefited from her father's lists and political affiliations?

ALLEN: Well, they do—and they do events together...


ALLEN: A lot of events together, so. And one of the—one of the big campaign events that they list there, they listed the tentpole events for the campaign and one of them was her dad's birthday, so they definitely are planning a lot around that.

MARTIN: Yes. Probably an e-mail birthday card that goes on (inaudible) before.


QUESTION: Hi. Dan Kaniweski. I'm out of Homeland Security Research Institute.

Perhaps you saw the story, I believe it was yesterday, about Josh Rogin who broke a story about something called the Hay Initiative, which is a group of 150 Republican intelligentsia in the foreign policy space.

Curious, given the divides within the Republican Party, is it possible that there will be a unified foreign policy position coming out of these groups that would be helpful to all the campaigns as they envision.

MARTIN: Did I read about this in Playbook, this one?

ALLEN: Yes. These are the Tudors. Yes.


ALLEN: And I think they'd answer probably no. But there's no question that having those ideas out there will help the candidates. And I think as with any campaign, you'll have them treated as a buffet and take an idea here and an idea there. And of course think tanks and research institutes are happy to have the candidates do that.

And so you don't—you could read that and think oh there's going to be sort of plug-n-play foreign policy. I think the people in this room, all of whom have studied campaigns over the years, will agree that that's not likely to happen. But it was fascinating to see this new way that the ideas are coming to the campaigns.

MARTIN: Yes, sir, in the front?

QUESTION: Thanks. Hi. Rick Johnson with Citibank. I wanted to just tap your prognostication abilities a little bit, and clarify too.

It sounds like with the president's I have a plan speech the calculus there is to take a bit of the wind out of the sails of you're not a leader. On the other hand, do you feel like the Republicans are going to let it go, particularly in terms of the Russian situation, the Ukrainian situation? And keep beating up on the president to push for more an aggressive sanctions, even though we have an I have a plan speech?

DIMOCK: Well, yes. I don't think they want to let go of the foreign policy area because it's turned into an area where people's confidence in Obama has sort of been shaken. And it does reflect the broader environment.

So I think the we don't have a plan yet statement kind of presented and crystalized the broader sense of a president who didn't have a vision for how to address these complicated problems. So even if he does come out strong on this one and say no, no, no, I do have a plan now and here's what it is and we're going to go after these guys. There's no reason the Republicans would let up on all the other stuff.

I think all of that turns into a rally. I mean this conversation that you know America needs a leader like Putin seems to ring in some people's heads. And I don't think some people are going to let it go.

ALLEN: And just to add to what Michael's saying, what I think you're going to hear a lot is Republicans who go on Sunday shows and elsewhere are going to be asked more aggressively what would you do, what is your plan? Because the answers to that have not been very specific and so I think that you're going to hear more and more Republicans having to give a better answer.

DIMOCK: You mean presidential candidates or just in general...

ALLEN: Would-be presidential candidates, right.

DIMOCK: Would-be presidential candidates. Right.

MARTIN: If someone could do a quick last question. We'll have time for one more, but it's got to be quick. Anybody? That was too challenging.

OK. Well we're going to fade out a little early here. So thank you all for coming. And just a reminder that everything that was said tonight is on the record.

ALLEN: Thank you, Betsy. Thank you all.


Good job. Great job. That was fun.

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