The "Toughness" Factor

Looking at some numbers from the latest Pew poll - specifically, that 43 percent of Americans think that Obama's foreign policy approach is "not tough enough," compared to just sixteen percent who say the same of John McCain's - Matt writes:

They don't, on the face of things, seem like very good news for Obama. But they come in the context of a poll that shows Obama beating McCain by a large 50-43 margin. Meanwhile, it seems to me that the best argument McCain has available to him is to try to persuade voters that Obama isn't tough enough on national security issues. Conversely, Obama's people will try to argue that McCain is too much of a warmonger. Given that a lot of what McCain is going to be looking to accomplish has been done already and he's still losing, this looks like trouble to me.

Maybe so. But it still seems possible for McCain to gain ground on this front even if the underlying "toughness" numbers don't change that much: He just needs to raise the salience of the public's already-existing perception that Obama isn't sufficiently tough/seasoned/etc. on foreign affairs, to the point where it becomes an issue that determines which way people vote. I think this will be a difficult thing to do in the current foreign-policy landscape, but it's way to soon to say it's impossible. Obama has yet to face off against a candidate (unless you count Joe Biden) who can attack him for his foreign-policy inexperience without it seeming like at least something of a stretch - and that "red phone" ad would be an awfully lot more effective if it ended with John McCain picking up the receiver.

Basically, McCain isn't going to win this election without 1) making the race turn on foreign policy to a greater extent than it looks like it will right now, and 2) persuading a large chunk of the American public that his instincts about Iraq might be better than theirs. If he can't pull this twofer off, he doesn't have a chance; if he can, though, then those "toughness" numbers will end up mattering a lot more than Matt hopes.