Bhutto's Assassination: The Political Impact

Former Pakistani Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto was assassinated just hours ago after a campaign rally in the town of Rawalpindi. This attack will have a significant impact not just on American foreign policy, but also on the American political scene.

The Washington Post's Chris Cillizza argued a few minutes ago that Rudy Giuliani will benefit from Bhutto's assassination because it would shift the political dialogue back to terrorism and national security. Cillizza was roundly criticized in the comments section after his post for appearing insensitive to the tragedy and placing politics above mourning.

Before I go any further, I must stress that I strongly disagree with those who criticized Cillizza for assessing the political impact of this tragedy. The fact is, politics never sleeps. And while it may appear unseemly at times, politics is always in play whenever a tragedy happens. It happened with the JFK assassination and LBJ's succession. It happened with the Columbine shootings and gun control. It happened with the 9-11 attacks and war. It happened with Hurricane Katrina and the inefficiency of government. And it's going to happen again with this.

The job of a political analyst is to assess the political impact of news that affects this nation. Again, while that may seem crass, that is what we are charged with doing. In light of this terrible assassination, our thoughts and prayers are most certainly with Bhutto's family and the Pakistani people. But we must not forget that there will be consequences for this, and that we should seek to assess these consequences. That's what we as political analysts do.

As for the impact of this attack on our politics, there will be some serious questions about the financial assistance the Untied States sends to Pakistan. And there will be renewed skepticism about President Pervez Musharraf's ability to govern Pakistan effectively and his commitment to holding free and fair elections next month.

Regarding the presidential race, I disagree with Cillizza. I believe the renewed focus on national security and terrorism will benefit John McCain more than Giuliani even though Giuliani will certainly benefit more than most other candidates. The reason why is because John McCain is well-positioned to win New Hampshire. Rudy Giuliani is not going to win Iowa, New Hampshire, South Carolina, or Michigan. He will have to wait until Florida to possibly win a state. McCain could snatch Giuliani's national security mantle and start racking up victories before Giuliani even gets on the scoreboard. Independent voters in New Hampshire who were planning to vote for Obama may decide to vote for McCain instead. (More on Obama later.)

McCain is also a much more credible on national security and military affairs than Giuliani is. And McCain still has a lot of appeal among independent and Democratic voters just like Giuliani does. But McCain has the better resume and also has the experience of having run for president in 2000. And finally, McCain is closer to the Republican base than Giuliani on abortion and gun rights.

This news could not have come at a worse time for Mike Huckabee and Mitt Romney. Neither Mike Huckabee nor Mitt Romney has much foreign policy experience. However, Mitt Romney is in serious danger of being overtaken by McCain in New Hampshire. Mike Huckabee could be eclipsed by Romney in Iowa, but because both of them are weak in terms of foreign policy experience, it's a wash. And because this news changes the subject from moral values and Christianity, that further disadvantages Huckabee but is a net positive for Romney because the questions about Mormonism will be shoved off the front pages and Romney seems to have more going for him in the eyes of voters than simply social issues.

As for the Democrats, this news may prove fatal for the campaigns of John Edwards and Barack Obama. Hillary Clinton is going to make a strong case that now is the time to have a firm, experienced, steady hand in the White House. Even voters who don't agree with Clinton's overall platform will have to acknowledge the merits of this argument. My thinking is that voters only respond to messages of "change" and "inspiration" when they feel safe. But when they feel threatened, they will be more likely to err on the side of caution and stay with what's familiar. Aside from his poor campaign skills, that's one of the main reasons why John Kerry lost to George Bush in 2004. The "change" Kerry was offering was a bit too risky to too many voters "during a time of war," as Bush cleverly framed it.

Chris Dodd, Bill Richardson, and Joe Biden will also look more attractive in light of this tragedy, as each of them is highly experienced. However, I believe Joe Biden is the best positioned to truly make some noise in the Iowa caucuses. Richardson's credibility is suspect because his Iraq policy is often seen as overly simplistic or unreasonable (getting all the troops out, "no residual forces") and Dodd is so far at the back of the pack that not many people are really listening to his message even though he is obviously quite intelligent. Biden has been prescient about issues of foreign policy in the past and his Iraq plan was widely praised. He also correctly identified the threat posed by Pakistan at a recent debate. He is polling fourth in most Iowa polls. Voters who are seeking experience, but don't like Clinton may view Biden as an alternative.

Iraq has been off the front pages for the past few weeks, which has benefited Congressional Republicans. For the presidential race, when domestic policy is off the front pages, that benefits the candidates who are seen as having foreign policy heft. These candidates are McCain, Giuliani, Clinton, Biden, Richardson, and Dodd. Talk about Christmas, changing our politics, family values, and corruption in Washington will have to take a back seat to talk about foreign affairs and strength for the next few days. For the sake of Obama and Edwards in particular, they had better hope that the political dialogue returns to domestic policy before the Iowa caucuses next week because voters want to feel secure before they want to feel inspired.

21 comment(s):

Nikki said...

Not only do I agree with your McCain assessment...to me he may be the only chance of beating what appears may be a Hillary ticket in the general election. McCain is the republican only hope for maintaining the White House. at least it looks that way right now.
This is a reminder of the threat of terrorism. great post.

Thomas said...

Anthony, I never understood why Obama is seen as more of a "change" candidate than Clinton. I think the "first black president" but equally the "first female president" are historic changes.

People talk about battles from the 1990s being fought all over. I disagree. The 1990s were relatively peaceful compared to today which obviously left a lot of people a lot of time to worry about things that didn't matter much - Lewinsky scandal, Whitewater, Travelgate.

George Vreeland Hill said...

John McCain is a complete idiot.
He laughs at war many times, and is a Bush behind kisser.
Remember when McCain changed the words of a Beach Boys song to Bomb, Bomb, Bomb, Bomb, Bomb, Iran?
What a jerk.
If you vote for McCain, you will be voting for another George Bush.
That kind of leadership is garbage, and hurts America.
Just look at the past few years under Bush.
Everything he did turned into a mess.
He has no clue, and neither does McCain.
What a joke they both are.
As for the assassination of Bhutto, it is clear that we need a better way to deal with terrorists.
Bush does not have the answer or any answer to this problem.
People of terror will never change the world.
They are cowards who are twisted, and they think killing in the name of Allah will put them in a higher place with him.
The fact is that Allah will send them all to Hell for killing in his name.
Allah said do not kill.
Those who kill for Allah must not really believe in him.
Terrorists lie, and they believe their own lies.
Terrorists want no other religion but their own, but all forms of religion are allowed, and we as a people, will worship what and who we want.
I am,

George Vreeland Hill

Nikki said...

alrighty then.

Schenck said...


I think Palmer is right that this will help McCain and (I hate to admit it) Hillary, but I don't think McCain is the only Repub that can beat her... I think Paul and Bloomberg (both unconventional conservatives), I guess running on Independent tickets, could draw a huge majority of independent and democratic anti-hillary votes, including mine. And I'm sure conservatives would still rather have one of them than her.

Anthony Palmer said...


McCain is turning out to be "the last man standing." After conservatives and Republicans had their love affairs with Thompson and Huckabee, they are now turning back to Ol' Steady and they like what they see.

I will write a more detailed post about McCain's ascendancy either later today or maybe Sunday night. (I'll be out of town, so I hope I can write it before I leave tomorrow.)



The "change" Obama is talking about isn't about a change in the personal identity of a president (race, gender, age, religion, etc.), but rather a change in the way politics is done. Obama is arguing that a HRC presidency would only be a continuation of what he calls "politics as usual," which means unfulfilled promises, backroom deals, lobbyist influence, etc. The problem for Obama, however, is that he risks being seen strictly as a "change" candidate and not as much else, just like Huckabee risks being seen as the Christian candidate, but not much else.



You claim that McCain is "a Bush behind kisser." Would you also claim that the Democratic leadership is also a bunch of "Bush behind kissers" for giving him almost everything he wants regarding Iraq?

As for terrorism, one reason why I think the West fears it so much is because terrorists do not fear death. Think of all the suicide bombers, for example. Those bombers know that they will die, but as long as they can take dozens of other people with them, that gives them solace. As Westerners, we cannot comprehend the notion of someone willing to kill himself to kill others. And that scares us. Yeah, they may be kooky and crazy and deranged, but we're still afraid of them simply because we fear death more than they do.



Did you notice how Bloomberg actually released a statement regarding the Bhutto assassination? Very interesting indeed. You'd expect these statements from the actual declared candidates, but not Bloomberg, right? Could he really be plotting an indy run? If HRC is the nominee, I think he could get a lot of Democratic support and would cut into her NY and New England base.


Thanks as always for the comments everyone.

Schenck said...

Yo I just saw that statement at your recommendation - very interesting. I hear Bloomberg's been talking to Chuck Hagel quite often these days. It'd be nice to have a feasible independent candidate for once (in my life).

You know what would be interesting?
Obama vs. McCain vs. Bloomberg =
3-way tie

Substitute Hillary and there's no way the Dems would win.

Nikki said...

I think I would vote for Hillary over Ron Paul. To me that guy is a whack job. Hillary may be too but I get the heebies from Ron.

Nikki said...

Anthony.....try to squeeze it in!! just kidding I will be looking forward to the new post as usual.

Schenck said...

Nikki, they're all whack jobs. Every single one of them. Based on other comments of yours I've read over the past couple months, there's no way you'd vote for Hillary anyways, right? I mean, there's no way Paul will win the Repub. nomination, so I don't think we have anything to worry about, but it'd be interesting to see who Paul's supporters' second choices are.

Oh, and when I said "I think Paul and Bloomberg (both unconventional conservatives), I guess running on Independent tickets, could draw a huge majority of independent and democratic anti-hillary votes, including mine," I meant I'd vote for Bloomberg (if Hillary took the dem nom), but not Paul.

Nikki said...

You are right I would probably stay home that day if Hill were the better option. However I did post on my blog a while ago that a Huckabee nomination could get me to go left for the election. I know I like Obama better that him. As petty as the religious thing is, I have to be honest, I would have, could have and have voted for an evangelical in the past, but all the "mormon" stuff is under my skin. Like Anthony has mentioned and I agree with, let's get bake to the issues.
Oh yea and I clicked on your name to check out your blog and there was only a profile. It may be time for you to get going on your own blog!!! your comments are great to read. Thanks for concersing!!

Nikki said...

oh yeah.........and you would have to be a little whacked in the head to want the job of President!!!so yes they are all whacked.

Nikki said...

typos sorry. thanks for CONVERSING, AND BACK TO ISSUES NOT BAKE....:)

Schenck said...

Thanks for the encouragement, nikki! Maybe I shall, maybe I shall.

Nikki said...

I will be waiting to post a link on my blog to your blog......I know you have a lot to say, you are a taurus, and so am I. Trust me I rarely can keep quiet. get on it!!!! I'll comment first. :)

Silence Dogood said...


You noted "As for the Democrats, this news may prove fatal for the campaigns of John Edwards and Barack Obama. Hillary Clinton is going to make a strong case that now is the time to have a firm, experienced, steady hand in the White House."

Clinton is really light on experience in my opinion and one of the best moves her campaign ever did was to get people to believe she is one of the most experienced candidates when no one in their right mind would think Jenny Sanford is really anymore ready to be an effective governor than just about any current member of the state house. I don't think my wife (despite our marriage) is anymore prepared to take over my job at work than she would be if we weren't married (mind you - my job is "slightly" less complicated and being president)

Clinton's other great feet is probably making people think she is a change candidate esp. since this flied in the face of her experience mantra vis a vi the years in the White House - either she has the experience and she is not really going to be "the change candidate," any more than any other generic Democrat, OR she is the change candidate BECAUSE her administration will differ so greatly from those of the past and she won't be molded as the next Clinton clone of the conveyer.

Kudos to her however for making people believe that.

You were on the money with you take on political analysts, and while too disgreed with the analysis made re: Rudy, I don't think it was wrong of this analyst to make the comment - that was her responsibility to do, rather than inappropriate.

Schenck said...

shameless self-promotion (i'll link you all when i figure out how):

My Blog

(thanks nikki)

Silence Dogood said...

Anthony, as we are so close to the Iowa decision date. I have one question for you (and you may have answered at length before) so apologies if you have addressed. I have a pretty good feel for what the situation will look like with an Obama or a Hillary win in Iowa, however, one possibility I have not really be contemplating, but seems quite real at this point, is an Edwards win. If he wins in Iowa, where does that leave him? I don't think he could really in N.H. or S.C. at this point, but does that mean he is just legit enough to hold on until the big state contests. How has the "all in" in Iowa strategy worked for him, if he pulls off the big win there, where would that momentum slingshot him to in your opinion. Thanks.

Anthony Palmer said...


I've actually been thinking about Edwards' chances all day today, so we must have crossed a wavelength. That will definitely be my next post because his rise is happening at just the right time.

Sorry I haven't been around much lately. I had to go out of town for a wedding, and I just got back. Looks like there's a lot of news and comments for me to catch up on.

Silence Dogood said...

Anthony, that's pretty funny. I would love to hear what you think.
Apparently, here, is Edward's trying to answer some of those questions.


However, aside from the substantie part of the this interview, one other thing that really, really struck me about this (and I know as a media student you might find it interesting too) is that this was a 5 minute plus interview and the face of the candidate never was shown??? But the CNN correspondents face showed the whole time? That struck me as odd, did Edwards hurt himself? Maybe it was strategic by the campaign as the Iowa cold maybe left him red faced and unflattering, but still peculiar.

Nikki said...

WOW busy thread!! HAPPY NEW YEAR!!! Looking forward to a 2008 full of more awesome posts!! i gave you the Shameless roaring lion writers award on my blog..you don't have to participate but I thought you deserved it.....be safe!!!

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