House Republicans are hoping that fears over national security will be their ticket to a bigger majority come the November midterm elections, so much so that their message can be reduced to one panic-induced montage of terror, terror and more terror.
"Are they coming for us?" an anchor says in a new ad by the National Republican Campaign Committee, which has been on a fear-mongering tear lately. "They are actively working to come for us," says another, while images of extremists roll on screen.
The 30-second spot features warnings from Fox News ("ISIS eyeing Mexican border"), conservative watchdog group Judicial Watch ("imminent terrorist attack warning"), and even Islamic State extremists currently under bombardment by the U.S. ("we are in your cities"). It paints a picture of complete chaos -- even though most intelligence analysts find a minimal threat to the U.S. homeland at present.
The ad then charges that Rep. Rick Nolan (D-Minn.), who is being challenged by Republican businessman Stewart Mills, "voted to release terrorists held at Guantanamo Bay and then voted against funding for our troops fighting the war on terror."
That sounds pretty bad -- until one does some digging. The NRCC cites a June 2013 vote Nolan cast for an amendment that would have permitted the construction of new facilities in the U.S. to house Guantanamo Bay detainees. Yes, the measure would have "released" detainees, to borrow the NRCC's language, but only to new prisons in the states. What's more, Nolan is not alone. Many Democrats, including President Barack Obama, support closing the infamous detention facility.
The NRCC cites a June 2013 vote Nolan cast for an amendment that would have permitted the construction of new facilities in the U.S. to house Guantanamo Bay detainees. Yes, the measure would have "released" detainees, to borrow the NRCC's language, but only to new prisons in the States. Many Democrats, including President Barack Obama, support closing the infamous detention facility. And while the amendment failed, it did attract the support of one Republican, the libertarian-leaning Rep. Justin Amash of Michigan.
The ad's other claim, that Nolan voted to cut funding for troops fighting terrorism, is similarly dubious. Nolan did vote for an amendment in June 2013 that would have ended the 2001 Authorization for the Use of Military Force; the measure, which failed, would have prohibited funding for force past 2014. But the amendment was meant less to hinder the fight against terror and more to reassert Congress' constitutional war powers. Many members of Congress support the repeal of the AUMF, given that it has been interpreted broadly to justify military actions around the world. Twenty-one Republicans also supported the measure that Nolan voted for.
Greg Walden, the NRCC's chairman, described the group's new strategy last week: "In campaigns, you want to be talking about issues people care about."
National security remains a sensitive topic among Americans. It's one thing to be "talking about issues people care about," however, and quite another to be hyping fears over terror to win votes.