There’s a popular narrative that says all a president has to do to get reelected is to start a war at precisely the right time. The thing is, that narrative simply isn’t true. The reality is that a popular president can become more popular by starting a war, because the people trust that president’s intentions. But an unpopular president can only make things even worse for himself by trying to start a war at a time when the people are already sick of his crap.
This brings us to whatever it is that Donald Trump just did in Iran. After Iranian-backed forces attacked the U.S. Embassy in Iraq, the United States had no choice but to carry out a proportional response. Trump had to blow up something, as would any other president in Trump’s position, in order to let Iran know that there are consequences for violently attacking U.S. soil. The thing is, Trump overplayed his hand.
All that Trump had to do was blow up an ammo dump or two in Iran, and call it a day. He’d have been widely praised by the media for carrying out the correct proportional response. Instead, he overplayed his hand by taking out Qasem Soleimani. Trump seemed to think he’d get credit for taking out a notorious monster. But while no American is going to miss Soleimani, the reality is that Trump’s response was not a proportional one, but an escalatory one. It’s so over the top, Iran will now have to respond in some way, in order to save face with its own people.
Donald Trump has consistently shown that he’s afraid of war. It’s been clear all along that he fears a war could finish off what’s left of his teetering presidency. But now that he’s forcing Iran to respond in kind, he’ll soon face a no-win situation where he has to either escalate things further in response, or humiliate himself by not responding. If Trump gets us into a war with Iran, his reelection odds will drop to zero. No matter how many times the media makes the braindead claim that war can somehow magically get an unpopular president reelected, it’s a laugh-out-loud false narrative. Even Trump knows it.
Bill Palmer is the publisher of the political news outlet Palmer Report