Will The Paris Attacks Affect The 2016 Election? For Two Candidates, The Calculation Has Changed

As the world continues to grieve over the attacks that killed at least 129 people in Paris, the U.S. presidential race continues chugging along. It may seem crass to analyze the attacks through a cold political lens, but the fact is that the violence in Paris will affect the 2016 race. Nobody can say for certain what that effect will be, but two candidates appear more well-positioned now than they were a week ago: Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump.

While Clinton is the overwhelming favorite to win the Democratic nomination, she still has two marks against her in the eyes of many liberal voters: her ties with Wall Street and her hawkish foreign policy. Income inequality has become a top issue for Democratic voters over the last several years, and Clinton hasn’t been helped by the perception that she’s buddy-buddy with rich Americans in the financial sector (This line of attack was used against her many times in the second Democratic presidential debate). Meanwhile, anti-war Democrats have always been skeptical of Clinton’s aggressive foreign policy, and even some on the right consider her to be a Bush-style neoconservative.


The violence in Paris may blunt both of these arguments against Clinton. For one, it’s no longer plausible to claim that ISIS is solely a regional problem in the Middle East. The attacks in Paris — along with the possibility that ISIS downed a Russian airliner in October — suggests that the group indeed poses a worldwide threat. That strengthens the case of any American politician who errs on the side of military intervention, as does Clinton. As far as Clinton’s Wall Street ties go, heightened fears about international terrorism tend to make things like banking regulations seem a bit less significant.

As for Trump, the calculation is a bit simpler, and perhaps a bit more depressing. So far, Trump has based his presidential campaign primarily on a vicious, nativist opposition to illegal immigration. He primarily talks about this with regard to Mexico, yet his broad argument — that open borders bring crime and violence to America — is easily applicable to the rise of ISIS, the Syrian refugees, and just about any issue involving people going from one country to another.

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That’s not to say that Trump’s argument is a good one. But amongst the roughly 28 percent of Republicans who already support him (and who have been supporting him for months), the attacks in Paris will only confirm that Trump is right about immigration. The only way for Trump to win the GOP nomination — a very real possibility at this point — is to hold on to the support he already has, and the violence in Paris makes it a lot easier for him to do this.

The full political consequences of the Paris attacks are not yet evident, of course, and won’t be for quite some time. Nevertheless, the two frontrunners for the Democratic and Republican presidential nominations both have a stronger case for their candidacies now that a tragedy like this has become a reality.