Battle Lines Over Obama’s Speech Break No New Ground

Screen Shot 2015-12-07 at 10.08.55 AMMAGGIE HABERMAN

Monday, December 7, 2015

 

Good Monday morning. President Obamas speech on Sunday night about the threat of the Islamic State was intended, White House officials said, to ease the fears of the American people. Whatever effect it may have had on the public, the reactions on the campaign trail brought very few surprises.

Mr. Obamas nationally televised address from the Oval Office was received with deeply partisan reactions even before it was over, with Democrats praising him for urging restraint against sweeping condemnations of Muslims, and Republicans saying the speech did not match the importance of the moment.

Mr. Obama broke no new ground in terms of policy or tone, and his address was described ahead of time as an attempt to soothe growing anxieties among Americans about a terrorist threat that has morphed from the extensively plotted (like the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001) to the less sophisticated and smaller in scope (like the killing in San Bernardino, Calif., of 14 people last Wednesday).
Mr. Obama said there should be no extended ground war commitment for the United States, and said that Muslims also needed to be forceful in addressing the terrorist threat. He characterized the San Bernardino shootings, as well as those at Fort Hood, Tex., in 2009, as acts of terror (he also erred in describing how one of the two shooters last week entered the United States, something his aides corrected after the speech). He never mentioned Donald J. Trump, the leader in polls for the Republican Party presidential nomination, but it was clear he had the real-estate developer in mind when he talked about caution in discussing new programs that would affect Muslims. He also explicitly tied terrorism to a renewed argument about gun control.
The speech was criticized roundly by the Republicans looking to replace Mr. Obama in office, including Mr. Trump and Senator Marco Rubio of Florida.
Terrorism has for weeks been rising as a concern for voters, one that could either endure or fade by the time the general election takes place. In the meantime, it has reshaped the landscape of a Republican nomination battle in which there remain two clashing theories of the case about voter moods. It will either be dominated by a new kind of force embodied by Mr. Trump, a billionaire from New York who has forged common purpose with working-class white voters, or, as backers of people like Jeb Bush and even Mr. Rubio are convinced, by a more conventional candidate.