NBC News: We’re sure ISIS war will help Obama in the midterms, even if Obama isn’t

On Monday, officials revealed to the press that President Barack Obama will not try to improve his party’s electoral prospects by campaigning for embattled Democrats on the issue of the airstrikes on ISIS in Iraq and Syria.

That is a smart move. Polls suggest that the nascent military campaign against the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria enjoys some broad public support, but the president waging that campaign does not.

An NBC News/Wall Street Journal/Annenberg poll taken after Obama’s address to the nation last Wednesday night found that the public generally approves of the mission to take out ISIS, but Americans also have little faith that Obama will succeed in that mission. 68 percent of respondents said they had “very little” or “just some” confidence that the president’s plan to eliminate the threat posed by ISIS will be successful. A number of recent polls, including that one, have found Obama’s job approval rating on foreign policy matters mired in the mid-to-low 30s.

NBC News superstars Chuck Todd, Mark Murray, and Carrie Dann all note in a piece today that, with only weeks to go before the pivotal 2014 midterm elections, Obama has embraced his role as commander-in-chief over campaigner-in-chief. Without noting that this is a recent development and one unlikely to last more than a handful of weeks as the 2014 midterm election cycle heats to a rolling boil, the NBC News First Read team observed that Obama will be spending the next several days with his military commanders and foreign heads of state, conspicuously avoiding the campaign trail.

Obama’s new indirect approach to aiding Democrats by appearing to be a competent civilian commander of the military, NBC’s First Read suggests, might be of more help to the president’s embattled fellow party members than would his overt backing.

“Obama brandishing his commander-in-chief credentials also might be the best way for the White House to assist Democrats this fall,” read NBC’s report.

Murray followed up on Twitter by expounding on his theory:

While it is possible that the public will abandon their mistrust of Obama based solely on the optics associated with being America’s commander-in-chief – and that is what we are talking about here, not tangible operational successes in any of the missions NBC News cites – this seems unlikely in the near-term.

In fact, it is more likely that the midterm election season will expose the partisan fissures regarding the campaign to “degrade and destroy” ISIS which linger just below the surface of American politics.

As The Washington Post’s Aaron Blake noted on Tuesday, polls suggest that the bipartisan unity currently characterizing the mission to disrupt the ISIS threat is superficial. “[I]t’s becoming clear that Republicans are angling for a more active role in combating the Islamic State, while Democrats are very much concerned about so-called ‘mission creep’ — i.e. getting too involved and not being able to go back,” Blake asserted.

Pew asked people whether they were more concerned about going too far in Iraq and Syria or not going far enough. Republicans and conservatives both say overwhelmingly that they worry about not going far enough; Democrats and liberals worry more about doing too much.

Obama has been waging (or not waging) a political war for months, with key domestic concerns dictating America’s level of engagement or disengagement in Iraq and Syria. This self-evident condition, and the impression that chaos around the world is on the rise, is what has led to the public’s lack of confidence in Obama’s ability to handle foreign affairs competently. The president will need some measurable successes in order to reverse this trend, not a few photographs of him alongside his generals looking presidential.

What’s more, as Blake wrote, partisanship will soon come to dominate the debate surrounding the ISIS campaign, further compelling Obama to take domestic political concerns into account while executing his anti-ISIS strategy. That will only exacerbate Obama’s foreign policy problem, and will not prove a boon to his fellow Democrats on the campaign trail.