Republicans Love the Same Attack on Syria They Hated When Obama Considered It

In 2013, Barack Obama thought seriously about launching the same kind of attack on Syria that Trump ordered last week. Republican voters have totally flip-flopped on the idea. Photo: Ford Williams/U.S. Navy via Getty Images

Today’s polling news offers a pretty good data point for the theory of “asymmetric polarization,” the idea that GOP ideological extremism and/or antipathy for Democrats — not some equally culpable bipartisan lurch into the void — is responsible for the poor tone of contemporary politics.

Donald Trump’s cruise-missile attack on Syria in retaliation for the Assad regime’s use of chemical weapons is one of those rare instances where back-to-back administrations of different parties considered identical actions in identical places for identical reasons. Partisanship aside, you’d expect that support for such an action would be relatively even, right?

Well, according to a new ABC/Washington Post survey, support levels for an Obama strike in 2013 and Trump’s strike last week were indeed relatively even among Democrats:

37 percent of Democrats back Trump’s missile strikes. In 2013, 38 percent of Democrats supported Obama’s plan. That is well within the margin of error.

How about Republicans? Well, that’s a wildly different picture:

In 2013, when Barack Obama was president, a Washington Post–ABC News poll found that only 22 percent of Republicans supported the U.S. launching missile strikes against Syria in response to Bashar al-Assad using chemical weapons against civilians.
A new Post-ABC poll finds that 86 percent of Republicans support Donald Trump’s decision to launch strikes on Syria for the same reason. Only 11 percent are opposed.

If you see indications that overall support for Trump’s attack on Syria is relatively strong, there’s your reason. As it happens, though — in the ABC/Post survey, and in others like Gallup’s daily presidential-job-approval tracking poll — the judgment of so many pundits that Trump has had some sort of breakthrough in appearing “presidential” is not at this point being reflected in overall public support. So while Republicans like the missile strikes because it’s a Republican president launching them, other Americans are meh at best, and are not seeing Trump in any new light.

GOP Voters Love Same Attack on Syria They Hated Under Obama