Will Belgium attacks impact White House bids?

Posted at 7:38 PM, Mar 22, 2016
and last updated 2016-03-22 19:38:34-04

Presidential campaigns tend to gravitate to a well worn path, sticking to a familiar narrative until unforeseen events knock them off. Tuesday's attacks in Belgium fall into that category. How the various candidates react can help shape the remainder of the race.

"This clearly has a lot of reverberations," said Dr. Tom Sutton of Baldwin Wallace University. "As a candidate you've got to show strength, unity, that you have a plan for what you're going to do to stop this and certainly at a minimum stop it from coming here to the United States."

In 2002, he was quoted as saying "when people feel uncertain, they'd rather have somebody that's strong and wrong than somebody who's weak and right." It's something that Sutton said applies to situations like this but with conditions.

"That is of course the danger where you have the policy side that says look here are the most effective ways that we know to combat and prevent these incidents and try to stop them, but on the other hand you have the public outcry that says we want to see a show of strength and frankly whether it works or not we want to see that we're doing something," he said.

Sutton pointed to the Afghanistan invasion after 9/11 in 2001 as something where both came together. "Clearly this is where al-Qaeda was based and so this is where we invaded but then when we get to 2003 and the Iraq war that's where it got a little more diffused and in hindsight there's a lot more mixed feelings about that then there were 12 years ago."

The potential impact is evident when you look at the Paris attacks last fall. On November 13, the Real Clear Politics average had Donald Trump and Ben Carson essentially tied with 24 percent of the vote at the top of the list of GOP hopefuls. Over the next four weeks Trump's numbers would soar and Carson's dip to the point they never recovered.

"Donald Trump has been talking all along about the need to show strength and go after Isis," Sutton said. "Ted Cruz has said the same thing about radical Islam and Governor Kasich has said the same thing."

"The differences are that Cruz and Trump are also talking at the same time about turning inward and moving away from some of these global commitments, not engaging in nation building. Just yesterday we had Trump talking about do we still need NATO but NATO's an integral part of the global strategy to deal with these terrorist extremists."

"When it comes to Governor Kasich he talks about his experience on the Armed Services Committee, being involved in various administrations on these issues in the 80s and 90s and so he's trying to be the voice of experience."

"No one knows clearly what to do that will be 100 percent effective but for the eyes of the electorate they've got to see I can trust this person when it comes to showing strength doing something and making me feel more secure," Sutton said.