Domestic partisan politics remain key to presidential election

Thomas Alan Schwartz
Thomas Alan Schwartz (Steve Green/Vanderbilt)

If recent historical trends continue, domestic issues will trump foreign policy successes in determining Barack Obama’s chances for re-election, says Vanderbilt University Professor Thomas Alan Schwartz.

“Foreign policy achievements rarely have long-lasting effects for modern presidents,” said Schwartz, an expert on U.S. foreign policy and a presidential historian.  “Yes, the removal of Osama bin Laden will produce a bump in Obama’s popularity, but the effect could be short-lived. While you cannot divorce the president’s role from commander-in-chief, this week’s events will certainly not guarantee a second term.”

Schwartz points to George H. W. Bush and Jimmy Carter as examples of presidents who soared in the polls after early foreign policy successes but ended up being one-term presidents due in great part to national economic struggles.

Schwartz, the author of Lyndon Johnson and Europe: In the Shadow of Vietnam, has researched the influence of domestic partisan politics and political struggles on the making of foreign policy during the first terms of Lyndon Johnson and Richard Nixon. The resulting article, “Henry…Winning an Election Is Terribly Important: Partisan Politics in the History of U.S. Foreign Relations,” was published in the journal Diplomatic History.