How Obama's Response to ISIS Is Boosting Trump and Cruz
Policy + Politics

How Obama's Response to ISIS Is Boosting Trump and Cruz

REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst

President Obama’s low-key response to the recent ISIS attacks in Paris has turned off many Americans, even as the bombastic, tough-guy talk of Donald Trump and Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) is resonating with Republican voters, according to new polling data.

Obama, who drew sharp criticism from Republicans and some Democrats for his response to the deadly Nov. 13 terrorist attacks, met on Tuesday in Washington with French President Francois Hollande, who is seeking to bolster international cooperation and intensified attacks against ISIS forces. Obama said that the United States stands united in “total solidarity with France,” but he did not announce any major shifts in his policy.

Related: 3 Reasons Americans Are Losing Confidence in Obama’s Fight Against ISIS

Over the weekend, Trump upped his criticism of Obama’s policies for combating the terrorists as “stupid” and “incompetent” while promoting his anything-goes approach of aggressive bombing and waterboarding of ISIS troops, cooperating with the Russians in attacking Syria, and closely identifying and tracking Muslims in this country. And Cruz, who favors an immigration policy that accepts Christian Syrian refugees but not Muslims, dared Obama to criticize his plan to his face.

"Mr. President, if you want to insult me, you can do it overseas, you can do it in Turkey, you can do it in foreign countries, but I would encourage you, Mr. President, come back and insult me to my face," Cruz told reporters last Wednesday.

According to recent polls, Trump and Cruz are getting considerable political mileage out of their tough-talking rhetoric, especially in Iowa, while Obama is losing his standing on leadership. By failing to deliver a stern warning to the enemy and strong reassurance to a shaken U.S. public last week, Obama at least temporarily created a leadership vacuum that the Republicans happily rushed in to fill.

According to a new Washington Post-ABC News poll, Obama’s approval rating has abruptly dropped into negative territory, with many voicing frustration or anger over the president’s handling of terrorism since the Paris attacks.

Related: A Testy Obama Warns Republicans: Your Rhetoric Is Helping ISIS

Fifty percent of the Americans surveyed said they disapprove of Obama’s performance while 46 percent approve, a turnabout from a 51 percent to 45 percent margin in October that marked the president’s best showing in more than two years, according to the poll.

Moreover, the share of those who "strongly disapprove" of Obama on terrorism surged from 31 percent to 43 percent, far surpassing the previous record high of 35 percent.

Critics have complained that Obama is understating the threat of ISIS – especially after telling ABC News that the terror group had been “contained” just hours before the Paris attack that killed 130 people and wounded several hundred others. The president described the carnage as a “setback” and then seemed annoyed when reporters repeatedly questioned whether his year-old strategy of air strikes and training and coordination with local forces battling ISIS in Syria and Iraq was working.

He has said repeatedly that he will not change course by substantially upping the number of air strikes, sending in more U.S. ground troops or cooperating with Russian forces in Syria. He has also picked a fight with Trump and other Republicans who called for a halt to the flow of Syrian refugees into this country to protect against terrorist attacks on U.S. soil, saying that Republicans were afraid of children and elderly Syrians who pose no threat to this country.

Related: With ISIS Making Millions, U.S. Boosts Its Attacks on Oil Fields

But the public appears more eager than Obama to increase military action against ISIS, with 73 percent of respondents to the Post-ABC poll saying they favor increased air strikes and 60 percent supporting the increased use of ground troops. Still, there is little support for a large-scale U.S. effort and two-thirds say the U.S. should take a supporting role behind European and Middle Eastern forces in the wake of the Paris attacks.

Meanwhile, a new Quinnipiac University poll confirms that Cruz has parlayed his tough talk on immigration and appeal to evangelical Christians to a strong showing in Iowa, home to the first GOP presidential caucus of the 2016 season.

While Trump leads in the state with the support of 25 percent of likely Republican caucus goers, Cruz is close behind with 23 percent – or double his support from just four weeks ago, according to the survey. Cruz has squeezed out Ben Carson, the former neurosurgeon and darling of Christian conservatives, who finished third with 18 percent.

The findings are similar to those of a new CBS News poll released over the weekend showing Trump leading with 30 percent of likely Republican vote, Cruz second with 21 percent and Carson third with 19 percent.

Related: Why Even Obama Doesn’t Know If We’re Winning the War Against ISIS

Some 88 percent of Iowa Republicans are “very worried” or “somewhat worried” about the possibility of a Paris-style terrorist attack in the United States and 81 percent oppose allowing Syrian refugees into the country. On the question of which of the candidates is best equipped to handle terrorism, 30 percent of the Republicans chose Trump and 20 percent chose Cruz, while just 10 percent picked Florida Sen. Marco Rubio, another up and comer in the presidential contest.

By a margin of 73 percent to 22 percent, Iowa Republicans support sending U.S. ground troops to fight ISIS in Iraq and Syria and by 83 percent to 9 percent believe that the U.S. and its allies are losing the war against ISIS.