Footage from Afghanistan is already starting to pop up in Republican political ads, and GOP consultants say it's going to provide TV-ready ammo for attacks heading into the midterms.
Why it matters: The haphazard U.S. withdrawal is the first major policy vulnerability presented by the Biden administration. The opposition expects it to play heavily in 2022 messaging — and even in the 2024 presidential contest.
- Afghanistan marks the first major U.S. military withdrawal of the digital era. So, while a few images from Saigon in 1975 are indelibly seared in the American consciousness, the ubiquity of cellphone cameras now means tons more first-hand footage.
- Those harrowing images — of people falling from airplanes and babies being passed over barbed-wire barricades — are a political-persuasion goldmine.
- The Democrats remind it was a Republican — George W. Bush — who started the war, and two Republicans — Donald Trump and Mike Pompeo — who set in motion the final withdrawal and negotiated its terms with the Taliban.
What's new: The America First Policy Institute, a group staffed by high-level Trump administration alumni, has already started running ads using some of the chaotic footage.
- The digital spot features Taliban fighters mobilizing in seized U.S. military equipment and occupying the presidential palace in Kabul.
- Another GOP-aligned group, Citizens United, is running similar ads. They make the Saigon comparison explicit, juxtaposing images of U.S. helicopters airlifting personnel out of diplomatic facilities.
- The ads from both groups contrast images and video from Kabul with Biden remarks last month predicting an orderly U.S. exit.
The big picture: The images and videos coming out of Kabul are "certainly film-ready when we get to the voter-contact stage this cycle," said veteran GOP operative Jeff Roe. His firm, Axiom Strategies, is advising numerous GOP candidates in competitive races this cycle.
- The clips will feed a Republican line of Biden administration ineptitude, Roe said. So even years down the line, when Afghanistan is no longer front-page news, "this is gonna be evergreen because it's a gateway drug to political incompetence."
- Roe compared it to George W. Bush's infamous speech below a "Mission Accomplished" banner in Iraq weeks after the U.S. invasion in 2003.
- "There weren't a lot of Republican congressmen or senators defeated because of a 'Mission Accomplished' banner. But ... everybody that voted for it had to have that banner wrapped around their neck, and the same thing is gonna happen here."