Wars help presidents so long as the rally-round-the-flag effect holds up. The Iraq war did so for Bush in 2002 and even 2004 (though by then it was becoming uncertain whether the Iraq war was helping or hurting Bush). On the other hand, a conflict that has no clear end in sight vexes Americans of all political stripes, summoning up deep strains of both conservative isolationism and liberal anti-imperialism. As my Rutgers colleague Ross K. Baker, a congressional expert, wrote last spring, "Combat fatigue is not a condition found only on the battlefield; it is also an affliction that has often been diagnosed in the voting booth." If there's a history lesson to be drawn from this year's election results, that one would be closest to the mark.
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