Daniel McCarthy makes the case:
While Republicans wage a war on the past, Barack Obama has staked claim to the future—in the same way that Richard Nixon and Ronald Reagan once did. The reputation for competence in wielding power that Nixon (before Watergate) and Reagan accumulated now accrues to Obama’s advantage. He brought the troops home from Iraq—however reluctantly—and is on course to end the war in Afghanistan next year. His foreign policy, like Nixon’s and Reagan’s, involves plenty of military force. But like those Republicans, the incumbent Democrat has avoided debacles of the sort that characterized the administrations of Lyndon Johnson and George W. Bush.
Millman pushes back:
I’m unconvinced that Vietnam is the key reason why the Democrats lost their status as the majority party. Rather, I believe it was overwhelmingly domestic policy considerations – and particularly the nexus of race and crime – that overwhelmingly drove the “Silent Majority” into the arms of Richard Nixon, and, subsequently, motivated the Democrats of Macomb County, Michigan, to pull the lever for Ronald Reagan.
That doesn’t mean Vietnam was irrelevant, but in the absence of the currents of domestic social change, I suspect the Vietnam debacle would have looked more like, say, the Korean War, the memory of which did contribute to the Democrats’ losses in 1952 and 1956, but did not lead to a long-term realignment.
The war was instrumental in driving younger voters away from the GOP and into the Democratic coalition in 2006 and 2008, and most of them have remained there since then. Of course, Iraq was not the only thing about the Republican Party and mainstream conservatism that alienated Millennials, but it is correct to say that the Iraq war increased and hastened Millennial alienation from both. The important point is that the GOP was already going to be struggling to appeal to a more diverse, more liberal younger generation, and a foreign policy defined by the Iraq debacle has made that task even more difficult. So the sobering thing for Republicans to consider is that the Iraq war is a liability for them with Americans of all ages, and it has already proven to be a disaster for them with younger voters.
I wonder how that may affect the GOP’s clear desire for a new Middle East war against Iran. For the first time, I suspect, the party will be deeply split between the Paul and Rubio camps. Which is when it gets really interesting – and when America’s decision to remain the global hegemon for the indefinite future will come under the deepest strain.