The Republican Party’s Election Day messaging has included a focus on President Joe Biden’s botched handling of the American withdrawal from Afghanistan, which ended with a rapid Taliban takeover and a suicide bombing that killed 13 U.S. service members.
The GOP has vowed to investigate Biden over the Afghanistan debacle if and when they win control of Congress after Tuesday’s midterm elections, while the White House has defended the president’s decisions.
The Republican National Committee’s research team said to “think of this when you vote today.” The team shared a New York Post cover story from Aug. 31, 2021, featuring Biden looking at his watch during the dignified transfer ceremony at Dover Air Force Base for 11 of the service members on Aug. 29, 2021.
“DISHONOR,” the cover story read. “Biden looks at watch as caskets come home. Americans abandoned as last plane exits Kabul.”
While paying his respects, Biden looked at his watch multiple times during the ceremony, and some family members criticized the president over it, while some were also upset when he brought up his deceased son Beau Biden when meeting with them. The younger Biden deployed to Iraq from October 2008 to September 2009, was diagnosed with brain cancer in 2013, and died two years later.
The president honored the 13 on the day of the bombing, saying: “These American service members who gave their lives — it’s an overused word, but it’s totally appropriate — they were heroes. Heroes who have been engaged in a dangerous, selfless mission to save the lives of others.”
The 13 U.S. service members were killed on Aug. 26, 2021, after an Islamic State terrorist detonated a suicide vest outside the gates of Kabul’s airport. The dead included 11 Marines, one Navy hospital corpsman, and one Army soldier, along with approximately 170 Afghan civilians. Dozens of U.S. troops were also injured. The attack occurred as the United States led evacuation operations at Hamid Karzai International Airport while the Taliban, including Haqqani Taliban faction forces, provided security outside the airport.
The deaths represented the final U.S. service members killed in the military’s 20 years in Afghanistan. Hundreds of Americans, as well as tens of thousands of Afghan allies, were left behind after the withdrawal.
Multiple other Republicans cited Afghanistan as a reason to vote against the Democrats in the midterm elections.
Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) tweeted Tuesday: “Rampant Crime. 40 year-high inflation. $6 gas. Baby formula shortage. Open borders. Afghanistan collapse. China and Russia growing ever aggressive. Abandoning our allies. Supply chain crisis. This is President Biden and the Democrat Party’s legacy.”
Sen. Roger Marshall (R-KS) said on Monday: “Tomorrow is election day. As a reminder, this is how Democrats have governed over the last 2 years. … Biden’s disastrous Afghanistan retreat led to the deaths of 13 U.S. servicemembers.”
Trump also brought it up during an election eve rally in Ohio for GOP Senate hopeful J.D. Vance.
“They surrendered our strength and turned Afghanistan into the greatest humiliation our country has ever had,” Trump said. “I believe it was the most humiliating thing that has ever happened to our country.”
A poll by Morning Consult and Politico found that, in April 2021, 69% of respondents supported and only 16% opposed Biden’s plan for withdrawing all U.S. ground forces by Sept. 11, 2021. But support for the withdrawal had declined to 49%, and opposition had risen to 37% between Aug. 13 and Aug. 16 that year. The Taliban seized Kabul on Aug. 15, 2021.
The decline of Biden’s overall approval rating seems to track closely with the Afghanistan disaster.
When the president announced the plan to withdraw in mid-April 2021, his approval stood at 54%, while 41% disapproved, according to RealClearPolitics. Disapproval for Biden didn’t surpass approval for him until just after the Taliban takeover, but it has remained so ever since.
Biden’s approval rating was at 50% and his disapproval rating was at 46% on Aug. 15, 2021, but that flipped to 48.6% disapproval versus 47.8% approval for the first time in his presidency on Aug. 20, 2021. The numbers sat at 49.4% disapproval and 45.3% approval by the end of September 2021 and 51.5% disapproval compared to 42.7% approval by the end of October 2021.
That has remained fairly steady, with Biden sitting at 54.6% disapproval versus 42.1% approval on Election Day 2022.
A number of Gold Star family members spoke with the Washington Examiner ahead of the one-year anniversary of the airport attack, expressing deep feelings of frustration with Biden, whom they accuse of not caring about their loss.
Days after the bombing, the U.S. launched an airstrike officials believed would prevent an imminent terrorist attack on the airport, though officials later acknowledged the strike had targeted a civilian aid worker whom they thought posed a risk to the evacuation. The target, Zemari Ahmadi, was killed along with nine other civilians, his children among them.