The chaotic U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan has given Republicans their clearest opening yet to attack President Joe Biden’s leadership—and a golden opportunity to ask supporters to convert their rage into campaign cash.
The push appears to be paying off. While a full accounting won’t be public until the next round of quarterly campaign finance disclosures in October, one Republican political strategist told The Daily Beast that the last month has been one of the party’s most lucrative of the year. “Which is surprising because August is usually a quieter month across the board,” the strategist said.
Dozens of GOP entities, from the party’s official House and Senate campaign committees to campaigns for sitting senators to even campaigns for state legislature, have in recent weeks blasted out fundraising appeals through email and on social media that center Biden’s handling of the Afghanistan withdrawal.
A typical pitch, sent from Rep. John Moolenaar (R-MI) to supporters, declared that Biden has “abandoned Afghanistan to a brutal and repressive regime.”
“America deserves security and peace of mind,” read Moolenaar’s message, “that’s why I hope you will pitch in and join the fight to hold our Commander in Chief accountable for putting American lives at risk!”
Other Republicans have used the issue as an excuse to blast out invitations to sign petitions or participate in opinion polls—not an overt donation ask, but a tool fundraisers use to sneakily set up a solicitation or at least collect a potential future donor’s information.
House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-CA), for example, ran a Facebook ad on “Joe Biden’s Afghanistan lies” and encouraged users to “rate” him. The link led to WinRed, Republicans’ online fundraising platform.
In GOP campaign circles, operatives are noticing the increase in fundraising appeals that focus on Afghanistan. Several spoke to The Daily Beast on the condition of anonymity to candidly describe what they are observing ahead of public disclosures, and to discuss internal fundraising strategy.
“It’s definitely an issue that has been extremely motivating and has small dollar donors fired up,” said one Republican campaign operative, “and it’s certainly an issue that we’ve seen an uptick in giving on.”
Another strategist noted that digital fundraising tends to be fueled by public energy, not necessarily the specific details or merits of the issues themselves. “It feels less like online donors are giving just because of Afghanistan itself, but rather because there’s so much intensity around that issue right now,” the strategist said.
The issue has also put the GOP on its most favorable turf yet for attacking Biden. Republicans may be divided on fundamental questions—like ex-President Trump’s role in the party—but they are unified in their criticism of Biden’s Afghanistan withdrawal. New polling has found that independents are souring on the president’s management of the crisis, while the media provides a steady drip of critical coverage.
“It’s got our folks energized. Biden ran as a foreign policy candidate, and they’re now seeing this as one of the worst foreign policy debacles in the history of our country,” this person said.
Gaining an advantage through an opponent’s foibles is nothing new in politics, but some issues require a delicate touch. With 13 U.S. service members dead after a terrorist attack, and some U.S. citizens and Afghan allies still struggling to leave the country, Republicans admit they must strike a messaging balance so as not to come across as improperly capitalizing on a grave national crisis.
That hasn’t stopped some Republicans from embracing scorched-earth rhetoric in their messages to donors. J.D. Vance, a GOP candidate for Senate in Ohio, sent multiple emails to his supporters asking them to answer a poll question: “Do you think Joe Biden handled the situation in Afghanistan horribly?”
Rep. Madison Cawthorn (R-NC), who was recently mocked for saying the U.S. withdrawal prompted him to invoke the 25th Amendment to remove Biden from office—something members of Congress cannot do—asked supporters in an email to “TAKE THE POLL: Joe Biden’s disastrous handling of Afghanistan proves he is UNFIT to be commander-in-chief.”
“The unfortunate truth is that digital marketers cause more bad press than anyone in campaigns,” one Republican strategist remarked to The Daily Beast. “But they raise a lot of money.”
To address that sensitive point, Republicans have leaned on their pro-military credibility. Rep. Brian Mast (R-FL), an Army veteran who lost both legs and a finger to an IED in Afghanistan, authored a fundraising email attacking Biden as “a liar” who “does not deserve to have the words ‘commander’ or ‘chief’ anywhere in his title.”
That solicitation, unlike others, went out from Mast’s campaign, as well as the official Republican National Committee and National Republican Congressional Committee.
A crop of lesser-known GOP veteran candidates, meanwhile, have leveraged the issue to introduce themselves to conservative supporters and to solicit cash. One of them is Sam Brown, a retired Army captain who was scarred by an IED explosion during his tour in Afghanistan, and is challenging Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto (D-NV).
“I nearly burned to death in Afghanistan,” Brown said in a Facebook fundraising ad. “Biden's hasty withdraw is a blatant disregard of our sacrifices… Please chip in immediately to send a Veteran to Washington who understands the issues and will always fight for our national security.”
Some Republicans are expecting to see a lot more of those pitches as the 2022 cycle heats up. A GOP strategist told The Daily Beast that “where Afghanistan will really help is with candidate recruitment.” The issue, he said, will likely “galvanize Republican veterans appalled at what they’ve seen Biden doing—leaving Americans and interpreters and allies behind—and vets typically make good candidates.”
State-level entities, such as the Republican Governors’ Association and the Arizona Republican Party have also tried to exploit the outrage. Kelli Ward, the far-right chair of the Arizona GOP, tied Biden’s Afghanistan decisions to a dog’s breakfast of hot-button issues on the right.
“Maybe if he and his ‘woke’ generals spent less time pushing Critical Race Theory and more time planning this exit strategy, we wouldn’t be looking at an embarrassment on the international stage and the ABANDONMENT of U.S. citizens! But instead, we’re left with a humanitarian crisis that rivals the one he already created at the Southern Border,” Ward’s email said. The email attempts to tie the Afghanistan controversy to Sen. Mark Kelly (D-AZ), a former U.S. Navy pilot up for re-election in 2022.
But the GOP’s biggest money draw has largely stayed on the sidelines. Donald Trump—who originally negotiated the military withdrawal—has endorsed hardly any of the war-related pitches, according to SendView’s database of his campaign emails. One of those solicitations ties Afghanistan to his lawsuit against social media companies with the screaming headline, “BREAKING NEWS: TWITTER CHOOSES THE TALIBAN OVER PRESIDENT TRUMP!!!”
And Republicans aren’t the only ones seizing some opportunity. Several Democrats, such as progressive Reps. Ro Khanna (D-CA) and Pramila Jayapal (D-WA), have sent emails to supporters endorsing Biden’s decision to withdraw and end the 20-year war.
And the far-left Green Party took shots at both sides, writing in one email, “Donate to the Green Party today, because the Democrats and Republicans have a deadly addiction to empire.”
While the Afghanistan crisis may sell well to GOP donors in the short term, there’s some disagreement within the party on whether it will be an influential long-term dynamic in the 2022 midterms.
One Republican operative argued that Biden’s handling of the withdrawal is now being seen by voters as separate from whether it was a good idea for the U.S. to leave—and has become squarely a referendum on Biden’s leadership.
“This issue is, at its core, a job performance issue,” said the Republican. “So, it’s not like some of the other crises—it’s a direct result of leadership choices that were made.”
But another Republican strategist expects the issue to fade, as voters turn their attention closer to home. “I still think the issues that will eventually determine the midterms are domestic—the economy, border, and crime,” the strategist said. “Those will still be the issues voters will make decisions on.”