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Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

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. (It also uses one clip from 2007 of U.S. troops training Afghan army soldiers.)
  • 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."

Go deeper

John Frank, author of Denver
Sep 17, 2021 - Axios Denver

Colorado Republicans want to cancel 2022 primary vote

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

A majority of the Colorado GOP's governing committee is expected to vote Saturday to cancel next year's Republican primaries and opt for an internal process to pick candidates in the 2022 election.

Why it matters: The move would prevent 1.8 million unaffiliated voters — a plurality of those registered in Colorado — from casting ballots in the Republican primary elections next year.

DOJ sues American Airlines, JetBlue to block "unprecedented" alliance

Photo: Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg via Getty Images

The Justice Department on Tuesday sued American Airlines and JetBlue to block an "unprecedented series of agreements" that will consolidate the two airlines' operations in Boston and New York City.

Why it matters: The civil antitrust complaint alleges that the planned Northeast Alliance (NEA) "will cause hundreds of millions of dollars in harm to air passengers across the country through higher fares and reduced choice," the DOJ said in a release.

FBI: Body identified as Gabby Petito, death ruled a homicide

A memorial dedicated to Gabby Petito near City Hall in North Port, Fla. Photo: Octavio Jones/Getty Images

A body found in Teton County, Wyoming, on Sunday was confirmed to be the remains of missing 22-year-old blogger Gabby Petito, the FBI announced Tuesday.

Driving the news: The death was ruled a homicide by the Teton County coroner's office, the FBI said. The cause of death has not been determined.