Whether or not you think the GOP has a strong field, one thing is for sure. Any of these candidates would be better than Obama when it comes to foreign policy. That came across clearly from more moderate voices like Jon Huntsman in addition to the two front runners. Overall it was a great performance by all the candidates. The contrast between the GOP field, including Ron Paul, and Barack Obama was clear. So, here are the winners and losers:
Mitt Romney won the debate because of his smooth ability to introduce ambiguity on some issues to give all Conservatives a cushion of comfort. See Newt’s performance below. Mitt also took on Ron Paul and I think Mitt won that debate. It seems pretty clear that Al Qaida terrorists and Timothy McVeigh do not represent the same sort of threat. In fact, I would argue that lumping McVeigh, a disgruntled anti-American government citizen attacking the system, in with the 9/11 hijackers, foreign terrorists attacking and targeting United States civilians, is a very dangerous way of looking at foreign and domestic terrorism. I sure hope we would treat a foreign terrorist crossing our border illegally differently than a citizen radical trying to build a bomb in their basement because the IRS just sent them another tax notice.
Jon Huntsman demonstrated his firm control of foreign policy issues. I think he overcame some fears when he affirmed our strong relationship with Israel. Huntsman also expressed sentiments on Afghanistan that have been felt by many Conservatives who were mislabeled as “neo-cons” over the last decade. Many Conservatives supported both wars, but do not support something for nothing nation building in nations that don’t respect us and don’t appreciate the sacrifices we have made. Huntsman turned again and again to the economy and the failures of Obama and Congress to solve the problem. Huntsman’s point on how we leave North Korea alone because they have a nuke, but invaded Libya after they gave up their nuclear ambitions is a great diagnosis of the inconsistency in America’s position towards nuclear ambitious countries.
Newt had a great, issue free performance. Here is the problem. Newt comes across hawkish, and he is far too honest. In the end, Mitt agreed with him on long-time illegal immigrants, but Mitt said it in such a way that will be taken better by anti-illegal alien Conservatives. Newt also hurt himself by endorsing and calling for an expansion of the Patriot act. This could help guarantee that Ron Paulites stay home and let Obama get re-elected in 2012. What Newt should have said was that he supported the Patriot Act, but recommends examining it for things that could be eliminated or added. I think Newt is too straight forward on a subject that honestly Americans would prefer some ambiguity on. Same with covert operations. His answer regarding opening our oil resources is not new, but continues to be a very strong point for him.
Ron Paul continued to solidify his base and add some fringe Conservatives who are weary enough of the wars to want to radically change America’s relationship with the world. For these people, Paul’s angry old man persona, scoffing and reacting to opponents’ answers, and idea that if we leave terrorists alone, they will realize the error of their ways and leave us alone, will not affect his support. Still, Paul would make a better foreign policy President than Obama. At least his disengagement would be total, not mixed with war hawkishness like Obama’s.
Rick Perry’s substance earned him a higher spot after this debate. I still think his idea of zero based budgeting for foreign aid resonates with Americans. His refusal to dabble in hypotheticals about illegals who have been here more than a quarter century is going to help him as people weed out Romney and Gingrich’s immigration comments and discover the softness there.
Herman Cain did well not to hurt himself in this debate. He has come across as unknowledgeable on foreign policy. In this debate he showed he has a recognizable set of foreign policy principles, although he kept things pretty vague. He didn’t hurt himself and that is a victory for him on foreign policy.
Rick Santorum comes across as a neo-con. This debate didn’t really change that, and only a change in that perception would cause his status to change as a result of this debate. No mistakes, but also no movement for him after this debate. He continues to maintain that we should be paying Pakistan for friendship.
Michele Bachmann is either a career politician or has issues with comprehension. On multiple occasions she seemed to not be able to grasp her opponent’s position. A glaring example was when she interpreted Newt’s soft approach to long-time established illegals as some sort of call for general amnesty to 11 million illegal aliens. She played the same role in Rick Perry’s demise, but now it seems more like a desperate cry for relevance. Rising and falling as the Social Conservative choice at this point will require superiority on the issues, not loud misunderstanding of opponents, even though that usually produces success with the general electorate.
No matter who the nominee is, what is clear from last night is that we cannot afford four more years of Obama’s foreign policy.
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