The Republican race now seems to be between Mitt Romney, the consummate establishmentarian, and Newt Gingrich, an hysterical blowhard. But if you watched Tuesday night’s national security debate, you’d never have guessed which was which.
Mitt Romney: B- Any time you screw up your own introduction, it's going to be a bad night. Romney wasn't horrible by any stretch, but he got pushed by Huntsman on civil-military relations and by Gingrich on immigration. Those guys are no Rick Perry. He did rally with a very thoughtful and considered answer on Syria, however…. in which he schooled Rick Perry.
[T]he consequences for Gingrich should be swift and severe. If Perry’s heresy on immigration hurt him badly in Iowa, there’s no reason to believe an even more extreme position by Gingrich will not turn his current high hopes in the Hawkeye state to dust.
I’ve been through enough campaigns to know that staff is paid to seize on minor matters and elevate them to heresies over first principles. That goes with the territory. But if the Republican Party has adopted a position in which Gingrich’s thoughtful and nuanced stand on immigration is viewed as disqualifying, then it will pay a price, morally and politically.
Mr. Gingrich’s answer [on immigration] will not be all that harmful to him. One reason is simply that Mr. Gingrich’s views on immigration are not all that far out of step with those of Republican voters. Although I can’t find a survey that catalogs Republican responses to Mr. Gingrich’s proposal exactly, a New York Times/CBS News poll from May 2010 on a broad range of immigration-related issues provides some evidence about an analogous proposal.
I can't help but think that Gingrich, while hurting himself politically, may be saving his soul here. I know that this is not the metric by which political reporters judge these things, and I'm not launching into the "moral perils of horse-race coverage" lecture, but let's take a moment in these sorts of situations to acknowledge a candidate who actually makes a deeply human argument. Especially at Thanksgiving.
[T]here are rumblings in the GOP about the extent of America's commitments abroad. For now, Huntsman and Paul are their most eloquent exponents. In contrast to Paul, however, Huntsman is anything but an isolationist. His worry is that America can no longer compete economically, particularly with China. What this debate showed, then, is that the GOP candidates are genuinely debating what the party should stand for in foreign affairs.
This is dangerous stuff. If a nation of America’s power were to stalk the globe with the kind of swagger and disregard for other nations’ interests and sovereignty that was reflected in that debate, the result would be a destabilized world. One has to wonder what kinds of crises would unfold if one of these candidates were to become president.
America's largest trading partners are, in order: Canada, the Eurozone, China, Mexico, Japan, the United Kingdom, South Korea, Taiwan, Brazil, and India. In an ideal world, a debate about foreign policy would say something about these key states. What did we get last night? Almost nothing. Five of the top ten, including our number one partner, went unmentioned and Europe only came up as a secondary consideration for a point that was really about Iran.
Several foreign policy wonks complained about the focus: Europe was entirely ignored, and there were no questions about China, and other important issues were also downplayed or ignored. I’m not sure I mind that. As long as the questions are substantive, we get to hear the candidates talk about public policy, and that seems to me to be one of the reasons to have these things. After all, the candidates are all publishing plenty of position papers on all the big issues, and there are still plenty of debates to go for all the questions to be raised.
The question, which Romney presumably heard, was about Al Shabab in Somalia, and what the U.S. might do to address this potential threat. I realize this is a relatively sophisticated question, but the former governor’s response was to attack President Obama’s patriotism. Worse, Romney continues to throw around the "apologize for America" garbage that’s plainly untrue.
Strangely, the big winners were not actually in the room. Barack Obama was one. He won both because he looks so good next to these guys and because they showed him great deference in the degree to which they generally tip-toed around his real accomplishments. But even his triumph was transcended by the night's biggest winner: Bibi Netanyahu. Somehow, he managed to get two of the candidates — Romney and Santorum — to publicly state their first trip as president would be to Israel. And Gingrich offered to work with Israel on a conventional invasion of Iran. And these were just a couple of the highlights.