Foreign Policy Mostly Missing From Republican Race
The Republican candidates for President have been mostly silent about foreign policy issues. That changes starting tonight.
Not entirely surprisingly, foreign policy issues have been mostly ignored so far in the Republican race for the nomination:
This year’s Republican candidates have been talking more about the 9 percent unemployment rate than a 3 a.m. phone call about a world crisis.
Issues that have traditionally been a key point for Republican voters — national security and foreign policy — has been almost non-existent in the nine debates to date among the Republicans who would replace Obama.
A POLITICO analysis of the topics discussed at the first nine major GOP debates of the 2008 race compared to this cycle’s shows just how stark the change has been: Talk of jobs has nearly tripled, talk of the economy has doubled. And mentions of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan have fallen about 65 percent compared to this period four years ago.
In large part, that’s because 2012 is shaping up as another it’s-the-economy-stupid election. But Obama also has effectively shielded himself from some of the GOP’s toughest criticisms with a handful of high-profile overseas successes — such as the killing of Osama bin Laden and the overthrow of Libyan strongman Muammar Qadhafi — that makes it harder for the GOP to portray him as some babe-in-the-woods Democratic neophyte, as Hillary Clinton tried to with her famous 3 a.m. ringing phone ad during the 2008 Democratic primary.
References to terrorists are down about 65 percent, and to jihadists, down about 90 percent. The killing of Osama bin Laden helped push his name more into the conversation among the candidates — but discussion of al Qaeda is down by half.
Use of the word “troops” is down more than a third, while use of “credit” has more than doubled.
When candidates have looked overseas, they’ve done so largely to make connections to the economy or to respond to major news events. This past Wednesday’s CNBC debate brought the number of mentions of China close to 90, and references to Europe — embroiled in a sovereign debt crisis that threatens America’s recovery — are up, too. Greece, on no one’s lips in any of the 2007 debates, has already been mentioned four times.
As I said, this isn’t entirely a surprise. Foreign policy hasn’t been a huge issue in Presidential races since the end of the Cold War and, even then, it was typically a side issue unless there was a crisis like Vietnam or the Iranian Hostage Crisis that was driving events at the time of the election. Moreover, let’s be completely honest about it, there really aren’t many foreign policy geniuses in the Republican field this time around. Outside of Jon Hunstman, who has multiple tours as an Ambassador as well as international business experience, every single one of them gets their foreign policy from their advisers. In some cases, actually, it seems like those advisers boil down to Sean Hannity and Rush Limbaugh. In others, such as Herman Cain, it’s fairly apparent that they are just plain clueless when it comes to even basic foreign policy issues, and they don’t show any signs of actually wanting to alleviate their ignorance.
Nonetheless, it would be kind of helpful for the public to hear what these candidates think about foreign policy, how they would deal with the issues of the world, and perhaps give us some reason to think that they possess the kind of judgment necessary to be the Commander in Chief of the American military. That’s why tonight’s CBS News/National Journal Debate will, hopefully, be at least somewhat instructive. It’s the first of two debates dedicated solely to national security issues that the candidates will engage in this month, the second will be November 22nd in Washington, D.C. I’m not really expecting very much from a lot of these candidates, obviously, but this forum will, hopefully, at least be a little instructive as to where these candidates stand and maybe even weed out some of the nuts (Bachmann and Cain, I’m looking at you).
In either case, it will probably at least be entertaining. If you’re interested you can tune in on CBS tonight beginning at 8pm Eastern. However, unless you live in South Carolina or on the West Coast, you’re going to miss the last 30 minutes of the debate. For some inexplicable reason, CBS has decided that it will only air 2/3 of the debate that it’s co-sponsoring so that it can air an NCIS rerun at 9 (of course, the NCIS rerun will probably get better ratings than the debate so it’s probably an understandable decision). Personally, I don’t understand why they couldn’t start the debate 30 minutes earlier, or start the NCIS episode 30 minutes later, but then I’m not a high-powered network executive so what do I know. If you actually want to watch the whole debate from beginning to end, though, or just pick up that last 30 minutes, you can watch the livestream at either CBSNews.com or NationalJournal.com. And, of course, I’ll be back in the morning with a wrapup of this, well, whatever it turns out to be.