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.

FILED UNDER: Campaign 2012, National Security, US Politics
Doug Mataconis
About Doug Mataconis
Doug Mataconis held a B.A. in Political Science from Rutgers University and J.D. from George Mason University School of Law. He joined the staff of OTB in May 2010 and contributed a staggering 16,483 posts before his retirement in January 2020. He passed for too young in July 2021.

Comments

  1. OzarkHillbilly says:

    How many of the 7 will say or agree that “Leaving Iraq now risks losing all the gains that so many sacrificed so much for.” (or something like that) Ron Paul is the only sure bet, and that is to the negative. (Huntsman too? I don’t recall him saying anything on it)

    My money is on Romney, Bachmann, Santorum. I would include Perry and Cain but I am not sure either of those 2 are capable of saying anything coherent on Foreign Policy.

  2. OzarkHillbilly says:

    Why do I keep forgetting Newt? Is that Freudian moment or what?

  3. ponce says:

    Remember way back when America thought the Republicans were the go to party for serious foreign policy ideas?

  4. Ron Beasley says:

    It will mostly consist of Obama is apologizing for America.

  5. michael reynolds says:

    There’s a three way contest for Most Profoundly Ignorant, between Bachman, Cain and Perry.

    A two-way for Most Out Of Touch With Reality between Paul (for his views) and Huntsman (for imagining that a party of idiots would ever choose him.)

    There’s no contest for Most Insufferable, Newt owns that category, but there could be quite a contest for Most Knowingly Dishonest between Newt and Romney. (Note that this requires some familiarity with, you know, the world.)

    And of course Santorum is unopposed in the Frothy Mix category.

    Personally I think it would be fun if the moderators started asking about made-up countries. “So, Mr. Cain, what do you think of the situation going on between Narnia and Rohan?”

  6. Ron Beasley says:

    @michael reynolds:

    Personally I think it would be fun if the moderators started asking about made-up countries. “So, Mr. Cain, what do you think of the situation going on between Narnia and Rohan?”

    Too funny!!!

  7. WR says:

    @michael reynolds: “There’s a three way contest for Most Profoundly Ignorant, between Bachman, Cain and Perry”

    Or, as they say in Republican debates, between Bachmann, Cain and… wait a minute…nope, drawing a blank… someone want to help me out here? Oops.

  8. Dazedandconfused says:

    I suspect we will witness the creation of an SNL sketch.

    Cain once declined to state his foreign policy on the basis that until he is made President, he lacks the needed information to craft one.

  9. OzarkHillbilly says:

    @Ron Beasley: I cannot utter the word “Ditto” so I say, “That too.”

  10. Ben Wolf says:

    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.

    Hunstman is without question the only one who has a basic grasp that these two countris exist. I’m willing to bet he’s also the only one who can find them on an unlabelled map. But one of our resident trolls should be along soon to inform us that only liberals care about that stuff, and America needs a Real Conservative who understands that knowing stuff just confuses you anyway.

    Jeebus, bullying gays, a camera in every uterus and gettin mooslims: That’s what Real Murkins care about.

  11. ponce says:

    Oh dear,

    If Rick Perry says he’d cut Israel’s welfare payment to zero, it may be time for Israel to stop stealing Palestinian land.

  12. Not much in foreign policy because with the exception of Paul’s it’s all the same. Steal tax payer money and give to Israel and continue to spill blood in the Middle East and parts of Asia. Oh but of course their is Perry’s retarded idea of invading Mexico.