Republican Foreign Policy Debate Post-Mortem
I liveblogged and tweeted my instant, mostly snarky, reaction to the CNN foreign policy debate. Here are some more fully formed thoughts.
I liveblogged and tweeted my instant, mostly snarky, reaction to the CNN foreign policy debate. Below are some more fully formed thoughts.
It was the first of the debates this year that I actually watched a significant portion of; I generally read about them the next morning. While last night again vindicated that strategy, it also reaffirmed another truism: the media reports of an event I saw live invariably diverge considerably from my own impressions.
The New York Times, for example, thought Newt Gingrich was the main story (“Spirited Foreign Policy Debate Includes a Test of Gingrich’s Rise“). My impression was that Gingrich disappeared for large segments of the debate (as did Mitt Romney).
The Republican presidential candidates highlighted their party’s lack of a single national security vision a decade after the Sept. 11 attacks, differing on Tuesday night over the pace of withdrawal from Afghanistan, aid to Pakistan and, in an exchange that could resonate dangerously for Newt Gingrich, what to do with illegal immigrants in the United States.
Wading into treacherous territory in Republican primary politics just as he is climbing in polls, Mr. Gingrich said during a nationally televised debate that he would support allowing some illegal immigrants — those who had been in the country for decades, had paid taxes and had raised families here — to remain in the country. Mr. Gingrich, a former speaker of the House, warned that the party could not claim a family-friendly mantle if it was to “adopt an immigration policy which destroys families that have been here a quarter-century.”
Similar comments by Gov. Rick Perry of Texas at a debate several weeks ago were viewed as hurting him greatly with many conservative voters, especially in Iowa, which is to hold the first nominating contest, on Jan. 3. This time, Mr. Gingrich decided to enter the fray.
“I’m prepared to take the heat,” he said, “to say let’s be humane in enforcing the law without giving them citizenship, but by finding a way to create legality so that they are not separated from their families.”
Representative Michele Bachmann of Minnesota quickly challenged him, telling the debate moderator, Wolf Blitzer of CNN, “I think the speaker just said that that would make 11 people, 11 million people who are here illegally now, legal.”
It was just one point of contention in a substantive debate that brought to the fore differences among the candidates on a variety of foreign policy issues, but it seemed to hold the most chance to affect the race at a moment when Mr. Gingrich has emerged as a leading challenger to former Gov. Mitt Romney of Massachusetts.
The Hill (“GOP debate: Gingrich divides himself from pack on immigration“), Politico (“GOP debate: Newt Gingrich beats back immigration critique“), and The Examiner (“Team Mitt slams Newt for endorsing ‘amnesty’“) all agreed that immigration was the big story.
Amusingly, while I live-snarked “Gingrich doesn’t want to punish people who came here illegally as 3-year-olds. Bye-bye frontrunner status,” I was just being facetious. In any case, since I see illegal immigration as mostly a domestic policy issue and only tangentially about our relationship with Mexico–and because this was ostensibly a national security debate–I really didn’t think it was the big issue of the night. But for the 98 percent of the population who didn’t see the debate–and the 98 percent of those who watched it who aren’t foreign policy wonks–it probably is the story.
Otherwise, here are my impressions of the candidates from last night, in order of their current standing in the polls:
Newt Gingrich: He handled himself well but, as is his custom, came across as too wonkish. Several times, he referred to some policy document written by somebody or another and urged people to read it. Considering that I’m a policy wonk and had no idea what he was talking about, that struck me as a boneheaded strategy.
On immigration, he struck exactly the right tone, even if it’s not one likely to be popular with wide swaths of the base. Even aside from humanity and decency, the practicalities of the matter require more than a reflexive “secure our borders!” mentality.
He also got off one of the best lines of the night, quite possibly off-the-cuff, in response to Ron Paul’s declaration that the criminal justice system works just fine against terrorists, citing Timothy McVeigh: “Timothy McVeigh succeeded!” Now, it’s a pander–the PATRIOT Act wouldn’t have helped stop McVeigh, since we had no inkling what he was up to ahead of time–but a powerful one. Alas, Paul is much more right on this issue than Gingrich.
Mostly, though, his views were a combination of reliable tropes (“listen to the commanders on the ground”) and bizarre notions seemingly concocted in a late-night bull session in the dorm. His notion that, if we were “serious,” we’d throw everything we have into oil exploration so as to “collapse the global oil market,” for example, seems right out of Dr. Strangelove. It’s simultaneously fanciful and stupid.
And, while I agree with his general premise that law enforcement and war are played by different rulesets, his notion that those merely accused of terrorism automatically lose Constitutional protections is freakishly scary.
Mitt Romney: He reminded me last night why three quarters of Republicans are looking for somebody other than him to be our nominee. He comes across as a pander robot, programmed to spit out the answer most likely to please the audience within plus or minus 3 percentage points.
I simply can’t believe a well-educated businessman and former Massachusetts governor holds the views he’s espousing on illegal immigration, for example. Michele Bachmann? Absolutely. But Romney?
On Afghanistan, he’s spouting the orthodoxy about 2014. I don’t like it, but it’s the safe position. Similarly, while I don’t share his confidence that we can do much in the near term to bring “modernity” to Afghanistan and Pakistan, it’s a conventional answer.
At one point in the debate, I tweeted, “Romney panders on Israel and Iran in one answer. Well played, sir.” There was just too much of that for my tastes. I totally get it. He’s the frontrunner and he’s trying not to alienate anyone. Obama successfully did that last cycle–but he’s simply better at sounding like he’s giving a thoughtful answer that happens to be subject to interpretation by everyone as agreeing with exactly their position.
I still fully expect him to be the nominee because Gingrich will flame out; Cain, Perry, and Bachmann already have; and Huntsman’s just not appealing to the base. And I’ll almost certainly vote for him. He’s bright, competent, and capable. But he’s also a politician with a capital P.
Herman Cain: Easily my most re-tweeted snark of the night was, “I’m losing confidence in the notion that electing the former CEO of the 7th largest pizza chain as commander-in-chief is wise.” This guy simply doesn’t belong in a serious conversation about who should lead our nation. While Romney comes across as spitting out programmed answers, he at least seems to understand the questions. Cain? Not so much.
Rick Perry: He’s actually much more likable in long form than in sound bytes. Alas, he comes across as dumber than a bag of hammers.
At one point, he went on and on about the Monroe Doctrine and how we applied it during the Cold War. I have no idea what the hell he was trying to convey.
He also wants to cut off Iran’s central bank from the world, something that successive administrations of both parties have resisted because the results would be catastrophic for the region and the people of Iran.
Ron Paul: Were I to walk across his lawn, I’m confident that he’d yell at me to get off it.
I like this guy’s refreshing candor and willingness to reject orthodoxies. Alas, he’s trapped in his own. As I noted last night, “Ron Paul’s libertarian instincts that would keep us out of wars hit the rocks on such things as foreign aid.”
I’m really quite sympathetic to the notions of minding our own damned business and that everything going on everywhere isn’t a problem for the American military or the American taxpayer to fix. But, like it or not, we live in a highly interconnected world in which the United States has real interests in a lot of places. The notion that extreme poverty and rampant disease in Africa and South Asia has nothing to do with us and that it’s not worth spending what amounts to a third decimal place rounding error in our defense budget to address them is just not serious.
Michele Bachmann and Rick Santorum: Jon Stewart did a segment after the last foreign policy debate noting that these guys came off as non-crazy, to his utter surprise. Then he noted that (as with Rick Perry and immigration) that it turns out that it’s hard to be crazy when you actually understand the implications of the policy under discussion. This was reaffirmed last night. On all purely foreign policy questions, their answers were quite sober and thoughtful. Bachmann called Perry’s answer to a question on AfPak “naive.”
At one point, Bachmann blamed Obama for the United States’ failure to achieve energy independence. Which, as I noted last night, every American president has avoided achieving that goal going back to 1973.
Jon Huntsman: I came into the debate hoping against hope that he could somehow elevate himself into serious contender status. Alas, he didn’t. He knows his stuff on almost all the issues but, despite having gotten himself elected governor of Utah twice, seems not to have developed the ability to give political speeches. Instead, he answers questions pretty much as I would, as a policy wonk trying to convey the complexities of the situation rather than as someone trying to persuade voters that he should be the guy in charge. They’re two very different things.
I say the best moment of the night was when Herman Cain mistakenly, and repeatedly over the course of a minute or so, called Wolf Blitzer “Blitz.” Classic.
As for Huntsman, yea I agree it’s disappointing he’s not better at the political speechifying. One imagines that it’s not quite as important in politics in Utah as it is in a nationwide race
I watched most of last night’s debate and found myself remembering all over again why I can’t stand Mitt Romney . While he’s likely relatively sane and intelligent, he comes across personality-less cypher, no less condescending and smug than the abominable Gingrich. When he wasn’t talking, he was mostly standing around on stage appearing to wonder why he couldn’t just be appointed to the position instead of having to bother with all this election crap. His loathing for Perry was written all over his face.
I did actually agree with Santorum on some issues, but when he kept going on and on about the radical Islamists who apparently exist under every rock on every continent, it was too much for me. Except for Paul and Huntsman, the Republican approach to foreign policy can be summed up in a couple of key phrases: “we’re number one” and “we should be very afraid.”
Why does anyone waste their time listening to a bunch of irrelevant people discuss issues where they have zero influence when they are running for the nomination of a party that has zero chance of winning in the next general election.
I wonder why the people who claim to be foreign policy wonks spend so much more time writing about the irrelevant Republicans instead of writing about the international summits where the the relevant people (President Obama) were discussing foreign policy while in the Pacific.
I guess being snarky is more fun that discussing relevant politicians and real issues.
I’ll put you down as undecided
On immigration, he [Gingrich] struck exactly the right tone, even if it’s not one likely to be popular with wide swaths of the base.
James, I fear you may be a little out of touch with your base. Gingrich lost them last night when he said illegals who have been here for 25 years, with kids and grandkids shouldn’t be deported. Go over to the cesspool known as the comments section of The Hill to see what your folks really think.
It was a Rick Perry, “you have no heart moment” for Gingrich, I believe.
If the GOP candidate wins the 2012 election (shudder), how about Huntsman for SecState?
Gingrich’s logic is the same logic that has lost California to the Repulbicans. Adding millions of illegal aliens, funding entitlements for them so that they can have large families means that no conservative party will survive in the U.S.
Adding millions of automatic Democratic party voters who hate whites means higher taxes, more crimes, poorer schools, more traffic, higher housing costs, higher insurance bills, and a poorer quality of life for the average Republican voters.
Gingirch is just repeating a talking point of the cheap labor, La Raza Republicans who want to be the patrons of the U.S. while maing most Americans into cheap labor peons.
You’re an idiot. No offense.
Which is of course why he’s a panderbot. There’s absolutely not cost in being one, because people like you will vote Republican no matter what.
@superdestroyer: “Gingrich’s logic is the same logic that has lost California to the Repulbicans.”
No, what lost California to the Republicans is deciding to be anti-immigrant AFTER allowing millions of illegal aliens to enter the state and live there for years and decades. If they’d been hard asses about immigration immediately after Regan’s amnesty, that approach might have worked. But of course, that would have angered the business interests who used to, and might still, actually own the GOP.
His answer last night only justified my preference for Gingrich over Romney. Whether it’s because he has enough basic decency to recoil at shattering hundreds of thousands of familes or just that Newt has the common sense to know the GOP will never again win the Presidency if they decisively lose the large and growing Latino vote, Newt demonstrated a depth of which Romney seems incapable.
John Quincy Adams, cold warrior!
I’ll put you down as undecided
@Stormy Dragon: Obama was a panderbot; it didn’t hurt him, either.
Romney is playing the game as it exists; like Al Gore, he’s just a little too transparent about it. The bottom line is that he needs the rubes to go along with him and he’s counting on the more establishment Republicans to understand the game and vote for him, too.
I am largely in agreement with your assessment here James, though Huntsman sounded ok to me. I still disagree with you a bit on Romney. It worries me that of the things he said seemed to cross the line from pandering to stupid, but then mmaybe you have to in order to pander well.
James, I like you, and I like this blog, but statements like this are why your credibility ultimately stinks. You’d vote for Romney? Why? What do you think he’d do in office? What positions would he hold? There’s not a single major issue you can point to and say “That’s what Romney would do if he was President”. Not one. You yourself note that he’s a pander-bot (I do love that term BTW), and then in the very next breath you say you’ll buy what he’s selling, even though you have no idea what’s in the box.
Answer me this, James: Is there anything that any of those yahoos on stage could say or do that would cause you not to vote for the eventual GOP candidate? Is there any candidate they might put up that would cause you to stay home or even – perish the thought! – vote for Obama as the better option?
So don’t vote for either of them.
@James Joyner: “Romney is playing the game as it exists”
What makes you think that what Romney’s saying on foreign policy, when you can actually figure out what he means, will NOT be what guides him in the White House?
@MBunge- Not to speak for James, but he has repeatedly made the point that prior US commitments tend to limit foreign policy options fro a new president. Romney will likely follow much of what Obama did, just as Obama mostly followed what Bush had set up. The weakness in his argument is what happened with Bush II. His pre-emptive war and embracing the neocon path was out of line with what he ran on and prior policy.
Perhaps it takes a real crisis to make major policy alterations. If so, then Romney is a bit worrisome since he seems to buy into the neocon/America as hegemon idea of American foreign policy. However, Romney is nothing if not elusive. I don’t know what he really believes.
@MBunge: California has some serious problems that are causing a lot of people and businesses to move out: crime, high gas tax, oppressive and intrusive regulations, “sanctuary” cities, activist judges, and the weird actions of Gov. and the legislature such as mandating that the gay “agenda” be taught in the public schools when they should be concentrating on teaching children how to read and do math.
Foreign policy is really hard to judge in any debates because the world situations are always fluid and changing. Someone who advocates fast and hard policies usually ends up reversing, flip flopping, backing up, and re-thinking when some incident takes place.
Given that we have a representative democracy I think a politician who does what people want him to do is a pretty good thing. The only way pandering is really bad is if they pander when they have no intention of following through and actually do what the people who voted for them want (i.e. Obama).
Newt actually came across as…mammalian last night.
He could win this thing.
To paraphrase Pauline Kael, I don’t know any well-educated people who oppose illegal immigration.
The Golden State grew from 33.8 million residents to 37.2 million resident during the decade
This is a revelation. I need to go have a talk with my Latino friends. Thank you for alerting me, superdestroyer, thank you!
@legion: My preferred candidates, as it now stands:
It’s possible that 3 and 4 could flip-flop but right now Gingrich is a pretty distant 4. He’s smart enough to be president and I probably agree with him on slightly more issues than I do Obama. But I prefer Obama’s character.
Superdestroyer’s keen sense of race relations and politics is on full display today.
I will be interested to see a full argument from James as to why Romney > Obama. Clearly, on FP, James doesn’t think Romney has the better of it. James seems relatively socially liberal, so panderbot’s SoCon outreach should have only negative impact with him. On healthcare, James has repeatedly said that single-payer looks like the only rational endpoint. Romney and Obama have both constructed healthcare reforms that were far more conservative than that. That’s a draw at best for Romney, who has spent years now in pander mode repudiating his own reform effort.
So that leaves economic policy, taxes & spending. I think it’s fair to say that James is one of the many of us who thinks the answer on taxes & spending is: some tax increases, coupled with cuts (perhaps a 3 or 4 to 1 cut to tax ratio) is a solid blueprint for the future. Great, so does Obama (though certainly not the progressive wing of his party). Where’s Romney on that again? I honestly don’t recall. I do know that the present-day GOP members of congress think that’s evil soshulism. Perhaps President Romney would result in a better mix of taxes & cuts from James’ perspective, but I don’t really see how.
@PD Shaw: There are many bright folks who want to crack down on illegal immigration. There aren’t a lot of them who think we can round up 25 million people and send them back to whence they came.
Hah. That was a crosspost. James’ ranking was posted while I was composing my last comment.
Are you still thinking of doing a Huntsman post, James? I remain curious.
I really don’t get Romney > Obama, obviously. Not because Obama is necessarily great (especially from your moderately right of center PoV), but rather because where Romney appears decent he’s quite similar to Obama and where he’s trying to create distance, he’s gone wingnut.
More legal immigration, first off. My main objection to the illegal immigrants we have is that they are, in whole or in part, off the grid. I want them documented.
Trying to find a rational solution for the problem is one of the few good things Bush the Younger did.
Fascinating. Huntsman can’t get the nomination. If Romney doesn’t, I expect some of us will remember to ask about this after the election.
Pretty easy given Obama actually has some character, whereas Gingrich has none. The guy is the very essence is slime.
@James Joyner: Except that Romney didn’t propose rounding up all illegal immigrants and returning them to where they came from. He kept saying he was opposed to amnesty and opposed to government subsidies that encourage (“magnet for”) illegal immigration. I don’t think Romney wants to deport people.
Here is the transcript. It doesn’t sound like he wants to deport anyone, he wants to strengthen border security first:
As a lifelong resident of California who’s family has been here for three generations, let me say that all who wish to move on are welcome to do so. We have far too large a percentage of the country’s total population here at the moment.
I think you needed to bold one more sentence: “The principle is that we are not going to have an amnesty system that says that people who come here illegally get to stay for the rest of their lives legally.”
Now, if legally they can’t stay, then either they will be somewhere else, or they won’t exist at all. We all know that he isn’t talking about executing illegals. So he must be talking about deporting them. I don’t think any other conclusion is possible from his remarks last night.
We all know that he isn’t talking about executing illegals. So he must be talking about deporting them.
Maybe he just wants to use pepper spray, to encourage them to leave voluntarily.
@Curtis:” I don’t think any other conclusion is possible from his remarks last night.”
I disagree. He’s making a typical enforcement first stance. You are making a slippery slopes argument, that the natural consequence of his position is a further position. I’m not a big fan of slippery slope arguments, I think they are inimical to forging a concensus.
@Rob in CT: I would be fine with that. My first choice would be Henry Kissinger, but I don’t think he would accept.
@steve: Here is a debate format that would really have meaning and build the viewer numbers: have former presidents ask the questions (Bush, Bush, Clinton, Carter)
To paraphrase Micheal Reynolds, Romney is a quantum being, simultaneously here and there, and the act of observing him changes his position.
The mathematical proof of this is that you both observed the same words at the same moment, and yet saw two different positions.
The miracle that is Romney is that he will simultaneously deport them, yet let them stay, he will send back the ones who have violated the law yet never break up families, he will enforce the border first while not depriving industry of labor, and for the finale, Mitt will drink a glass of water while Michelle Bachmann sings “Lyin’ Ass Bitch”.
And no one will ever see his lips move.
I suggest looking up the political positions for the Congressional Hispanic Caucus. They see whites as marks who will pay taxes and fund the country so that Hispanics can get their fair shares of the affirmative action, quotas, set asides, and other government goodies.
@James Joyner: I think that Obama vs. Gingrich would be enough to create the flop. Face it, you’re a Republican and will always be one. If it means voting for Gingrich, Bozo the Clown, or Mickey Mouse, that’s what you’ll do. It’s bone deep.
Seriously James, can we ban this asshole?
@anjin-san: I would be against that because while quite frankly he might be racist he does have some decent observations occasionally and he really doesn’t flame people directly.
From the POV of the CHC is makes complete sense to take the positions that they take. In the short run, it benefits Hispanics to qualify for all of the government based ethnic benefits programs such as 8a contracting, college and magnet school quotas, government diversity hire programs, etc.
The real question is what happens to the U.S when more than 50% of the population qualifies for a government quota or an ethnicity-based government benefit. Can such a program be sustained and what happens to the less than 50% of the population that pays the bills for the other half.
If you look at the economic trends in California will be not pleasant.
I guess having progressies scream racism is just easier to thinking about the economic and demographic trends of the U.S.
Virtually all of the population added to California has been Hispanic. California actually has fewer whites than it did in 1990. You can look up the census data on it. Whites have been moving out of California as illegal aliens have been moving in. That is one of the reasons that California has double digit unemployment and a declining economy.
Anjin, he serves a purpose… To remind all that racism is alive and well in America.
If you want to find racism in the U.S., one does not have to look any further than the Supreme Court. Remember when Democrats from Michigan stood in front of the Supreme Court and argued that discriminating against whites was legal.. Remember when Seattle and Louisville stood in front of the Supreme Court and ruled that discriminating against whites was legal? Rememvber when the STate of Virginia sponsored a summer program for high school students that excluded whites.
Look at how many times so-called progressives have aruged that non-whites must receive special benefit and have special privileges.
All anyone had to do to find racism is to look at 8a contracting and see how blacks and Hispanics are held to a different standard.
Gingrich and too many Republicans are just demonstrating that they will throw middle class whites under the bus rather than let liberal Democrats who hate people like Gingirch call them racist. The only problem for Gingirch is middle class whites push back when someone tries to throw them under the bus.
I vote Republican no matter what because they are against the gushing river of blood known as abortion.
Oramacare would be a care taker prez. and even that I have stated “anyone can bet Obama” I have changed my mind, Oramacare has no chance.
Not to mention a crap load of Mexico’s, but please take his advice,We want you in Wisconsin and we want your business here too…
Ya it gets cold but we have no major earthquakes or wildfires, we even have a beautiful beach here in Racine with sand, and volleyball, and jet skis and non anorexic hot chicks and music and even a wave or two(be careful the undertow is a *****) for like two months of the year:)
And we have good pot too you just can’t buy it at the corner store…..