In the contest for holding the most conservative bona fides, Mitt Romney appears to have found a winning argument with foreign policy — and is doing everything he can to get to Rick Perry’s right.
The veer to the right has been a long time coming for the former governor of Massachusetts. Even the title of his 2010 book No Apology was a rebuke of President Obama and his post-inaugural world tour, where he sought to rectify the corrosion of global opinion of the United States under President George W. Bush by acknowledging that the nation had made mistakes.
Part of Romney’s more recent hard-line statements on foreign policy might be an effort to mitigate the damage from comments he made in June about Afghanistan that drew heavy backlash from national security hawks.
“It’s time for us to bring our troops home as soon as we possibly can, consistent with the word that comes from our generals,” Romney said.
He’s spoken little in the months since then about the wars the United States is fighting in Afghanistan and Iraq, and the foreign policy page on his campaign website mentions neither country.
Coming to Romney's aid is Perry’s apparent tendency to meander on topics of national security.
In the GOP debate one week ago, the Texas governor took heat for declining to take a hard-line stance on illegal immigration and for failing to directly answer a question about what a President Perry would do upon learning that Pakistan’s nuclear weapons were in Taliban control.
“Well obviously, before you ever get to that point you have to build a relationship in that region,” Perry said, before wandering through the history of U.S. decisions about selling arms to India and Taiwan.
Perry also faced a similar backlash to Romney on the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq after he said during a Sept. 12 debate that it was time to bring U.S. troops home as quickly and safely as possible. That issue, along with his stance on immigration, became part of a message that Perry’s opponents — including Romney —have tried to push: that Perry is either dovish on foreign policy or hasn’t sufficiently worked out his positions.
Foreign policy is frequently a challenge for governors running for president who have never been required to engage directly on issues of national security and diplomacy. It helps to run a state like Texas, with its close proximity to a foreign nation, but as former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin (R) learned in the 2008 presidential election, it only helps so much.
Romney and Perry’s GOP opponents have tried to use that lack of experience against both of them.
Former Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman has had the easiest time of it. He’s made a joke of starting campaign events in Chinese, which he speaks fluently and put to use as U.S. ambassador to China. But Huntsman is cautious not to overemphasize that appointment, considering his service as ambassador was to none other than Obama.
After Perry fumbled his answer in the Sept. 22 debate about what he would do if terrorists nabbed Pakistani nukes, Huntsman went on a radio show and offered his own rehearsed, concise and direct response to the question.
“You convene the National Security Council staff immediately, you look at the intelligence, you call your closest friends and allies in the region and you say we’ve got to take after it and we’re going to deploy every means in our disposal to track down that material,” he said.
His campaign then promoted a Web video contrasting his answer with Perry’s.
Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-Minn.) has touted her position on the House Intelligence Committee to make the case that she’s better prepared than Perry — who appeals to a similar base of voters as she does — to keep Americans safe.
“We can’t settle for a candidate who doesn’t understand the problems that we have in the Middle East, who doesn’t understand the problems in Afghanistan and Pakistan,” Bachmann said Wednesday.
The best and most recent opportunity for Romney and others has been Israel, where the GOP candidates have been jockeying for the position of it’s most stalwart ally. Setting the stage for that contest was last week’s United Nations session, where Palestinians submitted a bid for statehood recognition. That bid will be reviewed Friday by an admissions committee.
Fanning the flames is the theory that Obama is losing the Jewish vote, underscored by the GOP’s recent win in a special House election in a safely Democratic district in New York. Much of the Republican candidate’s success has been attributed to Orthodox Jews who were swayed from the Democratic candidate after community leaders said Obama needed to be sent a message about Israel.
“I’m doing this 18 years, and I’ve never seen such an increased credibility for the possibility of Jews voting for Republicans as I do now,” Morton Klein, president of the Zionist Organization of America, told The Hill. “People who wouldn’t think twice about Rick Perry now say, ‘My God, he’s a real friend of Israel and our people.’ Same thing about Mitt Romney and [former Pennsylvania Sen.] Rick Santorum.”
Seizing an opportunity to move to Obama’s right, Romney claimed Obama had thrown Israel “under the bus.” He got a head start over Perry, who didn’t join the presidential race until three months later.
Now that he’s in the race, Perry has adopted Romney’s “under the bus” language. And as the Palestinians were at the United Nations last week, Perry and Romney worked to one-up each other with pro-Israel rhetoric. Perry appeared with one of Israel’s most right-wing politicians and said that Obama’s equating Israeli and Palestinian grievances was “a very dangerous insult.”
But Romney took it an entirely different level in an op-ed he and former Sen. Norm Coleman (R-Minn.) published Sept. 22 in the conservative National Review.
“Although the Obama administration has demonstrated a congenital inability to get things right, a proper U.S. policy would be to launch an all-out diplomatic campaign to discourage the vote,” the two wrote.