Foreign-policy debate gives GOP voters a tough choice

posted at 8:45 am on November 23, 2011 by Ed Morrissey

CNN hosted another Republican debate last night, partnering this time with the Heritage Foundation and the American Enterprise Institute to focus almost exclusively on foreign policy.  Unlike a few past forums, the candidates all did a credible job in presenting their ideas; no one had a campaign-killing gaffe or got knocked visibly off their stride.  The two-hour discussion reflected well on all participants, including Wolf Blitzer, who did well in allowing the candidates to give their answers and draw out specifics rather than lecture them.

For myself, I actually watched the debate on tape delay, as I had to be out of the house when the debate started, but I was able to follow the Twitter feed while it unfolded in real time.  That gave me an idea of the answers to to watch carefully, and some of the interplay between the candidates, but I found myself thinking that even the responses that drew harsh criticism from Twitter followers were not all that bad.  I’ll run down how I believe each candidate did, trying to stay more or less in polling order:

  • Newt Gingrich — As usual, he had a masterful debate — but he opened a can of worms with his immigration answer, and deliberately, it seems.  His answer, which argued for a nuanced approach to normalization, won’t win him kudos from conservatives, but appears more like Gingrich lining up his general-election pitch.  He has to get there first before he needs to polish that pitch, although he may get some credit from voters for not pandering on the topic.  On other topics, though, Gingrich shined, especially when he schooled Ron Paul on the difference between crime and war.  The line “Timothy McVeigh succeeded” may look odd out of context, but when viewed in the context of the debate was devastating to Paul’s standing on national security.
  • Mitt Romney — Romney never has a bad debate, and once again he was very good.  He and Jon Huntsman went toe to toe on Afghanistan, and Romney made Huntsman look peevish while making himself look more hawkish than usual.  His best moment probably came when defending the notion of American exceptionalism, a topic which oddly didn’t come up much in a Republican debate on foreign policy.
  • Herman Cain — Other than mistakenly calling Wolf Blitzer “Blitz” in an early response, for which he apologized (Blitzer called him “Cain” as a good-natured riposte), Cain didn’t make any gaffes.  He didn’t allow the foreign-policy issues to faze him, and even got specific in a couple of his responses.  Overall, though, Cain offered too many vague references to “options” and didn’t demonstrate that he had a convincing grasp of the issues.  I don’t think this performance hurts Cain, but it’s unlikely to help him, either.
  • Ron Paul — It’s easy to poke fun at Paul’s foreign-policy approach, but you know what you get with Paul on foreign policy.  Unlike other debates, Paul mostly avoided sounding like a crank, but he started off badly in that exchange with Gingrich.   Paul did better when he tied American foreign policy to the budget crisis.  He made a very good point about foreign aid being a transfer from “poor Americans” to wealthy dictators in most cases, rather than actually helping alleviate poverty and suffering.
  • Rick Perry — This was his best debate in the cycle. He stayed calm, focused, energetic, and mostly articulate throughout the evening.  His best moment came in the follow-up to Gingrich on immigration when he refocused the debate back to border control, and he had another good response when contrasting his hands-on efforts in Texas budgets to Obama’s absentee stewardship in the supercommittee failure.  Dana Loesch tweeted afterward that if this Rick Perry had shown up and stayed from the first debate forward, he’d be walking away with the nomination.  She’s probably right, but even though this was a pretty good debate for Perry, I don’t see it as a game changer.  A few more and a stumble by Gingrich, and Perry could get an opening.
  • Michele Bachmann — This was probably her best debate of the cycle as well.  Bachmann gave a tremendously nuanced and expert answer on aid to Pakistan, including the line that Pakistan is “too nuclear to fail.”  She demonstrated that she has paid attention during her time on the House Intelligence Committee.  Bachmann avoided the hyperbole (although she indulged it a bit in the post-debate spin in attacking Gingrich on immigration), and she looked, well, statesmanlike.  Imagine where she might have been had it not been for the Government Needle That Violates Our Daughters debacle of the late summer.
  • Rick Santorum — This debate also gave Santorum a chance to demonstrate his own foreign-policy and national-security chops, and he tried to make the most of it.  His statement, “I agree with Ron Paul,” will be memorable, as will what followed when he unequivocally stated that we are not at war with terrorism but with radical Islamist extremists.  Santorum avoided the complaining tone he has taken with other moderators and came across substantially better for it.
  • Jon Huntsman — We saw a lot of Jon Hunstman last night, but will we recall anything other than his crabby rejoinder to Romney on Afghanistan, “Did you listen to what I just said?”  Thankfully, Huntsman quit trying to offer one-liners, but otherwise had nothing terribly interesting or novel to say, other than his plan to draw US forces in Afghanistan down to 10-15,000 troops.  I’m not sure what mission that force level would accomplish, and Huntsman didn’t explain it well, either.

Who won?  I don’t think this debate had a clear winner.  I believe that Gingrich and Romney did particularly well, and as the frontrunners (for the moment), that strengthens their grip on the polls.  Gingrich may have left his competitors an opening for an attack, but I don’t think Gingrich will get outscored by Romney on the topic of immigration, and I doubt Bachmann has enough pull left in this race to win over any new converts.

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No way, it is Newt, the guy I am supporting. No way is this going to derail him. If any other person said it, it would be disqualifying. No double standards on my watch!

astonerii on November 23, 2011 at 9:17 AM

Keep in mind folks, if you disagree with her on this, or any other topic, she’ll actively work to deny you the franchise.

People like you should get no vote.

astonerii on October 4, 2011 at 11:58 AM

See?

Apologize.

runawayyyy on November 23, 2011 at 11:27 AM

rrpjr on November 23, 2011 at 11:18 AM

What Gingrich said was Amnesty! He wants to allow people who came here ILLEGALLY to be able to stay. Bottom line.

rrpjr, it is difficult for me to read many of your posts on Romney anyway because of your disdain for him that you do not give him credit at all and do not give him props when he has been consistent for quite awhile!

Between you and punchenko your posts on Romney are always misleading and snarky.

g2825m on November 23, 2011 at 11:30 AM

Again,
Romney’s record that some cannot seem to trust even though he has voted on ALL of these:

Romney’s record:
Cut taxes in MA – Check

Closed loopholes and raised fees as Reagan did – Check

Voted pro-life bills as GOV – Check

Voted and eased 2nd Amendment bills in MA – Check
See here: “Massachusetts oldest, largest and premier pro-second amendment/gun rights group, Gun owners` Action League (GOAL) stated:“The bill was the greatest victory for gun owners since the passage of the gun control laws in 1998 (Chapter 180 of the Acts of 1998). It was a reform bill totally supported by GOAL. Press and media stories around the country got it completely wrong when claimed the bill was an extension of the ‘assault weapon’ ban”

Against illegal immigration – Check

Signed bill against Illegal Immigration Recv tuition breaks – Check

Build the complete fence along the border – Check

For Defense of Marriage Act – Check

For Cut, Cap, and Balance – Check

Pro expansion of the military and keeping GITMO open – Check

Drilling in ANWR – Check

Investing in new technologies for oil – Check

Develop energy technology like nuclear or liquefied coal – Check

Many of you need to be more fair in your analysis! :o)

g2825m on November 23, 2011 at 11:46 AM

What Gingrich said was Amnesty! He wants to allow people who came here ILLEGALLY to be able to stay. Bottom line.

g2825m on November 23, 2011 at 11:30 AM

No, he didn’t. He said it would be impossible to deport them all. He didn’t say he was happy about it, just that it was what it was. Calm down.

runawayyyy on November 23, 2011 at 11:57 AM

rrpjr, it is difficult for me to read many of your posts on Romney anyway because of your disdain for him that you do not give him credit at all and do not give him props when he has been consistent for quite awhile!

Between you and punchenko your posts on Romney are always misleading and snarky.

g2825m on November 23, 2011 at 11:30 AM

I’ve asserted that this man is weak and demonstrably unfit to confront and challenge the Left at this crucial moment. I’ve backed the assertion up again and again with citations from Romney’s history. I’ve throw in political-psychological opinions of my own, which anyone can accept or reject. They’ve been waved off with reams of Romney’s endorsements and record of glorious achievements (woven with a gobsmacking unawareness of the Left) — the former of which only underlines his establishment taint and the latter of which totally avoids the issue of his specific capacity to deal with Obama and the Left — my chief point. Romney could be a reincarnation St. Thomas More and it wouldn’t matter. He’s a total bust in battle with the Left.

By the way, Romney wants your “amnesty” too:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tjo6GXSqIN8

rrpjr on November 23, 2011 at 12:02 PM

He said it would be impossible to deport them all. He didn’t say he was happy about it,

if you don’t deport them, what happens? THEY STAY. To h*ll with “impossible to deport” – take away their freebies, demand identification for employment and they are GONE.

Breaking the law is breaking the law. Capitulating to certain types of law breaking is wrong. We can’t catch all murderers so do you want to just give up and let them get away with it?

katablog.com on November 23, 2011 at 12:28 PM

rrpjr on November 23, 2011 at 12:02 PM

That clip is devastating.

Punchenko on November 23, 2011 at 12:29 PM

…take away their freebies, demand identification for employment and they are GONE.

katablog.com on November 23, 2011 at 12:28 PM

Which is what Newt advocates.

http://www.newt.org/solutions/immigration

Punchenko on November 23, 2011 at 12:34 PM

if you don’t deport them, what happens? THEY STAY. To h*ll with “impossible to deport” – take away their freebies, demand identification for employment and they are GONE.

Breaking the law is breaking the law. Capitulating to certain types of law breaking is wrong. We can’t catch all murderers so do you want to just give up and let them get away with it?

katablog.com on November 23, 2011 at 12:28 PM

I completely agree with every word you said. I was simply clearing up a misstatement made by someone else. I made no value judgement one way or the other, so calm down.

Here in Alabama, we have implemented a new immigration law. Naturally, the leftists have been crying and making up all kinds of interesting stories. Making them up from thin air, then reporting them as news.

Our new law does what you suggest. It’s being reported that the illegals are fleeing the state, with much gnashing of teeth and yet more crying. I find it hilarious that the leftists pushing these “news” stories have completely missed the point of the law, which was to get illegals out of the state!!!

runawayyyy on November 23, 2011 at 12:38 PM

It’s important to note that, if you were here “25 years ago” (Newt’s timeline), you were likely granted amnesty in Reagan’s 1986 Immigration Reform and Control Act.
 
Newt is hoping you’ll notice this and be OK with it.
 
That’s why he chose “25 years”, folks.

CLaFarge on November 23, 2011 at 12:43 PM

Nice wrap up Ed

I think newt lost some voters, who do they go to?

Hopefully to Perry

cmsinaz on November 23, 2011 at 8:52 AM

He’s lost me. Perry’s biggest gaffe to this point was his illegal pandering. I mean he doesn’t seem to know how to debate to save his life but I’ll take policy and ideals over slick speaking skills. Especially with this pitiful offering of candidates.

LtBarnwell02 on November 23, 2011 at 1:22 PM

Which is what Newt advocates.

http://www.newt.org/solutions/immigration

Punchenko on November 23, 2011 at 12:34 PM

If that’s true then why can’t he articulate that? He could have said that without going the “don’t deport grandma” route. When you go there the next steps are elementary.

LtBarnwell02 on November 23, 2011 at 1:25 PM

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