Sunshine State Spar
Assessing the GOP presidential candidates’ performances.


Thursday night saw another debate among the candidates for the Republican presidential nomination. As is customary, National Review Online collected thoughts from a post-debate response team.


Rick Perry achieved his frontrunner status because he is the governor of Texas. Today, that position resembles what being governor of California was for Republicans decades ago.  

He has now had three debates to show us whether he deserves to be the lead dog. While he showed improvement in his second effort, this third attempt made little or no progress. He does not demonstrate the ease necessary for public engagement with Barack Obama.  

Mitt Romney has the primary virtue of potentially being inoffensive enough to keep the focus on the failures of Barack Obama. He is smooth and comfortable. If he can survive the nominating process, he could win the general. But his inspiration level for the base is low.

Newt Gingrich breaks your heart because he comes off as very intelligent, witty, and creative. But you just know he can’t get over the demonization he has endured (some of it deserved).  

Jon Huntsman has everything going for him but wisdom. He can’t avoid the bait dangled by the Left on issues such as evolution and global warming. But he has the ideas, the brains, and the experience.  

Michele Bachmann has receded into full-time Perry-attack mode.  

Rick Santorum has wisely decoupled from her and is establishing himself. You wonder what he might have been able to do when he was still a senator and more viable as a politician.

Herman Cain has the intangible qualities of a good candidate. I don’t know whether he is ready for prime time on foreign policy, but he engenders incredible good will and natural affection. He also has ideas. He is especially good on Social Security.

Ron Paul is Ron Paul. A libertarian cannot win. But he is paving the way for a bigger future for his son, Rand. In a low-consensus society, libertarianism is not a terrible bet.

We could say something similar of Gary Johnson, who one-upped Paul with his hilarious line about the next-door neighbor’s dog and shovel-ready jobs.

 Hunter Baker is the author of The End of Secularism and the winner of the 2011 Michael Novak Award. 

The 15 minutes of Thursday night’s debate devoted to foreign policy should leave national-security conservatives scratching their heads. Governor Romney and Herman Cain made solid points about the fundamental flaws in the Obama administration’s treatment of allies such as Israel, but answers by the rest of the field to other questions ranged from uninformed to semi-isolationist.

On Afghanistan, Governor Huntsman appears to be trying to appeal to the anti-war crowd, continuing to invoke the notion that we need to focus on problems at home instead of overseas. As in previous debates, Senator Santorum was the only candidate willing to directly rebut this sort of rhetoric, making the case for strong American leadership. In response to a question about why the United States continues to give other countries aid, Newt Gingrich, who has a record of being an internationalist, implied that much international assistance could be done away with. Gov. Gary Johnson touted his plan to gut the defense budget. 

Perhaps most perplexing was Governor Perry’s response to a question regarding loose nukes in Pakistan. He seemed to struggle for an answer, finally mentioning the need for strong allies in the region, citing the supposed refusal of the United States to offer India the most advanced version of the F-16 as an example of the administration’s failure to pursue his recommended strategy. The problem is that his account of the U.S. role in the India fighter competition is not entirely accurate and is not all that relevant to the question he was asked.    

With these types of answers, perhaps it is a good thing that the debates have barely touched on foreign policy. But despite the understandable emphasis on jobs and the economy, if anyone on the stage Thursday night ends up in the White House in 2013, his or her foremost and most important duty will be keeping Americans safe. Judging by the performances in Florida, many in the Republican field have a ways to go before they can credibly make the case that they are ready for that responsibility.

— Jamie M. Fly is executive director of the Foreign Policy Initiative.