The Republican presidential field went up for a third debate on Tuesday night. Terry Jeffrey, Michael Graham, Kate O’Beirne, and John J. Pitney Jr. name winners and losers.
Terence P. Jeffrey
“Somalia started off as a humanitarian mission and then changed into a nation-building mission, and that’s where the mission went wrong,” the candidate said. “The mission was changed, and as a result, our nation paid a price. And so I don’t think our troops ought to be used for what’s called nation-building. I think our troops ought to be used to fight and win wars.”
So said then-Gov. George W. Bush in a 2000 in a debate with then-Vice President Al Gore.
Sometime after the September 11, 2001, al Qaeda attacks, Bush did a 180-degree turn, adopting a Wilsonian foreign-policy of nation-building, thinking the best way to fight al Qaeda and other Islamist terrorist groups was for the United States to remake the Middle East. As with his big-spending policies, Bush brought much of the Republican party with him. As a result, the foreign-policy advocated by many Republicans today traces its pedigree back through Bush, Bill Clinton, and Jimmy Carter to Woodrow Wilson — not to Ronald Reagan.
In her posthumously published book, Making War to Keep the Peace, Reagan’s U.N. ambassador, Jeane Kirkpatrick, clearly draws the distinction between the Reagan Doctrine — which called for a thorough prudential analysis of the costs and benefits to U.S. interests in determining when to use means other than direct U.S. military intervention to support friendly forces within unfriendly regimes — and the Bush Doctrine which used U.S. forces to directly invade Iraq without having undertaken a methodical analysis of the potential pitfalls of the invasion’s aftermath in which U.S. troops would be charged with the task of trying to rebuild a nation in a culture they know little about and that has no tradition of representative government.
Still, Rudy Giuliani said in last night’s debate he would invade Iraq even if he knew then what we know now — and that he would retrain the U.S. military to be a nation-building force. Really?
Where would Rudy send U.S. troops to nation build next? And would that really be the wisest way to combat al Qaeda?
I find Jeane Kirkpatrick more persuasive.
– Terry Jeffrey is editor-at-large of Human Events.
Rudy, had me at Iraq.
America’s mayor put the Republican party’s Iraq policy into a single, powerful, and nearly irrefutable statement: “It’s unthinkable that you would leave Saddam Hussein in charge of Iraq and be able to fight the war on terror.”
Thank you, and good night.
But that wasn’t Rudy’s only moment. His human and humorous reaction to a lightning strike as he began to speak was exactly what voters want to see. Confident, funny, a regular guy who gets it.
Again and again, as Rudy Giuliani answered the most important questions, that was the reaction: “He’s the guy who gets it.”
I happened to watch the debate at St. Anselm’s College itself, in a room of about 100 Republicans invited by my radio station. Watching them was nearly as informative as watching the candidates. Their reaction to Rudy was strong, despite a strong pro-life contingent. Their reaction to Sen. McCain was strong, too, both good and bad.
When John McCain talked about combat and the experiences of our soldiers, the crowd went wild. But when he talked about his amnesty program, they got mad.
The mere mention of immigration was enough to get the crowd around me on the edge of their seat. They wanted to hear one thing, and one thing only: enforcement, enforcement, enforcement.
John McCain has likely done permanent damage to his candidacy with his immigration policy — despite a relatively strong performance tonight.
More importantly, McCain is the GOP’s canary in the open-borders coal mine. If the Republican party doesn’t learn this lesson fast, they’ll be in trouble no matter who they nominate.
— Michael Graham is a talk-radio host on Boston’s WTKK-FM.
By the end of the debate, it seemed to me that Rudy Giuliani was in command. He was equally handicapped by the crowded stage and at the mercy of the uneven questions but he did the superior job of making it all work for him. His answer on a pardon for Scooter Libby was particularly strong. He showed an appropriate passion about an injustice. He also was most effective in taking arguments to the Democrats. And John Edwards is considered the talented advocate?
I think he could have been better prepared for the question about his Catholic faith. He implied a conflict between its doctrines and pluralism and annoyingly threw in the “throwing people in jail” bit on the abortion issue.
When Giuliani highlighted the “two principles” (lower taxes/smaller government and confronting the lethal threat we face) that unite Republicans I could imagine a significant number of Republicans saying, “Works for me.” Nicely done.
John McCain did a fair job of defending the unpopular immigration bill but was aided by its critics’ ineffectual complaints about it. His strong answers on Iraq contributed to an overall strong performance.
I think that last night Mitt Romney took a bronze among the top-three candidates. He was, as expected, confident, and fluid on the issues. But he appeared determined to make an optimistic case about the future and awkwardly tried to wedge this message into random answers. And he was apparently unprepared for a question about his campaign ads in Spanish — and it showed.
The moderators’ profiling had Gov. Huckabee slighted (in favor of Ron Paul!?) except for questions about religion and I now understand why President Bush never turned his Cabinet into a war Cabinet — it included Tommy Thompson. His snappy, simple answer on what to do about Iraq was embarrassing.
— Kate O’Beirne is Washington editor of National Review.
John J. Pitney Jr.
Conservatives believe in limited government. Yet we learned little about specific plans to cut spending.
McCain got applause when he blamed pork for the GOP’s loss of Congress. He promised: “I’ll veto every bill that has a pork-barrel project on it, and I’ll make the authors of it famous, and we’ll get spending under control, and we’ll stop the corruption in Washington.” Giuliani talked about performance measurements. Romney tried to get off the topic: “Yes, of course it’s spending, and yes we’re going to have to deal with all the issues and the problems we have. But the Republican party is a — is a party of the future and with a vision.”
None of them named a major program that deserves the ax. The same was true with the first two debates.
The silence is understandable. Cutting is popular in the abstract, but tough in the particular, since targets fight back. In any case, trimming pork won’t come close to balancing the budget. Any serious attack on the deficit must involve Social Security or Medicare. Dangerous stuff.
Nevertheless, the party’s conservative principles and the nation’s economic future are at stake. Shouldn’t the candidates be saying more?
— John J. Pitney Jr. is Roy P. Crocker Professor of American Politics at Claremont McKenna College.