The political landscape has changed as the seven Republican candidates prepare for Tuesday night’s debate, which will focus on foreign policy. Newt Gingrich’s star is rising, and Herman Cain’s is falling. But one thing hasn’t changed: Mitt Romney remains near the top of the polls.
Given this situation, Politico
has put together a list of five things to watch for in the debate.
1. “Can Newt Gingrich perform as a front-runner?”
The former House speaker’s strong showings in previous debates have sent him the top of at least one national poll. But that means the stakes are higher for him now. Attacking the moderators and questions may not cut it anymore. Gingrich has to look more presidential and less like an attack dog. Given his depth of knowledge on the issues, the foreign policy debate plays to his strength. “I’m not particularly in favor of his candidacy, but this is the kind of thing that he just shines in,” Rich Galen, a GOP strategist and former Gingrich aide, told Politico.
2. “Can Mitt Romney pass the commander-in-chief test?”
Romney must show the strength to compete with a president who has achieved some notable foreign policy successes, such as the killing of Osama bin Laden. Democrats already are trying to portray the former Massachusetts governor as weak and inconsistent. And Romney must stand up against the isolationists among his opponents. Brian Hook, a former assistant secretary of state and campaign adviser to Tim Pawlenty, thinks Romney can succeed. “Unfortunately for the Republican Party, there are a number of candidates whose foreign policy approach is isolationist, uninformed or other-planetary. I think Governor Romney has staked out a credible and serious foreign policy,” he told Politico.
3. “Can Herman Cain keep his foot out of his mouth?”
The businessman’s recent difficulty in answering whether he supports President Barack Obama’s Libya policy helped send his campaign reeling. And Cain didn’t help himself when he later said that the Taliban plays a major role in Libya’s new government. So now he has to prove that he can handle foreign policy. National Review editor Rich Lowry put it bluntly when he accused Cain of “knowledge-deficit disorder” in a recent column.
4. “Can Jon Huntsman turn his Afghanistan position into a strength?”
The former Utah governor has the most foreign policy experience of any candidates having served as ambassador to both China and Singapore. He also served as a trade official in the George W. Bush administration. And Huntsman’s views that the United States military should wind down its operations in Iraq and Afghanistan, focusing instead on domestic problems, carry some resonance with the public. But Huntsman’s milquetoast presentation of these views has prevented them from having much impact. Voters in New Hampshire, where Huntsman is devoting all his efforts, probably would be receptive to his anti-war sentiments. And Huntsman could play up his views as fiscally conservative, as they would entail defense spending cuts.
5. “Will Ron Paul get a turn in the spotlight?”
The Texas representative would have no trouble articulating an anti-war stance — if he’s given any time to do so. His speaking allotment was minuscule in the last debate. Paul adviser Jesse Benton doesn’t think his isolationist views will hurt the candidate. “Dr. Paul will continue to deliver his message of a strong national defense, saving money by cutting overseas nation-building and his vision for a pro-American foreign policy,” Benton told Politico.
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