Are Republicans really going to let their candidates avoid making any choices on foreign policy?
It’s hard to remember sometimes during the debates, with their prepared attacks and punch lines and all, that choosing a presidential candidate is actually very serious business for a political party. If it’s working properly, the process normally forces candidates to make policy commitments on a wide range of issues. On those areas where there is a policy consensus, candidates are forced to hew to that consensus — think of the Democrats in 2008 on health care, when each of the leading candidates converged on nearly the same plan. And on those issues where there are serious disagreements within the party, the nomination process allows the party to contest those disagreements, or to try to find compromises. It’s important work.
And it’s work that just doesn’t seem to be happening very much this time around for the Republicans, especially on foreign policy.
I’ve watched Mitt Romney debate six times now, and Rick Perry has been there three times, and I have absolutely no idea whatsoever about what either of the frontrunners thinks about foreign policy and national security. Romney, it seems, is dead set against the entirely mythical Obama policy of apologizing for America, but doesn’t really have anything more to say. And Perry doesn’t even have that much.
The people who have a lot at stake here are Republicans, especially those who really care about these issues. So the question is: what are they going to do about it?
Perhaps nothing. It may be that GOP primary voters think the 2012 election will be won or lost on domestic issues alone, and won’t end up pinning down the candidates on foreign policy in any meaningful sense. This is is a pretty remarkable turnaround, given how central foreign policy was for the GOP candidates in the last two presidential elections, and given that the United States is still involved in multiple wars abroad. And it will certainly be disappointing to the dwindling group of conservative writers and foreign policy wonks who are hoping that the GOP nominees will pledge to revive Bush’s national security policies — something Mitt Romney and Rick Perry have been largely unwilling to do.