Tuesday night, CNN hosts GOP debate number 11, and the focus will be national security.
Here are five key questions for the debate, which runs from 8 p.m. to 10 p.m.:
1. Will anyone attack Newt? Newt has been a steadfast adherent to the Reagan rule of not directly criticizing his fellow Republicans on the debate stage (though he has criticized them more obliquely in interviews and statements away from the debate stage) and his rivals have rarely criticized him. But now, Gingrich is a front-runner, and time is running short for the other not-Romneys to make up ground in Iowa and elsewhere. Gingrich is a master debater, but he also tends to be defensive and can be backed into making misleading statements when pressed. (He said that he was hired as a “historian” for Fannie and Freddie at the last debate.) There’s no time like now to hit Gingrich, and slow his momentum. Anyone, anyone, anyone?
2. Will Ron Paul get more than 89 seconds? Given his surge in the polls, Paul could get a better stage position at Tuesday night’s debate, and his supporters, who were raucous at the CBS national security debate in South Carolina, would like to see him get more air time. Paul has been a trendsetter on matters of fiscal policy, writing the tea party playbook before the movement existed. But he still remains outside the mainstream of Republican Party orthodoxy with his non-interventionist approach to foreign policy. He also believes torture is wrong, which means he actually agrees with Obama on a national security matter, which makes him an anomaly in the GOP field.
3. How will Cain handle Libya? Cain sounded like an eighth grader grappling with Shakespeare when explaining his position on Libya (“Macbeth hated his father. No, that was the other one”). He is already on record downplaying the importance of having a full command of foreign policy, saying that nobody can know all of the details of every country, and that America needs a “leader, not a reader.” If this is the Cain doctrine, then Cain likely has a long way to go in convincing Republican voters that he can help his party regain the foreign policy mantle, which in some ways has been ceded to Obama, who maintains high approval ratings on the foreign policy front.
4. Will Rick Perry call for specific defense cuts? Rick Perry, who has become something of an afterthought in the GOP field, made a bold declaration in his speech about uprooting and overhauling Washington. He said that there would be no “sacred cows” in a Perry administration, including wasteful spending in the Department of Defense “where every dollar we spend should support our warfighters around the world.” Given the backdrop of the failed supercommittee talks and the prospect of $600 billion in defense cuts as a result, this issue could come up, putting Perry in a position that could put him at odds with his party, and his rivals, specifically Mitt Romney, who has said that there should not be any cuts to the base level of defense spending.
5. What other countries will face a hypothetical war? Some in the GOP field have been quick to put Iran at the top of the list of countries to go to war with, if covert actions and tougher sanctions don’t halt the nation’s development of a nuclear bomb — Romney, Gingrich and Rick Santorum all took this view in the last debate. But Perry, Cain, Paul and Huntsman seem to be aware of another trend — a war-weary public, burned out on Iraq and Afghanistan, and a GOP that is less riled up by saber rattling. This tension, between the sort of preemptive military action advanced by Bush and a more skeptical, gunshy public and Republican Party, will define the GOP field’s approach to foreign policy as they try to gain the upper hand on an issue that had been part of the GOP franchise.