The American Enterprise Institute and the Heritage Foundation announced today that they, along with CNN, will host an all-foreign-policy debate on Nov. 15 for the GOP presidential contenders. In an e-mail today, AEI president Arthur Brooks said, “We hope that this debate will illuminate the candidates’ positions on national security and foreign policy at a critical time for America in the world. That is right: an entire debate — as I have long urged — on national security.”
Well, as someone who has also urged a full debate on the topic, I couldn’t be more pleased. (Well, perhaps, I could be if John Bolton rather than Wolf Blitzer moderates.
But yikes. This is a troubling development for some candidates.
Can Herman Cain get by with “I would consult my advisers” for two hours? (I do hope Cain tells us how he incorporates both the thinking of John Bolton and Henry Kissinger into a coherent vision.) We might even learn who his secret foreign policy gurus are. (How absurd is it to conceal the names, especially for a candidate entirely ignorant on the subject who will have to rely entirely on their advice?)
Can Texas Gov. Rick Perry get through a debate without sinking into gibberish, as he did when he tried to explain how to deal with loose nukes in Pakistan? Conversely, if Perry can feature his military career and show some grasp of the issues, this debate could help him get back in the race.
Meanwhile, Mitt Romney and Rick Santorum must be delighted. Both actually know something about the subject, so this is a chance for them to set themselves apart from the field. For Romney, it is also an opportunity to demonstrate some principled toughness, a quality some Republicans find lacking in him.
Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-Minn.), if she can demonstrate some fluency, as she did on the mortgage crisis, could also benefit. As for Newt Gingrich, it is always a crap shoot as to whether he’ll sound like the smartest guy in the room or a lunatic.
Kudos to AEI and Heritage for coming up with this forum. It’s long overdue. The idea that you could be president with virtually no understanding of the wide array of national security threats is preposterous. To the extent the debate helps sort out those who are prepared to be commander in chief from those who are not, it will be a huge service to the GOP and the country.