Newt Gingrich, despite the boosterism of some prominent conservative hawks, has yet to take a definitive stance on defense spending. He likes to say he is a “cheap hawk,” which, like many things Gingrich says, sounds appealing on the surface but is actually nonsense. National security is expensive and, if you believe in a forward-leaning strategy, you have to be willing to stand up for funding it, even when many loud voices in government and the media claim we can slash defense without affecting our security.

But in fact Mitt Romney, not exactly celebrated by the right for his political courage, has done that repeatedly in the campaign. In his foreign policy white paper he advocated for an increase in defense spending.

He repeated that view yesterday, becoming the first presidential candidate to explicitly call for President Obama to nix the defense spending sequestration. The Hill reports:

Mitt Romney on Sunday called for President Obama to halt the $600 billion in automatic cuts aimed at the Defense Department as a consequence of the failed debt supercommittee.

“I’m calling on the president to say no way for those cuts, restore the $600 billion into the military and take that amount and eliminate it from other programs,” Romney told New Hampshire’s WMUR on Sunday’s “CloseUP” segment.

“And I’d like to see the president put out a series of programs he would actually eliminate or cut,” he continued. “So far all we’ve seen from this president is a willingness to cut national defense and there have to be some recognitions across Washington that suggest no, no, there are other places that we can reduce federal spending.”

Well, good for him. Romney, as Tim Pawlenty did before him, is not only willing to lead rhetorically on national security; he’s also willing to craft policies that reflect two realities: 1) The number of threats to the United States and our allies are multiplying, and 2) We’ve already cut defense too deeply to sustain weapon systems and personnel needed to execute the administration’s own policies.

Not all the candidates have really been pushed on this issue. What do they contend is the appropriate level of defense funding? Are they willing to apply savings obtained by procurement and other reforms back into the defense budget?

The debate about defense spending, with the failure of the supercommittee, is about to take center stage. Let’s hope the rest of the grownups in the GOP field follow Romney’s lead on this one.