Republican November 12, 2011 Foreign Policy Debate — No Surprises; Mitt Romney’s Still the One

–Richard E. Vatz

Without looking it up I am unable to tell you how many debates the Republican presidential aspirants have had, especially since they have not always included the same personnel. But look for diminishing returns as they proceed, regarding informing the public for whom to vote.

There were no surprises last night, but here are some gleanings gathered from the televised portion of the debate:

–Many people disparagingly describe Gov. Mitt Romney as boring. I don’t see it. He was in this debate, as is his wont, prepared, forceful (usually considered the antithesis of boring) and responsible. His description of what his approach would be if Iran were not to reverse its course in acquiring nuclear weapons as well as his consideration of military action (only if all else fails) were in this observer’s opinion eminently reasonable, well-informed and clear. Yes, yes, yes, his liberal and inconsistent past, particularly in heath care, will rankle forever, but there are no perfect candidates.

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–Rick Perry is a solid citizen, and his days-old “brain-freeze” on the Federal agencies he would eliminate is not relevant to his qualifications for being president. His general lack of readiness is. Add tonight’s recommendation — presented as a foreign policy and/or economic game changer, which it is not — to consider foreign aid anew each year, and you would have one more unstable foreign policy component. Of course you can change what you provide to certain countries, but the knowledge that such aid is guaranteed for one year only for all countries excites political neophytes only.

–Michele Bachmann is still surprisingly articulate on matter after matter — perhaps people can see why she is so superior to not just Sarah Palin, but to Perry and even Rick Santorum and Ron Paul. Still, she has a history of the unexpectedly bizarre policy position, such as the possible American strategic use of nuclear weapons, perception of death panels in Democratic health care policy and other periodic extreme iterations.

–Herman Cain remains the most inexperienced likeable candidate; he was not a serious contender even before the decade-plus charges against him. Stable moderate polling support does not mean that any such candidate has the potential to become a nominee or the president.

–John Huntsman presented his “Americans don’t torture” sophistry, referencing waterboarding (he says irrelevantly he has children; so do Romney and the others) and such. Every time I hear him, I see a Hamlet who worked well under President Obama.

–Although being bereft of executive or political experience should be a disqualifier, having such experience should not be sufficient for support, of course. Moreover, there are personal matters that should not disqualify a person in the electorate’s mind, but do. Former Speaker of the House and resident conservative intellectual and historian Newt Gingrich has too many past problems — including his marital history, his inability to keep good aides and his abrasive personality — which constitute just a few reasons he will not be the Republicans’ presidential nominee. I must say, though, I do enjoy his being the one candidate who abjures obsequiousness toward journalistic questioners in presidential debate. His refusal to take a cheap shot at Gov. Romney won him another feather in his complicatedly adorned cap.

–Last night’s debate was handled ably by Scott Pelley CBS News and Major Garrett of National Journal, who were fine as moderators for at least two general reasons: 1. They realize that the debate is not about them (take note, Brian Williams, Jim Cramer and others); 2. Scott Pelley said unambiguously there would be “no booing” allowed. Not only is booing disruptive and unseemly, it only takes about 3% of booers to make it seem overwhelming. One bit of advice: there is no precise time allowed for an answer that is not problematic, but one minute and one-half really is a superior choice to allow full articulation of points and also allow everyone to participate fully.

Outcome: Mitt Romney should be the Republican nominee, and I would like to see Sen. Lindsey Graham as Vice Presidential nominee. Full disclosure: I am close to someone on his staff, but I supported Sen. Graham before I knew this person.

Prof. Vatz teaches Persuasion at Towson University and is author of The Only Authentic Book of Persuasion (Kendall Hunt, 2012)

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