“All we have to do is replace Obama,” proclaimed GOP power broker Grover Norquist at this year’s annual Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) in Washington, D.C. “We are not auditioning for fearless leader.” Sufficiently qualified for the job, he argued, is any man with the capacity to “handle a pen” and thus sign bills sent by Congress. “His job is to be captain of the team,” Norquist said of the party’s as-yet-undetermined nominee.
And so with this logic in mind, Mitt Romney largely evaded sustained criticism from his rivals during the 2012 GOP presidential primary. Former Minnesota Governor Tim Pawlenty coined the term “ObomneyCare,” then dropped out of the race a few weeks later, joining as a top Romney adviser; “This nation can’t afford a status quo president,” warned former Utah Governor Jon Huntsman of Romney, just nine days before he dropped out and endorsed Romney. Newt Gingrich and Rick Perry painted a grim portrait of Romney’s tenure as a private equity maven, during which he allegedly shuttered American factories and laid off workers. But after the dust settled, both men came onboard with “the team.” (Ron Paul, as always, was a lone exception.)
Mitt Romney has long made clear that his campaign should be regarded essentially as a vessel for restoring the Republican Party to power. His slate of advisers across all subject areas indicates that he values not ideological cohesion, but rather the opportunity to reinstate GOP policy-making personnel. And so unlike the previous GOP nominee, John McCain, and unlike some of his rivals for the nomination this year — including Rick Santorum, Huntsman, and (of course) Ron Paul — Romney makes a point to challenge virtually none of his party’s orthodoxies.
However, Romney occasionally does indulge some of the party’s worst impulses. In August 2010, spokesman Eric Fehrnstrom issued a statement announcing the governor’s condemnation of the “Ground Zero Mosque,” highlighting “the potential for extremists to use the mosque for global recruiting and propaganda,” which compelled a “rejection of this site.” Similarly, Romney has denounced Obama’s vision of government as profoundly “foreign,” and he regularly insinuates that the president is insufficiently reverential of the military.
Those in the GOP who believe Romney a desirable standard-bearer should perhaps consider whether they wish for their party to be further associated with capricious warmaking and knee-jerk, hostile bellicosity toward other nations. In proclaiming at this week’s debate that Mahmoud Ahmadinejad of Iran must be tried in “World Court,” and that the sectarian conflict in Syria represents a “good opportunity” to exert American influence, Romney exhibits a brash style. In 2000, George W. Bush famously called for a more “humble” foreign policy.
Because the more nationalistic elements of the populace love to hear platitudes about “restoring America’s Leadership” and so forth, Romney’s strategy has been to propound anti-Obama talking points rather than level any kind of substantive critique. It is simply false, as Romney repeatedly alleges, that the current commander-in-chief has gone around the world on an “Apology Tour.” If one wants to object to the president’s diplomatic style, by all means — but the “Apology Tour” accusation is factually inaccurate. And, frankly, juvenile. Is this really the best criticism the Republican party nominee can come up with?
Romney’s over-reliance on such memes is further evidence that he lacks much meaningful knowledge of or interest in foreign policy. As crisis unfolds across the Middle East and other challenges inevitably arise across the world, it is just about impossible to predict how Romney might handle a given high-risk situation. For all his major problems on foreign policy, Obama’s rhetoric from the 2008 campaign basically matches up with what he’s carried out (or endeavored to carry out) as president. Conversely, Romney is so inconsistent that there is almost no way to imagine how he’d behave in office.
The same was true, it could be argued, of Bush in 2000. The governor was not well-versed on foreign policy, and therefore became malleable to advisers like Elliott Abrams, John Bolton, Cofer Black, Tommy Franks, and others — all of whom have been recruited to the current Romney campaign. Liz Cheney also takes part in weekly foreign policy conference calls.
An Obama victory means that these neoconservative figures, who helped orchestrate George W. Bush’s preemptive attack on Iraq, will be kept out of office. A Romney victory could well mean they are back in charge.