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Tonight’s GOP Debate

There have been so many Republican presidential debates that I have more or less stopped watching them, but my wife twisted my arm and made me watch tonight’s AEI/Heritage discussion of foreign policy, moderated by Wolf Blitzer.

So far, it is pretty much the field against Ron Paul. Paul can be effective when he sticks to domestic libertarianism, but as soon as he starts talking about foreign policy, he becomes the crazy uncle. Someday, I would like to hear him explain what provisions of the Patriot Act somehow undermine the Constitution. Sharing information between the CIA and the FBI? Warrants that cover all telephones used by a particular individual, not just a single disposable phone number? What? One value of an evening like tonight is that it exposes Paul’s lunacy.

Herman Cain is in the spotlight tonight because of his perceived–and, I think, real–weakness in foreign policy. In that context, he has done OK. But foreign policy has never been, and never will be, his strong point. The bottom line is that he continues to fade.

Rick Perry was a non-factor early, but asserted himself pretty effectively toward the end, talking about immigration and the southern border.

Newt Gingrich was a hero early on, when he refuted Paul’s conflation of law enforcement with national security by pointing out that Timothy McVeigh–whose name Paul loves to invoke–succeeded. We need a national security system that prevents massive terrorist attacks rather than one that seeks out and prosecutes the perpetrators after the fact.

Michele Bachmann has been good once again. She is an interesting case: it seems that Republican voters turned their backs on her when she went too far on vaccines in connection with her attack on Rick Perry. In hindsight, wasn’t that abandonment a little harsh? She is, at the moment, doing a fine job on energy and Iran.

Mitt Romney has once again come across well. He pretty much defines the Republican mainstream. He sounds like Reagan talking about foreign policy, much as he does on the economy and taxes. He has become skillful enough in this format that even when he is not the brightest star on a particular evening, he isn’t going to cede his front-runner status in this sort of event.

Newt continues to shine; his discussion of WWII and our current energy doldrums was brilliant. Is he interested in being Veep, assuming that Marco R. is not willing?

Jon Huntsman is actually making sense tonight, on occasion at least.

Governor Perry is the forgotten man, but he has a good moment talking about President Obama’s default in the current budget negotiations, relating specifically to defense.

I haven’t mentioned Rick Santorum, but he has done pretty well tonight, as usual. Santorum has two big problems: 1) he is largely associated with social issues, which are not anyone’s priority these days; and 2) he lost his last race in Pennsylvania, so why should we think he can get elected President?

Newt shoots and scores again on Social Security. What a wonderful world it would be, if only we were as smart as Chile. He is mostly good on immigration, too, although the debate here gets intensely interesting as Mitt R. engages and the ball is passed to Rick Perry.

Heritage and AEI deserve thanks; the questions from their folks, including Ed Meese, Fred Kagan and others, were excellent.

Did anything change tonight? I don’t think so. The candidates did well, and generally reinforced the images they already had with the party’s base. When Mitt doesn’t lose, he wins. That is mostly what happened tonight, but I suspect that the partisans of pretty much every candidate were enthusiastic about tonight’s debate.

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