His answer on Iran during the last debate shows that he can give good answers if he’s expecting them, but he’s got to really impress the audience this time. Repeatedly saying he’ll pick the right advisors isn’t going to work anymore. In the early debates, he’d talk about confronting Sharia law and would win major applause. He’d be wise to do it again.
Ron Paul is rising in the polls in Iowa and so he should get more attention than he’s gotten. His consistency makes him predictable. Expect the usual from Paul, and expect the other candidates to use him as a punching bag to show off their own foreign policy credentials.
Rick Perry’s comments on starting all foreign aid at zero were well-received by the audience, as was his ridicule of aid to Pakistan while the government helps kill our troops. He was criticized for this by Santorum and Bachmann, who warned of the perils of undermining the Pakistani government, but primary voters are far more receptive to someone who will share their frustration with our tolerance of Pakistan’s treachery. However, the position does open him up to be accused of opposing aid to Israel.
Perry is in a contest with Romney over who will be the toughest candidate on China. During the last debate, he said that “Communist China” will “enter the ash heap of history” if it doesn’t change its ways. Romney says we are already in a trade war with China.
Michele Bachmann has to knock it out of the park. In a poll documenting Cain’s collapse in support among Republican women in Iowa, she still backslid. While every other candidate gained, she fell from 8% to 5% total. That means that Republican women who left Cain looked at all the other candidates and chose everyone but the Republican woman.
She did a great job of sounding like a policy wonk on Afghanistan during the last debate. Unlike the others, she can point to her access to classified intelligence by being on the House Intelligence Committee in informing her assessments. She opposed the war in Libya entirely and can take it to the others who supported it or have failed to take a consistent stance on the issue.
This is Rick Santorum’s last and best chance to catch on with voters. Foreign policy is where he shines. He has the most detailed plan on Iran. He has two problem areas, though. First, he supports the war in Libya, saying the U.S. needs to be a force for good around the world but criticizing Obama’s indecisiveness. During the last debate, he spoke at length about how the U.S. needs the Pakistani government as an ally and that allies “work through their problems.” When asked about what to do if a Pakistani nuke got loose, he said he’d try to cooperate with the ISI intelligence service — the same one killing our troops. Talking positively about the Pakistani government isn’t exactly a winner.
Jon Huntsman has made his ambassadorship to China a key part of the case for his candidacy. He argues that he’s the only one with any real foreign policy experience and so this debate is crucial for his campaign. He has positioned himself as the dove of the race that isn’t Ron Paul. He will take on Romney and possibly Perry for their confrontational attitudes towards China (which won’t be a crowd pleaser) and point out his consistent opposition to the war in Libya.
He’ll again call for an immediate drawdown of forces from Afghanistan, reducing the mission to training Afghan security forces and special forces for counter-terrorism missions. This sounds appealing, but his opponents should challenge him on how these tasks can be successfully accomplished with a much smaller footprint.
This is the last debate on foreign policy and national security. With the economy dominating the campaign, it is likely these topics will barely be touched upon during the remaining debates. Tonight’s debate will decide who will become the candidate of the national security voters.