The low hanging fruit in the upcoming Republican primaries—Rick Perry, Michele Bachmann, and Newt Gingrich—are all authentic conservatives; in order to get enough of their votes to win the Republican nomination, Mitt Romney will have to double down as a conservative.
On the economy, this posture carries manageable risks. He can say pretty radical things and still look reasonably safe. After all, Professor Gingrich has already branded him as a “Massachusetts moderate.” And Romney does actually have a solid record as an effective compromiser to defend himself against Obama in the fall. On foreign policy, however, he’s facing growing risks.
Americans already feel rather burned about the last (wink, wink) conservative with a centrist domestic record. George Bush demonstrated with blood and trillions that knowing how to resist unwise economists in Austin or from Boston, for that matter, doesn’t automatically equip a president to fend off foolish and arrogant foreign policy advisors in Washington.
Furthermore, last night in Iowa, Ron Paul exposed two serious immediate campaign problems. Romney and Republican hawks aren’t attracting new votes to the Republican Party, and Paul’s central message—that America cannot afford extravagant new foreign or domestic adventures—is winning energetic support amongst independents.
Ron Paul’s independents and libertarians will not prevail in the upcoming Republican primaries. In fact, Romney will probably escalate his attacks on Obama as an “appeaser” and dismiss Paul as an “isolationist.” Nevertheless, in upcoming Republican debates and, later, conceivably as a third-party candidate, Paul will be re-enforcing the importance of foreign policy amongst the wider electorate in the November election.
It’s arguable that any president can “take America back” to the seemingly happy economic times before the crash of 2008. However, a Mitt Romney presidency certainly could restore the swagger of George Bush’s foreign policy. You can be sure that Obama will grant him that—and, eventually, make a big issue of it.