Fox News and the South Carolina Republican Party co-hosted a candidates’ debate last night at the Peace Center in Greenville, S.C., that surprisingly served as the official kick-off event for the 2012 presidential campaign. Though it was somewhat of a non-event because the candidates most pundits would describe as being first-tier were not in attendance, the so-called second-tier group did nothing to discourage their supporters and actually managed to motivate the audience on several occasions.
Of the five participants, Rep. Ron Paul (R-TX-14) repeatedly brought the crowd to cheers, particularly so when he answered a question about heroine legalization by saying ” … how many people here would do heroin if it was legal? I bet no one would, so why do we need the government to protect us?” The others who participated in the debate were businessman Herman Cain, former Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty, ex-U.S. Sen. Rick Santorum (R-PA) and former New Mexico Gov. Gary Johnson.
No one bungled a question but none of the participants particularly distinguished themselves either, with the exception of Dr. Paul on several questions and Mr. Cain in the final minutes of the debate. It is also probable that the eventual Republican presidential nominee was not part of this forum, but it is difficult to project just who that Republican winner will actually be, since all of the candidates are closely bunched. Polling shows no clear front-runner or individual capturing more than 20 percent support. Therefore, this may be the most wide-open campaign we have seen in the modern campaign era.
All of the contenders seemed to understand the key fundamental in contrasting themselves with Pres. Barack Obama, especially in light of the Osama bin Laden assassination. All of the candidates gave Obama due praise for his handling of the bin Laden mission, but then quickly pivoted to what they believe are the president’s shortcomings in his managing of the domestic agenda.
Though it is clear Mr. Obama has scored major political points for his action overseas and probably wouldn’t be defeated by anyone if the election were tomorrow, we don’t have to go too far back in history to prompt our memories and recall that foreign affairs victories are often short-lived and quickly crumble in significance when compared to the state of the domestic economy.
Two clear examples of this phenomenon occurred in 1945 and 1992:
• Winston Churchill, whose British Conservative Party was turned out of office in landslide proportions after successfully declaring a clear and stunning victory in World War II just a scant two months earlier.
• George H.W. Bush, who enjoyed 90% approval ratings after successfully guiding America in the Gulf War, only to lose his re-election just 10 months later, capturing a mere 37.5 percent of the national popular vote.
These results clearly show us that economics fundamentally trump foreign affairs.
For the Republicans to get back into the game against the president they will have to focus on the economy as the sole issue of the campaign and drive home their messages about the national deficit and debt, high food and gas prices, and the lack of job creation. It appeared that the five Republicans participating in last night’s debate fully understood this principle, but they and the other candidates have a very long way to go in a short time if the 2012 election is to become legitimately competitive anytime soon.
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