Tuesday, July 24, 2012

This Offer Is Unrepeatable

Mitt Romney gave a speech billed as a major foreign policy address today, just before he embarks on a quick world tour.

I may get around to the substance later (here's Dan Drezner's quick reaction post), but I noted several comments about target audiences just after the speech. Drezner figures it's aimed at domestic constituencies, and notes that "swing voters don't care about foreign policy," which is no doubt true; indeed, it's hard to find very many Americans who care much about foreign policy, certainly as a voting issue. Chuck Todd said it sounded aimed at Republican voters. Seth Michaels speculated that Romney had to keep selling to those Republican voters, since they still don't trust him. And Heather Hurlburt had my favorite one: "#Romney speech specifically aimed at greatest generation voters, given lack of references to post-1945 developments."

So: who should presidential nominees be targeting with their foreign policy speeches?

That's easy. Since Drezner is correct that voters mostly don't care at all about foreign policy, there's no point at appealing to them. So foreign policy talk, even more than any other policy talk, should be targeted squarely at elites. That is, in this case, the foreign policy and national community expert community. The goal? For normal non-incumbents, it's very simple: to prove competence.

Here's the chain. Voters probably don't care about foreign policy -- but they may care about the possibility that the person they're electing is totally incapable of dealing with those issues. Partisan voters will naturally absorb the views of partisan opinion leaders from their side, who of course are going to give the partisan-appropriate answer. However, very weak partisans or true independents may soak up impressions of less partisan general opinion leaders. In turn, those less partisan opinion leaders will probably absorb the impression of non-partisan or at least not-very-partisan foreign policy and national security experts.

So, sell the experts that you're not a moron, and they'll sell the David Gergens of the world, and you'll be fine.

What complicates this for Romney is the distance on some issues between Republican partisans on national security and, well, everyone else. It's hard to say something that will please both John Bolton and Dan Drezner. The likely result in such situations is mush, and for the most part that's the direction Romney is taking.

2 comments:

  1. Yeah, pretty much mushy nothing, except for the parts when Mitt said Obama is trying to destroy America, which is fairly typical of generic GOP rhetoric these days. I especially like the part when he announced that American aid would be dependent on "conditions" but didn't even broadly outline what said "conditions" would be. Which is also absurd because of course American aid already is dependent on conditions (Egypt invading Israel would probably cause military aid to end right? Well there's a condition). I do feel like there's an emerging thread in his rhetoric where he treats Middle Eastern government that are democratically elected as being illegitimate if they aren't working overtime to do whatever we tell them to do. Since no democratically elected government in the Middle East will move to privatize their natural resources, radically restructure their economy like Russia in the 90's and recognize Israel anytime soon obviously there will be big problems in a hypothetically Romney administration. But I do really like people finally talking about how much of discussion of foreign policy has nothing to do with policy towards other countries and is almost entirely about domestic politics, something I've thought for a long time. I think you can see both of these trends at work from last summer when GOP House members refused to give any economic assistance to Egypt after Mubarak's fall and then solely criticized Obama for not being pro-Netanyahu enough while ignoring policy towards Egypt. The Egyptian economy got worse and so the Muslim Brotherhood did better in the elections. Which could be a harbinger of things to come, the US cuts of aid to moderate countries and so the economy worsens and the religious movements do better politically.

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  2. How does this chest thumping play in South Carolina, North Carolina, Virginia and Ohio, states with large military presences and military families who are probably not all that jazzed up about Romney starting a needless war in Iran? Probably not well . . . .

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