Thursday, October 20, 2011

Debating Mitt on Libya

Since Barack Obama committed the United States to action in Libya back in March, Republican presidential candidates have engaged in what seems to be an endless round of debates. You might think that during these debates, front-runner Mitt Romney might have been pinned down to explain and defend his position on the action. After all, several candidates had strong positions for intervention (Santorum) and against (Bachmann, Paul) or both (Gingrich). And in crowded primary fields, one of the key ways to advance is to differentiate oneself from the other candidates; especially once they had declared a position, it was in each candidate's interest (to the extent they were trying to get nominated) to make any differences with Romney clear.

I therefore went back and compiled a full and complete list of all statements and comments made by Mitt Romney about Libya during the seven debates he has participated in so far:

Goose egg. Zip. Nada.

The issue was raised in four of the seven debates (keeping in mind that one of the others was dedicated to the economy, so make it four of six if you like). Michele Bachmann and Rick Santorum seemed eager to talk about it; a few of the others chimed in. But Romney? Nothing.

(OK, the disclaimer. I searched each transcript for "Libya", so that's my starting point. I also read down until the next topic change every time it was raised, to see if perhaps Romney entered the conversation late and used only pronouns, or something like that. Nothing. It's possible that he did refer to it in some other way during another part of a debate in which the nation wasn't named at all, but I think it's unlikely).


1. Romney, as frontrunners will be, has been very slick on this one. I did a quick look around, and didn't find much. When the government fell in August, his main reaction was to demand that the new government extradite the Lockerbie bomber. Back in April, a few weeks after the US action began, he wrote a two paragraph piece for National Review supporting the action in principle but criticizing Obama's methods (including a supportive link to what is probably an embarrassingly wrong John Bolton column that the Boston Herald wants you to pay for, so I don't know). There's a bit more, but not much, in a Hugh Hewitt interview in March. There could be more...I won't claim my search was comprehensive, but I think I caught the big stuff. Basically, he's avoided saying anything that could come back at him; he was well positioned whether things went well or badly. That's good candidate skills.

2. Debates usually don't work very well, if you think the goal is to produce information about candidate views on matters of public policy currently in the news.

3. It's fairly astonishing how little Romney is being pressed by the other candidates. Of course, this is mostly because most of the others either are "business plan" candidates who have little interest in knocking down a guy who might be the nominee, but it also sure seems to me that the lot of them just don't have very impressive debating skills. Of course, the main failures here have been by Tim Pawlenty and Rick Perry, who clearly were running against Romney, but just don't know how to debate at this level.

At any rate, it's pretty amazing that Romney got away with this.


  1. This just reflects the situation in the Republican party and what a thinking Republican can do. If the current first commandment among Republicans is "Thou shalt not agree with Obama" and Obama chooses a wise policy, you're up a creek unless you just keep quiet.

  2. It hasn't been discussed much in the debates because the voters don't care much about Libya.

    Having watched several of the debates I get the impression that there are two candidates with clear foreign policy views: Paul and Santorum. The rest either don't care, have no clear vision or are being vague because they are not sure what GOP voters want.

  3. This is a hard subject for much of the GOP because it pits their "always oppose Obama" philosophy versus their "always support invading other countries with the US military" belief. They must get brainlock from this conflict any time they try to speak about Libya, so they've decided just to stay quiet.


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