It’s going to be interesting to see how Mitt Romney handles the embassy attacks by hardcore Islamists in Egypt and Libya. Whatever one might say critically about the Obama administration’s policies towards the Arab Spring rebellions in those two countries, there is no doubt that Team Obama did exactly what George W. Bush would have done, exactly what President McCain would have done, and exactly what a Romney administration would have done.
It turns out that Americans trust the Democrats more than they trust the Republicans on foreign policy. Dan Drezner wrote earlier this week:
And here is where foreign policy becomes a real problem for Mitt Romney — because if the Chicago Council results are accurate, independents basically want the exact opposite of what Mitt Romney is selling them.
Let’s stipulate that a President Romney might not actually do what he’s promising during the campaign — certainly the smart money doesn’t believe him. Still, based on his rhetoric to date, let’s also stipulate that Romney really wants America to lead the world. He wants to boost defense spending rather than cut it. He certainly wants to give the appearance that he would pursue a more hawkish policy towards Iran, Syria, Russia, North Korea, China and illegal immigrants than Barack Obama.
That’s great — except it turns out most of America — and independents in particular — want pretty much the opposite of that. Indeed, as Marshall Bouton says in the Foreword to the report:
Over time, Independents have become more inclined than either Republicans or Democrats to limit U.S. engagement in world affairs. Because Independents are an increasing share of the electorate, this development in American public opinion warrants attention.
If you read the whole report, what’s striking is how much the majority view on foreign policy jibes with what the Obama administration has been doing in the world: military retrenchment from the Greater Middle East, a reliance on diplomacy and sanctions to deal with rogue states, a refocusing on East Asia, and prudent cuts in defense spending.
As for Romney, here are some excerpts from the report that suggest where the entire country — and independents in particular — are drifting away from his foreign policy rhetoric:
Read the whole thing. Whatever disagreements I have with Obama on foreign policy, if I were voting on foreign policy alone, or if my vote were primarily about foreign policy, there’s no question that I would vote for Obama — or, to be precise, against Romney.
Which brings to mind Ross Douthat’s excellent blog entry today about how the Romney campaign is being dragged down by the unresolved legacy of George W. Bush. Excerpt:
To win the kind of victory that conservatives seem to think they should be winning, the Republican Party needs two things: A domestic agenda that offers more to hard-pressed families than just generic conservative rhetoric about the genius of capitalism, and a foreign policy program that reflects the hard lessons learned in Iraq and Afghanistan.
This is the simple reality of presidential politics in 2012. Americans don’t want to give the White House back to the Republicans because they remember the Bush era all too well. If they continue to be disappointed at the polls, conservatives will eventually recognize this problem, and grope toward some sort of solution. Until then, the fault for their party’s underperformance will lie not in the stars or the structure of our society, but in their own stubborn selves.
One hoped after the 2008 defeat that Republicans would do some serious soul-searching and rethinking about lessons learned from the economic collapse and the Iraq disaster. Instead, they doubled down on Obama bashing. Romney is reaping the meager rewards of that strategy. People aren’t happy with the Obama presidency, but having to choose between that and a third George W. Bush term, they prefer the former. Unsurprisingly.