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Romney Needs to Avoid Foreign Policy Even More Than He Does Now

Eli Lake reports on Republican grumbling over Romney’s limited attention to foreign policy during the campaign:

A major foreign policy speech that was initially planned for May or June, according to campaign advisers, has not yet materialized. Romney’s relative quiet on the foreign-policy front has fueled criticism that he lacks a clear vision.

“One of the things that troubles me is that there is no lead foreign policy person who is traveling with the governor and who is there to talk to the press,” says Danielle Pletka, vice president for foreign and defense policy studies at the conservative American Enterprise Institute. She says foreign policy “is one of President Obama’s biggest failings and the American people need to hear a debate about more than the economy.”

If the Romney campaign is smart, it will ignore most of these complaints. This is one example of how Republican objections to Obama on policy are potentially harmful to their presidential nominee’s political fortunes. Most Republican activists and pundits keep insisting that Romney talk about these issues more, but this is because they are under the woefully misguided impression that Obama is politically vulnerable on foreign policy. He isn’t, and it seems unlikely that anything will happen in the next four months to change that. Romney’s critics on this point can’t accept that, because it contradicts their extremely negative assessment of Obama’s decisions, and it goes against their assumptions about the electoral benefits of hawkish foreign policy. Romney’s hawkish critics haven’t fully grasped that foreign policy has become a weakness for the GOP over the last six years, so it makes no sense to them that it might help their presidential candidate to avoid talking about it.

Because foreign policy is important to them, they think it should be a larger part of the campaign than it already is, and they don’t seem to be able to imagine that Romney would alienate voters if he followed their advice. Republican hawks seem convinced (or they want everyone to believe they are convinced) that Obama has been a disaster on foreign policy, and they really seem to expect the public to agree with them. If only Romney were even more willing to make it an issue in the campaign, they think that somehow the voters would realize that the foreign policy that at least half of them approve of has been a huge failure.

The report also mentions Romney’s Russia blunder:

Some staffers say the campaign is in desperate need of someone with the stature and gravitas to force Romney to listen. They point to his statement in a CNN interview that Russia was America’s “number one geopolitical foe”, which drew fire from the press. “I think Romney is right to make Russia an issue,” one adviser said. “But when he said that, the campaign should have walked it back and moved on.”

Yes, they should have, but they didn’t. Instead of stepping back and correcting the error, they embraced it. The campaign has paid just enough attention to their hawkish critics that they think they are gaining ground whenever they attack on foreign policy. This is a mistake. Whenever Romney has tried to make foreign policy into a major issue in the election, he has blundered on the policy substance and undermined his already very weak credibility on these issues. It isn’t possible for him to say absolutely nothing about foreign policy, but it would be a very good idea for him to say much less than he does right now.

about the author

Daniel Larison is a senior editor at TAC, where he also keeps a solo blog. He has been published in the New York Times Book Review, Dallas Morning News, World Politics Review, Politico Magazine, Orthodox Life, Front Porch Republic, The American Scene, and Culture11, and was a columnist for The Week. He holds a PhD in history from the University of Chicago, and resides in Lancaster, PA. Follow him on Twitter.

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