I’ve shocked myself by feeling this way, but Mitt Romney has finally impressed me. As a Massachusetts native (and adopted Texan, thank God) I’ve been waiting a long time for my former Governor to fire me up. And I’ll admit – his debate performance Wednesday night actually got me excited. Romney looked presidential. Obama looked weak. Romney sounded authoritative, utilizing real facts, figures, and studies. Obama wavered and told irrelevant sob stories as a means to distract from reality. Anyone who watched could tell objectively, that Romney absolutely destroyed Obama. After all, the CNN poll wherein only 25% of viewers voted Obama the winner says it all.
While I was highly encouraged by Romney’s performance when it came to domestic and economic issues, I’m skeptical that this honeymoon will last. I say this is due to the fact that there is an upcoming foreign policy debate – and the way Romney has framed many aspects of this issue (particularly during his Republican National Convention speech) has made me cringe. Romney has unfortunately, made a habit of engaging in what Congressman Mick Mulvaney (R-SC) has brilliantly termed Military Keynesianism.
Essentially, Mulvaney called out many of his Republican colleagues for treating the military as if it’s a jobs program, and not simply for defense purposes. As if somehow, because the military is the most important function of government, it’s impervious to the laws of economics. Military spending should unquestionably be our nation’s top priority – but acting as if using government money to pay for military activity is any more of an economically sound jobs program than an Obama style stimulus dig-holes-fill-holes program is to misunderstand how free markets function. Romney eloquently explained to the nation why Obama’s “trickle down government” policies have failed to grow the economy on the domestic front on Wednesday – so naturally, I worry when he doesn’t apply the same logic to government spending in other areas, which is what happened surrounding military spending during his RNC speech – and was even touched upon similarly in his closing statement on Wednesday.
And putting my own ideological tendencies aside for a moment, one of the things that actually impressed me about Romney’s debate performance was the fact that he came across as reasonable and NOT ideological. This is something that appeals to swing voters who want someone to get the job done. Presenting a fact-driven common sense approach is precisely how challengers win. Naturally, as a libertarian Republican who is supporting Romney and is invested in the future of the GOP, I hope that he performs similarly in the foreign policy debate. However, some of his comments make me worry that he’s being pushed in an ideologically neoconservative direction – which is interesting, because polling distinctly shows that voters are NOT on the same page.
As Scott Rasmussen notes in his extremely interesting piece on the views of Americans on military spending that is featured in the October 2012 issue of Reason Magazine:
“Republicans who demand cuts in every program except the military open themselves up to justifiable Democratic charges of hypocrisy. Exempting major budget categories from spending discipline is a key reason government almost never gets cut. The American people are ready to take a more mature approach. A 2011 poll conducted by my firm, Rasmussen Reports, found that 67 percent favor finding spending cuts in all government programs ……
….. Most voters now believe it was a mistake for the U.S. to have gotten involved in Iraq, and most now want to see troops brought home quickly from Afghanistan. Support for the military action in Libya peaked at 20 percent ……
….. A Protect America First policy would mean returning to the more restrained military philosophies of Dwight Eisenhower and Ronald Reagan. Those presidents did not hesitate to use force, but they had a more limited definition of when it was appropriate: only when vital U.S. interests were at stake. Reagan articulated additional restrictions. Forces should not be sent without ‘the clear intent and support needed to win,’ or without ‘clearly defined and realistic objectives.’ And there ‘must be reasonable assurance that the cause we are fighting for and the actions we take will have the support of the American people and Congress.'”
Currently, there’s a major divide in the Republican Party when it comes to dealing with military spending. The fiscally conservative faction, as represented by Jim DeMint, Rand Paul, Mike Lee, Justin Amash, Mick Mulvaney, and several others, has sensibly noted that to have a strong military, we must rein in our unsustainable spending across the board, cut foreign aid to hostile nations, and concentrate on defense of legitimate American interests. The neoconservative faction, as represented primarily by Lindsey Graham and John McCain, refuses to set aside their ideological desire to have our federal government pay for and micromanage the affairs of foreign nations. As Rasmussen shows, the American people are firmly in the same camp as the fiscal conservatives on this issue, and recognize that we can have a strong defense without increasing military spending by 82% every decade, which reflects the most recent numbers.
So the question remains – which faction does Mitt Romney stand with? While his penchant for rhetorical Military Keynesianism is unsettling, in this case, Romney’s infamous “flip flopping” may actually pay off for us fiscal conservatives and foreign policy realists – because polling shows unequivocally that the American people do not support either the Bush or Obama foreign policies. To really capture swing voters of the libertarian and moderate varieties, Romney will need to take that into account.
While I expect a great deal of hand wringing from Romney about Obama’s apologies and insufficient support of Israel, I am optimistic that Romney may just be savvy enough to not take a strong neoconservative approach to the point that he alienates voters. Then again, it all depends on who is prepping him. But I’d like to hope that team Romney realizes it’s smart to side with the American people and not the ideologically neoconservative political advisor class that is embedded in beltway Republican circles. Ultimately, if Romney comes out against foreign aid to hostile nations and constructively criticizes the Obama (and McCain/Graham) approach to dealing with Libya, I might be able, as a libertarian Republican who is supporting him despite my skepticism, forgive Romney for his factually inaccurate claim that Obama is “gutting military spending,” when in reality, as Veronique De Rugy explains via the Mercatus Center:
“Defense spending has almost doubled in the past decade in current dollar terms and will continue to grow in spite of automatic cuts set by the Budget Control Act. Clarifying these figures reveals that sequester cuts do not warrant the fears of policymakers who warn about ‘savage cuts’ to the defense budget.”
Ultimately, I certainly don’t expect to agree with Romney even close to 100% on foreign policy. I get that I’m a libertarian Republican who is reluctantly supporting Romney; we’re kind of a rare breed. All I really expect from him is an indication that he doesn’t possess a deeply ideological desire to obsessively micromanage the affairs of other nations; particularly when we’re literally broke and he claims that he’ll balance the budget. America should absolutely lead by example in the world, have the strongest military on the planet, and offer diplomatic assistance when we can truly help – but we cannot invade countries and engage in nation building when there’s simply no immediate American interests threatened. And if Mitt Romney can’t convey that to the majority of American voters, who are tired of the government squandering our resources overseas when domestic infrastructure is crumbling, he will have undermined his brilliant performance in the first debate.