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Republicans vie in the Putin primary

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Who among the would-be GOP presidential nominees would most alarm Vladimir Putin if he (or she) became President Obama’s successor?

Call this the “Putin Primary.” Of all the various “primaries” said to be underway 10 months before the real ones commence, this is by far the most important in terms of actual qualifications for the office.

Vladimir Putin clearly neither respects nor fears Obama, but this is hardly unique in the world. Try and come up with a list of three heads of state or government that do. Not a list of leaders who will say that they do if pressed in public, but leaders whom you really, honestly, truly believe respect and fear America’s leader, much less will follow his lead?

Of all the repair jobs awaiting the next commander in chief, restoring America’s reputation as a world power willing to use that power coherently is job number one. “No better friend, no worse enemy” is a reputation the United States Marines have earned over the centuries. Our next president needs to appropriate it.

A ruthless Roman ruler, Sulla the “dictator,” has a memorable epitaph inscribed on his tomb. It has been translated in various ways, but my favorite version is, “No friend has done me a favor, nor enemy an injury, that I have not repaid in full.” Our next president would hope he earns the right to borrow the phrase.

That sentiment is not part of the Baltimore Catechism certainly, nor easily located in Scripture, but it is an excellent North Star for presidents facing Putin or other would-be strongmen and tough guys.

Among the Republican field, former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush would most surely impress world leaders as a man who would arrive in the Oval Office ready to govern and surrounded by serious, sober, experienced warriors and diplomats.

Florida Sen. Marco Rubio practically smolders with intensity when talking about America’s role in the world and communicates resoluteness. And while Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker is among the most affable of men, he demonstrated an implacable toughness through his long-running battle with his often vicious opponents within the domestic Left. (On Friday, a Milwaukee man pleaded guilty to four counts of threatening Walker’s son using social media — hardly a rare occurrence for the Walker family over the past five years.)

It was Maggie Thatcher’s “not for turning” with British miners and Reagan’s quick and final disposition of the lawlessness of striking air controllers of the PATCO union that provided each with a predicate on which to build internationally as they sat down with foreign adversaries who wondered whether they could be pushed about like so many kitchen chairs. Walker has already earned such a reputation.

Obama appears on matters foreign to be our first present who came with wheels attached — made to push around. That means the job of the next president will be harder than ever when it comes to establishing that “saying what you mean and meaning what you say” applies to him or her.

Texas Gov. Rick Perry would have the easiest lift here, and his colleague from the Lone Star State Sen. Ted Cruz hasn’t flinched from unpopular stances or waves of media criticism. Sen. Rand Paul, interestingly enough, might benefit in this respect for his non-interventionist reputation. Having drawn narrower lines, he might be judged as less likely than Obama to erase those lines when they are crossed.

Every Republican will be involved in the Putin primary every day, from now to the nomination, especially as national security issues thrust themselves onto the front pages with alarming regularity as Obama’s world shatters and falls further and further into the Clinton-Kerry orchestrated chaos.

Defense hawks within the GOP routed their so-called “deficit hawk” opponents last week, with the latter mustering barely 15 votes against more robust defense funding. Budget Chairman Tom Price deftly orchestrated a show of recommitment to “peace through strength” that undercut and indeed embarrassed the largely special-interest orchestrated narratives of “cut defense first” ideologues, reducing them to threadbare pleas to study this or that cost-overrun. as though the Islamic State cares about contracting efficiency. House and Senate GOP members won’t soon forget that when the chips were down, the Greek chorus of “The Defense Department has waste too” was crooning to a very small audience indeed.

Americans, especially conservatives and Republican primary voters, are looking for candidates willing not just to wear a flag lapel, but to build ships that will fly the American flag and who will vote for a fully-funded United States Marine Corps and the needs of the other services. Putin cannot like this turn of events. Patsies in the Oval Office who draw in fading red lines backed by noisy and little-known anti-defense editorialists are much easier to face than genuine heirs of Ronald Reagan.

Reagan was a man Putin would have respected and feared, even as he did George W. Bush. Believe it or not, the winner of the Putin primary is going to sound a lot like those guys, and make a plausible case that he or she would act as they acted as well.


This column was originally posted on


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