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Resurgence of GOP hawkishness is boosting Romney 2016 prospects

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Suddenly NBC‘s “Meet The Press” matters again, and when new host Chuck Todd joined me on Friday’s radio show (see transcript) two of many reasons why became obvious.

First, Todd had booked James Baker (former secretary of state and treasury, White House chief-of-staff, and W’s Florida strategist during 2000’s epic recount) to talk about whether or not an international coalition could be assembled by President Obama to battle the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria. The Baker booking was shrewd, and more will be forthcoming.

Also shrewd was Todd’s analysis of the Romney 3.0 boomlet which had been the subject of a piece by Robert C. O’Brien and me for Politico Magazine on Friday, “Third Time’s the Charm,” which had quickly accumulated more than 1,000 comments and scores of emails and tweets pro-and-con. We discussed it and Todd nailed the source of the Romney surge:

I think the reason why Romney 3.0 has gotten traction is less about Romney, and more about the current issues of the day. I think the Republican 2016 field as we thought we knew it — think Scott Walker, think Chris Christie, think Marco Rubio, think Bobby Jindal — you know, throw those names in. I think if you have issues like national security front and center, that’s an incredibly shrinking, I feel like all of those guys are suddenly shrinking in stature. None of them, if the chief criticism of Barack Obama by a lot of people is you know what, he just wasn’t experienced enough, he just didn’t have a grasp of everything you needed to know to be able to be commander-in-chief, right? … So I think that’s why [Romney] seems to look larger right now in stature because of the issues of the day that are front and center, and if you look at the rest of this Republican field. They don’t seem as if they have the resume to reassure hawks in the party.

The last line was the key — the “hawks” in the GOP are suddenly resurgent and back in demand among the grassroots. A day earlier, former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum had said on my show of his likely opponent in the 2016 Iowa caucuses Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., that “now that things have heated up, [Paul’s] trying to put the genie back in the bottle” on his previous foreign policy statements. Perhaps; perhaps not, but Santorum perceives an edge on the issue of security.

On Saturday, the New York Times ran with an AP story early in the morning “Eyeing 2016, Sen. Rubio Stresses Border Security.”

This is another symptom of the sudden turn back towards seriousness on defense and national security. Anyone who has read Lawrence Wright’s The Looming Tower knows the jihadist threat is decades old and that the Islamic State is neither new nor exceptionally brutal by Islamist extremist standards, but back-to-back beheadings of Americans tend like hangings in Samuel Johnson’s day to focus the mind wonderfully.

By week’s end, retired war fighters Army General David Petraeus and USMC General James Mattis as well as former President George W. Bush had all found forums on Thursday and Friday in which to gently but firmly push the president towards taking on the Islamic State with decisive force before it could put down roots and nest deeply. The elections of 2014 have veered towards national security — scaring every Democrat on the ballot — and just in time. With the world melting down, every candidate who is serious about American strength is going to do very well in November, and beyond.


This column was originally posted on


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