Tonight at 7 EST ABC hosts a debate among six Republicans at St. Anselms College in New Hampshire for a 90 minutes, moderated by John Gibson.
Tomorrow at 8 PM EST, FoxNews hosts a roundtable discussion with five of the candidates. (Ron Paul has been excluded.)
These conversations could have a decisive impact on not just New Hampshire, but the Michigan, Nevada, South Carolina and Florida races beyond. Given the bizarre twists that past debates have taken away from the issues that concern most Republican voters, here are a few questions I think the vast majority of Republican activists would find useful to the campaign:
1. Will you commit, without qualification or reservation, to support the Republican nominee?
2. Given that the Democratic nominee will not be accepting matching funds, for the Republican nominee to do so will put the GOP at an enormous and probably insurmountable disadvantage. Will you commit to not accepting federal matching funds for the primary season?
3. If you are elected president and your senior advisors agree that Iran is on the brink of testing a nuclear weapon, would you use the military to stop that test?
4. Do you support or oppose the Law of the Sea Treaty and the treaty establishing an International Criminal Court?
5. In 2006 the Congress approved and the president signed a bill authorizing the construction of 700 miles of border fencing, including hundreds of miles of “double-fencing.” Very little of this fence has been built. If you are elected president, how many miles of double fencing will your Adminstration construct within your first year of taking office?
6. Knowing what we know now, was the decision to invade Iraq a good decision?
7. The United States Navy will soon be or already is at 280 ships, down dramatically from Ronald Reagan’s 600 ship Navy. The U.S. is a maritime power. If you are elected president, how many ships will the U.S. have in its fleet at the conclusion of your first term? If you are re-elected, how many ships will be in the fleet at the conclusion of your second term?
8. The federal courts are weighing the “Defense of Marriage Act.” If any circuit court overturns it, how will you react?
9. The revival of the Fairness Doctrine regulating the content of radio broadcasts was an objective of many Democrats when the new Congress convened last year. If you are elected president and Congress puts a bill including the Fairness Doctrine on your desk, would you veto it?
10. Barack Obama has enormous momentum, plus a mountain of money and Oprah. He is 46, looks 36, and has a beautiful wife and two wonderful little girls and a way with words. All of you are older than Senator Obama, with the youngest of you, Governor Huckabee, seven years older, and Senator McCain, 25 years older. How are you going to beat Senator Obama if he is the nominee and specifically, which states that John Kerry won in 2004 would you take away from the Democratic column with Senator Obama as their nominee?
These are fair and deeply interesting questions among the vast number of Republicans. Let’s see how many of them are asked and answered tonight and tomorrow.
Two questions deserve some specific explanation on their importance.
In my conversation with Michael Barone and Morton Kondracke yesterday (transcript here), we touched on the money disadvantage the GOP has. If the GOP nominee accepts the federal matching funds for the primary season, that candidate’s spending will be capped at around $40 million until September 1. The Democratic frontrunners will spend well over $100 million in that time period. To accept the match is viewed by many as tantamount to political surrender. GOP voters have a right to hear their candidates swear off the idea now so they can evaluate the viability of the candidacy. Senator McCain has filed the necessary paperwork to get the funds and has played an ambiguous game on whether he will take them. (His fundraising is in deep trouble and it is doubtful it will be resurrected much even with his expected win in New Hampshire.) Governor Huckabee translated his Iowa win into a very underwhelming $350,000 in contributions –an indication that he too has an anemic ability to open donors’ wallets and thus a likelihood of dependence on matching funds. Giuliani and Romney have robust fund-raising operations as well as personal wealth –in the case of Romney, significant personal wealth. Fred Thompson is in between. Clarity here is necessary.
The Law of the Sea and ICC treaties are the sort of issues that the conservative base knows about and cares about deeply, but which the MSM default position of rah-rahing all such undertakings obscures from their Manhattan-Beltway elites’ view. Both international agreements are deal-killers with the Republican base that senses that national sovereignty needs to be strengthened, not eroded. Mainstream conservatives that flat-out reject the fevers about the North American Union etc nevertheless prize the ability of the U.S. to act unilaterally and robustly in the national interest without becoming a treaty breaker.
On yesterday’s program Frank Gaffney indicated that Senator McCain cannot be pinned down on either of these issues as well as a few others (full transcript here):
HH: Now Frank, you’re an honest broker of this stuff, and you followed John McCain’s career for a long time. He’s back in the lead, probably double digits in New Hampshire now. What do you think of John McCain’s foreign policy approach? Of course, Iraq he’s good on, but what about the other stuff like missile defense, ABM Treaty, Law of the Sea, et cetera?
FG: It’s been uneven again, Hugh. For example, on the Law of the Sea Treaty, John McCain indicated earlier in the campaign that he was opposed to it, had serious questions about it, had problems. I’m told that he’s backsliding a bit on that, and that would be very worrying indeed. On missile defense, I think he’s largely been not a featured figure in it. You know, he makes a point at every turn of saying how he’s been at the center of every national security debate for the past twenty years. I think he’s been largely AWOL on missile defense, and if not actually unhelpful. And more generally, you know, Andy McCarthy has a good piece in National Review Online today dissecting whether John McCain would have taken action against Saddam Hussein as George Bush did under the same set of circumstances, and concludes that he wouldn’t. And again, I tend to think that’s a bit of a disqualifier. I’ve known John for a long time, personally had a fondness for him, but I’m not sure that he’s the right guy for this job at this time, on national security grounds.
HH: And if a voter comes up to you and says wait a minute, I’m supporting him on national security grounds, what’s the specific brief? What do you say first, second, and third as to why he’s suspect on those grounds?
FG: Look, I think he’s been very strong, particularly in the months since the surge in Iraq, and that’s applaudable. I think those of us who believe this is a central front in this larger war, applaud that. It would be a mistake to confuse that with a larger track record on national security. For example, I’m told he’s now in favor of the International Criminal Court, one of those litmus tests like the Law of the Sea Treaty, on whether you understand that the United States simply cannot entrust its sovereignty to these international bodies. You get that wrong, that’s a big dock as far as I’m concerned in anybody’s national security agenda. And on the other things, I think a lot of them, he’s been uneven. The jihad that he waged against the Air Force acquiring tankers, a lot of issues like this, some of which he wraps up in opposing waste, fraud and abuse. I think there’s somewhat, and at least in some cases, simply wrong. In short, I have questions about his judgment, and I’m not confident that he’s a reliable figure on national security, much as he has certainly been a prominent figure in a lot of these debates over the years.
What I hope we don’t hear tonight and tomorrow are questions about abortion –must there be abortion questions in every debate even though every one of them has been asked and answered over and over again?– the role of religion in politics, and gun control. Every time such a question is asked it is an admission that the debate has left the purpose of informing the GOP electorate and is part of the MSM’s great attempt to split the GOP rather than inform its voters.
These ten questions are a good basis for conducting the debate. Feel free to e-mail me others which I will append below if they pass my 3-part test for seriousness, relative rarity in previous debates, and likelihood of informing a Republican voter about his or her choice.
UPDATE: A blistering blast at Mike Huckabee and his strategists at HotAir, which begins: “This is why people like Rush Limbaugh say that Mike Huckabee is no conservative, and they’re right to say it.” The post pivots off a statement by a Huckabee strategist in the WaPo yesterday:
[Huckabee’s] aides are wary of New Hampshire. “It’s all no tax, no government there,” said Bob Wickers, a top strategist. “It’s not ideal.” But they believe that the message of economic anxiety that he preaches will help in Michigan’s primary on Jan. 15 and in states in the South, which have high poverty rates in addition to strong groups of social conservatives.
In response to the evangelical tide from the west, New Hampshire primary voters have figured, “Any old crusty, cranky, craggy coot in a storm,” and re-embraced John McCain. After all, Granite State conservatism is not known for its religious fervor: it prefers small government, low taxes, minimal regulation, the freedom to be left alone by the state. So they’re voting for a guy who opposed the Bush tax cuts, and imposed on the nation the most explicit restriction in political speech in years. Better yet, after a freezing first week of January and the snowiest December in a century, New Hampshire conservatives are goo-goo for a fellow who also believes the scariest of global-warming scenarios and all the big-government solutions necessary to avert them.