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“The Week’s Most Impressive News About the GOP Race” by Clark Judge

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The Monday column from Clark Judge:

The Week’s Most Impressive News About the GOP Race
By Clark S. Judge: managing director, White House Writers Group; chairman, Pacific Research Institute

The GOP presidential sweepstakes this past week has been an ongoing tale of ups and downs. But the most interesting campaign story I heard in the past seven days received only footnote level notice when it broke – and that was three months ago and overseas.

This week all the top-level talk has been about Rick Perry’s terrible debate performance on Thursday, Herman Cain’s surprise win of the Florida straw poll on Saturday, and rising talk of New Jersey governor Chris Christie entering the field. The upshot is some movement in the march to November 2012, but not much.

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After all, while Perry has been hurt by a series of deteriorating debate performances, he can still recover. He was right when he said after Thursday that debates aren’t the only factor in picking a president. Records matter, and Texas’ job creation tally during his gubernatorial tenure has been superb. So do positions laid down in speeches and policy papers. Still, one of the essential skills needed in the presidency is the ability to effectively advocate your positions in the daily back and forth of Washington and media interchange. Many feel that the George W. Bush presidency was deeply diminished in consequence of the president’s own shortcoming in this arena.

Herman Cain’s Florida victory would have been a bigger deal if he were. Combined with his outstanding business success, Cain’s incredibly able debate and stump performances are marking him as a rising GOP star. It is hard to believe he has never run for any office before, much less the Oval Office. Next stop will surely be a gubernatorial or senate seat. But other than generals and cabinet members (in the past century Eisenhower, Taft, and Hoover), the United States has never elected a president who had no prior electoral experience. And it has been more than a century since that experience was anything other than as a governor or senator. If anything, the Florida results show that party activists remain unconvinced by the field. Which is why we keep hearing talk of Christie. But it’s not the only reason.

Rumors are circulating in Washington that Christie operatives have been approaching political consultants about joining a campaign, if there is one. Meanwhile, for a guy who isn’t running, Christie’s speaking schedule is remarkably full. He seems to be visiting all the right places at all the right times. Top pros tell me that, primary filing deadlines being what they are, if the fat man wants to sing, he needs to join the chorus by the end of October. But others tell me that there is more moveability in the sign-up sign-off date than is commonly supposed. It turns out to be very difficult to determine who’s right. I’ve tried and I can’t. But on Saturday Night Live this week, the presidential debate skit ended with the Chris Wallace character saying something on the order of, “There is plenty of time for other candidates to get in the race… Chris Christie.” The rumors continue.

For me, as revealing as any of these developments was something I heard on a trip to London this weekend. I was there for a long-standing friend’s birthday party. But I made a point of touching base with a few others who keep their fingers on the pulse of the British scene.

I was told that Mitt Romney had blown through town in June. The former Massachusetts governor’s campaign placed a brief report of this trip on their website after a few media outlets got wind of it. The minor news stories that resulted (none running beyond a paragraph or two) focused as much as anything on the candidate’s fundraising among Republicans Abroad. Republicans Abroad is an organization of GOP expatriates. Its London chapter is particularly active.

But besides fundraising chores, Romney scheduled meetings and a reception with leading British political figures, including Prime Minister David Cameron, Defense Secretary Liam Fox, National Security Advisor Peter Ricketts, and former Prime Minister Tony Blair. Reports I heard in London were that he made a very good impression.

Here is what impressed me. The GOP primary campaign has been focusing overwhelmingly on domestic issues. To the extent that foreign policy has been in play, debate has been on a broad strategic level and focused on the manifest failure of the current crew. But running an effective foreign policy requires not so much making big speeches in foreign capitals, which was Mr. Obama’s principal pre-election activity overseas. It requires working effectively with leaders of other governments, particularly our allies, and particularly for all sorts of reasons the British.

To me, Romney’s trip and the reports I received in London marked him as an adult in this arena. No fanfare. No grandstanding. He quietly laid the groundwork for a productive relationship with our most critical ally, should he win the presidency. I am not signed up with any campaign. But to me the readout on Romney’s trip was the week’s most impressive news about the GOP race.


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