Thursday night, Republican presidential candidates squared off in their first debate. While everybody had their eyes on McCain and Guiliani, the candidate who emerged as the true winner was former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney. He gave fluid answers to every question with both style and substance, giving him an almost Reagan-like appeal. While I’ve highlighted five issues to analyze in this post, you can go to his website to see videos of his answer to every question in the debate.
War on Terror
Demonstrating a commanding knowledge of the war on terror, Romney talked about more than bin Laden and al-Qaeda. He identified the central problem in the war on terror as an extremist ideology behind not only al-Qaeda but also many other terrorist groups in the Middle East. To confirm his wisdom, recall that killing the leader of al-Qaeda in Iraq, Abu Musab Al-Zarqawi, did not bring an end to al-Qaeda in Iraq and certainly did not bring an end to terrorism in general in Iraq. Likewise, taking out bin Laden or even all of al-Qaeda will not stop the war on terror. Furthermore, by making a key distinction between moderate Islamic governments and jihadists, Romney avoids the senseless mistake of isolating Islam as a whole for the sins of a few extremists.
Let’s face it. Most people from both parties would love to get out of Iraq, regardless of whether or not it’s the right decision. Romney includes himself among those, but at the same time, he gave the best warning I have ever seen against a premature exit, which would have consequences extending far beyond the borders of Iraq. His stance on Iraq does not rely on bashing Democrats (although he does take a shot or two at them in the debate); it relies on the enormous policy implications of every move we make in Iraq.
By far, this is one of Romney’s strongest points. He emphasizes how he implemented a bipartisan (don’t ask Washington what that word means) plan for universal health care in Massachusetts. Even better, he shows how the conservative principles behind the free market and capitalism played huge roles in his health plan. It gives him an enormous foothold in the area of domestic policy, which has been more often perceived as a strong spot for Democrats.
Romney knows that the major battles with abortion takes place in the courtroom, so he wisely avoids a sweeping, polarizing denunciation of abortion. At the same time, he focuses on smaller, realistic pro-life policy initiatives that appeal to social conservatives.
However, Romney has drawn a lot of fire for “flip-flopping” from pro-choice in his earlier days to pro-life today, but he responds to this criticism superbly. First, he explains that he never took a true pro-choice stance. As a younger politician, he showed respect for the law of the land, whether it was pro-life or pro-choice (it just happened to be pro-choice in his state). Then he turns the tables on his critics by showing how his time supporting pro-choice laws woke him up and showed him the flaws of abortions, providing him with a more enlightened view on why he is pro-life.
The American Family
I like Romney’s claim that families are the heart of the Republican party. It gives Republicans a wonderful image that is sometimes forgotten, due to the war hawks and religious fundamentalists in the party. Many social problems in America stem from single parents and broken families, and Romney addresses the need for healthy families and marriages while still compassionately reaching out to single mothers. His position on the family can really help him capture a segment of the Republican base forgotten, to some extent, by the Bush administraion.