Just following up on last night’s Republican debate, I asked Christian Whiton, deputy director for national security on Newt Gingrich’s campaign, for his take on the foreign policy dimension of last night’s discussion in Arizona.
Whiton was a U.S. State Department official from 2003 to 2009, first as a special advisor to the Under Secretary of State for Global Affairs, and then as a deputy special envoy.
“I think Newt’s point at the end of the debate was key,” he told me. “Newt said: ‘I think that the fact is that the American public are really desperate to find somebody who can solve real problems…you’ve got to have somebody who can actually get it done in Washington, not just describe it on the campaign trail.’”
Gingrich is no doubt aware that the candidates’ constant and brutal tearing down of their rivals isn’t doing the Republican Party much good. A spirited debate is essential so that primary voters know exactly who and what they are getting behind. But ultimately this is about who will take the fight to Barack Obama, and while a healthy debate on the issues is welcome, all of these candidates would presumably argue that they have more in common with each other than Obama. So a Gingrich focus on the White House rather than the race has some logic.
“On energy, defense and other national security issues, we need more than just a switch in Washington from a liberal to a conservative-sounding chorus line coming from the White House,” Whiton said. “We actually need a full makeover of our national security apparatus, which is a much harder task and means taking on the Washington foreign policy establishment.”
“You saw Newt's willingness to do that when he pointed out the absurdity of Gen. Dempsey’s recent claim – echoed by other misleading statements from Obama defense officials in the last week – that Iran was a ‘rational actor.’ Like Lincoln and FDR, but unlike Romney and Santorum (and perhaps even George W. Bush), Newt realizes being strong on national security takes a lot more than just signing off on what Pentagon generals or other senior Washington figures suggest.”
And he added: “Combine that with his comments about changing the antiquated civil service system, and you have a candidate who demonstrates the skill and perseverance for big change.”
With Rick Santorum and Mitt Romney currently vying for the lead, it will be interesting to see if Gingrich can hang on and influence the foreign policy and national security debate. He’s currently still ahead in his key home state of Georgia according to a new survey by Rasmussen, which had him at 33 percent, with Santorum in second at 28 percent. Nationally, though, Gingrich is back in third, behind Santorum and Romney according to a new Gallup tracking poll.
Still, pundits have already been wrong twice in confidently predicting the end of the Gingrich campaign, so it’s understandable he’s not being counted out quite yet.