The Debate

Republicans Debate in Arizona

The Republican presidential candidates debate in Arizona. Did Mitt Romney halt Rick Santorum’s momentum?

Interesting debate tonight in the Republican primary in what is likely to be the last such meeting of the candidates before the party chooses its nominee to take on Barack Obama in November.

Former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney seems to have come off best, which may give his campaign a much-needed boost as he tries to recover the momentum from former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum, who has actually overtaken Romney in a number of national polls.

The issue of Iran came up, with Newt Gingrich reiterating his suggestion that pre-emptive action might be necessary over its nuclear program. “I do believe there are moments when you pre-empt,” he said. “You have an absolutely moral obligation to defend the lives of your people [if a] madman” has nuclear weapons.

Romney waded in, suggesting that the Obama administration should have imposed even tougher sanctions, and argued that Obama’s re-election will undoubtedly mean a nuclear Iran.

“We must not allow Iran to have a nuclear weapon. If they do the world changes, America will be at risk and someday nuclear weaponry will be used,” Romney said. “If I’m president, that will not happen. If we reelect Barack Obama it will happen.”

Santorum, meanwhile, called for a “very clear message” to be sent on Iran. It’s difficult to imagine, aside from a military strike, what stronger message could be sent to Iran than the assassinations of its scientists, cyber-attacks and tough sanctions. But the criticism raises an interesting question, namely whether Obama is vulnerable on foreign policy. It’s an interesting reversal to see a race where a Democratic president looks so solidly, well, tough on national security (increased use of drones, the killing of Osama bin Laden, a successful supporting role in Libya) but more vulnerable on domestic issues, such as the economy.

Of course, for the purposes of a Republican primary, it wouldn’t have mattered if Obama himself had parachuted into bin Laden’s compound in Abbottabad to personally take down the al-Qaeda leader. But the fact is that if Obama comes undone in November it will be issues like rising gas prices, not questions about his toughness that will be the culprit.