Foreign Policy

Where Are the Reality-Based Candidates?

Surveying the 2012 Republican presidential field

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Editor's Note: This column is reprinted with permission of the Washington Examiner. Click here to read it at that site.

Frantic updates on the debt-limit squabble bringing you down? Let's focus on something less immediate, but perhaps equally depressing: the race for the 2012 Republican presidential nomination.

Alas, so far, the GOP field resembles a "Hollywood-for-the-ugly" version of the mid-2000s VH1 reality show The Surreal Life, which brought together "a select group of past-their-prime celebrities," like Corey Feldman and Vanilla Ice, and made them jockey for attention.

Original slogan: "When the stars fall from sight … this is where they crash." (Just this week, former House Speaker Newt Gingrich insisted he was a serious contender because he had way more Twitter followers than his rivals.)

Still, this motley crew may be able to tell us something about the future of American foreign policy, Eli Lake argues in the latest New Republic.

"The GOP foreign policy debate has changed profoundly since the last campaign," Lake writes, with the neoconservatives losing ground. If, like me, you'd like to see less empire and more republic in contemporary Republicanism, you'll consider that good news.

True, where Rep. Ron Paul (R-Texas) was "a cantankerous exception" to the 2008 field's embrace of military crusades for liberty abroad, this time around he's been joined by former Govs. Gary Johnson of New Mexico and John Huntsman of Utah.

I'm not convinced that neoconservatism has lost its enduring hold on the Republican mind, however.

Rep. Michele Bachmann (R.-Minn.) may be less enthusiastic than the neocons about the Arab Spring and more worried about what she calls "a stealth jihad" within the United States. But that doesn't translate into huge differences on military policy.

Meanwhile, former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney's inner circle includes prominent neoconservatives like Dan Senor, and former Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty invokes the "isolationist" canard whenever anyone wonders what we're doing in Libya.

As Foreign Policy's Josh Rogin puts it, we're left with three leading candidates "who are all advocating increased military spending, an enduring presence in Afghanistan, and a more assertive U.S. role in the world."

Lake sees potential contender Gov. Rick Perry (R-Texas) as a guy with "a business-first approach to foreign affairs" that "could in its own way represent a new challenge to the neocon establishment."

That's highly doubtful: National Review recently revealed that Perry had turned to former undersecretary of defense Douglas Feith for national security advice. In the Bush administration, Feith helped push the Iraq War with bogus intelligence on a supposed Saddam Hussein-Osama bin Laden alliance.

It was a bit unfair for Gen. Tommy Franks to call Feith "the dumbest [expletive deleted] guy on the planet," given Earth's 6 billion-plus people, but Feith's hardly the first person you'd want to turn to if you wanted to avoid the costly foreign policy blunders of the past decade.

On Sunday, Romney announced his opposition to the debt-limit deal, in part because it "puts defense cuts on the table." But how could any serious fiscal conservative leave the military budget off the table?

It's the largest portion of discretionary spending, and as the 1990s showed, it's politically possible to make significant reductions while still retaining a military second to none.

Irving Kristol once described neoconservatives as liberals who'd been "mugged by reality." At the height of their political influence, they had a different orientation toward the basic facts of existence.

As a senior adviser to President George W. Bush famously told journalist Ron Suskind in 2004: "We're an empire now, and when we act, we create our own reality."

It's 2011 now, and the empire is broke. Neoconservatives may resist that reality, but the rest of us, Republicans, Democrats and independents alike, will have to come to terms with it.

Gene Healy is a vice president at the Cato Institute and author of The Cult of the Presidency: America's Dangerous Devotion to Executive Power (Cato 2008). He is a columnist at the Washington Examiner, where this article originally appeared. Click here to read it at that site.

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  1. I doubt many Democrats were impressed by the field of presidential contenders in 1991 either. Paul Tsongas, Jerry Brown, Bill Clinton, Bob Kerrey, etc.

    1. perry is the strongest candidate of the bunch

      romney could not make the sale last time, and he is in a weaker position now

      1. “perry is the strongest candidate of the bunch”

        HELLO second term!

        1. For sure! The Republicans will fuck up an easy win. They will pick another shit for brains, warmongering, fundie. And chimp ears will ride again.

          1. Why does a guy with his money and obvious narcissistic tendencies still have dumbo ears? Ear bobs are cheap and easy plastic surgery.

            1. He’s afraid the doctor will slit his throat!

    2. It’s 2011 now, and the empire is broke. Neoconservatives may resist that reality, but the rest of us, Republicans, Democrats and independents alike, will have to come to terms with it.

      Wait, what? The democrats who refuse to acknowledge a 100 trillion unfunded liability crisis looming over the empire and insist on expanding the scope of state responsibilities to include all medical care – promptly increasing that number by way more than double… those Democrats? They’re gonna come to terms with reality?

      The Democrats who profess that by moving the US off of “carbon based energy” or even just reducing the use of coal and oil without addressing China, India, Africa et. al. will reduce world carbon emissions by one iota. That certainly doesn’t remotely address reality.

      It seems to me that the only folks who even acknowledge that there is a reality at all are the lunatics on the fringe in the libertarian movement and the Tea Party activists. “Progressives” routinely ignore reality by using snark and memes like “reality has a liberal bias” to excuse their inability to address reality. Theocrats appeal to a higher power for their reality-escaping superpowers.

      At least those who profess an affinity for liberty first put some effort into trying to build their foundation on logic and fact.

      1. The argument that “progressives” are loathe to face reality refutes the claim that neocons are not reality-based how exactly?

        1. I think the critique is more along the lines of how have the “progressives” demonstrated they are any more cognizant and accepting of reality than neoconservatives.

        2. Point being that progressives/Democrats will resist that reality, too, probably even harder than neocons.

        3. Where did he make that argument, exactly?

      2. he democrats who refuse to acknowledge a 100 trillion unfunded liability crisis looming over the empire …

        Actually, i think its more like $115trillion… but dont let that ruin your day.

      3. So because you make the policy choice of ignoring environmental disasters and ignoring the fact that people have healthcare needs as they age, you are more rational?

        1. Tony|8.2.11 @ 1:44PM|#
          “So because you make the policy choice of ignoring environmental disasters and ignoring the fact that people have healthcare needs as they age, you are more rationa1?

          So, shithead, are you capable of responding without lies or strawmen?

          1. Are you capable of using the potty yet?

            1. Because I’m into potty play and if you know how we should make a weekend of it.

        2. “…ignoring environmental disasters…”
          What disasters would that be???

        3. Re: Tony,

          So because you make the policy choice[…]

          There you go again with “policy choices”

          Statist fuck.

  2. I want to see the Republican candidates-version of Red Shoe Diaries.

    1. As long as they don’t cast Lisa Ann as Palin again, I’m down with it.

      1. Lisa Ann as Palin and Jake Steed as Romney.

  3. The Republican frontrunners may be reluctant to insult neoconservatives now, but the base has certainly become more isolationist and realist.

    And the most important thing to remember in all of this is that the Republican frontrunners aren’t running against some random Democrat who might be better–they’re running against Barack Obama.

    The choice isn’t between a Republican candidate or some other random option who might be better on any given issue–it’s between the Republican nominee and Barack Obama.

    Protests votes will always be alluring, but this article isn’t about who the best protest candidate running for the LP nomination is–it’s about Republican candidates.

    And I can’t think of any frontrunners for the Republican nomination who are likely to be substantially worse than Barack Obama on the War on Terror. And that’s the question swing voters who aren’t voting for third party candidates should be asking themselves: Is the Republican nominee better than Barack Obama?

    Whether the Republicans could have nominated somebody even better is another question entirely.

    1. I’ll probably just shun both and vote for the libertarian. We’re going for Ed Clark numbers again. Right? Right?

      1. I quit voting years ago. Feels damn good.

  4. Where are the Reality-Based Candidates?

    LP

    1. Wayne Allen Root?

  5. You go to elections with the candidates you have.
    Our candidates don’t come from Mars (unfortunately)

    Americans believe the cake with ice cream diet works!

    1. Our candidates come from Mars.

      1. Fuck, yeah!

      2. Valentine Michael Smith for President!!!

        Has a nice ring to it.

        1. In keeping with my habit of reading books way too long after I mean to, I just read that one earlier this year. Quality.

        2. 2 problems: he was born on Mars, and he’s a Mormon.

          1. Shhh… siddown before ya hurt yerself.

        3. Too bad Robert Heinlein never ran. I think was it Larry Niven? wrote a short story about that.

  6. Rand Paul is at least honest about it. He’s against the debt cap deal because best case scenario it adds 7 trillion to the debt over 10 years. But since it only “cuts” 20 billion year one and 50 billion year two, he argues that even the fictitious cuts are a fiction. He rightly tells us that the 2+ trillion in “cuts” are so back loaded that they are never going to happen.

    Unfortunately, that’s what reality-based looks like these days…

    1. But since it only “cuts” 20 billion year one and 50 billion year two, he argues that even the fictitious cuts are a fiction.

      I thought I saw yesterday that the total cuts for FY 2012 and 2013 were $10BB. Anybody got a link?

      1. RC, I thought I saw that number in a Josh Barro column. I looked it up today, and he has an note at the bottom that makes me believe he may have had to alter the figure in light of changes to the bill.
        http://www.nationalreview.com/…..osh-barro#

    2. I wish he was my Senator. Better yet, he should serve as his father’s VP.

  7. Focus on something fun instead
    http://rctlfy.wordpress.com/20…..liticians/

    1. Somehow missed this was a rather comment and made the mistake of clicking on it. Does anyone have a rather ? English translator yet?

      1. I think Rather was trying to imply that she was on top in the linked image on her site. I know this isn’t true because you can still see the person underneath the woman in the image.

  8. And what exactly are Paul and Johnson, chopped liver?

    1. Let me be clear.

      Not yet.

    2. He said reality-based.

  9. It’s funny that so many people say he’s super smart. I have seen no evidence of that.

    1. An historic empty suit. As evidence, catch him without the prompter.

      1. Here he is at Camp David making a speech without the prompter. To be fair, he makes more sense here than any other time I’ve heard him speak.

        1. I should have known better than to click that.

          Brown + big ears = RACIST

  10. Why won’t anybody take us seriously?

  11. It doesnt matter who is put up, BHO will lose in an epic landslide.

    1. Where dat regteration at?

      1. Why aren’t you in uniform son?

        1. We will be looking into da Cub or Boy Scout what done cleaned up dese here trails.

          1. CUB SCOUT BOY SCOUT STEVE SMITH DON’T CARE. ALL ARE POTENTIAL STEVE SMITH RAPE CANDIDATES.

  12. This is one of the reasons I am supporting Thaddeus McCotter. At least you get a sense of reality from this guy.

    1. No guy named Thaddeus ever won yet

      1. How many have tried? Just think, we could make back to oback history. in 2008, we elected the first Black President and in 2012, we elected the first Thaddeus President…:)

    2. Thad sucks ballz. He’s for forced unionization, bailout-mania, and is opposed to free trade.

    3. Listened to him for 30 seconds the other day on C-Span (more interesting during budget battles). What he was saying amounted to manufacturing bailouts.

  13. Apparently the Republicrats in the Senate passed the bill to make our National Debt even larger than it already is.

    1. Where do I sign?

  14. I still don’t get the obsession with who the GOP will nominate in 2012.

    It’s one shithole of a party.

    1. Well, given the odds that they will be the ones selecting your new overlord it’s probably a good idea to try to get the one with the least stench of feces possible.

    2. About half of the regulars here are conservatives dude, they are interested because it’s their nominee they are worried about.

      1. Re: MNG,

        About half of the regulars here are conservatives dude, they are interested because it’s their nominee they are worried about.

        THat’s a damned lie! It’s really about less than half of the regulars!

      2. At NO time in my life have I ever experienced a fiscally-sound Republican administration. Never. Clinton was the only administration where people were making some cash, as I recall…

        They’re churchfucks all around….

        Pro-police, foreign policy idjits.

        1. They’re churchfucks all around…. Pro-police, foreign policy idjits.

          And you know this because you shun all discussion of their nominees? Clever.

          1. I don’t need to ‘shun’ discission… I know where they stand.

            Of course, the Dems are way too religious and total foreign policy retards also.

            I just don’t understand why fiscal conservatives would back the GOP in any form (taking out the abortion aspect, of course).

        2. The GOP mantle of fiscal responsibility is one of the most egregious and successful lies in the history of politics.

          1. Tony|8.2.11 @ 1:47PM|#
            “The GOP mantle of fiscal responsibility is one of the most egregious and successful lies in the history of politics.

            Amazingly similar to the Dem’s claims of ‘caring for the little people’ and ‘caring for the environment’.

            1. Sevo — if you stick with the fiscal and economic argument, why would you think that the GOP is capable of financial success?

              They haven’t done it in my lifetime.

              The Evil One (Clinton) pulled it off, however.

              1. Interesting how you attribute the work of a Republican Congress with Bill Clinton. His signing of bills that passed both Republican controlled Houses of Congress is “pulling it off”? He cleverly orchestrated one of the largest party reversals (against his own party) in history so that he could pretend to balance the budget? Pure genius!

                You do know that all spending bills originate in the House, right?

                1. I’m just sticking to Administrations — we’ll get nowhere if we start parcelling out who did what at at the legislative level.

                  I was no big fan of Clinton at all — however, my employer, my friends and myself were raking in the ca$h under him.

                  1. I DONT KNOW HOW GOVERNMENT WORKS! DURR!

                  2. In other words, Mongo, context is a bitch, right?

                  3. I’m just sticking to Administrations — we’ll get nowhere if we start parcelling out who did what at at the legislative level.

                    In what way?

                2. Best Republican President ever!

              2. “Sevo — if you stick with the fiscal and economic argument, why would you think that the GOP is capable of financial success?”

                Two or three members of the GOP are; the GOP as an organization, I don’t.

              3. “The Evil One (Clinton) pulled it off, however.”
                See Marshall Gill for starters, and you’re ignoring he had to be bitch-slapped over Hillarycare before he weathervaned into line.
                And gridlock is soooooooo wonderful; can we impeach Obama for something or other?

                1. You can bash the Dems all you want — I’ll happily join in.

                  Under every Administration that I’ve been an adult, the Republicans have fucked up the economy big time.

                  Now, why the love for the GOP on this site…?

                  1. I didn’t really get the sense that the article was written with love. I’m sure you’lI find similar articles on ardently progressive sites as well. OTOH, I think people here are interested in who is running in the hopes that someone worth voting for comes along and ousts Obama. Kind of the same thing we wish for every election cycle. Also, we are inundated with the non-incumbent side in election years as people try to pull us to their side.

                  2. Hey moron. It’s not love for the GOP, its the simple fact that the republicans have about 5 guys who actually do genuinely attempt to curb the power of government, and then a bunch of mouthpieces who consistently claim that small government is good, even if they don’t practice it.

                    Respective numbers for the democrats? Zero and two.

                    Republicans are MUCH more predisposed towards libertarianism. There are no libertarians in the democrat party, in contrast around 10% of republican voters are libertarian and they’ve even managed to get some elected to pretty potent positions.

                    I dont even vote, and dont care for the republicans either, but its so fucking obvious why they would be prefered by libertarians, that you can’t possibly be anything more than a leftist hack douchenozzle.

                    1. Zuo – I got more money in my last two years of tax returns than in any previous years.

                      The only time that I had to pay the Feds was when George ‘Read My Labia’ Bush was runnin’ the show.

                      My California Math tells me to ignore the GOP when it comes to the economy.

              4. You mean millions of clever and hard working folks in the tech industry pulled it off. Well, until the bubble popped, anyway.

                Am I the only one left who *doesn’t* blame or credit the White House with every change of the seasons?

          2. The GOP mantle of fiscal responsibility is one of the most egregious and successful lies in the history of politics.

            Meds kicking in….contact with reality made. I’m pulling for you guy.

          3. Glass houses, Tony. Team Blue has gotten us even deeper in debt… and, to top it off, all those stimulus billions apparently didn’t go towards actually FIXING some shit what needs fixed.

            Just more debt, and nothing to show for it but IOUs for our grandchildren.

            And, before you say it… I quit listening to Limbaugh about twenty years ago, after about fifteen minutes of one episode. So spare me the inevitable “Republican talking points” bullshit.

            1. Once in a while Limbaugh’s show is worth listening to. Hearing him cry about Clinton’s re-election was wonderful.

  15. (Just this week, former House Speaker Newt Gingrich insisted he was a serious contender because he had way more Twitter followers than his rivals.)

    Were these the Twitter followers he purchased…or are these new ones?

  16. True, where Rep. Ron Paul (R-Texas) was “a cantankerous exception” to the 2008 field’s embrace of military crusades for liberty abroad, this time around he’s been joined[sic] by former Govs. Gary Johnson of New Mexico and John Huntsman of Utah.

    Sure… like shit “joins” your shoe when you step on it. That type of joining.

  17. Anybody discovered Ron Paul taking kickbacks (er, campaign contributions) from special interests? Voting for lavish programs to benefit just his district? Flip-flopping on important issues? Abandoning his principles, his positions, for expediency? Hmmm. He just doesn’t fit in with those other guys, does he? Perhaps his policys are not clouded by corruption, like…..

  18. The only major impacts that Ron Paul has had on any legislation have been the earmarks requested for his district.

  19. @ Tulpa – with the way things have been going in the US for decades, at least, I’d honestly be very happy to see pretty much NO legislation going into effect, since it usually bites us in the arse.

    Additionally, at least with his introduced legislation I’ve been able to review, I can really only fault the rest of the House for not jumping on to co-sponsor gladly, since it seems to all be actually readable and common-sense stuff. “Oh, he doesn’t build bridges” – whatever. He doesn’t support bad/unauthorized legislation, and others should support GOOD legislation, even if it works against their special-interest supporters or would alter the status quo.

    In closing, as to earmarks – I’m glad he did it. If earmarks aren’t allotted, those funds just go to the executive for decisions on how to spend it. I think more congressmen should actually represent their districts by utilizing that money at home instead of letting big government have an even larger allowance.

    1. I’m glad some people see that about earmarks. What do they think…that if left unearmarked, it’d get spent “scientifically” instead of politically?

  20. Mongo|8.2.11 @ 6:02PM|#
    “Zuo – I got more money in my last two years of tax returns than in any previous years.

    The only time that I had to pay the Feds was when George ‘Read My Labia’ Bush was runnin’ the show.”
    So you were kind enough to provide an interest-free loan to the feds except with W was in office, and you find this good?

    “My California Math tells me to ignore the GOP when it comes to the economy.”
    That *ISN’T* math; that’s finance, and you aren’t doing well.

    1. Anytime I get stuck in the right side of the Comments thread means I’m not doing well.

  21. It was a bit unfair for Gen. Tommy Franks to call Feith “the dumbest [expletive deleted] guy on the planet,” given Earth’s 6 billion-plus people, but Feith’s hardly the first person you’d want to turn to if you wanted to avoid the costly foreign policy blunders of the past decade.

    For example, the few hundred million dumb fucking guys who believed him.

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