Washington Post columnist David Ignatius spent time Tuesday evening summarizing the rise and fall in popularity of Republican candidates in the context of “a fickle and flirtatious electorate.”
Ignatius spoke at the University of North Florida, host to the UNF Distinguished Voices and World Affairs Council of Jacksonville Global Issues Evenings series, the night that results were coming in from the New Hampshire Republican primary.
Former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney won the primary with 39.3 percent of the vote.
Following were Ron Paul, with 22.9 percent; Jon Huntsman Jr. 16.9 percent; Newt Gingrich, 9.4 percent; Rick Santorum, 9.4 percent; Rick Perry, 0.7 percent, and Michele Bachmann, who already had pulled out of the presidential race, at 0.1 percent.
While support seemed to be solidifying for Romney, Ignatius talked about the “flavor of the month” route of the races.
He referred to former Alaska Gov. and vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin and then to Bachmann, a Minnesota congresswoman.
Palin opted not to seek the nomination last fall and Bachmann ended her campaign early in January.
About the others, according to Ignatius:
• Texas Gov. Rick Perry. “At first it was a foregone conclusion he would walk with it,” he said. Then came the “oops” moment when Perry couldn’t name the third agency he would eliminate if he became president. “He had a tough time with those debates,” said Ignatius.
• Herman Cain. Cain, the Godfather’s Pizza chain leader who became known as the “Hermanator” and for his “9-9-9” plan, suspended his campaign amid questions about sexual harassment and a financial relationship with a woman other than his wife. “He was such a likable guy,” said Ignatius. “Then he got caught up in the kinds of questions you get when you are in a political campaign.”
• Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich. Ignatius referred to Gingrich as “a man of 1,000 ideas” and said the Republican leadership was nervous at the thought of him at the top of the ticket. “The Republican establishment decided this was a disaster,” Ignatius said, “saying this person is not a reliable leader.”
• Former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum. Ignatius said Santorum was having his “time in the sun.”
• Texas Rep. Ron Paul. Ignatius said Paul was persistent. “This is a candidacy that is going to change the debate,” he said, referring to Paul’s “insistence we are a free country with free markets.”
• Former Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman Jr. “He is a very smart guy,” said Ignatius.
Huntsman is expected to drop out of the race today and endorse Romey.
• Romney. Ignatius said Romney shows persistence and patience. He described Romney as “being like the guy your mom wants your sister to marry and she said ‘he just doesn’t do it for me.’”
Ignatius said Romney needs to find a way to “be lovable, be warm and cuddly.”
As the Republican contenders vie for the nomination to head the ticket in the November election, Democratic President Barack Obama will run a campaign that brings up a series of problems he inherited and has addressed, said Ignatius.
One, the U.S. was very unpopular when he was elected and Obama has taken steps to fix that.
Two, Obama became president at a time when there were a lot of military troops in Iraq and he brought them home.
Three, he inherited an uncertain strategy in Afghanistan.
Four, American security and defense spending was misplaced. Obama recently announced a strategy to cut defense spending by $487 billion. Ignatius said that in announcing the strategy, Obama said “the decade of 9/11 is over. The tide of war has receded.”
With 9/11 mastermind Osama bin Laden killed, “he said we are turning a page.”
“The president was saying we still have adversaries, but we’re turning a page,” said Ignatius, asking the crowd at the UNF University Center, “does that make sense?”
Ignatius said Obama, a “former anti-war Democrat,” has ended up being an unusually tough and very tough covert-operations commander in chief.
Ignatius said Obama, however, is “awfully distant” from the troops he sends into war. The columnist also was surprised when the president announced the withdrawal date for the troops in the surge in Afghanistan. “To announce that date was crazy,” he said.
In June, Obama laid out the beginning of the U.S. drawdown in Afghanistan, assuring the nation that 33,000 U.S. troops will be pulled out by the autumn of 2012. They were part of the “surge” that Obama announced in 2009. That will leave about 68,000 U.S. troops still in Afghanistan, which is higher than the number in the country when Obama took office.
Ignatius said the paradox of Obama is that “he doesn’t like the rough-and-tumble embrace of politics,” pressing the flesh and the emotion of it.
“The man is dry and careful,” said Ignatius. At the same time, he said, so is Romney.
Ignatius also outlined some of the security threats:
• Iran and the potential for confrontation.
• Afghanistan and the timetable for withdrawal and whether the Afghans are ready to take responsibility.
• Pakistan and its nuclear power and growing instability.
In closing, Ignatius offered two comments:
One, he doesn’t know of anyone doing a job better than the U.S. military, especially the U.S. Marine Corps.
Two, he doesn’t want this period of “expeditionary” war to continue. “How do we get off that page and onto another?”
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