Why conventional wisdom and “Republican strategists” are wrong

The Hill magazine has recently published an article profiling Sen. Kelly Ayotte’s rise in stature in the Senate and the ranks of the GOP, primarily due to her study of, and hard work on, defense and FP issues. She has been especially outspoken about the dangers – military and economic – of sequestration, which would cut $600 bn (not $500 bn as the Hill claims) out of the defense budget over the next decade on top of the 487 bn cuts already mandated by the First Tier of the Budget Control Act:

“Freshman Sen. Kelly Ayotte (R-N.H.) has turned the threat of $500 billion in defense cuts into her signature political issue, raising her Senate profile and sparking speculation that she could become Mitt Romney’s running mate.

Her focus on defense has helped her carve out a unique space among the vice presidential contenders; she’s frequently mentioned as a sleeper pick behind a top tier that includes her colleagues Sens. Rob Portman (R-Ohio) and Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) and Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.).

And her work has given her a platform alongside big-name defense hawks like Sens. John McCain (R-Ariz.) and Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.).

McCain, the 2008 GOP presidential nominee, has praised her efforts, even throwing in some flattery on the Senate floor on Friday.

“Our most eloquent member has arrived on the floor,” McCain said of Ayotte. “Not to mention other attributes that we are lacking in.””

However, as the Hill notes, several (if not most) “Republican strategists” are still propagating the conventional wisdom that the economy is the sole issue of this election (or at least one that the GOP ticket needs to obsessively focus on) and that defense and FP issues are unimportant, if not irrelevant. For that reason, they are dismissing Ayotte and other figures who specialize in defense and FP:

“This is an economic election, and while she is from a battleground state and that’s important, her credentials may not match up with what the campaign really needs, which is a No. 2 who can speak eloquently on the economy,” said one Republican strategist.

“If this was post-9/11, she would be a perfect VP candidate,” the strategist said. “I’m not saying she’s not qualified — she could do a very good job — but her skill set is only part of what’s needed, not all.”

But they and Washington conventional wisdom are wrong, as usual.

Firstly, while the economy is the #1 issue of this election, it isn’t the only one, nor is it one that eclipses all others in terms of importance. There are also several other crucial issues which the GOP ticket MUST be prepared to credibly address. Defense and foreign policy are two such issues.

Secondly, knowing Romney’s limited knowledge of and experience in foreign policy, the Obama team plans to savagely attack him on this issue. They will be merciless and will not, unlike Republicans, restrict themselves in any way – whether in terms of the scope of topics they will discuss nor in terms of the blatant lies they will state and methods of attack they will employ.

If Romney does not educate himself adequately on defense issues before the presidential debates, he will be savagely attacked and may lose the election. And you can take that one to the bank.

OTOH, if Romney picks a person knowledgeable about defense and FP, such as Ayotte or Kyl, he will gain a credible defender on that front, will inoculate himself against such criticism, and will even be able to credibly attack Barack Obama. Which brings me to my next point.

Barack Obama’s national security record, as I have documented here and elsewhere, is disastrous. Not just bad; it’s downright disastrous. (For the latest examples of that, see here, here, and here.) It gives Republicans a HUGE opening to attack and defeat Obama – if they are willing to do so and know how. If they do so competently, they can add greatly to Obama’s woes and defeat him. Attacking him on defense foreign policy is even more important given that Romney cannot credibly criticize Obama on socialized medicine – because he instituted the prototype of Obama’s scheme in Massachusetts in 2006. It would be a foolish mistake, one which would cost Republicans the election, to waste this great opportunity to pound on Obama’s disastrous national security record.

Those Republican strategists and Washington conventional wisdom are wrong. Romney does not need a veep who can eloquently speak on economic issues. Romney can do that himself, and is an expert on the subject. He already has the economic front covered, so to speak.

But Romney is very inexperienced in, and not knowledgeable about, foreign policy – and Obama will exploit that weakness mercilessly unless Romney selects a defense/FP expert as his running mate.

The only thing that disqualifies Kelly Ayotte – although it’s really a disqualifier – is her lack of experience and proper vetting. She’s been a Senator for just 1.5 years, and this is her first elected office. Prior to that, she was an appointed AG of New Hampshire. She has little political experience and has not yet gained the stature of John C. Stennis, Barry Goldwater, John Warner, John McCain, or Jon Kyl. And, due to her short (so far) stint on the national stage, she has not been properly vetted yet. Nominating her for vice president would cause the American people to doubt Ayotte’s qualifications for the Vice Presidency and Romney’s wisdom and decision-making skills.

Fortunately, Romney does not have to choose between an experienced running mate and one who is knowledgeable about defense and foreign policy. Senate Republican Whip Jon Kyl meets both requirements, and also has no skeletons in his closet.

Jon Kyl should be Romney’s running mate.



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