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The Election 2012 Weekly Report: And then there were four

The Election 2012 Weekly Report: And then there were four

Perry and Huntsman bow out

The Republican field continued to narrow this week with two once-promising candidates dropping out before this Saturday’s pivotal South Carolina primary. Jon Huntsman, the former U.S. ambassador to China whose campaign touted his foreign policy credentials but never connected with primary voters, ended his run on Monday. He immediately endorsed Mitt Romney, while attacking the state of the rhetoric in the GOP primary. "At its core, the Republican Party is a party of ideas, but the current toxic form of our political discourse does not help our cause," he said.

On Thursday, Rick Perry also bowed out and endorsed Newt Gingrich on a surreal news day on the campaign trail that also saw the final debate in South Carolina. The morning started with news that Rick Santorum may actually have won the Iowa primary by 34 votes, and later that day ABC aired an interview with Gingrich’s ex-wife in which she claimed the former House Speaker had asked for an "open marriage."

Perry’s departure followed another lackluster debate performance on Tuesday during which he claimed that Turkey’s government was run by "what many would perceive to be Islamic terrorists" — prompting an angry response from Ankara  — and seemed to defend the U.S. Marines caught on video urinating on the corpses of Taliban fighters.

The Gingrich surge

Allegations about his personal life notwithstanding, Gingrich continues to rise — with recent polls showing him in a virtual tie with Romney in South Carolina. A Pew Poll taken last week showed Gingrich as the candidate Republican voters trust most to handle foreign policy at 33 percent, compared to Romney’s 25 percent. Unfortunately for the Gingrich insurgency, an overwhelming majority of the same voters (58 percent) think Romney has the best chance of beating President Barack Obama. On the campaign trail this week, Gingrich described himself as "the only candidate in this race who understands the scale of change necessary to get this country working again."

Romney’s offshore accounts

Already fending off questions about his vast personal wealth, Romney is facing additional scrutiny this week thanks to reports that he has as much as $8 million invested in funds listed in the Cayman Islands. Though Romney does still pay U.S. taxes on his income from these funds, the Cayman address offers some benefits over domestically registration, such as higher management fees and greater foreign interest — benefits that cost the U.S. federal government billions of dollars per year.

At the CNN debate on Thursday night, Romney was booed after saying he would probably wait to release his full tax returns in April if he’s the presumptive nominee since "Every time we release things drip by drip, the Democrats go out with another array of attacks."

Romney refused to say if he would release his tax returns for previous years, as his father did when running for president in 1968. "I’m not going to apologize for being successful," he said.

Paul draws jeers for "golden rule"

Ron Paul‘s foreign policy views continue to polarize. In Tuesday’s debate, Paul was asked about his opposition to the killing of Osama bin Laden, and drew boos from the crowd by saying, "maybe we ought to consider a golden rule in foreign policy. Don’t do to other nations what we don’t want to have them do to us."

The Pew Poll showed only 10 percent of Republican voters thought Paul was the most trustworthy candidate on foreign policy — though he still edged out Perry and Santorum.

"Obama’s world"

President Obama sat down this week with Time’s Fareed Zakaria for a wide-ranging interview on foreign policy, covering Iran, Afghanistan, the planned "pivot" to Asia, and the economy. The president defended his foreign-policy record, saying, "I made a commitment to change the trajectory of American foreign policy in a way that would end the war in Iraq, refocus on defeating our primary enemy, al-Qaeda, strengthen our alliances and our leadership in multilateral fora and restore American leadership in the world. And I think we have accomplished those principal goals."

What to watch for

South Carolina heads to the polls on Saturday with the latest RealClearPolitics poll average showing Gingrich at 32.5 percent and Romney at 31.5 percent. If he endures another weak finish in South Carolina, pressure may mount on Santorum to drop out of the race. (RCP has him in fourth place behind Paul.) Gingrich suggested on Tuesday that from the stand point of the conservative movement, consolidating into a Gingrich candidacy would in fact virtually guarantee a victory on Saturday."

The unexpected wild card in the race is comedian Stephen Colbert, who held a real-world rally with former candidate Herman Cain on Friday. Colbert’s super-pac is encouraging South Carolina voters to cast a vote for Cain, though the pizza magnate was careful to assure voters, "I will not be assuming Stephen Colbert’s identity. We are very different when it comes to the color of our – hair."

From South Carolina, the candidates will move on to Florida, a key battleground state, where Nate Silver‘s FiveThirtyEight blog is predicting a 93 percent chance of a Romney win when voters head to the polls on Jan. 31.

The latest from FP:

Joshua Keating looks back at the foreign-policy lowlights of the Perry campaign.

Scott Clement suggests Iran could be a major liability for the president.

Uri Friedman looks at Paul’s inadvertent tribute to Millard Fillmore.

David Rothkopf asks whether foreign-policy subtlety is even possible in today’s media environment.

Peter Feaver thinks Zakaria missed an opportunity to probe more deeply into Obama foreign policy.

Josh Rogin looks at Obama’s chummiest world leaders — as suggested by the Time interview — and what they say about him.