- By Joshua Keating
Joshua Keating was an associate editor at Foreign Policy
Newt Gingrich charged into Florida this week with a head of steam, hoping to capitalize on his victory in South Carolina and attack competitor Mitt Romney on immigration and his somewhat exotic personal finances. Gingrich attacked Romney’s suggestion that "self-deportation" could be a solution to illegal immigration: "You have to live in a world of Swiss bank accounts and Cayman Island accounts and automatic, you know, $20 million a year income with no work to have some fantasy this far from reality."
But Gingrich seemed to falter at a debate on Thursday night when pressed by both Romney and moderator Wolf Blitzer to defend his attacks. "Wouldn’t it be nice if people didn’t make accusations somewhere else that they weren’t willing to defend here?" Romney said of the Swiss bank account jibe, continuing that he wouldn’t apologize for his own success. (It remains to be seen how Romney will respond to new reports that he didn’t fully disclose his income from the Swiss account.)
The other notable foreign-policy moment of the debate was a Palestinian-American Republican from Jacksonville informing the candidates that "we do exist." Both Gingrich and Santorum have questioned the validity of "Palestinian" as an identity duringthis year’s campaign.
Thanks to his weak performances and some seemingly off-topic policy proposals — more on that in a moment — Gingrich is losing some momentum ahead of Tuesday’s key Florida primary. The latest RealClearPolitics average has Romney back in the lead by 7 percent.
The Little Havana Primary
As it generally does during Sunshine State campaigning, U.S. policy toward Cuba became a major topic of discussion this week. When asked during an interview with the Spanish-language television network Univision whether he would be willing to employ military force to overthrow the Castro regime, Gingrich responded, "Well I think at the moment you don’t need to … in that case you had an uprising. I would say bluntly, because I find it fascinating that Obama is intrigued with Tunisia, Libya, Egypt, Syria, but doesn’t quite notice Cuba." He promised to use "all the tools that Ronald Reagan, Pope John Paul II, and Prime Minister [Margaret] Thatcher used to break the Soviet Empire."
Romney was similarly aggressive, saying, "I want to be the American president that is proud to be able to say that I was president at the time that we brought freedom back to the people of Cuba…. If I’m fortunate to become the next president of the United States it is my expectation that Fidel Castro will finally be taken off this planet." (In a bizarre exchange on Monday, the two candidates sparred over whether Fidel Castro would "meet his maker" or go to hell after he dies.)
Rick Santorum said the Obama administration’s move to ease travel restriction on Cuba send "the exact wrong message at the exact wrong time" at Thursday’s night’s debate. Only Ron Paul criticized the decades-old embargo on Cuba, saying the country is no longer a threat to U.S. security.
Fidel Castro himself weighed in on the contest this week, writing in his regular newspaper column, "The selection of a Republican candidate for the presidency of this globalized and expansive empire is — and I mean this seriously — the greatest competition of idiocy and ignorance that has ever been."
State of the Union
As expected, Tuesday night’s State of the Union address was something of kickoff for Barack Obama‘s reelection campaign. The president made frequent reference to the successful killing of Osama bin Laden and the U.S. drawdown in Iraq. He made the case for his Iran policy, saying the regime is "more isolated than ever" and vowed to take no option off the table for preventing Tehran from acquiring a nuclear weapon. He also reiterated his "iron-clad commitment" to Israel’s security and announced the creation of a new Trade Enforcement Unit to investigate unfair trade practices from countries like China.
Much of the speech seemed aimed at refuting the notion that he has embraced the reality of a diminished role for the United States in world affairs. "Anyone who tells you that America is in decline or that our influence has waned, doesn’t know what they’re talking about," he said to a standing ovation.
The Obama administration’s recent decision to deny a permit for the construction of the Keystone XL oil pipeline from Canada is emerging as a major campaign issue. Rebutting charges that he is beholden to environmentalists, the president announced this week that his administration is opening up "around 38 million acres in the Gulf of Mexico for additional exploration and development."
Nonetheless, the GOP candidates are seizing on Keystone, with Gingrich attacking the decision as "totally, utterly irrational," Santorum arguing that it is "absolutely essential that we have as much domestic supply of oil, that we build the Keystone pipeline," and Romney saying the president’s calls for energy independence are meaningless without increased domestic supplies like Keystone.
Of all this week’s political developments, the best remembered may be Newt Gingrich’s space policy speech, which was aimed at workers in Florida’s struggling space corridor, but received widespread mockery in the media. "By the end of my second term, we will have the first permanent base on the moon, and it will be American," Gingrich said, saying the facility could be used for science, commercial purposes, and tourism — setting the stage for an eventual mission to Mars. Gingrich made no apologies for his "grandiose" vision, comparing it to President John F. Kennedy’s 1961 pledge to put a man on the moon.
What to watch for
It’s Romney, Gingrich, Santorum, Paul, in that order, in polls ahead of Tuesday’s Florida primary, then only four days until caucuses in Nevada and Maine. Paul has been campaigning in Maine, hoping to capitalize on his support among more libertarian, less socially conservative New England voters.
TV viewers can safely turn back to developments on American Idol for the next few weeks, as there’s only one debate scheduled for all of February. That could be bad news for Gingrich if he comes up short in Florida.
The latest from FP
FP had all your AstroNewt news covered. Charles Homans looked at why the Republican establishment is dismissive of space policy, Joshua Keating asked if there’s anything actually worth mining on the moon, and Uri Friedman investigated whether anyone has ever actually had sex in space.
Josh Rogin reported on the president’s unlikely new neoconservative foreign-policy muse.
Scott Clement discussed which foreign-policy issues are most likely to have an impact in the general election.
Rosa Brooks argued that Obama needs a grand strategy.
FP bloggers from across the political spectrum dissected the State of the Union.