Report

Who’s Got the Foreign Policy Chops? Rubio and Walker Make Their Pitch.

The Republican presidential hopefuls are laying out vastly different strategies for battling Clinton on foreign policy, with one opting for the high road and one going for the jugular.

NEW YORK, NY - AUGUST 14: : Republican presidential candidate Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL) speaks during a speech hosted by the Foreign Policy Initiative at the 3 West Club on August 14, 2015 in New York City. Senator Rubio, criticized President Obama's recent nuclear deal with Iran as well as the opening of relations with Cuba and presented his foreign policy if elected President.  (Photo by Bryan Thomas/Getty Images)
NEW YORK, NY - AUGUST 14: : Republican presidential candidate Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL) speaks during a speech hosted by the Foreign Policy Initiative at the 3 West Club on August 14, 2015 in New York City. Senator Rubio, criticized President Obama's recent nuclear deal with Iran as well as the opening of relations with Cuba and presented his foreign policy if elected President. (Photo by Bryan Thomas/Getty Images)

Five months before the first presidential primary contests, Republican candidates Sen. Marco Rubio and Gov. Scott Walker delivered dueling speeches Friday as they competed to prove they have the foreign-policy bona fides to take on Democratic front-runner Hillary Clinton.

Both Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida and Gov. Scott Walker of Wisconsin slammed the former secretary of state as a weak leader who was too ready to bow to America’s adversaries, from Iran to China to Russia.

That, though, is where the similarities ended. Rubio portrayed himself as a sober-minded candidate with a broad knowledge of world affairs and enough foreign policy and national security chops to stand toe-to-toe with Clinton in a general election. Walker, by contrast, largely avoided trying to dazzle listeners with his knowledge of current events and instead worked to demonstrate that he’d be willing to go for Clinton’s jugular.

In his 40-minute address, Rubio tried to come across as an informed hawk whose core conservative beliefs, coupled with a fluency on policy issues, would equip him to battle Clinton on the campaign trail.

“We have to put forward a nominee with the experience and record of judgment necessary to take her to task,” Rubio, a freshman senator, said to a group of business leaders in Charleston, South Carolina. “If I am our party’s nominee, Hillary Clinton will not be able to lecture me on foreign affairs.”

A short distance away, Walker’s speech at The Citadel, South Carolina’s military college, was long on rhetorical flourishes but short on specifics.

The Wisconsin governor, who has stumbled at times on foreign-policy questions, did not try to make the case that he could defeat Clinton because of any expertise on the issues. Instead, he suggested he would bring a decisiveness and moral clarity to the job of commander in chief, which he said President Barack Obama has sorely lacked.

He also launched a no-holds-barred attack on Clinton’s judgment and integrity during her stint as secretary of state.

“Everywhere in the world that Hillary Clinton has touched is worse off today than before she and the president took office,” Walker said.

“Her disregard for top-secret, classified, and sensitive information on her email server shows she cannot be trusted to be commander in chief,” Walker said, adding that her endorsement of the Iran nuclear agreement “shows she cannot be trusted to support Israel.”

He reserved his harshest comments for Clinton’s response to the 2012 attack on the U.S. diplomatic post in Benghazi, Libya, that killed four Americans, alleging she lied to the families of the victims about the circumstances of the incident.

“She stood by the caskets of Christopher Stevens, Sean Smith, Tyrone Woods, and Glen Doherty, looked into the eyes of their parents, and pointed to a YouTube video she knew was not the cause of their deaths in Benghazi,” Walker said. “Outrageous.”

Walker also reworked a famous line from former Republican President Ronald Reagan’s campaign in 1980. But instead of asking the audience if they were better off economically than before Obama entered office, he asked if they felt safer than they did seven years ago.

“If the answer is yes, then you should probably vote for former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton for president,” he said.

Walker called for a “greater investment” of resources in the fight against the Islamic State that would include embedding U.S. military advisors with Iraqi or other local forces in combat. But he did not explicitly cite how many additional troops he might be willing to deploy on the ground.

In his speech, which was billed as an address on China policy, Rubio did not mention Benghazi and did not focus on the fight against the Islamic State. Instead, he sharply criticized Clinton and Obama over their approach to China, though he stopped short of saying he would support retaliatory economic measures against Beijing that could start a damaging trade war.

Rubio also drew a distinction with Walker, who has demanded that the White House cancel the planned visit of Chinese President Xi Jinping next month.

Rubio said he did not believe the Obama administration should cancel the visit. But he said the United States should not be “rolling out the red carpet” for the Chinese leader and should instead speak bluntly to Xi about Beijing’s human rights abuses; ongoing efforts to hack the Pentagon, U.S. government, and American companies; and aggressive moves in the South China Sea.

Neither candidate, though, went as far as GOP front-runner Donald Trump, who said Obama was wrong to be throwing Xi a state dinner when the Chinese leader visits in September.

“I’d get him a McDonald’s hamburger and I’d say we gotta get down to work, because you can’t continue to devalue [the Chinese currency],” Trump said this week on Fox News. “I would give him a very, yeah, but I would give him a double, probably a double-size Big Mac.”

Photo credit: Bryan Thomas/Getty Images

Trending Now Sponsored Links by Taboola

By Taboola

More from Foreign Policy

By Taboola