The three establishment governors — Jon Huntsman, Mitt Romney, and Tim Pawlenty — had differing responses to President Obama’s announcement on pulling out 33,000 troops from Afghanistan. Their responses, though, represented a broader campaign strategy for each of them and represented where they stand currently in the nominating process. Huntsman flanked Obama to the left, trying to court indpendents and Democrats in New Hamsphire. Romney’s statement showed that he was the clear frontrunner for it was more of a wait and see approach. Pawlenty flanked Obama to the right — his was a bold statement that sought to coalesce national security conservatives around him.
Huntsman’s campaign is dependent on his success in New Hampshire. To win there, he has to win over moderate Republicans, independents, and maybe some Democrats. These voters are more receptive to his message of targeting America’s resources to rebuild at home instead of directing them abroad. They are more in favor of withdrawing from Afghanistan at a quicker pace. His statement not only showed his campaign strategy but also revealed how he is going to define himself. By being closer to Ron Paul than a more hawkish Tim Pawlenty, Huntsman’s statement showed that he would also be playing for the youth vouth vote that is more focused on fiscal issues such as the debt than on wars, especially during a time when America is mired deeper in debt. Here is his full statememt:
With America mired in three expensive conflicts, we have a generational opportunity to reset our position in the world in a way that makes sense for our security as well as our budget.
The war in Afghanistan is an asymmetrical war, and our approach ought to adjust accordingly. Our troops have done everything we’ve asked them to. They’ve routed the Taliban, dismantled Al Qaeda, and facilitated democratic elections.
Now it is time we move to a focused counter-terror effort which requires significantly fewer boots on the ground than the President discussed tonight.
We need a safe but rapid withdrawal which encourages Afghans to assume responsibility, while leaving in place a strong counter intelligence and special forces effort proportionate to the threat. The War on Terror is being fought against a global enemy, and it is critical that we have the resources to fight them wherever they’re found.
Romney is the cautious frontrunner, and his response showed it. It was more of a wait and see response, and that is exactly what his campaign needed to do. As the frontrunner, Romney has more to lose from a misstament than anyone else and while his statement was cautious, it could also be looked at as being what he needed to say to not lose any momentum at this point in time. That seems to be Romney’s strategy as of this moment — he seems like a candidate playing not to lose rather than to win. For Romney, with his resources and early leads in the polls, such a strategy may well see him cross the finish line first. Here is his statement:
We all want our troops to come home as soon as possible, but we shouldn’t adhere to an arbitrary timetable on the withdrawal of our troops from Afghanistan. This decision should not be based on politics or economics. America’s brave men and women in uniform have fought to achieve significant progress in Afghanistan, some having paid the ultimate price. I look forward to hearing the testimony of our military commanders in the days ahead
Pawlenty’s message was simple when he appeared on Fox News after the speech. It basically was that America needs to “close out the war” in Afghanistan and win. He said he would have called for a greater surge than the one that was currently enacted.
Pawlenty’s response was the clearest and boldest among the candidates and represents how he wants to be the traditional national security Republican in the field. He is not a frontrunner like Romney. He is not courting independents like Huntsman is. He is banking on the national security — and more hawkish — Republicans to coalesce around him along with other conservatives, and his response showed those are the voters he will make a play for. How much this message resonates when America is in a fiscal crisis at home remains to be seen, but the party does not lack traditional national security conservatives and Pawlenty needs as many of them as he can get on his side.