Six Republican presidential candidates yesterday addressed the Republican Jewish Coalition in Washington, D.C., and while all the candidates (Ron Paul was not invited) criticized President Obama’s foreign policy and lack of a relationship with Israel, the event was also notable because it seemed like the final tune up before the candidates begin the closing argument phases of their campaigns, since voting begins in Iowa in less than a month on January 3.
Newt Gingrich noted President Obama’s failures in the Middle East and compared America’s current battle with radical Islam with the nation’s past struggle against the Soviet Union. He said he could not understand how Secretary of State Hillary Clinton spoke about discrimination against women in Israel and then met with the Saudis.
Gingrich also said if elected president he would replace the foreign service model of service in the State Department to an entrepreneurial model “dedicated to proposition to defending freedom and defending America is the first business of the State Department and not appeasing our opponents.” He said this while lambasting the State Department for morally disarming America by being incapable of articulating the causes of freedom.
Gingrich also emphasized more inclusion in the Republican party and made a distinction between outreach, which he said was when “five white guys call you,” and inclusion, which he said was when everyone is actually invited and included in meetings.
“California Republicans [can’t win elections because they] can’t figure out that there are 600,000 Koreans in Los Angeles,” Gingrich said, recalling a recent trip to California where he met Korean-American leaders and where there were six television cameras from Korean news agencies.
“They were thrilled that a Republican candidate for president was actually willing to talk to them,” Gingrich said, noting that, and echoing what Jack Kemp always preached, that Republicans had to do such meetings with all communities over and over again. He also noted that he would not concede any precinct and run a 50 state campaign against Obama in a potential general election that he said must be “a team victory on a grand scale” so that House and Senate majorities could help him enact his citizen-based agenda for reform. Gingrich also said that Democrats were attacking him for offering solutions to alleviate poverty much in the same way they attacked Daniel Patrick Moynihan three decades ago, a comparison that Democrats and Obama should be fearful of.
Romney, now realizing he will not coast to the Republican nomination, sounded like Gingrich on American exceptionalism in remarks that received thunderous applause.
“When I was young, I had the opportunity to live abroad and I recognized that the greatest advantage my parents had given me was being born in America,” Romney said. “I am passionate about the principles that have made this nation the land of opportunity and a shining city on a hill.”
Romney then drew contrasts between a merit-based society that he would be for and the “entitlement society” that he would frame Obama as being for.
“In a merit-based society, people achieve success and rewards through hard work, education, risk taking, and even a little luck,” Romney said. “A merit-based, opportunity society gathers and creates a citizenry that pioneers, that invents, that builds and creates. And as these people exert the effort and take the risks inherent in invention and creation, they employ and lift the rest of us, creating prosperity for us all. The rewards they earn do not make the rest of us poorer, they make us better off.”
Romney added: “American prosperity is fully dependent upon our opportunity society. I don’t think President Obama understands that. I don’t think he understands why our economy is the most successful in the world. I don’t think he understands America.”
In contrast, Romney said Obama seeks to replace a merit-based society with an entitlement society where “everyone receives the same or similar rewards, regardless of education, effort and willingness to take risk.”
“Entitlement societies are praised in academic circles, far removed from the reality of a competitive world,” Romney said. “ In an entitlement society, the invigorating pursuit of happiness is replaced by the deadening reality that there is no prospect of a better tomorrow. Risk-taking disappears, innovation withers, and small business is replaced by large, government enterprises. And the result is a nation that stagnates, that declines, that cannot defend itself.”
Added Romney: “Like others among the Washington elite, he believes that America’s role as the leader of the world is a thing of the past; that this will be a post-American century, perhaps an Asian century. American strength, he imagines, will eventually or possibly be eclipsed. And so, President Obama seeks to appease those he believes will balance us or challenge our leadership.”
It could be inferred from Romney’s remarks that he believed Obama was an appeaser since his first days in office.
“In his inaugural address to the United Nations, the President chastised Israel, but said little about the thousands of Hamas rockets raining into its skies,” Romney said. “ He’s publicly proposed that Israel adopt indefensible borders. He’s insulted its Prime Minister. And he’s been timid and weak in the face of the existential threat of a nuclear Iran.”
Romney said Obama’s actions “emboldened Palestinian hard-liners who now are poised to form a unity government with terrorist Hamas and feel they can bypass Israel at the bargaining table” and “immeasurably set back the prospect of peace in the Middle East.”
Romney said that, if elected President, his first foreign trip would be to Israel.
Michele Bachmann said President Obama “has forgotten the importance of Israel to America and thinks of our relationship only in terms of what we do for Israel” and “is more concerned about Israel building homes on its own land than the threats that Israel and America face in the region.”
“The president was right to promise to veto the Palestinians‘ bid for statehood in the U.N. Security Council, but in large part it is the president’s weakness in the Middle East that has emboldened the Palestinians to attempt to achieve statehood through the U.N. rather than at the legitimate negotiation table with Israel,” Bachmann said. “Our policy has confused engagement with appeasement and has inspired Israel’s enemies.”
Rick Perry called Obama’s foreign policy “an incoherent mess” and accused his administration of emboldening “our adversaries while isolating our allies.”
“There is no greater example of President Obama’s failed foreign policy than how he has undermined our historic friendship with Israel,” Perry said. “President Obama has systematically undermined America’s relationship with Israel, specifically on the question of a negotiated settlement with the Palestinian People.”
Among the pre-conditions in any negotiation, according to Perry, should be direct negotiations between Israeli and Palenstinian leaders and a Palestinian recognition of Israel’s right to exist as a Jewish state. Perry also said that “Palestinian leaders must renounce the terrorist activities of Hamas.”
“This torrent of hostility towards Israel does not seem to have been coordinated, but rather is the natural expression of this Administration’s attitude towards Israel,” Perry said. “I have been to the Western Wall, that most sacred of symbols where Jewish pilgrims gather to pray today, and that has withstood the assaults on the Jewish People since the times of the early Romans.”
Added Perry: “ When you visit Israel, you gain an understanding of a nation that has survived for more than 60 years despite living in a constant state of siege.”
Rick Santorum, who has been the most consistently vocal candidate on Iran’s malicious intentions, and Jon Huntsman, who has said that everything should be on the table in how the United States deals with Iran, both hammered home how Obama seems unprepared to deal with a rising Iran.
In the grander context of the presidential race, the reactions to Romney and Gingrich were notable. Romney, on friendly turf among audience members whose views tilt more in line with those of the GOP establishment, received a vocal and thunderous applause. But the audience’s embrace of Gingrich was more fervent than how Romney is received when he is before a Tea Party crowd, which may be evidence, as current polls are showing, that Gingrich can better court establishment voters than Romney can Tea Partiers.