James M. Lindsay

The Water's Edge

Lindsay analyzes the politics shaping U.S. foreign policy and the sustainability of American power.

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Campaign 2012 Roundup: Gingrich and Huntsman Debate

by James M. Lindsay
December 13, 2011

Jon Huntsman (L) and former U.S. House Speaker Newt Gingrich, hold up sweatshirts given to them as gifts following their Lincoln-Douglas style debate at St. Anselm College in Manchester, New Hampshire December 12, 2011. REUTERS/Brian Snyder

Republican presidential candidates Jon Huntsman and Newt Gingrich hold up sweatshirts they received after their Lincoln-Douglas-style debate at St. Anselm College in Manchester, New Hampshire on December 12, 2011. (Brian Snyder/courtesy Reuters)

Newt Gingrich and Jon Huntsman met yesterday at a Lincoln-Douglas-style debate at Saint Anselm College in Manchester, New Hampshire. There was one significant difference with the original. When Abraham Lincoln and Stephen Douglas squared off during the 1858 Illinois Senate race they disagreed bitterly on the issue of the day—slavery. In contrast, Gingrich and Huntsman mostly agreed with each other yesterday, giving their face-off what James Fallows of the Atlantic called the air of a “well-mannered talk show.”

The conversation focused on foreign policy. Both men gave lengthy—although seldom new—answers to the questions that came up. Huntsman said once again that the United States should reduce its troop levels in Afghanistan, that China is heading into a major political transition, and that the U.S. intervention in Libya was unwise. Gingrich criticized President Obama for “randomly using our forces” and making the United States “weaker” than it was ten years ago.

Gingrich and Huntsman edged toward new ground on defense. The former speaker, whose father was once stationed in Stuttgart, wondered why the United States still maintains large bases in Germany, when, as Huntsman pointed out “Russians aren’t coming anymore.” Gingrich stopped short of saying that these European bases should be closed. He did wonder—after pointing out that he once taught geography—about the wisdom of the military running Africa Command (AFRICOM) out of Germany. (Two reasons: One, AFRICOM grew out of European Command [EUCOM] and can save costs by taking advantage of its well-developed infrastructure, and two, no African country is eager to host a U.S. military headquarters on its soil.)

Looking forward, Gingrich advocated overhauling DoD, State, and USAID, arguing that a “thoroughly modernized, leaner management system than we have today” would help trim spending. (Calls for such reforms are a hardy perennial in Washington, and Gingrich didn’t lay out any new plans or explain why his reform ideas are more likely to take hold than the dozens of reform proposals that have been floated over the years only to flop.) Huntsman for his part called for focusing on asymmetric threats because “we’re probably not looking at a massive land war anytime soon.”

Both men rang alarm bells on Iran. Huntsman called Iran’s nuclear ambitions “the transcendent issue of this decade from a foreign policy standpoint,” and Gingrich warned that “no more than three nuclear weapons would be needed for a [second] Holocaust,” of Jews, this time in Israel. Gingrich also said:

The Iranians are every month getting a little closer to producing a nuclear weapon. In my judgment they will use it. A movement – which recruits its own children to learn how to be suicide bombers and sends them into a bus station, or into a mall or into a restaurant to blow themselves up in order to kill you – is a movement which with nuclear weapons, would use them in a heartbeat because there’s no effective deterrent.

It’s not clear why the former speaker thinks Israel’s arsenal of two-hundred-plus nuclear weapons wouldn’t be an effective deterrent. It’s also not exactly clear what Gingrich was referring to with his comment on Iran’s child suicide bombers. The Iranians infamously sent their children against Iraqi machine-gun positions during the Iran-Iraq war. But when it comes to suicide bombers the Iranians have largely encouraged and underwritten the actions of its proxies rather than using its own citizens, let alone its children. Neither Huntsman nor the moderator pressed Gingrich to explain.

If Gingrich wins the GOP presidential nomination, you can expect more Lincoln-Douglas-style debates to come. He has promised to challenge President Obama to a series of them. What if Obama says no? Gingrich says he will follow the president around the country refuting what he says until the president agrees.

If the latest USA Today/Gallup poll is to be believed, Obama will need to make the most of any debate with his Republican opponent. The poll has Obama trailing Mitt Romney by five percentage points, 43 to 48 percent, in swing states, and trailing Gingrich by three percentage points, 45 to 48 percent. The president still leads nationwide, however, edging out Romney 47 to 46 percent and Gingrich 50 to 44 percent. Could 2012 produce the fifth U.S. presidential election in which the popular vote winner loses the Electoral College and the presidency? It hasn’t happened for twelve years.

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  • Posted by toto

    Since World War II, a shift of a few thousand votes in one or two states would have elected the second-place candidate in 4 of the 13 presidential elections. Near misses are now frequently common. There have been 6 consecutive non-landslide presidential elections. A shift of 60,000 voters in Ohio in 2004 would have defeated President Bush despite his nationwide lead of over 3 Million votes.

    With the National Popular Vote bill, every vote, everywhere, would be politically relevant and equal in every presidential election. Every vote would be included in the state counts and national count. The candidate with the most popular votes in all 50 states and DC would get the 270+ electoral votes from the enacting states. That majority of electoral votes guarantees the candidate with the most popular votes in all 50 states and DC wins the presidency.

    National Popular Vote would give a voice to the minority party voters in each state. Now their votes are counted only for the candidate they did not vote for. Now they don’t matter to their candidate.

    With National Popular Vote, every vote, everywhere would be counted equally for, and directly assist, the candidate for whom it was cast.

    Candidates would need to care about voters across the nation, not just undecided voters in the current handful of swing states. The political reality would be that when every vote is equal, the campaign must be run in every part of the country.

    The bill uses the power given to each state by the Founding Fathers in the Constitution to change how they award their electoral votes for president. Historically, virtually all of the major changes in the method of electing the President, including ending the requirement that only men who owned substantial property could vote and 48 current state-by-state winner-take-all laws, have come about by state legislative action.

    In Gallup polls since 1944, only about 20% of the public has supported the current system of awarding all of a state’s electoral votes to the presidential candidate who receives the most votes in each separate state (with about 70% opposed and about 10% undecided). Support for a national popular vote is strong among Republicans, Democrats, and Independent voters, as well as every demographic group in virtually every state surveyed in recent polls in closely divided Battleground states: CO – 68%, FL – 78%, IA 75%, MI – 73%, MO – 70%, NH – 69%, NV – 72%, NM– 76%, NC – 74%, OH – 70%, PA – 78%, VA – 74%, and WI – 71%; in Small states (3 to 5 electoral votes): AK – 70%, DC – 76%, DE – 75%, ID – 77%, ME – 77%, MT – 72%, NE 74%, NH – 69%, NV – 72%, NM – 76%, OK – 81%, RI – 74%, SD – 71%, UT – 70%, VT – 75%, WV – 81%, and WY – 69%; in Southern and Border states: AR – 80%,, KY- 80%, MS – 77%, MO – 70%, NC – 74%, OK – 81%, SC – 71%, TN – 83%, VA – 74%, and WV – 81%; and in other states polled: CA – 70%, CT – 74%, MA – 73%, MN – 75%, NY – 79%, OR – 76%, and WA – 77%. Americans believe that the candidate who receives the most votes should win.

    The bill has passed 31 state legislative chambers in 21 small, medium-small, medium, and large states. The bill has been enacted by 9 jurisdictions possessing 132 electoral votes — 49% of the 270 necessary to bring the law into effect.


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