Follow John on Twitter
WASHINGTON - The top thing that struck me last night as I was sitting at D.C.'s Constitution Hall watching the blows of the CNN/AEI/Heritage Foundation GOP national security debate was that the race really is now between former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney and former Speaker Newt Gingrich.
The other candidates with the exception of former Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman seemed to either have bumper-sticker answers that lacked depth.
Huntsman summarized the debate with one sentence: “Today we have a president who can't lead. We have a Congress that can't even figure out how to balance our budget. They need term limits, by the way. We've gotta get our house in order… We've gotta get our house in order if we're gonna expect to get anything done overseas because when our light shines we can influence the rest of the world.”
And what was true four years ago when Hillary Clinton chided Barack Obama about being ready for that 3 a.m. phone call is still true today.
The presidency isn’t just a matter of domestic issues, but it means being able to defend the nation and promote its economic interests abroad.
So it comes down to the question, "Who has the breadth of experience, understanding, and depth to pull the nation away from the brink of disaster?"
Gingrich seemed to have a decisive command of the issues, such as when former U.S. Attorney General Ed Meese, now an important figure at the Heritage Foundation, asked him what he thought of the Patriot Act.
“I think it's desperately important that we preserve your right to be innocent until proven guilty, if it's a matter of criminal law. But if you're trying to find somebody who may have a nuclear weapon that they are trying to bring into an American city, I think you want to use every tool that you can possibly use to gather the intelligence,” Gingrich said. “The Patriot Act has clearly been a key part of that. And I think looking at it carefully and extending it and building an honest understanding that all of us will be in danger for the rest of our lives.
“This is not going to end in the short run. And we need to be prepared to protect ourselves from those who, if they could, would not just kill us individually, but would take out entire cities.”
The best defense Ron Paul could mount was quibbling over the legal definition of what a war is. But the founding fathers, for example, never once wrote that states or localities needed a congressional declaration of war to fight off Indian raids, which would be probably the closest 18th century equivalent of al-Qaida terrorism.
War isn’t what it once was when the enemy was a nation-state like the Soviet Union and you had millions of troops on the other side of the Iron Curtain wearing uniforms.
Cain’s responses to the questions during the debate only served to further discredit his candidacy.
Comments like: “No, Blitz. That's oversimplifying it. I happen to believe that if -- if you allow our intelligence agencies to do their job they can come up with an approach - I'm sorry, Blitz, I meant Wolf, OK?” make it seem Cain doesn’t understand the seriousness of the office he is running for.
This along with other answers that made it seem he doesn’t have a deep understanding of the issues at hand made the hitherto Romney, Cain, Gingrich matchup seem more like Romney and Gingrich are the only candidates with a chance.
Romney hit particularly hard against suggestions that the United States cut and run in Afghanistan.
“We spent about $450 billion so far, 1,700 or so service men and women have lost their lives there, and many tens of thousands have been wounded. Our effort there is to keep Afghanistan from becoming a launching point for terror against the United States. We can't just write off a major part of the world,” Romney said. “This is not time for America to cut and run. We have been in for 10 years. We are winding down. The Afghan troops are picking up the capacity to secure their country. And the mission is pretty straightforward, and that is to allow the Afghan people to have a sovereign nation not taken over by the Taliban.”
Clearly at this late stage in the pre-primary season, it appears only Newt Gingrich and Mitt Romney have the depth and understanding to compete with President Obama next fall. The others are good people, but they are just not ready to be President of the United States of America, and Obama would destroy them.
So will it be the visionary leader or the manager who GOP voters choose as their nominee? That is the question that should be on voters' minds.