Erika Johnsen

Although our national attention may be wandering with a self-induced Turkey-coma just two tantalizing days away, tonight’s foreign policy-focused extravaganza—the eleventh major GOP debate so far—merits some serious attention. The usual eight candidates will take to the stage at DAR Constitution Hall in D.C. at 8 PM, just blocks from the White House, and my colleagues Guy Benson, Dan Doherty, and I will all be there live. CNN’s Wolf Blitzer will moderate—I thought the debate he moderated earlier this season was quite snappy and on-point, so I’m hoping we’ll see more of the same tonight. Co-sponsored by the Heritage Foundation and the American Enterprise Institute, this evening’s topics will revolve around foreign policy, national security, and related economic concerns, and the candidates’ answers will hopefully provide further elucidation on Heritage’s guiding question: which presidential candidate would best protect America?

I think it's safe to say that Barack Obama’s presidency has all but made a mockery of the United States’ power and prestige abroad, and so, while Americans are largely preoccupied with economic woes, the primacy of foreign policy demands equal scrutiny from a potential commander-in-chief.

Here are some of the items I’ll be listening for tonight:

  • It's pretty much official: Newt Gingrich is now a national frontrunner. A Quinnipiac poll released this morning has Newt leading the GOP presidential pack, outpacing Mitt Romney 26/22. Whereas Newt's newfound prominence was mostly speculation during the also foreign policy-focused debate ten days ago, tonight he is a real and tangible threat, and I'm wondering if Romney (or, perhaps, someone with less to lose?) will try to tango with Newt. When Rick Perry burst out of the gate as Romney's main competitor last August, we definitely saw some on-stage tension between the two; but the obvious difference here is that Newt Gingrich is actually a good debater--scratch that, he's excellent--and he has so far mainly adhered to Reagan's eleventh commandment while on stage with his fellows.
  • The Supercommittee Fail: for the most part, the candidates are on the same page with this one. The Supercommittee was a terrible idea from the get-go, and our inability to deal with our ever-increasing debt is among the greatest threats to our national security. The Pentagon is now facing some of the built-in automatic cuts, which President Obama has flatly refused to rescind, to the tune of over $500 billion over ten years, and will begin to kick in right at the start of the next presidential term--as president, what do the candidates intend to do about it?
  • Whether it's the sexual harassment allegations, the latest series of policy gaffes, or some combination thereof, Herman Cain's shining moment of Not-Romney brilliance seems to be fading away, and it looks like Newt Gingrich is filling the gap. Cain came under fire last week for an apparently bungled response on a Libya-related question, and his policy knowledge often feels somewhat lacking. For me at least, Cain's fall-back foreign policy refrain (that he would defer to his generals, experts, and advisers) is getting tediously vague--I'd like to see that he's done some research and formulated more ideas of his own.
  • In the previous foreign-policy debate, I don't think the word "Libya" was mentioned even once--surprising, since the Obama administration's muddled response to the Arab Spring in general is arguably one of his greatest foreign-policy weaknesses. We're currently seeing unrest in Libya, Syria, and Egypt: I'd like to hear the candidates expound on the Arab Spring, since the United States will eventually need to take a definitive stance on the Muslim Brotherhood, Christian persecution, other terrorist groups, etcetera.
  • Iran: Iran's hostility to Israel and the mounting nuclear threat is definitely a hot-button topic--if there's any issue threatening to tip the planet into a third world war, this is it, and we'll hear answers ranging from "tougher sanctions" to "a willingness to go to war" (and, of course, Ron Paul's isolationist denial).
  • Although Rick Perry's performance two debates ago was memorably painful, in the most recent debate, he really wasn't too shabby. I thought his 'start-from-zero and justify your need for our money' approach to foreign aid was actually one of the best answers of the night, and he is a bastion of strength when it comes to defending our one true ally in the Middle East--perhaps the former frontrunner will do himself more favors this evening?

Let's do this--tune in just before 8 PM for the Townhall/HotAir team's live coverage!


Erika Johnsen

Erika Johnsen is a Web Editor for Townhall.com and Townhall Magazine. Follow her on Twitter @erikajohnsen.