Mitt Romney has a lot of things over John McCain, including a fat campaign bank account and a full head of hair, but one thing he does not have over the Senator from Arizona is foreign policy experience.
Traditionally, when a candidate realizes he absolutely cannot win on a certain issue, he essentially concedes it by changing the subject and arguing that some other issue is more important (or urgent) this year ... For example, Romney could concede that McCain has more foreign policy experience, but argue that the difference in experience is more than made up for by his business experience, conservative positions on other issues, etc.
But Mitt Romney has decided he cannot -- or (possibly because of the importance of this particular issue) will not -- concede foreign policy experience to John McCain. This strikes me as either unwise, or a matter of an over-sized ego. If the ballot question comes down to "who has the most foreign policy experience?" Romney simply cannot out-gun McCain.
According to the NY Times Caucus Blog:
Mr. McCain’s own credentials are hard to dispute, given his role in national security decisions in the Senate for two decades. Mr. Romney obviously can not match him on that score, but has pointed to his work on the Winter Olympics, and helping plan the security for the event, as examples of working on security matters.It seems Mitt Romney has gotten a tremendous amount of mileage out of running the Winter Olympics. It was, no doubt, a major accomplishment, but does spending time in Utah really compare to the Hanoi Hilton? If it were a plausible argument, Romney should, of course, argue his experience is equal. But it's a lame comparison that, in all honesty, is like talking to an NFL player about your days in JV football.
Just as success in Iowa has led to additional scrutiny of Mike Huckabee, Mitt Romney is also in danger of having his increased exposure exceed his knowledge of foreign policy.
Anticipating a Romney response that pointed to Ronald Reagan, Mr. McCain said Reagan had vastly more experience at the time he was elected than Mr. Romney, and then added another jab.
“Apparently, those foreign policy credentials weren’t good enough for Governor Romney to vote for him,” Mr. McCain said. “Reagan had extensive national security, foreign policy experience,” he continued. “The fact is Ronald Reagan fought communism for thirty years. Ronald Reagan was sent around the world by the Nixon administration as an envoy.”
Though there is no doubt he is a much better-prepared and organized campaigner than Mike Huckabee, nothing prepares one to run for president more than having run for president before. And nothing prepares one to handle foreign policy issues and emergencies more than having been intimately involved in them for more than forty years.
On both counts, Mitt Romney is at a disadvantage when it comes to challenging John McCain.
Update: Upon further reflection and reading, it is now clear that Mitt Romney is, in fact, seeking to avoid a direct confrontation with John McCain over the issue of foreign policy experience. For example, he recently argued that being a foreign policy "expert" isn't the only requirement for president, if it were, then someone from the State Department would be better equipped. He's right in the sense that merely knowing a lot about foreign affairs isn't enough to qualify one to serve in office. Still, it is clear that in this important area, Romney is at a disadvantage.