Heading into the third and final presidential debate of the election season, conservatives in the media are bestowing upon Mitt Romney tidbits of advice about how to best Barack Obama on what is considered a strong suit for the president: foreign policy. The consensus seems to be that the key to victory is to embrace George W. Bush's foreign policy without actually doing so, while at the same time being exactly like Ronald Reagan.
For example, here's the Wall Street Journal editorial board explaining how Romney can be Bush without actually being Bush:
We don't expect Mr. Romney to offer an explicit defense of the Bush Doctrine, never mind that its core tenets -- keeping weapons of mass destruction out of the hands of rogue regimes and promoting liberal democracy in places like Egypt -- are ones Mr. Obama rhetorically endorses. Nor do we anticipate that Mr. Romney will retreat from the protectionist rhetoric he's been peddling on China, though it would be nice to hear him recognize that the biggest "currency manipulator" in the world today is the U.S. Federal Reserve.
But Mr. Romney can help himself by offering a serious critique of Mr. Obama's foreign policy that doesn't descend to clichés (e.g., "I won't ever apologize for America"), and by laying out a vision that answers the needs of both the national interest and the self-interest of everyday Americans.
Mr. Romney should also give full credit where it's due, not least because some graciousness would be a refreshing contrast to Mr. Obama's abrasive partisanship in an area where Americans yearn for consensus. That means not only commending the President for the bin Laden raid, but also for the areas in which the Administration has adopted the policies of its predecessor: the reauthorization of the Patriot Act; the use of military tribunals; the intensification of drone strikes; the (admittedly reluctant) non-closure of Guantanamo. All that should cause some indigestion among Mr. Obama's friends at MSNBC.
Good to know that the Journal has joined the ranks of the sane in dismissing talk of Obama "apologizing for America" as toothless nonsense. It should be noted, however, that they have a fair bit of in-house policing to do on that front. The Journal goes on to explain the importance of being Reagan-y:
Ronald Reagan understood that before he could defeat the Soviet Union he had to show again the superiority of the American model of economic freedom. The U.S. military will inexorably and rapidly shrink without growth of 3% or more. This theme is right in Mr. Romney's wheelhouse.
And then there's William Kristol of the Weekly Standard. In his "Special Editorial" offering debate advice to Romney, Kristol is a little more guarded about the Bush-not-Bush formulation. He says Romney needs to "speak for America," explaining (with requisite Reagan reference):
What does this mean? It means speaking in a bipartisan way. It means appealing to the broad American tradition of international leadership, and to the actions of Harry Truman as well as those of Ronald Reagan. It means citing Joe Lieberman as well as John McCain, and the Washington Post editorial page as well as The Weekly Standard. It means praising our soldiers and our Marines, our diplomats and our intelligence professionals. It means finding something to praise in the actions of President Obama (perhaps his authorization of the raid that killed Osama bin Laden) and someone to praise among Obama's appointees -- perhaps Secretary of State Hillary Clinton for her tireless travels on behalf of the nation and for stepping forward to take responsibility for the tragic failure to provide security in Benghazi.
What do Lieberman, McCain, the Washington Post editorial board, and The Weekly Standard all have in common? They were all enthusiastic supporters of George W. Bush's foreign policy, and were leading advocates not just for the invasion of Iraq to secure its non-existent WMDs but also the continued occupation of the country after that initial rationale famously fell apart.
And when it comes down to it, the fact that media conservatives are giving Romney advice on how to "win" the debate is funny in and of itself, given that they'll likely declare Romney the winner no matter what he does.