It is clear that in Iowa, the debate is not about experience. It will be a fight between Mitt Romney’s money and Mike Huckabee’s churches. There are real doubts that Huckabee can sustain a challenge to any mainstream GOP candidate. Ultimately, his foreign policy and other flubs might create real problems. One imagines the pressure of the establishment and the media turning on him in a big way.
The fight in New Hampshire seems increasingly the decisive one on the GOP side. (Of course, if Fred Thompson were to come in 3rd in Iowa, that might shift to South Carolina) There, the fight is between Romney and John McCain. Especially in the context of the Bhutto assassination, McCain is trying to frame the debate as around experience, as is Hillary Clinton. Romney is focusing on judgment:
“If the answer for leading the country is someone that has a lot of foreign policy experience, we can just go down to the state department and pick up any one of the tens of thousands of people who spent all their life in foreign policy,” he said. “That is not what a nation needs in a president. The person that is president of the United States we look to have leadership skill. Which is the ability to assemble a great team of people, to be able to guide and direct them to understand what decision has to be made on the basis of data and analysis and debate and deliberation. An individual who knows how to make difficult decisions.”
Romney is focusing on his ability to "manage", something long-time campaign-mouthpiece Hugh Hewitt has focused on. There is a reason that Hewitt and Romney focus on management skills. He doesn’t have much in terms of experience. As Hugh says in his book on Romney:
And Romney knows the war. He he worked to learn its complexities and the nature of our diverse enemies, constantly reading the sorts of books that must be absorbed.
McCain contrasts this "book-learning" with his knowledge. From the Des Moines Register:
"I knew Benazir Bhutto. I know Musharraf very well," McCain told an audience of about 200 at the Elks Club in Urbandale. "If I were president of the United States I would be on the phone right now and I would be meeting with the National Security Council."
Seemingly a contrast between book-smarts and street-smarts. McCain knows the actors (thus his thoughts about Putin, which President Bush seems to have gotten wrong and McCain right) and operates from that position. One gets to argue from data though. How have people argued in the past from the input of experts? Ronald Reagan, of course, rejected the experts on "tear[ing] down that wall" and the SALT Treaty. He even created a new intelligence agency, the Defense Intelligence Agency because he wasn’t satisfied with the experts at the CIA.
Of course, if you rely too much on the experts, you run into the problem of being "brainwashed by the generals and the diplomats," to quote Romney’s father. (National Journal/MSNBC notes that Romney is closing on, in part, his father) It seems that if you take Romney’s "judgment" answer, you are trapped by your advisers, a problem that Reagan transcended.If you have your own experience, you have something to work with.
I think that I know where I would prefer to be. I wonder where the people of New Hampshire will land.