If one needed even more indication that the Republican Party simply doesn't consider foreign policy to be a pressing issue in the 2012 election, the selection by presumptive nominee Mitt Romney of Congressman Paul Ryan for his No. 2 slot is perhaps the best and final piece of evidence. Not since the Thomas Dewey-Earl Warren ticket sought the White House in 1948 has there been a Republican duo with such minimal foreign-policy experience -- and with such little apparent interest in the issue.
When you consider how little time and energy each man has devoted to foreign policy and national security issues, it suggests that Romney pretty clearly thinks that having a coherent foreign-policy vision for the United States is not a prerequisite for seeking the White House.
This represents something of a seminal and troubling shift in American politics. For generations, Republicans dominated the foreign-policy discussions in presidential campaigns, lording over Democrats who were portrayed as either lacking in seriousness on national security or simply weak. The shift this year is due to a couple of things: first, the major focus on the economy; second, President Barack Obama's strong public opinion advantage on national security. But there's something else going on here. It's not just that Romney and Ryan don't appear to care much about foreign policy; it's the entire Republican Party that is taking a pass on the issue. Quite simply, foreign-policy gravitas is in remarkably short supply in the modern GOP.
Once upon a time, Republicans habitually nominated presidential candidates with sterling national security credentials: Dwight Eisenhower, the military hero who moved the United States away from its isolationist impulses; Richard Nixon, who tamped down the Cold War and reached out to China; George H.W. Bush, who brought a distinctly realist foreign-policy approach to the White House; and John McCain, whose instincts on national security might not always have been correct, but whose experience with military and diplomatic issues was well established. Even Barry Goldwater and Ronald Reagan had, um, "distinctive" foreign-policy visions, and when a neophyte to the world of international affairs, George W. Bush, got the Republican Party's top nod in 2000, he at least chose Dick Cheney -- a running mate with strong national security credentials -- and surrounded himself with serious foreign-policy voices.
Romney has quite ostentatiously eschewed that tradition, but one could argue it's as much a matter of necessity as it is political calculation. The fact is that even if Romney had wanted to pick a prominent foreign-policy voice to be his veep, the GOP cupboard is surprisingly bare.
Gone are the days when the Republican bench had a deep lineup of national security heavyweights. Few of Romney's options for vice president had any real international experience, absent Ohio Sen. Rob Portman's one year as U.S. trade representative and Florida Sen. Marco Rubio's 19 months on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. If Romney truly wanted to bring on board a big foreign-policy hitter, his choices were remarkably limited -- and not so au courant.
Right now, the most prominent internationalist voices in the Republican Party are McCain and Lindsey Graham -- who though are different men, tend to speak with the same voice. Condoleezza Rice (whose name was briefly floated by Matt Drudge as a VP pick), certainly had the policy chops, but her moderate views on social issues would have made her a non-starter with the far right. And with the impending departure of Richard Lugar (forced out by a Tea Party Republican) and following Chuck Hagel's exit from the Senate, the age of prominent and thoughtful foreign-policy Republicans seems to be in a twilight phase.