Last night's top 10 takeaways.

CNN put on another stellar debate last night in which almost every candidate, with the exception of Herman Cain, had bright moments. The electorate was treated to the most in depth analysis of America’s foreign policy positions to date. Most moments will be forgotten, some will necessitate poll bumps and a few will create lasting reverberations. Let’s jump into the top moments from last night that Americans are likely to be discussing around the Thanksgiving table.

10.) Mitt Romney was the default winner. As long as he gives these “B” grade performances, he wins. What is interesting is that Mr. Romney was thrown onto his heels by Mr. Huntsman. Romney often faces less talented debaters that shoot themselves in the foot in these debates, but not Huntsman. Huntsman challenged Romney a number of times and came out as the superior candidate in almost every way. Huntsman will not be the nominee in 2012, but had he started out his campaign like this earlier, he could’ve taken the inevitability momentum from Romney at the start.

9.) Iran.  The candidates showed a scary candor about going to war with Iran.  We cannot keep fighting countries that are outside our influence.  Even if we could, we can’t afford to.  Let Israel defend themselves, we will back them but the last thing we need is a third hot war right now.  Get out of the middle east!  Unfortunately, a vote for a republican seems to be a vote for war in the middle east, we should be getting away from this model in the name of responsible spending. 

8.) Pakistani Aid. Michele Bachmann and Rick Perry got into a disagreement on whether Pakistan deserves foreign aid. A discussion of foreign aid must begin by asking whether foreign aid should be granted to any country in this day and age.  If foreign aid is to be given away, then Pakistan above many other recipients should be receiving it. The Bachmann/Perry disagreement got so heated at one point that Bachmann labeled Perry’s view of only giving aid to Pakistan if they demonstrate that their interests are in line with America as “naïve.” . Bachmann is right.  It is naïve to believe that only our friends can get aid. Our true friends don’t need aid.

While many Americans believe, with legitimate reason, that aid to Pakistan is unsound foreign policy, a look at the bigger picture suggests otherwise. The Pakistani government has endured major political backlash for allowing President Obama’s drone attack campaign to invade its sovereignty. Thousands of innocent Pakistani citizens have died so that innocent American citizens don’t have to. If that country doesn’t deserve aid, I can’t find a country that does. 

Furthermore, the goal of foreign aid is not to reward our friends but to keep our enemies close. Perry got it wrong.  I have no doubt that as President, Perry would be given a much wider view and be less likely to pander.  But talking candidly about stripping aid is irresponsible. 

Michele Bachmann showed flashes of brilliance on foreign policy. I continue to cheer Bachmann’s rise in our movement.  She isn’t always the most articulate and reasoned debater but she is someone worthy of our trust and that is worth a lot.

7.) Rick Santorum.  Santorum touched on his four-point plan to get Americans working again through new energy sources, repatriation, factory reinvigoration, etc. He called it “the blue collar worker” plan. This is a smart idea.  Good for Santorum.  Any jobs plan needs to be focused on free market solutions to getting the workers in fly-over country back to work.

Additionally, Rick Santorum showed some appreciated consistency on funding for AIDS in Africa. Santorum is a caring conservative that is pro-life and pro-family because he cares about people.  The fact that he has no qualms with spending billions on foreign wars and will go to great lengths here at home to prove his social conservative street credit, made it almost mandatory that he be supportive of giving aids to those hurting in Africa.  If we are ever to get Africa on its feet, we are going to have fix their broken culture.  Changing the way they spread and treat disease is central to that.  I applaud Santorum’s stand on this issue.

6.) Newt Gingrich is a really annoying person. People elect candidates that they like. Gingrich  is unlikeable, unless you are an old cranky man.  I am sure I will get a redstate comment about how wonderful he is.  Let me assure you, the general electorate won’t think so.  I for one am tired of his onstage arrogance, his attacks on moderators and his overall personality.  He could afford to act like that as a “godfather” of the party.  He cannot afford to do it as a presidential candidate.  To create a stark contrast with Obama, we need some humility on our side. 

The one thing that Newt is being given a hard time on is immigration.  But he is right, the people that have roots here are not leaving and why would we want them to?  I don’t believe he will take a hit in the polls on that  issue. 

I have little doubt that Newt’s rise will quickly fade, whether the reason is because of his immigration views last night as the media has portrayed it, I seriously doubt.  In the end, Newt simply isn’t a strong enough candidate to win this thing.  The only person that has a shot at beating Romney in South Carolina is the person who wins Iowa.  Newt will not win Iowa. 

5.) Rick Perry. In the final minutes of the debate, Rick Perry signaled to social conservatives where his head was at by mentioning the threats of China and their human rights abuses, including 35k abortions per DAY.  This was an obvious piece of red meat thrown to the conservative base, and let me tell you, it tasted really good.  Perry reminded us why we were with him in the first place.  Despite his neo-con foreign policy his domestic policy is excellent and he is largely one of us.  Perry had a good performance last night, unfortunately for his campaign, he needed a great performance.  I was hoping he could give himself a much needed boost.  If he had given this performance consistently throughout, he would have 65% of the base supporting him, but that time has passed.  His campaign should install red light bulbs at their headquarters because the campaign is in danger of becoming irrelevant.

Although Perry is the top choice for President of the griffinelection.com site, drying up foreign aid, going to war with Iran, creating no-fly zones over Syria are not conservative policies, they are not tea party policies, they are costly and need to be reevaluated. 

4.) Jon Huntsman knows his stuff. In last night’s debate, Mitt Romney gave his standard answer on how wars in overseas deserts cannot end until the generals say it can end.  Yet, Romney like most republicans was unable to articulate a clearly definable goal in Afghanistan.  Almost 400 young Americans have died this year thanks to our decade war.

Huntsman answered Romney’s statement about generals calling the shots with a bold an acceptance of responsibility saying the “President of the United States is the Commander-in-Chief and I seem to remember the generals giving us advice in south east Asia in 1968” that didn’t turn out so well.  Huntsman recognized that while it is the military’s job to win wars, it is up to the people, represented by POTUS, to call the troops home when we are spinning their wheels.  It is the military’s job to win wars, not spend money wisely.  The President may have a different perspective than the military and neither is wrong but the President is in charge.  Bring the troops home now.  This is a conservative message and Huntsman gets it.

3.) Defense cuts have to be on the table.  Newt seems to have gotten the message but I am not sure Santorum and Romney have.  Republicans don’t have to agree with Ron Paul’s message of non-interventionalism, the budget has forced us all to question our foreign policy.  There is no shame in letting regions deal with regional affairs.  We have done a magnificent job since our inception in dealing well with our neighbors more than other nation’s neighbors.  We were given the greatest gift in history of two oceans surrounding us as well as peaceful neighbors and yet we are tied down overseas.  Let Israel deal with Iran, strengthen our bond with India and let them be the hegemon of the region.  As Santorum pointed out, we need to deal with the problems in our hemisphere first.  Good advice.     

2.) The 21st century Monroe Doctrine. The Monroe Doctrine of the 1800’s stated that future attempts by the Europeans to colonize the America’s would be viewed as acts of aggression requiring U.S. intervention.  Rick Perry advocated a modern Monroe doctrine.  This is important because Perry is a great candidate, but we can’t start fights with whoever we want anymore.  We have to think from here on out.  Wars cost money and lives and they need to be worth it.

1.) The Patriot Act.  The discussion of the Patriot Act was the most troubling point in the debate.  The Neo-con wing of the party will stop at nothing to keep American safe.  Unfortunately, Conservatism itself is at odds with this premise.  Almost every candidate on stage save Paul and Huntsman were in favor of extending the Patriot Act indefinitely and Perry even stated that we should strengthen it.  Other candidates agreed. 


We should strengthen the Patriot Act even though there hasn’t been a single attack?  It has been very efficient at upholding safety, so the assumption that we need to strengthen it fell flat on libertarian republicans.  Why would we decrease civil liberties when the status quo is already working? 

Ron Paul got it right again on the “war on terror.”  While many of my fellow redstate.com diarists may disagree, terror is a tactic, not an enemy at war with us.  We are no more at war with terror than the Occupy movement is “at war with greed.”  Tactics are concepts implemented to fight a war.  They are a means to an end, not the enemy itself.  Japan used terror as a tactic when it hit us at Pearl harbor, we used terror as a tactic when we dropped an atomic bomb on a city of civilians.   An enemy uses a tactic to create terror, that makes them a terrorist but it does not make them a soldier in an Army anymore than a mobster in a Chicago gang is triad in front of a military tribunal.  We are no more at war with terror than can be said of happiness, sadness, anger, complacency or fear.  These are emotions that are caustic reactions.  Republicans don’t have to openly agree with democrats on that but we don’t need to sounds stupid either. 

The entire distinction between acts of war and criminal acts was continually harped on yet continually left as a distinction without a difference.  How far does it go?  If a lone actor shoots a police officer in the head in the name of Allah, is it now an act of war sending him to a war tribunal without any right rather being tried for the crime of murder?  It makes no sense. 

Republicans in the age demographic ranging from 30-60 continue to say that a non-interventionalist foreign policy is crazy.  While you may legitimately believe that, I can tell you that Ron Paul’s libertarian ideas are resonating with conservative voters 30 and younger.  You may not like it and you may think it is crazy, but Ron Paul is the Barry Goldwater of the 21st century.  If he got the nomination, he would lose in a landslide.  But twenty years from now, a better looking younger candidate is going to bring Paul’s views toward the middle and win the Presidency with them.  It doesn’t matter that conservative pundits are dismissing him, his ideas are resonating. 

Cain and Santorum’s views on racial profiling are frightening.  Gingrich’s disregard for the constitution in favor of the Patriot Act is frightening.  These are not views that a party can be built on. 

But overall, the debaters were strong and the ideas bold.  I may not have agreed with every view expressed, but the primary season may get more exciting after all.  I am encouraged to see a big tent party.  You would never see such wide ranging views in a democrat primary, for that I am encouraged.