Three Republicans who may be presidential candidates of the future were in Iowa this weekend, but the three offered different views of the performance of the current Republican administration.
Sunday night in Ames, Nebraska Senator Chuck Hagel gave a wide-ranging policy speech that concluded with a call to end U.S.-led operations in Iraq. Once Iraqis elect their government leaders, Hagel would turn the country over to Iraqis and other advisors in the region. “The United States should take a secondary role and allow Iraq and its neighbors to lead this effort,” Hagel said. “…More missed opportunities in Iraq will be disastrous for the U.S., Iraq and the Middle East.”
Hagel, a veteran of Vietnam, said the U.S. must build stronger alliances with other countries because the U.S. military cannot confront every global threat alone. “Over-reliance on military power and the use of force will lead to deep problems for America,” Hagel said. “It is wrong and dangerous to place upon our military burdens which it cannot carry and objectives which it cannot achieve.” In addition, Hagel criticized the cornerstone of President Bush’s education initiative — the No Child Left Behind Law — calling it “well-intentioned” but “fundamentally bad policy.”
Hagel also warned that country can’t keep piling up huge federal budget deficits. “This is a critical time, a time for responsible governance. This is a time for hard choices and difficult decisions,” Hagel said. “This will require courageous, informed and wise leadership.”
Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich was in Iowa this weekend, too, and Gingrich offered a sober assessment of the recent travails of Republicans in power in Washington. “We’re either going to be the party of change, or we’re going to be the party of defeat,” Gingrich said. “People did not hire us to have a big deficit, to have government fail totally in New Orleans which it did for six days, to have an inadequate solution on the border and on illegal immigration, so I think we’ve got to get our act together.”
Gingrich, who spoke to reporters during a stop in Grinnell on Saturday, said he’s out traveling the country to try to spur his party to action. Gingrich said voters gave Republicans the White House and a majority of seats in the U.S. House and Senate, and they expect Republicans to deliver. “We have to have profound change in the way government operates,” Gingrich said. “I look down the road at the potential threat from Avian flu, and I’m not reassured by anything I’ve seen.” Gingrich said Bush’s real challenge this coming week will be picking the right person to be his next nominee for the Supreme Court.
“The president, if he’ll just relax and focus on getting a good, competent person with a good record, two or three weeks from now this will all be gone,” Gingrich said. “Presidents…sometimes hit a trough, and right now he’s in a trough.”
But during a speech in Davenport on Saturday, Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney dismissed the indictment of a top White House aide and the withdrawal of President Bush’s choice for the Supreme Court as “irritating bug bites” that will not deter Republicans from their course. After the speech, Romney spoke with reporters. “I don’t like bug bites, but you keep on fighting and you keep doing what you’ve got to do,” Romney said. “Politics is a business with ups and downs and good days and bad days. This hasn’t been a great…week for the Republican cause, but it’s not going to dissuade us from the course we’re on.”
But Romney said when he compared the indictment of the Vice President’s chief of staff to a bug bite, he was just joking. Romeny called the indictment ” very serious” but he said it involved just one person, and the rest of the Republican party — from the president on down — would continue to move forward despite the trouble. “Politics has become a gotcha sport. It’s been that way for a long time,” Romney said. “It’s true on both sides of the aisle.”
Romney promised to return often to Iowa to campaign on behalf of the Republican candidate for governor in 2006 because there’s only one Democratic governor in the country who isn’t seeking re-election, and it’s Iowa’s Tom Vilsack. Eight potential presidential candidates for the 2008 race have visited Iowa this month.