TAMPA, Florida – Republicans are emphasizing American exceptionalism and the need to project strength around the world in an effort to draw contrasts between a potential Mitt Romney administration and that of US President Barack Obama.
The GOP platform, approved at the Republican National Convention Tuesday, enumerates American exceptionalism as a specific plank and includes Israel and Iran as key foreign policy concerns.
“A continuation of [Obama’s] failed engagement policy with Iran will lead to nuclear cascade,” the text warns. “In solidarity with the international community, America must lead the effort to prevent Iran from building and possessing nuclear weapons capability.”
The document’s final sentence stresses that “we must retain all options in dealing with a situation that gravely threatens our security, our interests and the safety of our friends.”
Under a heading labeled “Our unequivocal support for Israel,” the platform calls the Jewish state’s safety a “vital national security interest.” It also states that “we envision two democratic states – Israel with Jerusalem as its capital and Palestine – living in peace and security.”
The language on a Palestinian state was a matter of some debate, as several amendments sought to remove references to a two-state solution in favor of a harder line against the Palestinians.
But Jim Talent, a key Romney adviser who sought to keep the GOP platform in line with Romney’s positions, told The Jerusalem Post he helped push back against those efforts.
He noted that Romney supports the Israeli government’s policy, which is to pursue a two-state solution.
“Let’s not use the Republican platform as a way to pressure the Israeli government to change its position,” Talent said.
He described those who wanted to remove the two-state reference as having the right “sentiments,” but added, “I think it’s very important that the US supports the policy of Israel” – a policy of looking for a negotiated settlement.
Talent spoke to the Post Tuesday following a panel organized by the International Republican Institute, in which he and other Romney advisers emphasized similar themes of American strength and the projection of power.
“[Romney] feels strongly that America should lead,” said Rich Williamson, a top foreign policy adviser to the candidate. “The world’s better for that and he makes no apologies for that.”
As an example of strong American leadership, which Williamson argued would better protect the US and its allies, he said the US would not necessarily appeal to the UN Security Council when it had vital interests at stake.
He also said that Romney would use diplomacy on issues such as Iran as one tool, but not the only one. “He’s willing to negotiate and engage, but he wouldn’t lose track of the central [concern], which is security,” Williamson said.
Talent said it was also important to be clear that the US would not tolerate a situation in which Iran has the capability to make nuclear material even if it stops short of building a bomb.
Israel is concerned international negotiations would allow Tehran some capability to produce nuclear material under certain safeguards.
The broad themes of America’s greatness and world leadership were touched on by New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie in his keynote address at the convention Tuesday night.
“Tonight we are doing what is necessary to make America great again,” Christie said in a rousing address on the first full day of the convention, which was supposed to start Monday but was delayed due to Hurricane Isaac. There was concern that televised images of political revelry could provide a jarring contrast to the storm’s onslaught.
“Standing strong for freedom will make this century as great as the last one,” he told the cheering Republican delegates, who jumped to their feet throughout his appearance.
He evoked the memory of the “greatest generation” of World War II veterans who succeeded in “fighting Nazi tyranny,” in calling on Americans to overcome the country’s current challenges.
Aside from generalities, foreign policy was rarely mentioned from the convention podium, with a lone remark about Israel and its importance as an American ally made by a Republican candidate for Congress earlier on in the day.
Rabbi Meir Soloveichik, however, opened Tuesday’s proceedings with an invocation that referenced Israel and its importance as a beacon of democracy and hope.
The convention was set to shift into high gear on Wednesday.
A Sikh leader was scheduled to offer the invocation and was to be followed by a video featuring Texas Rep. Ron Paul – who lost his bid for the Republican nomination but still has many adherents at the convention – and a speech by his son Rand Paul, a Kentucky senator.
Arizona Sen. John McCain, who was the Republican nominee in 2008, was also slated to address the Republican National Convention Wednesday, as was former US secretary of state Condoleezza Rice.
The key address of the evening, however, was to be delivered by vice presidential pick Paul Ryan in the biggest speech of his political career – in which he was expected to accept the nomination.
Ryan, a conservative budget hawk from Wisconsin, will set the stage for Romney’s acceptance of his party’s nomination on Thursday night, launching him into the final 10-week sprint of the election campaign.
Careful not to emulate predecessor Sarah Palin, who quickly fell from grace after bursting onto the 2008 campaign as McCain’s running mate, Ryan has made a cautious start to the presidential race. It is still unclear whether he will help Romney draw support from undecided voters, who may be the critical factor in the November 6 election pitting the Republican ticket against Obama.
“Tonight, the American people – millions who may not know a lot about Paul Ryan, other than the headlines that they’ve read – are going to get to know Paul Ryan the way many of us know him: as a serious policy thinker,” Republican Sen. Marco Rubio told ABC’s Good Morning America program on Wednesday.
Rubio, who represents swing state Florida and its many elderly residents, defended Ryan’s budget plan to deeply cut government spending and overhaul the government-run Medicare health insurance program for older Americans.
Ryan has energized conservatives in a way Romney was unable to do during the long months of the Republican primary battle, when he faced a number of conservative challengers.
The Obama campaign, hoping to steal some of Ryan’s thunder, released an online video accusing him of harboring “out-of-step views from a bygone era” that would hurt the middle class, threaten Medicare and undercut women’s abortion rights.
The boyish 42-year-old Ryan, a fitness fanatic, has shown himself to be an affable asset to Romney so far.
He has helped generate large crowds when the pair has campaigned together. Ryan also helps put in play Wisconsin, which has not voted for a Republican presidential candidate since Ronald Reagan in 1984. A Romney victory there could alter the electoral map in a way that would hurt Obama’s hopes for reelection.
Ryan’s place in prime time on Wednesday offered him the chance to introduce himself to millions of Americans who are just starting to tune in to a presidential race that is too close to call.
Democrats are portraying Ryan as a conservative ideologue whose budget proposal in the House of Representatives would “end Medicare as we know it” and are using his budget plan against him in states like Florida, with its large population of retirees, and in Virginia, where thousands of government employees populate the suburbs adjoining the capital. Romney can ill afford to lose either of those two states.
A Reuters/Ipsos poll on Tuesday found that exactly half of Americans approve of Ryan and the other half disapprove of him.
Reuters contributed to this story.