As voters go to the polls in New Hampshire today, the last Suffolk University/7NEWS poll has Mitt Romney leading with 37 percent, followed by Ron Paul in second with 18 percent and Jon Huntsman in third with 16 percent. If these numbers hold, the result will be a decisive victory for Romney. But it will also send a disturbing signal about the state of the GOP when it comes to foreign affairs. Between Paul and Huntsman, a stunning 34 percent of New Hampshire Republicans are going to the polls expressing support for deeply, aggressively isolationist candidates—both of whom want to cut and run from Afghanistan, and one of whom has declared the operation that killed Osama bin Laden a violation of “international law.”
The debate over a resurgent isolationism in the GOP had largely faded in recent months, thanks in part to AEI’s efforts. Last summer, foreign policy was all but entirely absent from the presidential discussion. With the exception of Tim Pawlenty, no candidate had stepped forward to argue for success in Afghanistan or to lay out a vision for a vigorous conservative internationalism—and some, like Romney, were busy pandering to perceived isolationist sentiment by talking withdrawal instead of victory in Afghanistan. Then AEI helped force a national security discussion by hosting a presidential debate devoted exclusively to foreign policy. Once the candidates began talking about how they would handle the job of commander in chief, it became clear that the only two candidates espousing truly isolationist sentiments were Paul and Huntsman—and both trailed in the polls.
Well, what a difference a few months makes. Today, those two fringe candidates are poised to take second and third place in the New Hampshire primary. It is possible that if Huntsman overtakes Paul for second place in New Hampshire, he could become the next “anti-Romney” to rise in the polls—just in time for the decisive South Carolina primary. Regardless of today’s results, Huntsman is still a distant long shot, and Paul has no chance of winning the nomination. But the fact that over a third of New Hampshire Republicans either support, or are willing to overlook, the Charles Lindbergh-esque foreign policy platforms of these two candidates is a deeply worrisome sign.