Republican Presidential Hopefuls Cautiously Cheer Gadhafi’s Downfall

BY Quinn Bowman  August 23, 2011 at 8:42 AM EDT

Libyans cheering at the White House; Photo by Stephane Jourdain/AFP/Getty Images

Libyans gather in front of the White House Sunday night to celebrate the rebel advance on Tripoli. Photo by Stephane Jourdain/AFP/Getty Images.

The Morning Line

One of Mitt Romney’s guiding principles for his 2012 run for the White House is to avoid weighing in on the headlines of the daily news cycle because there is little to be gained in that.

However, when you’re running to become commander in chief, and the daily headline is the possible toppling of a dictator because of American and NATO military action, it’s a story that requires a response.

The candidates seeking to take on President Obama, irrespective of their initial policy position on U.S. military action in Libya, all praised Moammar Gadhafi’s removal from power as a positive development.

Unsurprisingly, none of the GOP contenders gave President Obama any credit for initiating the policy that helped achieve that desired goal.

Perhaps more surprisingly, the candidates also largely refrained from criticizing the president, an indication that they were unsure how dinging the commander in chief at a time of a military victory might play politically.

Minnesota Rep. Michele Bachmann restated her initial opposition to U.S. involvement in Libya:

“I opposed U.S. military involvement in Libya and I am hopeful that our intervention there is about to end. I also hope the progress of events in Libya will ultimately lead to a government that honors the rule of law, respects the people of Libya and their yearning for freedom, and one that will be a good partner to the United States and the international community.”

Former Utah Gov. Huntsman also opposed the U.S. military action in Libya, but neglected to mention that in his statement:

“The impending fall of Col. Gadhafi is one chapter in the developing story of a nation in turmoil. Gadhafi has been a longtime opponent of freedom, and I am hopeful — as the whole world should be — that his defeat is a step toward openness, democracy and human rights for a people who greatly deserve it.”

Huntsman’s spokesman, however, did reassert the candidate’s opposition to the war.

“Gov. Huntsman’s view remains that intervention in Libya was a mistake and not core to our national security interest,” Tim Miller said.

Former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum was one candidate who didn’t let President Obama off the hook:

“Ridding the world of the likes of Gadhafi is a good thing, but this indecisive president had little to do with this triumph.”

Among the 2012 Republican contenders, Romney was one of the more vocal critics of President Obama’s policy on Libya at the time the military action was launched.

He accused the president of allowing “mission creep” and “mission muddle” to take place in Libya.

Monday, Romney cheered the collapsing of Gadhafi’s regime and joined the call of some elected leaders to bring the freed Pan Am 103 bomber Abdel Baset al-Megrahi to justice.

“The world is about to be rid of Moammar Gadhafi, the brutal tyrant who terrorized the Libyan people. It is my hope that Libya will now move toward a representative form of government that supports freedom, human rights, and the rule of law,” Romney said in a statement, which did not mention President Obama.

Texas Gov. Rick Perry followed suit.

“The crumbling of Moammar Gadhafi’s reign, a violent, repressive dictatorship with a history of terrorism, is cause for cautious celebration,” Perry said in a statement that also sought to draw no direct contrast with President Obama.

To be sure, President Obama’s re-election will most likely be decided on the economy. The Republican nomination battle will most likely turn on which candidate presents the strongest contrast with the president on that issue.

Statements refusing to take on the president’s leadership over an issue most Americans are not much tuned into will do no harm to these candidates and will provide little comfort to the president and his team.

A CLEAR PATH FOR HATCH?

Utah Sen. Orrin Hatch’s road to a seventh term got a little easier Monday when Rep. Jason Chaffetz announced he would not launch a challenge for the Republican nomination.

The move caught many off-guard, as the two-term GOP congressman had been talking up the prospect of running against Hatch for months. Chaffetz also has a history of taking on incumbents, winning his seat in Utah’s 3rd Congressional District by knocking off former GOP Rep. Chris Cannon in 2008.

The Los Angeles Times has the key quotes from Monday’s news conference:

“Chaffetz, 44, announced his surprise decision at an afternoon news conference in Salt Lake City, saying a run for Senate would result in ‘a multimillion-dollar bloodbath.’

“‘I don’t think that’s necessarily in my best interests,’ Chaffetz said. ‘I don’t think it’s in the best interest of our party, the nation or our state.’”

In a statement, Chaffetz wrote, “Ultimately, I can spend the next 15 months doing my job, or I can spend the next 15 months campaigning to do Senator Hatch’s.”

That doesn’t mean Hatch is out of the woods just yet. He remains a target of the Washington, D.C.-based, grassroots organization FreedomWorks, which earlier this year announced a campaign to “Retire Orrin Hatch,” pointing to a legislative record supporting 2008′s Troubled Asset Relief Program and opposing a ban on earmarks.

The group’s national political director, Russ Walker, issued a statement Monday that said, “We are confident a principled fiscal conservative will enter the race to defeat 36-year big government incumbent Sen. Orrin Hatch.”

After witnessing the Tea Party’s take down of three-term Utah Sen. Robert Bennett in 2010, Hatch has frequently staked out positions seeking to shore up his conservative base, voting against raising the debt ceiling, advocating for a balanced budget amendment to the U.S. Constitution and co-sponsoring a GOP effort to repeal the president’s health care reform law.

Hatch’s conservative outreach, combined with his well-stocked campaign war chest (in the neighborhood of $3.4 million), will likely have any potential challenger thinking twice about a primary fight.

RYAN GETS [BACK] TO NO

House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan, R-Wis., has decided to take a pass on running for president in 2012 — again.

The Weekly Standard’s Stephen Hayes reports the GOP congressman took a fresh look at a potential bid in May after Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels decided to pass, but ended up back where he started.

Hayes posted the full Ryan statement on the Standard’s website Monday:

“I sincerely appreciate the support from those eager to chart a brighter future for the next generation. While humbled by the encouragement, I have not changed my mind, and therefore I am not seeking our party’s nomination for President. I remain hopeful that our party will nominate a candidate committed to a pro-growth agenda of reform that restores the promise and prosperity of our exceptional nation. I remain grateful to those I serve in Southern Wisconsin for the unique opportunity to advance this effort in Congress.”

Jonathan Martin and Ben Smith over at POLITICO take a look at how conservative elites are grappling with their presidential options now that Ryan and Daniels are out.

“From the Weekly Standard to the Wall Street Journal, on the pages of policy periodicals and opinion sections, the egghead right’s longing for a presidential candidate of ideas — first Mitch Daniels, then Paul Ryan — has been endless, intense, and unrequited.

“Profoundly dissatisfied with the current field, that dull ache may only grow more acute after Ryan’s decision Monday to take himself out of the running.

“The problem, in shorthand: To many conservative elites, Rick Perry is a dope, Michele Bachmann is a joke, and Mitt Romney is a fraud.”

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