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Tim Pawlenty, neocon?

Former Minnesota Governor Tim Pawlenty. Photo: Flickr/Gage Skidmore

Republican presidential hopeful Tim Pawlenty was once seen as the most viable alternative to GOP front-runner Mitt Romney. Now that there are other, more well-known candidates vying for that mantle, Pawlenty is struggling to remain relevant in these early days of the primary season. And he’s trying to burnish his public image, in part, by adopting what is easily the most hawkish foreign policy platform in the campaign, promising an aggressive use of U.S. economic and military power to confront America’s enemies and promote democracy around the world.

Pawlenty, a former governor of Minnesota, is the only candidate in the race who has spent considerable time talking about America’s wars. Romney, who is focusing exclusively on the economy, has said only that “Our troops shouldn’t go off and try to fight a war of independence for another nation.” Minnesota Rep. Michelle Bachmann, whose candidacy is seen as especially threatening to Pawlenty, has criticized President Obama for “leading from behind” in Libya but condemned the military operation there as superfluous. Pawlenty, by contrast, has accused Obama of being too timid in the Arab world, calling openly for regime change not only in Libya but in Iran and Syria as well.

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‘Conservative feminist’? Not Michele Bachmann

U.S. Rep. Michele Bachmann, R-Minn., addresses the crowd during a welcome home event in her hometown of Waterloo, Iowa Sunday, June 26, 2011. Photo: AP/Charlie Riedel

Last year, former vice-presidential candidate Sarah Palin famously declared herself to be part of a “conservative feminist” movement. Her remarks, made over the course of her public campaign to support “Mama Grizzly” female candidates for the 2010 midterm elections, highlighted an antagonistic rift between the conservative female politicians she helped support and progressive feminist factions who declared “conservative feminist” to be oxymoronic.

But this year, presidential hopeful Michele Bachmann hasn’t followed suit in her own campaign to win the Republican nomination, telling The Daily Beast in an interview that she defines herself as simply “pro-woman and pro-man.”
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Texas Gov. Rick Perry signs fracking disclosure bill

Texas Gov. Rick Perry. Photo: Ed Schipul/Flickr

Republican Governor Rick Perry, a conservative who is expected to announce his presidential candidacy by the end of the summer, signed a bill last week that will require the full disclosure of the chemicals used in the hydraulic fracturing process used in natural gas production. The law – the first of its kind – will go into effect next July.

Other states have enacted requirements to disclose chemicals used in the process, which is also called “fracking,” though none have become law. The states include Arkansas, Wyoming, Colorado and Pennsylvania.

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Republican rift on foreign policy widens as Pawlenty criticizes ‘isolationist’ rivals

Republican presidential candidate, former Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty speaks at the Council on Foreign Relations in New York on Tuesday. (AP Photo/Seth Wenig)

The Republican candidates for president have been careful to present a unified front on most issues, especially taxes and government spending. But fissures have begun to show in the party’s views on foreign policy, a rift that widened Tuesday as Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty assailed his rivals for “trying to outbid the Democrats in appealing to isolationist sentiments.”

In a wide-ranging speech at the Council on Foreign Relations in New York, Pawlenty staked out what is easily the most hawkish foreign policy platform in the race, calling for regime change in Libya, Syria and Iran, attacking President Obama’s “anti-Israel” attitude and casting the recent “Arab Spring” as a chance to shape formerly autocratic regimes into democracies that are friendlier to American interests.

Pawlenty also seemed to split from Republicans in Congress when he said in a question-and-answer session after the speech that, while he would have consulted members of the House and Senate on the military action in Libya “as a courtesy,” he would not have felt compelled to seek congressional approval for the bombing campaign “as a legal obligation” under the War Powers Act. The Obama administration has taken a similar view, while large numbers of House Republicans, especially those affiliated with the Tea Party, have voted to end U.S. involvement in the NATO-led operation against Moammar Gadhafi.

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Ohio voter I.D. bill hits roadblock

Voters cast absentee ballots in 2008 in Columbus, Ohio, under a disputed early voting law that allows new voters to register and cast an absentee ballot on the same day. (AP Photo/David Smith)

Ohio’s new proposed voter identification bill – potentially one of the strictest in the country – just hit a serious roadblock. Ohio’s Republican Secretary of State Jon Husted just signaled that he’s against the bill as currently written, calling its provisions “rigid.”

According to a statement, Husted said, “I want to be perfectly clear, when I began working with the General Assembly to improve Ohio’s elections system it was never my intent to reject valid votes. I would rather have no bill than one with a rigid photo identification provision that does little to protect against fraud and excludes legally registered voters’ ballots from counting.”

As we reported earlier this month, Ohio’s proposed voter identification bill would make a government-issued photo I.D. (like a driver’s license or a military I.D.) the sole form of identification voters can use on election day.  The bill would eliminate many of the other forms of I.D. that are currently acceptable under Ohio law.
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The view from 10,000 miles: Huntsman brings an outsider’s eye to the 2012 campaign

Then-Ambassador Jon Huntsman in China in 2009. Photo: AP/Charles Dharapak

The views of America from the small-town Tea Party meeting in Iowa and the halls of the State Council in Beijing are probably quite different.

If you’re a Tea Party supporter in Ames, you might see a reckless, irrepressible political class, conspiring to acquire as much power as it can and seeking to implement a European-style social welfare system that will eventually topple under the weight of its own debts, all while snuffing out the freedom and ingenuity of the private sector.

If you’re a Chinese Communist Party official in Zhongnanhai, you might see a debilitated American political system enfeebled by infighting, unable to invest in its own future — in its human capital, its infrastructure and its alternative energy sources — and unable to recover the substantial ground it has lost in an increasingly competitive global marketplace.

Which view does Jon Huntsman take?

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Republicans offer starkly different views on Obama’s Afghanistan strategy

Tim Pawlenty, seen here delivers a policy address at the University of Chicago earlier this month, has staked out the most hawkish position on the war in Afghanistan of the GOP candidates. AP/Paul Beaty

In a fundamental shift from nearly two years of aggressive counterinsurgency efforts in Afghanistan, President Obama announced Wednesday that the United States would immediately withdraw 10,000 of its troops from the country, and said that the remaining 20,000 troops from last year’s “surge” would return home by next summer. “The tide of war is receding,” Obama said, adding that the U.S. was “meeting our goals” in Afghanistan. He also acknowledged that American forces would concede some of their more ambitious reconstruction plans in the country, declaring, “We won’t try to make Afghanistan a perfect place.”

The speech also anticipated, somewhat obliquely, what will likely be the dominant theme of the 2012 presidential campaign: “nation-building here at home,” as Obama put it. That remark echoed criticisms lodged by some of Obama’s Republican rivals, particularly former Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman, who has argued that America’s wars in Iraq, Afghanistan and Libya have been too costly, and that America’s military commitments abroad have come at the expense of its economic strength at home.

For the most part, however, the speech elicited only a muted response from the Republican presidential candidates, and showcased the fractures within the party on America’s foreign policy. With the exception of Huntsman, who served as the president’s envoy to China until April, the Republican hopefuls collectively have only limited foreign policy experience, and have been reluctant to make American interventionism a major part of the campaign. They plan instead to focus laser-like on the economy and government spending, which are by far the most important issues among voters of all political affiliations, especially conservatives. As Frank Newport, editor-in-chief of the Gallup Poll, put it in an interview: “Wars have faded from the front lines of Americans’ consciousness.”

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Is Jon Huntsman the GOP’s ‘serious’ candidate (and do they even want one)?

Former Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman. Photo: AP/Elise Amendola

A rapid withdrawal of U.S. troops from Afghanistan. An end to the bombing campaign in Libya. Deep cuts to military spending. And a more aggressive pro-democracy stance in China.

These positions would seem to belong to the platform of a Democrat, perhaps a disaffected member of the party’s liberal wing, seeking to challenge President Obama from the left.

In fact, they are among the core tenets of a campaign that will begin on Tuesday — when former Gov. Jon Huntsman, most recently the ambassador to China, announces his intention to seek the Republican nomination for president.

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In turnaround, Republicans struggle to attack Obama on national security in first debate

GOP candidates stand on stage before the first Republican presidential debate in Manchester, N.H. Photo: AP/Jim Cole

The first Republican presidential debate to feature all seven declared candidates was, for the most part, tame. The participants were civil and restrained, avoided attacking one another and reserved their most searing criticisms for President Obama. As expected, they hammered away at what is likely to be the defining issue of the campaign: jobs.

Perhaps the most notable takeaway, then, was the Republicans’ collective inability to land a solid punch on what has traditionally been one of the GOP’s most profitable issues: national security. All seven of the Republican candidates either strained or demurred when asked to critique the president’s record on foreign affairs. And when they did go on the offensive, their attacks were muddled and vague.

The perceived front-runner, former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, referred only obliquely to Obama’s timetable for withdrawing troops from Afghanistan, saying, “I want those troops to come home based upon not politics, not based upon economics, but instead based upon the conditions on the ground determined by the generals.” Romney even sounded like a Democrat when he added: “Our troops shouldn’t go off and try to fight a war of independence for another nation.”

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