The press areas of CPAC are filled with idle cable news producers and correspondents. In normal times, they would be busy filing updates on the coming 2012 campaign. But the nation, and the cable news bookers, are distracted these days by Egypt, where people are cheering in the streets, fireworks are exploding, and the 30-year rule of an autocrat has given way to what appears to be a bloodless military coup. Even the print reporters covering CPAC have made a habit of leaving the ballroom to watch CNN’s Egypt coverage in the hotel lobby’s restaurant.
How have the conservative leaders responded? Not so much. Mitt Romney made no mention of the historic events in Cairo, even as his speech roughly coincided with news that Mubarak had resigned. John Thune, who is speaking as I write, seems to be speaking in a vacuum, with lots of talk about Ronald Reagan but no mention of the international events that Ronald Reagan would be focusing on were he still alive. Newt Gingrich barely glossed on Obama’s foriegn policy, but focused on Iran and Hezbollah. Santorum talked about Egypt, but was nearly unintelligible. He accused Obama of siding with the Iranian regime after protests erupted there–a claim that is, it must be said, factually shaky–and siding with the protesters in Egypt even though the regime was “a friend.” The implication was that Santorum supported the Mubarak regime, but then he added, “Now I am not saying we should not side with protesters.” (Several days ago, Sarah Palin also criticized Obama’s handling of Egypt, though her comments were even more difficult to parse. She knocked Obama for not putting forward a clearer response to the situation, without offering many clues on what her response would have been.)
Why the silence and confusion? There are two main reasons. First, there is no definitive conservative response to the turmoil in Egypt. As Joe has noted in Swampland, some foreign policy conservatives have come down hard in favor of Democracy, others have worried about the effect on Israel, and still others have apparently sided with autocracy in the name of preventing an Islamic democracy that could be radicalized. The second reason is that many of the speakers seem to support, more or less, Obama’s pragmatic approach to the crises. (Romney all but said as much in a recent CNN appearance.) The top line message of Republicans is that Obama has been a disaster for American foreign policy, hastening the decline of this country’s standing in the world. That message is not easily squared with an apparent support for Obama’s efforts during the Egyptian crisis.