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Posted at 1:21 PM ET, 02/ 1/2011

Republican 2012 hopefuls sound off on Egypt uprising

By Rachel Weiner

Republican leaders are treading lightly around the uprising in Egypt, mostly hewing to the careful line charted by the Obama administration.

But, of late, some potential presidential hopefuls have been less reticent -- carefully staking out ground on the rapidly-changing situation.

Former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, the nominal frontrunner for the Republican nomination, on Tuesday called for Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak to step aside or help spearhead a peaceful handover of power.

"I think what the United States has to do is make it very clear to the people of Egypt that we stand with the voices of democracy and freedom," Romney said on ABC's "Good Morning America." The change "would be best undertaken if President Mubarak were to step out of the way or lead the transition."

Former Minesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty, another 2012 candidate, also declared that Mubarak should go: "I think his time is going to come to an end. It should come to an end," he told reporters during a trip to Iowa.

Unlike Romney, Pawlenty also criticized White House policy.

"The early statements by Secretary Clinton, Vice President Biden and the president seemed inconsistent, bordering on incoherent if you put them all together," he said. "I guess I would say their statements taken as a whole look like they were caught off guard and surprised and confused."

Former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee took a different tack. "The events of the past few days in Egypt have created a very tenuous situation, not just for Egypt, not just for the Middle East, but for the entire world, and the destabilization of that nation has the potential of cascading across the globe," he said while visiting Israel.

Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich was perhaps the most outspoken about the uprising in Egypt, using it as an opportunity to offer a broad critique of President Obama's approach to foreign policy.

"I think this ... a sign of the general failure of our strategy of not dealing with radical Islamists and not being honest and aggressive of what's going on around the world," he said Monday.

Potential presidential candidates clearly feel compelled to say something about a major international crisis in order to seem prepared for office and begin to lay out for voters what their vision of America's role in the world might look like.

But, it can a dangerous path with an ever-shifting situation in the country always threatening to make hard and fast positions look foolish in the long view.

Notably, former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin has stayed quiet on Egypt, saying only, in reference to Post columnist Dana Milbank's declaration of a Palin free-month: "There's a lot of chaos in Cairo, and I can't wait to not get blamed for it -- at least for a month."

While the Egypt uprising has put a sharp focus on foreign affairs over the last few days -- a level of attention that virtually forces presidential candidates to weigh in -- it's important to remember that the 2012 election will almost certainly be decided on domestic issues.

American voters have only a passing interest in foreign policy at any time and that interest wanes in times of economic crisis at home. Exit polling in the 2010 election showed just one in ten voters calling the war in Afghanistan the top issue in deciding their vote for example.

For a Republican field notably lacking in candidates with deep foreign policy experience, the Egypt uprising gives them a chance to flex their muscles on the issue. But, it's hard to imagine Egypt -- or any other foreign affair -- emerging as a key voting issue in 2012.

By Rachel Weiner  | February 1, 2011; 1:21 PM ET
Categories:  Eye on 2012  
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