Discuss as:

First Thoughts: Romney under GOP fire on Afghanistan, abortion

Romney comes under GOP fire on Afghanistan and abortion… Questioning Romney’s conservative bona fides and whether he has friends in low (and high) places… Perry’s 50-50 on getting in the race, and he could affect it in two different ways… Obama rejected views of two top administration lawyers on Libya… What we saw at RLC in New Orleans… Newt’s schedule this week is based entirely near his homes in Georgia and the DC area… Romney’s in Colorado, while Santorum is in Iowa… And Hatch is in trouble in Utah.

*** Romney comes under GOP fire on Afghanistan…: Expect President Obama’s decision on the size/scope of the Afghanistan withdrawal this week. After all, if some troops are scheduled to come home starting in July, it only makes sense that announcement will come, um, before then. And any news on Afghanistan will only emphasize the heat that Mitt Romney is currently receiving from GOP hawks after saying “our troops shouldn’t go off and try to fight a war of independence for another nation” at last week’s GOP debate. Here was GOP Sen. Lindsey Graham on “Meet the Press” yesterday: “If you think the pathway to the GOP nomination in 2012 is to get to Barack Obama's left on Libya, Afghanistan, and Iraq, you're going to meet a lot of headwinds. Added John McCain on ABC: “I wonder what Ronald Reagan would be saying today… That’s not the Republican Party of the 20th century, and now the 21st century. That is not the Republican Party that has been willing to stand up for freedom for people all over the world.” Both Republican hawks criticized the entire field, but Romney was singled out.

*** … and also abortion: Of course, it’s worth wondering whether criticism from Graham and McCain -- two Republicans the GOP base hasn’t always trusted -- actually hurts him with conservative voters. On the other hand, criticism from Michele Bachmann and Rick Santorum could. On Saturday, Romney said in a National Review op-ed that he wasn’t signing the Susan B. Anthony List’s pledge on abortion because it goes too far. "I am pro-life and believe that abortion should be limited to only instances of rape, incest, or to save the life of the mother." But: "It is one thing to end federal funding for an organization like Planned Parenthood; it is entirely another to end all federal funding for thousands of hospitals across America." Both Bachmann and Santorum pounced. “Gov. Romney should reconsider his decision not to sign the pledge just as he reconsidered his position on the life issue during the last campaign,” Bachmann said in a statement. Ouch.

*** I’ve got friends in low (and high) places: The reason why Romney’s decision not to sign the Susan B. Anthony List’s abortion pledge has the potential to be an obstacle for the GOP front-runner is because -- like his comments on Afghanistan or his Massachusetts health-care law -- it brings into question his conservative bona fides. After all, in his 1994 Senate race and 2002 gubernatorial contest, he ran as a pro-choice candidate. It also raises this question: Who is defending Romney? National Review’s Kathryn Lopez rushed to Romney’s defense on abortion, but she’s always been a supporter. But what about Rush Limbaugh? Other conservative talk-radio hosts? The folks on FOX? As we learned with the Weiner scandal, it helps to have friends willing to back you up when the going gets tough. This is something to watch in the weeks and months ahead, because Romney has very few defenders in some key places inside the base of the party -- whether in the social-conservative, economic, and now foreign-policy wings of the party.

*** Perry’s 50-50: And the questions about Romney’s conservative bona fides bring us to Rick Perry, whose speech at the Republican Leadership Conference rocked the GOP house. Politico’s Martin reported that Perry’s top political adviser said that the Texas governor is “50-50” about whether he’ll run for the White House -- and that was before Perry’s speech on Saturday. If he runs, there are two ways it could affect the race: 1) it could give the field its true conservative warrior, with Perry having the potential to outduel Bachmann and the others; and 2) it could end up dividing the Tea Party/conservative vote, giving Romney an easier path to the GOP nomination. But Perry has this potential argument he can make against Romney: “I governed as a conservative in Texas; Mitt Romney governed like a liberal.” The Perry argument is as so: Marry the social and Tea Party conservatives and then trump Romney on his own message -- the economy, thanks to the jobs story Perry has to tell in Texas. Of course, Perry doesn't have a lot of friends in the establishment wing of the party, but if it's a choice between Perry and Bachmann for these folks…?

*** Dear Jon: A slew of "Who is Jon Huntsman?" and "Can Jon Huntsman win”? articles are percolating. And there's no greater head-scratcher of a candidate than Huntsman. On the one hand, he looks the part and he fits the mold of what a resume for a Republican presidential nominee would have looked like in the last 40 years. But so far, the premise of the campaign has been tactics. What does he believe? He begins answering that question tomorrow. Will his answers ring authentic? That's among his challenges.

*** Obama rejected views of two top administration lawyers on Libya: As we foreshadowed in Friday’s First Read, administration lawyers are split on whether the U.S. can continue to wage war in Libya without congressional approval. Saturday’s New York Times: “President Obama rejected the views of top lawyers at the Pentagon and the Justice Department when he decided that he had the legal authority to continue American military participation in the air war in Libya without Congressional authorization... But Mr. Obama decided instead to adopt the legal analysis of several other senior members of his legal team — including the White House counsel, Robert Bauer, and the State Department legal adviser, Harold H. Koh — who argued that the United States military’s activities fell short of ‘hostilities.’” Just askin’: Could a high-profile decision to withdraw troops from Afghanistan at a quicker pace than folks thought would happen buy the president more time on Libya?

*** What we saw at RLC: Perry was the best-received speaker at the three-day Republican Leadership Conference in New Orleans, followed closely by Bachmann and then Cain further back. This was a Perry-Bachmann crowd… Paul won the straw poll (as he’s done in past GOP straw polls), but Huntsman was a surprising second (his team appeared to work it), and Romney (who won it last year) finished fifth… Pawlenty, who like Huntsman and Romney didn’t speak at the event, finished ninth with just 18 votes… And regarding the racially tinged Obama impersonator, the Louisiana GOP clearly realized its mistake and yanked him off the stage -- but only after he made jokes aimed at the GOP field, NOT when his racially tinged jokes were directed at Obama.

*** The night the lights went out everywhere but Georgia: Want more evidence how Newt Gingrich is no longer campaigning in the early nominating contests? In his schedule this week, all of his events are within driving distance of his Georgia and DC-area homes. On Tuesday, he attends a screening of “A City Upon A Hill” in Savannah, GEORIGIA… On Wednesday, he delivers a speech on the federal regulations and the Federal Reserve at the Atlanta Press Club’s Commerce Club in GEORGIA… And on Thursday, he speaks at a Maryland Republican Party dinner in BALTIMORE. This is what a campaign looks like when it’s running on fumes.

*** On the 2012 trail: And these are what campaigns that have some money look like: Romney’s in Aurora, CO, where he meets with small business owners… And Santorum is in Iowa, where he makes four stops.

*** Hatch in trouble in UT: There are two big pieces of news in the Desert News/KSL-TV poll. One, Sen. Orrin Hatch is in trouble. “The poll … found only 38 percent of registered voters agree that it's important to re-elect Hatch in 2012 because of his seniority. Fifty-nine percent said after 36 years, it's time for someone new.” Two, Dem Congressman Jim Matheson is running even with Hatch in a hypothetical Senate match-up: “If Utah's lone Democrat in Congress, Rep. Jim Matheson, gets in the Senate race, voters would be evenly split, according to the poll, with 47 percent favoring Hatch and 47 percent for Matheson.” What this probably means: A bunch of Republicans might decide it's not worth the six-year risk of a Sen. Matheson, and they could decide to save his Salt Lake congressional seat during redistricting…

Countdown to Iowa GOP straw poll: 54 days
Countdown to NV-2 special election: 85 days
Countdown to Election Day 2011: 141 days
Countdown to the Iowa caucuses: 231 days
* Note: When the IA caucuses take place depends on whether other states move up

Click here to sign up for First Read emails.
Text FIRST to 622639, to sign up for First Read alerts to your mobile phone.
Check us out on Facebook and also on Twitter.