Republicans Scramble to Make Horses and Bayonets Work for Them

Mitt Romney betrays his essential nature again and again: a bullying, grasping little boy who has to have more toys than the other kid.

In this case, as president, he is determined to have more ships than anybody else.

Trouble is, he already does. The United States not only spends more its military than any other nation, it has more ships than any other nation. The U.S. Navy, the “global force for good” we hear so much about on commercials, reigns supreme in the role the Royal Navy once occupied. Look at a couple of charts, like this one from Global Fire Power (GFP):

We also have better ships, as this chart shows:

But Romney likes to push the narrative that Obama has made America weaker and that our Navy is no longer the Navy it once was. Romney is wrong, but being wrong has never stopped Romney before, and it did not stop him last night.

As Jason Easley pointed out here last night, Romney, in pushing this narrative, created a turning point in the debate. Romney argued,

ROMNEY: Our Navy is old — excuse me, our Navy is smaller now than at any time since 1917. The Navy said they needed 313 ships to carry out their mission. We’re now at under 285. We’re headed down to the low 200s if we go through a sequestration. That’s unacceptable to me.

I want to make sure that we have the ships that are required by our Navy. Our Air Force is older and smaller than at any time since it was founded in 1947.

But President Obama was ready for this weak play:

But I think Governor Romney maybe hasn’t spent enough time looking at how our military works.

You mentioned the Navy, for example, and that we have fewer ships than we did in 1916. Well, Governor, we also have fewer horses and bayonets, because the nature of our military’s changed. We have these things called aircraft carriers, where planes land on them. We have these ships that go underwater, nuclear submarines.

And so the question is not a game of Battleship, where we’re counting slips. It’s what are our capabilities. And so when I sit down with the Secretary of the Navy and the Joint Chiefs of Staff, we determine how are we going to be best able to meet all of our defense needs in a way that also keeps faith with our troops, that also makes sure that our veterans have the kind of support that they need when they come home.

Horses and bayonets quickly began trending on Twitter

Predictably, cognitive dissonance-afflicted conservatives insisted that “horses and bayonets” was a slip by Obama, a slip that would come back to hurt him in sound bites.  Ann Coulter came back with

I guess that’s one thing you don’t learn as president. RT @pambestederWow! Just heard on Fox News that Marines STILL use bayonets!— Ann Coulter (@AnnCoulter)

But while many of us cheered President Obama’s “horses and bayonets” moment, some bristled, like Virginia governor Bob McDonnell:

Bob McDonnell ‏@BobMcDonnell

President Obama’s comment about ‘horses and bayonets’ was an insult to every sailor who has put his or her life on the line for our country.

Somehow, McDonnell thinks Obama’s fact-based beat-down of foreign-policy pretender Mitt Romney insulted our veterans. In a statement for Team Romney which accompanied his tweet, McDonnell said,

“The United States Navy calls Hampton Roads home. Norfolk Naval Station is the largest naval station in the world, and all Virginians are honored to have this great facility in the Commonwealth. Unfortunately, President Obama’s dismissive comments about the Navy tonight should be concerning for any voter who cares about the safety and security of Americans at home and abroad. President Obama has not only ignored these concerns — but his flippant comment about ‘horses and bayonets’ was an insult to every sailor who has put his or her life on the line for our country. Gov. Romney is clearly the candidate in this race who recognizes the importance of ensuring that our fighting men and women have the resources and the support they need to protect our interests and ensure that no adversary would think to challenge us. Tonight, Virginians, and all Americans, saw that Mitt Romney is the president we need in a challenging and uncertain world.”

President Obama was, of course, anything but dismissive. It was Romney who said the U.S. Navy couldn’t do its job. Contrary to Romney’s claims, Secretary of the Navy Ray Mabus quite clearly stated in February of this year,

Now, the ships we have today are far more capable than any ships we’ve ever had, and comparing them to the old fleet in terms of numbers is sort of like comparing iPhones to the telegraph. But quantity has a quality all its own if you want capability”

And in April, Mabus said that you can’t compare the Navy’s strength to that of 1917, simply by counting hulls. As he told the Navy Times, “It’s like comparing the telegraph to the smartphone. They’re just not comparable.”

Romney just doesn’t get it. Romney surrogates don’t get it.

Amy Davidson wrote in The New Yorker:

It is a measure of Obama’s success here that Romney supporters came out to object that the Marines do, indeed, still use bayonets, and Virginia’s governor, Bob McDonnell, tweeted that the line was somehow “an insult to every sailor who has put his or her life on the line for our country.” It is not; nor was Obama disparaging Ann Romney and her horse Rafalca by suggesting that the way we measure cavalry forces has changed. If there’s an insult here, it lies in Romney’s apparent assumption that voters are incapable of grasping that distinction. That he even used this line was either an act of clumsiness or a cynical assessment of political discourse, since it has already been widely discredited by fact-checkers. Glenn Kessler, of the Washington Post, called it “nonsense,” and pointed out that even on Romney’s absurd terms it is wrong, since there were fewer ships in George W. Bush’s Navy than in Obama’s. Did Romney suppose that Obama might point that out? Worse, did he not care?

But a New York Times editorial perhaps said it best:

Mitt Romney has nothing really coherent or substantive to say about domestic policy, but at least he can sound energetic and confident about it. On foreign policy, the subject of Monday night’s final presidential debate, he had little coherent to say and often sounded completely lost. That’s because he has no original ideas of substance on most world issues, including Syria, Iran and Afghanistan.

Romney and his surrogates exposed themselves to ridicule last night and responded by trying to ridicule Obama. Their efforts are frantic and transparent. Romney’s one-dimensional thinking would not have gotten him far in the days of wooden ships and iron men and it won’t get him far in today’s complex world.

The Navy knows how many ships it needs to perform its assigned mission and Obama has worked with them to provide both the number and types of required ships. Romney thinks more is better and came across as unaware and ill-informed. He got the slap-down he deserved from President Obama. Putting a spin on his ignorance will not, and cannot, change the facts. They know that, which is why they are scrambling now to change the perception of the facts.

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