Ron Paul invokes the ... Millard Fillmore doctrine?

Let's face it. When Millard Fillmore, the undistinguished, uninspiring 13th president of the United States, comes up in political conversation these days, it's usually as the butt of jokes. "When five of your six candidates could not be elected president if they were running against Millard Fillmore, I think you can presume there will not be much serious issue discussion," New York Times columnist Gail Collins quipped last week in a primer on the upcoming South Carolina primary. If only the rags-to-riches Whig, whose 212th birthday was recently celebrated with much fanfare in his native Western New York, were around to defend his record.

But last night, during the GOP debate in South Carolina, Ron Paul issued a full-throated endorsement of Fillmore's approach to foreign policy, whether he realized it or not. "If another country does to us what we do to others, we aren't going to like it very much," Paul explained in the context of his opposition to war with Iran. "So I would say maybe we ought to consider a Golden Rule in foreign policy," he continued placidly, as he was eaten alive by boos and jeers. "We endlessly bomb these other countries and then we wonder why they get upset with us?" Paul has trotted out this Golden Rule line several times during the campaign, drawing laughter in New Hampshire after asking, "What if the Chinese came into the Gulf of Mexico and took over the Gulf of Mexico? I know we in Texas would be pretty annoyed."

OK, but what does all this have to do with Millard Fillmore? The former president, it turns out, expressed nearly the same sentiments in 1850 during his first State of the Union address, in a formulation of foreign policy that sounds an awful lot like Paul's noninterventionist, empire-shunning worldview (key lines in bold):

Among the acknowledged rights of nations is that which each possesses of establishing that form of government which it may deem most conducive to the happiness and prosperity of its own citizens, of changing that form as circumstances may require, and of managing its internal affairs according to its own will. The people of the United States claim this right for themselves, and they readily concede it to others. Hence it becomes an imperative duty not to interfere in the government or internal policy of other nations; and although we may sympathize with the unfortunate or the oppressed everywhere in their struggles for freedom, our principles forbid us from taking any part in such foreign contests. We make no wars to promote or to prevent successions to thrones, to maintain any theory of a balance of power, or to suppress the actual government which any country chooses to establish for itself. We instigate no revolutions, nor suffer any hostile military expeditions to be fitted out in the United States to invade the territory or provinces of a friendly nation. The great law of morality ought to have a national as well as a personal and individual application. We should act toward other nations as we wish them to act toward us, and justice and conscience should form the rule of conduct between governments, instead of mere power, self interest, or the desire of aggrandizement. To maintain a strict neutrality in foreign wars, to cultivate friendly relations, to reciprocate every noble and generous act, and to perform punctually and scrupulously every treaty obligation -- these are the duties which we owe to other states, and by the performance of which we best entitle ourselves to like treatment from them; or, if that, in any case, be refused, we can enforce our own rights with justice and a clear conscience.

So, what was Millard Fillmore's foreign policy? While his term in office was dominated by a congressional debate over slavery, Fillmore did adopt a "foreign-policy agenda that emphasized expanding trade while limiting American commitments outside the Western Hemisphere," according to the University of Virginia's Miller Center (Ron Paul claims he's not isolationist because he's a free trader who simply doesn't want the United States to be the "policemen of the world"). Fillmore cultivated closer commercial ties with Japan, (ineffectually) opposed a Bay of Pigs-style invasion of Cuba, and refused to confront oppressive imperial governments in Eastern Europe -- all stances Paul might have taken had he been in Fillmore's shoes (we're not sure where Paul would have come down on securing bird dung from Peru, which Fillmore pursued zealously).

Here's footage of the crowd's hostile reaction to Paul's remarks last night:

Might Paul have pacified the crowd by explaining that, hey, he was only echoing Millard Fillmore? Something tells us he wouldn't have received a standing ovation. But bewildered silence might have done the trick.

Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images and National Archive/Newsmakers


The Election 2012 Weekly Report: Romney Rising

Romney rolls through New Hampshire, Gingrich unloads the kitchen sink

Mitt Romney enjoyed a decisive victory in the New Hampshire primary, taking 39.2 percent of the vote to second-place finisher Ron Paul's 22.8 percent. Romney took aim at President Barack Obama's foreign policy in his victory speech: "Internationally, President Obama has adopted an appeasement strategy. He believes America's role as leader in the world is a thing of the past. I believe a strong America must -- and will -- lead the future. He doesn't see the need for overwhelming American military superiority. I will insist on a military so powerful no one would think of challenging it. He chastises friends like Israel; I'll stand with our friends. He apologizes for America; I will never apologize for the greatest nation in the history of the Earth."

Romney might already be gearing up for a showdown with the president, but none of his opponents dropped out. After the drubbing in New Hampshire, the anti-Romney rhetoric from the other GOP candidates in South Carolina is getting harsh. Leading the attacks is Newt Gingrich, who essentially tied for fourth place in New Hampshire, and continues to make the case that only a "bold Reagan conservative," as opposed to a "timid Massachusetts moderate" can defeat the president.

A super-PAC supporting Gingrich unleashed a 28-minute video attacking Romney for causing layoffs during his time with private equity firm Bain Capital. Rick Perry piled on, calling Romney a "vulture capitalist." Some conservatives have complained about the anti-capitalist undertones of the attack -- with Rush Limbaugh even comparing Gingrich to liberal Massachusetts senate candidate Elizabeth Warren.

The Gingrich campaign also released a new attack ad which compares Romney to fellow Massachusetts pols John Kerry and Michael Dukakis ("a liberal governor who wanted us to believe he was strong on defense"). For good measure, the ad even threw in a clip of Romney speaking French.     

Is Huntsman done?

Despite the hype, Jon Huntsman did not enjoy a Rick Santorum-like surge in New Hampshire and finished a disappointing third place. (He's been widely mocked for claiming this result was a "ticket to ride" in a confetti-strewn post-primary speech.) The former ambassador says his goal for South Carolina, where a recent poll showed him trailing comedian Stephen Colbert, is to "stay relevant." As opposed to New Hampshire, where Huntsman campaigned tirelessly for nearly a year, often touting his foreign-policy expertise and even his fluency in Mandarin, Huntsman is working to remind South Carolinians of his conservative credentials on issues like gun control, abortion, and taxes. Huntsman's chief strategist told the Wall Street Journal "I don't care if Gary Johnson or [Twilight Zone creator] Rod Serling wins it.... As long as it's not Mitt Romney."

Santorum on Iran

Santorum weighed in on this week's mysterious killing of an Iranian nuclear scientist in Tehran, which Iranian authorities have blamed on the United States and Israel. The Obama administration has denied any role in the assassination, raising Santorum's ire: "Well, I would have -- I've already made a public statement that any nuclear scientist, particularly any foreign nuclear scientist, who's cooperating with the Iranians in developing a nuclear weapon program would be considered an enemy combatant," he told Fox News' Greta Van Susteren. "And I wouldn't -- I would be doing what Israel was -- would be doing tonight, which is saying nothing."

The immigration debate returns

Immigration is again emerging as a major topic in South Carolina. The Romney campaign announced this week that it had received the endorsement of Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach, the co-author of Arizona's restrictive immigration policy. Kobach called Romney, "the candidate who will finally secure the borders and put a stop to the magnets, like in-state tuition, that encourage illegal aliens to remain in our country unlawfully." 

On this issue, Gingrich is playing the part of moderate, looking ahead to the looming Florida primary: "I can't wait for them to campaign in Florida," Gingrich said. "Try to go into Miami with the battle cry, 'everybody must go.'... That is clearly going to come across in the immigrant community as a sign you have no sense of humanity for people," Gingrich said this week. As it happens, the Romney campaign has already begun running Spanish-language ads in Florida.

Is anyone paying attention to foreign policy?

A newly released Gallup poll asks Americans, "What do you think is the most important problem facing this country today?" "Foreign aid" and "international issues" received 2 percent each, compared with 31 percent for the economy in general and 26 percent for unemployment. The relative indifference to foreign policy could be bad news for Obama, who receives much higher ratings for his handling of international affairs than domestic matters.

What to watch for

The candidates meet for a debate in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, on Monday. CNN may have slightly bent its rules to allow the struggling Perry to participate. (Given Perry's difficulties in previous debates, that may not have been much of a favor.) The South Carolina Tea Party will hold a convention prior to the debate, featuring appearances by Gingrich and Santorum.

The current RealClearPolitics poll average shows Romney with a nearly nine-point lead over Gingrich in South Carolina.

The latest from FP

Larry Kaplow looks at Romney's Mexican roots and asks if he could be the "first Latino president." (Yes, someone's already started a "Mexican Mitt" fake Twitter feed.)

Scott Clement asks whether using China as a political punching bag is really effective.

Joshua Keating looks at five ways Romney will attack Obama.

Romney supporter Sen. Jim Talent tells FP's Josh Rogin that the White House is making dangerous, "budget-driven" decisions.

Michael A. Cohen says a Romney foreign policy probably wouldn't be all that different from Obama's.

David Rothkopf hopes this election will start a public debate about the virtues of American capitalism.

Passport looks at whether Americans really hate Europe and Gingrich's dark Francophone past

Expat journalist Eric Pape says Mitt can say what he likes about Paris, but he's enjoying European socialism just fine, thanks.

Joe Raedle/Getty Images