North Korea's GOP wake-up call

North Korea's nuclear ambition
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Story highlights

  • North Korea claimed this week that it had tested a hydrogen bomb
  • Hugh Hewitt: Claim should shock whole Republican field into even deeper seriousness

Hugh Hewitt is a lawyer, law professor, author and host of a nationally syndicated radio show. He served in the Reagan administration in posts including assistant counsel in the White House and special assistant to two attorneys general. The opinions expressed in this commentary are his.

(CNN)So North Korea may not have detonated a hydrogen bomb after all. Despite claims overnight that it had done so, South Korean experts believe it may actually have been a six-kiloton TNT device, not even the 15-kiloton yield that was seen with the atomic bomb dropped on Hiroshima.

But whatever the technical details of the explosion, this latest move by the hermit kingdom's unstable top dog should shake up not just the Korean Peninsula, but the race for the GOP presidential nomination, too.
Of course, the attacks in Paris and San Bernardino should already have helped fix the field's collective attention on what is at stake with the upcoming primaries. But if a holiday-stuffed electorate had somehow missed the rapid deterioration of relations between Iran and its Shia allies, and Saudi Arabia and its Sunni allies, then the North Korean detonation will have grabbed its attention. And it also should have shocked the whole Republican field into even deeper seriousness.
    Hugh Hewitt
    I'll find out this week whether that's the case for Carly Fiorina, Jeb Bush, Ted Cruz and John Kasich when I have them on my show. Invitations are out to Donald Trump and Marco Rubio, as well, so perhaps by the end of the week all of the "leading" contenders will have weighed in on this new and crucial development.
    When Chris Christie was a guest on Monday's show for a lengthy interview, most of our foreign affairs attention was focused on the Middle East. But the headlines today have reminded us of the importance of North Korea's nukes. And they should also remind us of the fact that Bill Clinton did the "deal" that was supposed to have prevented all of this, just as Barack Obama has done a similar deal to stop Iran doing so.
    Only it won't be 20 years between the Obama deal and a thunderclap of an underground explosion -- not with Iran's capacity and Russian and North Korean help.
    With all this in mind, it's worth mentioning that the candidate who first brought up North Korea to me -- and who has done so most often, and with alarm -- is Trump.
    Check the transcripts. The billionaire developer has been warning about Kim Jong Un for months, telling me in September, for example, that while Pakistan is "probably the most dangerous [place on the planet] because it has nukes...you might add North Korea to that group because they have a total madman."
    Expect Trump to remind voters in Iowa and New Hampshire that he was the first and the loudest on the trail to be warning about this. And expect every GOPer to follow Trump's lead and start reminding voters of Clinton's disastrous 1994 "deal" with North Korea.
    But the debate about foreign policy mismanagement should not stop with the missteps of Bill Clinton and Barack Obama. Republican candidates might want to remind voters of former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton's "management" of the Arab Spring, which included near meltdown in Egypt and complete catastrophes in Iraq, Syria and Libya.
    When the movie "13 Hours," which I screened on the Paramount lot late last year, hits theaters in a week, a vast audience will be reminded that she folded like a lawn chair on the night when the 3 a.m. call really did come in. Meanwhile, President Obama just wants the country to talk about ... what? More background-checking, gun-purchase bureaucrats of the same quality that cleared one of the San Bernardino terrorists into the country?
    We will find out Thursday night what he has in mind when he is part of a CNN town hall on gun violence, and I'll weigh in after the show. But the whole sequence of presidential disconnectedness from the global meltdown is as surreal as it is unnerving.
    The president's rambling speech Tuesday was quickly overshadowed by Kuwait's addition to an anti-Iranian alliance that is gathering strength. And then there was the North Korean nuclear explosion, both developments which left the President looking hapless -- just like he looked when his administration last week discussed sanctions on Iran over its intercontinental ballistic missile program, before almost immediately suspending them.
    President Obama must be being driven to distraction by visions of a Potemkin presidential library bare of accomplishments except for the collapse of Obamacare, the inability to find any pictures of projects completed by the long-ago stimulus, and an Iranian "deal" that we learn actually doesn't exist in a "signed" form anywhere. Maybe it's the recognition that he will be leaving a "legacy-free" legacy that is behind the lectures and hectoring on how law-abiding Americans are somehow less concerned about massacres than the saint in the Oval Office.
    Every Republican should be talking about Obama and Hillary Clinton. Instead, they seem preoccupied with throwing increasingly heavy bricks at each other. Yet these attacks don't seem to be leaving any impression as the field still looks pretty much as it did when we left the debate stage in Las Vegas on December 15. Sen. Cruz appears to be dominant in Iowa, Trump ahead in New Hampshire (but looking over his shoulder) and South Carolina is anybody's guess as that vote will be significantly impacted by the results on 2/1 and 2/9.
    A presidential primary season that until the Paris attacks had meandered from one issue to the next, and from Trump rally to Trump pronouncement, has now skidded into a world that has been growing dark as order has collapsed following President Obama's withdrawal of American power from the world's frontiers, under the watch of his first and second secretaries of state.
    The voters in Iowa and New Hampshire know they are doing much more than voicing anger at a political elite grown disconnected from the people it is supposed to represent. Indeed, they are picking a successor to President Humpty Dumpty, with all that entails. The United States needs another Ronald Reagan, just as it needed Reagan after the Carter era collapse.
    That's the recognition that will drive the next three months, and a good and necessary recognition it is, too.