Saturday, December 31, 2011

Thirteenth Republican Primary Debate (IA)

The thirteenth debate was held December 16th in Sioux City, Iowa, but with Christmas I haven't been able to wrap up the summaries until now. This was the last debate of 2011 and the last debate before the Iowa caucuses. The full video is on YouTube here, and an unofficial transcript is here.

To get any potential biases out of the way, I don't really like any of the candidates at this debate. Ron Paul, Michele Bachmann and Rick Santorum all have tendencies to support truly dangerous ideas, the only difference is which policy areas they're most dangerous on. For that matter, Mitt Romney does too, although he's more likely to weaken his position or switch sides to get support. Newt Gingrich and Rick Perry both seem to me like big government, crony capitalism supporters who are just fine with the government running things as long as they're running the government. Jon Huntsman is probably the best of the remaining candidates in my eyes. As always, I've summarized the candidates answers below, and scored and responded to them along the way.

Rick Santorum
  • He says he's been to every county in Iowa and held more than 350 town hall meetings. He's counting on Iowa to propel him to national victory, despite currently holding sixth place out of seven in that state [since the debate, and since this was written, his fortunes in Iowa have greatly improved], barely above Huntsman. He says in the 90s, there was a "conservative revolution" against Gingrich, and that conservatives would come to him (Santorum) to help them get their ideas through.
  • How would he get Congress to cooperate? He'd go out and build a "narrative." He says Obama convinced Americans they needed someone to believe in, but he wants to convince Americans that he believes in them.
  • He wants to lower taxes on repatriated money to 5.5% in general and 0% for money spent on "plant and equipment." He says even excluding labor costs, there's a 20% cost differential for manufacturing between America and "our nine top trading partners." Economists would say we need to take advantage of comparative advantage and let our trading partners make stuff so we can buy it cheaper. Santorum says we need to give manufacturing special tax breaks to even out the comparative advantage so that we can all pay more for less. (-2)
  • He says he's the only one on the stage who helped campaign in Iowa to remove the judges who had brought gay marriage to the state. He also says when the partial birth abortion ban was overturned, he worked with Bush to pass a clarifying law that was then upheld.
  • Iran "has been at war with us since 1979." He says we need to be working with Israel, planning strikes against their nuclear facilities. If Iran does "not close them down, we will close them down for you."
  • Like Perry, Santorum is also not happy about Iran-Venezuela connections, complaining that there are planes flying straight from Tehran to Caracas. He thinks we need to pay more attention to South America and do more to "promote our values in the region." Paying more attention to South America is good, but I'm not sure I trust Santorum to promote our values in the right way.
  • He says that Romney ordered officials in Massachusetts to issue gay marriage licenses. The Massachusetts Supreme Court had ruled in favor of gay marriage and given the legislature 180 days to change the law. When they didn't, Romney simply ordered the officials to issue gay marriage licenses anyway. Romney, for his part, calls this a "very novel understanding" of Massachusetts constitutional law. I've seen different legal analyses that support both positions, usually favoring the analyst's prior position on gay marriage. Not being a constitutional expert or a Massachusite, I don't know who's right here.
  • What about Reagan's 11th Commandment? "We have a responsibility to vet the candidates." He says if they don't attack each other, we won't know which candidate could survive the attacks from Obama. (+1)

Rick Perry
  • He's starting to like these debates, he says, and he's willing to debate Obama. He supports a balanced budget amendment and a part-time Congress. Then to trump Bachmann's "real person" answer, he says, "I hope I am the Tim Tebow of the Iowa caucuses."
  • How would he get Congress to cooperate? He'd use his executive experience as governor of Texas, where he says he learned to "work with both sides of the aisle." I've noted this before, but for most of Perry's term as governor, both houses of the Texas state legislature have been held by Republicans, and he has never faced a united Democrat legislature. (-1)
  • The moderator says that as Texas Agriculture Commissioner, Perry oversaw a loan guarantee program that failed and had to be bailed out. Perry denies this and says, "those programs worked as they were supposed to work." According to Politifact, the Texas Agricultural Finance Authority was supposed to make loans to agricultural entrepreneurs "who could not get commercial loans." Surprise, surprise, a lot of them couldn't get commercial loans for very good reasons. Although the program was supposed to fund itself without any appropriations from the general fund, it was unable to do so because of an 18% default rate. It was ultimately bailed out in 2009. (-1)
  • He again calls for a part-time Congress, saying we should cut their pay and cut their time in half. The moderator points out that they were only in session 151 days last year, less than three days a week on average. Perry says to cut it to 140 days every other year like in Texas.
  • He wants to get rid of lifetime terms for federal judges. His favorite current Supreme Court justices are Alito, Roberts and Thomas.
  • He wants to intervene in Syria by establishing a no-fly zone, but doesn't get into any more specific details. He sees this as part of our strategic position against Iran, and takes some time to criticize Obama's handling of Iran. (+1)
  • The moderator says Perry has criticized Obama for favoring green industries, while Perry himself has favored the oil industry. Perry's answer is the Tenth Amendment. He says "government shouldn’t be picking winners and losers from Washington, D.C.," but apparently government picking winners and losers from Austin or any other state capital is just fine. Replacing big federal government with big state government isn't exactly an improvement. (-2)
  • Asked about Fast and Furious and his statements that Holder should resign despite not knowing about it, he says he'd fire his own Attorney General for not knowing about a program like that. He then links border security to Iran's influence, and says we need to have "a Monroe Doctrine again like we did against the Cubans in the 60s," particularly against what he perceives as Iran's influence over Venezuela.
  • He quotes... well, someone, but he's not sure who, to say, "if you don’t get your tail kicked every now and then, you’re not playing at a high enough level," then thanks the other candidates for "letting me play at a high enough level." Besides not knowing who he's quoting, it's a nice, light-hearted response to the 11th Commandment question. (+1)

Mitt Romney
  • He says in the general election, he will run on his private sector experience. He cites companies he's helped succeed like Staples, and also mentions a company he passed on, JetBlue.
  • How would he get Congress to cooperate? His state legislature in Massachusetts was 85% Democrat, which he calls "a blessing in disguise." He found a way to cooperate with them, and would be able to do so on a national level as well.
  • When Chris Wallace asks him about criticisms related to his time at Bain Capital and the "creative destruction of capitalism," Romney ignores Newt's role in the criticism and instead lays out how he would respond to Obama laying those criticisms. That itself is a good strategy, but his response is to compare his work at Bain with the Obama team's management of GM. If he does that too much, he won't be able to effectively criticize Obama on the auto bailout issue.
  • He spends quite awhile praising the Wyden-Ryan plan, not so much for it's actual features, but for it's bipartisan nature.
  • Asked what industries are going to be creating the most jobs in the next few years, Mitt says, "the free market will decide that; government won’t," then segues into criticizing Obama for Solyndra and other "green jobs" programs. (+1)
  • The moderator asks why only one-fourth of the judges he nominated in Massachusetts were Republican, and he says that every judge he nominated had to be approved by a seven-person council that was all-Democrat.
  • He doesn't want Congress to oversee judges directly, but he says Congress does have the ability to "rein in excessive judges" through impeachment, clarifying statutes or Constitutional amendment. (+1)
  • His favorite current Supreme Court justices are Roberts, Thomas, Alito and Scalia.
  • He criticizes Obama for "a foreign policy based on pretty please" in reference to asking Iran for our drone back. "A strong America is the best ally peace has ever known," and by strength he means military strength. He wants to expand our military spending, increase the number of new Navy ships built per year by two-thirds and recruit an extra 100,000 troops, even as the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan come to an end. (-1)
  • He wants legal immigrants to be given a card with "bio-information" on it, and require that employers only hire people who can show their legal-status card. He doesn't mention it, but that means every American citizen who wants to work would also have to get this national identification card. (-2)
  • Asked about changing his positions on gay marriage, abortion and guns, he says he never changed his position on gay marriage; he opposes gay marriage, but also opposes sexual orientation discrimination. He also says he was only ever pro-choice to the extent that he wanted to keep the laws in Massachusetts the same as they were, and he became pro-life while governor of Massachusetts, implying that it was not for political purposes. He wants to "protect the sanctity of marriage, protect the sanctity of life." 
  • Romney calls Santorum's description of what happened with gay marriage in Massachusetts a "very novel understanding," and says the Supreme Court had the final say on the matter, not him, and in issuing gay marriage licenses, he was only doing what the court told him to do. I've seen different legal analyses that support both positions, usually favoring the analyst's prior position on gay marriage. Not being a constitutional expert or a Massachusite, I don't know who's right here.
  • Obama's going to have a billion dollars to go after the eventual nominee, so it's fine to go after each other before then. "We can handle it," he says. (+1)

Newt Gingrich
  • Asked about his own electability, he compares himself to Reagan in 1979, and implicitly compares Obama to Carter. He repeats his call for a series of Lincoln-Douglas debates with Obama. On his record as a conservative, he cites welfare reform, tax cuts and the balanced budget of the 90s.
  • How would he get Congress to cooperate? "Leadership is the key." He calls Obama "a Saul Alinsky radical" and "campaigner-in-chief," which is exactly the kind of language that will excite the base, but isn't going to help in swaying independents.
  • He says when he took money from Freddie Mac, he was just a private citizen, while Barney Frank and Chris Dodd abused the power of their offices to make money. He believes in goverment-sponsored enterprises, GSEs. He also says it's "a good conservative principle" to use government to encourage more people to learn how to buy a house. Is that really what he thinks Freddie Mac primarily does? (-1)
  • "There are a lot of good institutions that are government-sponsored." If Ron Paul wants to criticize GSEs for being involved with government, he should also criticize doctors who accept Medicare or Medicaid. (-1)
  • "I never lobbied under any circumstance." He also says he encouraged housing reform with Rick Lazio while he was speaker, apparently referencing this effort to "encourage more working families" to move to "public-housing neighborhoods." Hmm.
  • His policy as President will be to break up both Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, despite his earlier stalwart defense of GSEs in general. He also reiterates his support for using government to make it easier for people to buy houses. Breaking up Fannie and Freddie into lots of smaller GSEs that do the same thing isn't exactly an improvement... (-1)
  • Romney "deserves some of the credit" for the Wyden-Ryan compromise, which Gingrich also supports. He says his initial criticism of the Ryan plan as "right-wing social engineering" wasn't a criticism of the plan itself, but rather how the plan was communicated to Americans... somehow. (-1)
  • His plans to subpoena judges to Congress and shut down courts that make rulings he disagrees with does alter the balance of power in Washington because "the courts have become grotesquely dictatorial." He says, "just like Jefferson, Jackson, Lincoln and FDR, I would be prepared to take on the judiciary." I'm no historian like Newt, but Jackson and FDR aren't exactly the best Presidents to be aspiring towards, especially for a Republican. I happen to agree with him that courts (and the rest of government) generally concentrate too much power in the hands of too few, but I don't see how concentrating that power in even fewer hands solves the problem. (-1)
  • He agrees with Romney on the Supreme Court justices, noting that Scalia is "probably the most intellectual," but that Alito, Roberts and Thomas are also good.
  • He would not leave the UN, but he would "dramatically reduce our reliance on it." He doesn't like how the UN treats Israel, and criticizes the idea of a "peace process" between Israel and Palestine when Palestinians have fired over 200 missiles at Israel this year.
  • He bashes Obama over the Keystone XL pipeline, saying the Canadians would be happy to send their oil to China instead. He says Congressional Republicans should attach support to the pipeline to the payroll tax cut and force Obama to veto it, then keep sending it back to him until he passes it. While I agree with his support for the pipeline, his plan seems to require the support of Senate Democrats to work...
  • He wants to remove all tax deductions for illegal immigrants. He apparently doesn't realize that most illegals don't even file tax returns (doing so would be telling the government where they were, after all). He would also drop immigration-based lawsuits against the states, and drop all "federal aid" to sanctuary cities.
  • He says he believes that life begins at conception, he's against embryonic stem cell research, and he says he has a 98.5% positive rating from Right to Life. He says he didn't necessarily support Republicans who supported partial birth abortion, but that he wasn't going to lead a "purge" of the Republican party either.
  • He says he's "tried very hard" to run a positive, ideas-based campaign, and that ultimately, "these are all friends of mine. Any of these folks would be better than Barack Obama in the White House." (+1)

Ron Paul
  • He says anybody on stage could beat Obama, which is a nice feel-good thing to say, but completely sidesteps the question of whether he would support the eventual Republican nominee. Instead he gives a broad overview of his policies, mentioning civil liberties, foreign policy, monetary policy and balancing the budget.
  • How would he get Congress to cooperate? There are two factions in Congress: "one wants welfare, the other wants warfare." The way to cut spending is to work with the welfare people to cut the warfare spending and work with the warfare people to cut welfare spending. That's not going to win him any diehard partisans, but it's an unusually cogent way to phrase the problem. (+1)
  • He attacks Newt's support for GSEs, criticizing "when big business and big government get together" as "very, very dangerous." It's hard to argue with that. (+1)
  • He thinks Congressional earmarks are no different than taking deductions on your tax return. He also says the entire federal budget should be earmarked by Congress so that the executive branch has zero authority in determining the specifics of how money is spent. "I think the congress has an obligation to earmark every penny, not to deliver that power to the executive branch." (-1)
  • He disagrees with Newt's proposal to subpoena judges and eliminate courts for political reasons because it "could open a can of worms." (+1)
  • He won't name any Supreme Court justices he favors, saying "all of them are good and all of them are bad." He says the court separates personal liberty and economic liberty, when he thinks you can't separate the two.
  • The moderator says he'd be running left of Obama on Iran, since Obama supports sanctions while Paul doesn't. Paul agrees with that assessment but says he thinks he'd be running with the American people. He says "the greatest danger" is over-reacting on Iran. He doesn't believe they have a nuke or will have a nuke anytime soon. Then he says that if he was Iran, he'd be trying to get a nuke too, and we shouldn't be worried if they do get a nuke. It's a very rambling, shifting answer that ends with Paul practically yelling, "We don't need another war!" (-1)
  • He thinks Iranian talk about closing the Strait of Hormuz is basically bluster. Then he goes on to say, "Sanctions are an act of war when you prevent goods and services from going into a country." Now I don't think sanctions actually work, but it's quite another thing to say they're an act of war. If he really believes that, he's saying that Iran would be perfectly justified in launching a war against us because we have levied sanctions against them. How is this man doing so well in the polls?! (-2)
  • "To declare war on 1.2 billion Muslims and say all Muslims are the same, this is dangerous talk." Except that no one said that, or anything like it, at all. Indeed, if we're at war with all Muslims, and they are all the same, why do the other candidates talk about the current Iraqi government like it's a good thing? Why do they want stability in Muslim Afghanistan? Why are we working with Muslims in Pakistan? Never mind Saudi Arabia, Indonesia or any of the other Muslim countries we're not remotely at war with, or the Muslim Americans who aren't in concentration camps, or the Muslim citizens in Canada and Europe that we're not bombing. (-2)
  • Bachmann says that according to an IAEA report, Iran is "just months" from having a nuclear bomb. Paul immediately denies it, saying there's "no evidence" that they're building a bomb. According to, they're both partially right and partially wrong. The report itself said Iran had the capability to make a bomb, but did not put a time frame on it, and could not say one way or the other whether Iran was actually building the bomb. But unnamed officials connected to the report independently told the LA Times that if Iran chose to make a bomb, it would take about six months to do so.
  • The candidates have a responsibility to "expose" their opponents and "what they believe in." While the substance of his answer is basically the same as the others', that the purpose of the primary is to vet the candidates, Paul sounds a lot more vindictive in framing that answer than the others do, especially compared to Perry or Gingrich.

Michele Bachmann
  • She says she's 55 years old, and has spent 50 years "as a real person," then 5 years as a politician, taking on Obama, "and I will do that as President of the United States." She's obviously trying to challenge Perry for his position as worst debater. (-1)
  • How would she get Congress to cooperate? She cites three principles: no new taxes, a balanced budget and reforming entitlements now. Whatever you think of the policies themselves, she'll be lucky to get Congress to agree to just one of them. For a current member of Congress, she seems to have an exaggerated idea of the power of the President. (-1)
  • What is her evidence that Gingrich was a lobbyist for Freddie Mac? Well, we know they paid him for something, and... actually, that's it. Apparently being paid anything for any reason by a GSE is evidence that you were a lobbyist for them. (-1)
  • She later claims Politifact backed her up, a claim Politifact has since rated as "Pants on Fire." They had rated one statement "Mostly True," about Gingrich's support for the individual mandate, but apparently they never even rated the issue of whether Gingrich had lobbied for Freddie Mac or not. In the same answer, she also backpedals a bit, saying that even if Gingrich wasn't technically "lobbying," he was still "influence-peddling." (-1)
  • She agrees with Newt that the courts have too much authority, and Republicans should target and eliminate left-leaning courts. She ignores the question of whether Democrats should have the ability to target and eliminate right-leaning courts as well. (-1)
  • On Supreme Court justices, she likes Scalia the most, but also likes Thomas, Roberts and Alito.
  • She gets some of the longest-lasting applause of the night by saying, "I think I have never heard a more dangerous answer for American security than the one that we just heard from Ron Paul," regarding what he said about Iran. She says Iran wants to build a "worldwide caliphate." (+1)
  • Bachmann says that according to an IAEA report, Iran is "just months" from having a nuclear bomb. Paul immediately denies it, saying there's "no evidence" that they're building a bomb. According to, they're both partially right and partially wrong. The report itself said Iran had the capability to make a bomb, but did not put a time frame on it, and could not say one way or the other whether Iran was actually building the bomb. But unnamed officials connected to the report independently told the LA Times that if Iran chose to make a bomb, it would take about six months to do so.
  • She says that Obama's moratorium on oil drilling in the Gulf after the BP oil spill "hurt the economy more than the original disaster." Considering the "original disaster" was an environmental, not economic, disaster, that's not exactly surprising. She also agrees with Newt that Obama should have approved the Keystone pipeline.
  • She promises to "be 100 percent pro- life from conception until natural death," and takes issue with Gingrich's pro-life credentials. She says he had a chance as Speaker to defund Planned Parenthood and didn't, and also promised to campaign for Republicans who supported partial birth abortion. (+1)
  • "I’m a serious candidate for president of the United States." I'm sorry, but if you have to say that in a debate, you're probably not. (-1)
  • She brings up Reagan's "are you better off now than you were four years ago" line. She notes that he used that line against Carter, and that Republicans in 2012 need to make the same point against Obama, but she completely ignores the 11th Commandment question. Or perhaps, she just sees it as an opportunity to talk about Reagan.

Jon Huntsman
  • "I am the consistent conservative in this race... and I'm not going to sign those silly pledges," including one promising no new taxes. Then he talks about the "trust deficit" for awhile. (-1)
  • "Leadership is action, not words." He cites his record in Utah, where he instituted a flat tax, reformed health care without a mandate, and says he got over 80% of the vote in his reelection. (+1)
  • How would he respond to new Chinese tariffs on American vehicles? He says that everything about our relationship with China is related, including trade, Korea, Pakistan, Iran, etc. "You move one end of the relationship, it impacts the other." Strategically, he would reach out to dissidents within China and work to encourage democratic values among the Chinese citizens, but he doesn't mention any specific short-term response to the tariffs.
  • Like most of his fellow candidates, he likes Roberts and Alito, although he pointedly fails to mention Scalia or Thomas.
  • He thinks the UN is "useful" in peacekeeping and humanitarian areas, but says, "I hate the anti-Americanism" and "the anti-Israel sentiment." Then he goes on to talk about "our core" for awhile, in the first answer that I remember from these debates to go so far over time that he gets two bells. He doesn't like that we fought in Afghanistan, only for the Chinese to get mining contracts. Apparently he thinks the war should have been for oil! (-1)
  • He says we have "a heroin-like addiction" on imported oil, and we need "an aggressive plan" to encourage Americans to switch to using natural gas instead of oil. (-1)
  • He says Republicans need to stand for our "limited government, pro-growth" values. Legal immigration is "an engine of growth," and he wants to encourage it by reforming our visa system. He doesn't say exactly how, but it's nice someone who at least supports immigration and frames it in terms of limited government. (+2)
  • A "respectful," "rigorous" debate will lead to a higher level of trust in the candidate, and trust is what the country needs. Thankfully he stops short of using his "trust deficit" line again.

Although crowds have boo'd questions before, this is the first time I remember crowds actually cheering to have a question asked, and that was at Megyn Kelly's mention of Fast and Furious. On the other hand, this debate returned to using the Gchat buzzer, which is especially annoying if you watch the debate online, as I do.

Summing the scores, none of the candidates scored positive. Romney and Huntsman both scored 0; Santorum got -1, Perry -2, Paul -3 and Gingrich and Bachmann came in last with -4 each.

Jon Huntsman and Rick Santorum are both in very similar places in this campaign. Santorum has put absolutely everything into Iowa, and Huntsman has put absolutely everything into New Hampshire. Both need to win their chosen state. Current polls show Santorum in a close race for 3rd or 4th with Gingrich in Iowa, with Paul and Romney in a similar fight for first. But he's in dead last in South Carolina, and only above Huntsman nationally. Likewise, Huntsman is holding on to a fairly solid 4th place in New Hampshire, but he's only above Santorum in Florida, and dead last nationally. I don't expect either to last until Super Tuesday. In this debate, both men said some things I liked and some I didn't, but neither is exactly inspiring. Santorum is good on the attack, but not so good policy-wise, and Huntsman depresses me when I listen to him too much.

Ron Paul started this debate with an amazing amount of clarity. If this had been a thirty- or sixty-minute debate, it would have been great for him. But about halfway through he fell off a cliff. He went on a long, rambling, wandering rant about Iran and he fit perfectly the ranting-old-man image that he desperately needs to get away from. And that was before saying Iran would be justified in going to war with us, and before saying we're at war with every Muslim on the planet. With Ron Paul on the campaign trail, it's no wonder so many Americans think libertarians are nuts.

Michele Bachmann wasn't as nuts as Ron Paul, but she was sure trying. She was "a real person" before she became a politician, she'd get Congress to cooperate by insisting on things they'd never agree to, and thinks it's just fine for a Republican Congress to subpoena left-leaning judges without any worry about whether a future Democrat Congress will do the same to right-leaning judges. She also thinks that accepting any payment from a GSE for anything is evidence of lobbying, and calls Gingrich "outrageous" for disagreeing with her. The highlight of her night was proclaiming, "I’m a serious candidate for president of the United States!" As I said above, if you have to say that in a debate, you're probably not.

Rick Perry, Newt Gingrich and Mitt Romney all seemed to spend this debate vying for the votes of people who government to be bigger. From agricultural finance to GSEs to energy subsidies to national ID cards, all three wanted to solve our nation's problems with more government. The biggest difference is that Perry wants big state government instead of big federal government, and Romney's more willing to change his support for big government if he thinks it will help him politically. That these three currently seem to have the best chance of getting the nomination is, shall I say, not very encouraging.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

The Gingrich-Huntsman Debate

Newt Gingrich and Jon Huntsman held their own two-person debate on Monday. Although Huntsman is in dead-last place in the RCP poll of polls, there has been plenty of speculation that he will be the next flavor of the week if-and-when Gingrich implodes like the others. Unlike the others, Huntsman is focusing totally on New Hampshire and counting on a win there to propel him to national victory. He's skipped two national debates in order to campaign in New Hampshire. Even this debate was held in New Hampshire. Only time will tell if this strategy will work, but his current polling average at 3.2% is higher than it's ever been before, not that that's saying very much.

Like the Cain-Gingrich debate, this was only broadcast on C-SPAN, and even then only after a several-hour delay and several scheduling changes. I don't think this has quite the same potential for Huntsman as the Cain-Gingrich debate had for Newt, but I still think it will be interesting enough to cover here. The official C-SPAN video is here, and an alternate version is here. The C-SPAN page includes a "transcript" with different quotes linked to the video, but it doesn't seem to be an actual full transcript. I haven't been able to find one of those.

In their opening statements, Gingrich mostly talks about how he likes this debate format, while Huntsman outlines four points on foreign policy. He says we need to recognize that we're fighting against terrorism, but that we also need to structure our foreign policy with regard to economics and strengthening "our core." He also wants to remind the world what it means to be an ally of the United States.

Afghanistan & Pakistan
Huntsman starts off, saying we've accomplished our goals in Afghanistan, and "it's time for us to come home." He says we've done the best we can and it's time to move on. He repeats what he's said in previous debates that we've knocked out the Taliban and al Qaeda, enabled Afghanistan to hold free elections and killed Osama bin Laden.  He says that going forward, our mission should not be nation-building or fighting a counter-insurgency, but rather leading a counter-terrorist effort, which he sees as involving far fewer troops and having more of a special-ops focus.

Huntsman says despite our history with Pakistan when the Soviet Union was still around, and despite the aid we send them, there's a rising anti-Americanism in the country. Our relationship with them is "transactional," that is, we give them money and they give us cooperation in fighting terrorists, even if neither of us necessarily likes the other side. He thinks they could potentially become a "failed nation-state," and we have to be very careful in choosing our national interest objectives in that region, especially given Pakistan's nuclear weapons and terrorist training grounds in Pakistan. He also thinks we need to develop closer ties with India, a country that "shares our values" and is the largest democracy in the world.

Gingrich talks about differential development, and how in the world we now live in, it's possible to have modern, developed institutions right down the street from people living in third-world conditions, and that this is the kind of thing that the leaders in Afghanistan have to deal with. He believes that eventually the forces of "modernity" will eliminate the tribal aspect of Afghan culture, and that this will be an economic process, not a military process, so we need to decide what our position will be in the meantime. On Pakistan, he says that bin Laden could only have successfully hidden in Abbotabad for so long "if a substantial part of the Pakistani intelligence service was protecting him." He also notes that the Pakistani government's first response when we found bin Laden was to get angry at the Pakistanis in Abbotabad who had helped us.

Gingrich also says that the number of Christians in Iraq has fallen from 1.2 million to 500 thousand since we took out Saddam, and he's worried about how things will turn out in Egypt, Libya, Tunisia and Syria. He says in opposing communism, we had a uniting "theory" that motivated all of our actions, but that now under Obama, we don't have such a theory. We're using force "randomly" without a clear mission in the world, and that's what he wants to restore.

Newt says we have four immediate needs. First is to develop an energy policy that not only increases our own energy independence, but also helps us become an energy reserve for the rest of the world if Iran destabilizes energy sources in the Middle East. Second is to restore our manufacturing capabilities that we never lost in the first place. Third is develop more independent intelligence so we're not relying on foreign intelligence as much. Fourth is to develop a national strategy to deal with "radical Islamism" itself, not just dealing with individual countries like Pakistan or Afghanistan where problems crop up.

Gingrich believes that if you are not willing to let Iran have a nuclear weapon, you must ultimately be for regime change. He is absolutely against letting Iran have a nuclear weapon because he believes they would use it if they had it. He also thinks that it's not practical to simply destroy their nuclear research every few years, partly because they've built their facilities underground, under cities and mosques. He would prefer to see regime change come about non-militarily, the way the Soviet Union collapsed, but he's willing to force regime change militarily if he thinks he needs to.

Gingrich says that while China doesn't have an existential concern with Iranian nuclear weapons, Israel does. He says that if Iran gets nukes, an Israeli prime minister would be in the position of trying to prevent a second holocaust, and that they would understandably do whatever was necessary to prevent that, even if it meant using their own nukes against Iran. Newt believes the only way to prevent an all-out nuclear war in the region is through close cooperation with and support of Israel.

Huntsman calls Iran "the transcendent threat" of the coming decade. We should've supported the "Persian Spring" in 2009, and since we didn't, Iran has continued to refine their nuclear material. He says China is fine with Iran having a nuke, but Russia is more concerned about proliferation. If Iran gets a nuke, then we'll also have to deal with Saudi Arabia, Turkey and Egypt possibly wanting their own nukes to balance Iran. This is why he doesn't want Iran to have a nuclear weapon, and since he wants to prevent that from happening, "all options need to be on the table." He doesn't think that further sanctions against Iran will work, because the mullahs have already decided that they want nukes and they're willing to pay the price. He also says China isn't willing to go any further on sanctions than we already have, and those haven't worked, so it will be left to America to prevent Iran from getting nukes.

The Arab Spring
Hunstman says the real cause of the Arab Spring has been long-term dictatorships and the resultant economic stagnation. In the long-run, we need to "put the pieces back together," and he favors establishing free trade agreements in the region. He doesn't say exactly which countries he would want to include, but he does imply that it would be a regional agreement, based off our current agreement with Israel, rather than a serious of bilateral agreements.

He goes on to say that the more immediate issue is trying to figure out which groups in the Arab Spring will be aligned with our values not just in the short term, but in the long term as well, and that we have to be careful that we're not picking sides that will end up fighting against our values. Several times he compares the Arab Spring to the instability after the fall of the Ottoman Empire, which is an interesting historical idea that I hadn't heard before. On Libya, Huntsman thinks we should not have gone in because the events would've played out the same anyway and we didn't have a discernible national interest there. On Syria, he thinks we should go in, because we do have a national interest via Israel, as Syria is a "conduit" for Iran.

Gingrich doesn't like how Obama "dumped" Mubarak, because Mubarak had been our ally. Gingrich is fine with corrupt, brutal dictators as long as they're our corrupt, brutal dictators. He also repeats his earlier complaint about our intelligence network, and goes into more detail about the uniting theory that he wants to promote. He says we need to have a US-led cultural shift in the Arab world, where we encourage young Arabs to come to the United States or other Western countries to study and learn our values, and to take "modernity" back to their home countries. He also wants to translate Western books into Arabic as part of this cultural push.

Defense Spending
Gingrich is "deeply opposed" to the sequester on defense spending that results from the failure of the Supercommittee. He says we shouldn't allow government waste just because it's part of the defense budget, but he's opposed to any cuts to defense aside from the politician's favorite thing to cut-- waste, fraud and abuse. He says we should cut entitlements instead of cutting defense in order to balance the budget.

Huntsman, on the other hand, says the level of debt we face is a national security issue, and if we don't cut back our debt, we'll end up like Japan, Greece and Italy. Given the threat posed by our mounting debt, he says every spending area needs to be on the table, and we can't have any "sacred cows." Defense gets almost $700 billion, which is more than at the height of the Cold War, more than the rest of the world spends on their militaries combined, and we should be able to find some cuts. He says even though we're spending so much more, we're getting much less than we were, for example, after WWII, and we could save a lot of money if we reform our military's procurement process.

Gingrich's response is that we should realign our military now that the Cold War is over. He brings up the troops we have in Stuttgart, who were put there to defend against a possible Soviet invasion from East Germany, but are no longer necessary. He says he agrees with Huntsman's point about the military's procurement process, and says they spend too much time thinking and writing reports for each other. He wants to "thoroughly modernize" the military to get rid of the waste.

Along the realignment lines, Huntsman says that we still have 50,000 troops in Germany, who don't need to be there. He says the 21st century military and economic challenges will be in the Pacific region, and that's where we need to focus our military capabilities.

China and the Pacific Rim
Huntsman says US-China will be "the relationship of the 21st century." He thinks a lot of the old guard in the Chinese leadership will soon be retiring and the "fifth generation" will take over. He says the new generation are "hubristic nationalists" who have gotten used to the idea of 10+% economic growth and believe "they can do no wrong." As that generation takes over and they're confronted with economic problems and a growing class of former farmers, investing in China will become riskier. Huntsman predicts that a lot of the capital that has been investing in China will return to the US and other safer countries. He goes on to say that the Chinese are the greatest long-term strategic thinkers in the world, and that Americans are the greatest short-term tactical thinkers in the world, and that our challenge is to figure out how to get these two cultures to work together.

Gingrich says he largely agrees with Huntsman on China, but differentiates between the relationship between the American people and the Chinese people versus the relationship between the American and Chinese governments. He says we're always going to have certain tensions with an authoritarian government, but that we should be careful to not build an antagonistic relationship between our two peoples. Gingrich also spends some time talking about our domestic policies, saying, "If we're determined to be domestically stupid, it is impractical to ask the Chinese to match us in stupidity." He wants to make sure we're educating students in math and science so that they can compete with China and other countries.

Huntsman agrees with Gingrich's point about the American and Chinese peoples versus the governments, and says we need to take the American-Chinese relationship out of Washington and Beijing and develop more direct relationships at subnational and private levels. He says the conversation within the Chinese Communist Party is now being driven by the internet and their people's increasing awareness of the outside world.

I like this debate format a lot, and I'd love to see other candidates have debates like this as well, even not including Gingrich. A Perry-Santorum-Bachmann debate could be very interesting, and I think a Romney-Gingrich debate could easily reshape the current state of the race. I think I'd also like to see the proposed Gingrich-Obama debates even if Newt doesn't win the nomination, as that could be very entertaining.

Both men in this debate came across as very knowledgeable in every area they covered. There weren't any you-go-first moments like in the Cain-Gingrich debate, although Newt did say that Huntsman knew more about China than he did. Their different backgrounds were evident in their answers. Newt's responses tended to be more big-picture and broader in nature, building long-run historical narratives with anecdotes to justify the narratives. Huntsman's responses tended to be more specific, with more concrete plans, and the detailed facts that support his plans.

In general, I liked Huntsman's answers better. I mostly agree with him on Afghanistan, and absolutely agree about India. It was good to hear him bring up India because they're a very important country that is often ignored in these foreign policy discussions. By contrast, Gingrich's position on Afghanistan seemed to be rather patronizing. Several times he talks about bringing "modernity" and Western culture to the Muslim world, even as he opposes democracy in places like Egypt.

Neither man supports the Arab Spring as much as I would like, and although Gingrich doesn't actually oppose it, he seems a lot closer to opposing it than to supporting it. He seems just fine with the old-school idea that we should support brutal dictators who oppress and kill their own people. He doesn't at all address the idea that maybe the reason Egyptians don't like us is because we supported Mubarak for so long. Huntsman, on the other hand, talks about the United States being a "shining beacon" for hope and democracy in the world, and generally supports the Arab Spring. He would not have gone into Libya, but he justifies that by saying Gaddafi would have fallen anyway (which is dubious, but shows his support for democracy even if he disagrees about the methods used). Huntsman also proposed a regional free trade area in the long-term, which I think was the only mention of trade in this foreign policy debate.

I also agree with Huntsman more on defense spending. Gingrich wants to cut entitlements rather than defense. Although we should cut entitlements, the best reforms to Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid will take years if not decades to implement. Some, like personal retirement accounts, will be great in the long-term but will increase the deficit in the short-term. We can't balance the budget by only cutting entitlements, but Gingrich seems to disagree. Huntsman is more practical, saying that military spending is far higher than it needs to be, and pointing to a specific area, the procurements process, where we're spending more and getting less than we used to.

Overall, this debate reaffirmed some of the policy reasons why I don't like Newt Gingrich. It also reaffirmed that Jon Huntsman is possibly the best option on foreign policy at the moment. In terms of the underlying philosophy that informs their positions, I agree with Huntsman's far more than with Gingrich's. On the other hand, I don't really like Huntsman as a person. He's more of a downer than any of the other candidates, and that matters when you have to inspire your supporters to actually get out and vote for you. Of course, Gingrich isn't exactly inspiring either. Between the two men, I think I'd rather vote for Huntsman.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Twelfth Republican Primary Debate (IA)

The twelfth Republican primary debate was held this past Saturday in Des Moines, Iowa. The full, official ABC video is here, and the transcript is here. This was the first debate since Herman Cain left the race, and with Jon Huntsman skipping the debate to campaign in New Hampshire, only six candidates took to the stage. (There was also the "Huckabee Forum" on December 3rd, attended by the same six candidates as this debate, but that wasn't so much a debate as a series of back-to-back interviews.)

To get any potential biases out of the way, I don't like any of the candidates who showed for this debate. Ron Paul, Michele Bachmann and Rick Santorum all have tendencies to support truly dangerous ideas, the only difference is which policy areas they're most dangerous on. For that matter, Mitt Romney does too, although he's more likely to switch sides to get support. Newt Gingrich and Rick Perry both seem to me like big government, crony capitalism supporters who are just fine with the government running things as long as they're running the government. As always, I've summarized the candidates answers below, and scored and responded to them along the way.

Rick Santorum
  • He complains that manufacturing employment has gone from 21% of Americans to 9%, and wants to subsidize manufacturing to stop the shift towards a service-oriented economy. Of course, he doesn't say it like that, but that's exactly what his manufacturing-only tax cuts amount to. (-1)
  • Diane Sawyer complains that only Romney supplied a number of jobs that he expects to create in his first term, and Santorum speaks up to say he doesn't think the government can "from the top down, dictate how many jobs" will be created. (+1)
  • "You either care about Social Security and you want to fund it, or you don't." Santorum makes clear that he does not support extending the payroll tax cut. (-1)
  • He counters Newt's claim that all conservatives supported the individual mandate in the 1990s, and says in 1994 he supported medical savings accounts as a bottom-up solution instead of the top-down solutions of Hillarycare and the individual mandate. (+1)
  • He says Bachmann is a consistent conservative, but she's been fighting and losing, whereas he has a history of fighting and winning (until he lost by an 18-point margin in 2006, that is).
  • In response to Bachmann, he says he was in the minority too, but still found a way to fight and win, not just fight. He says he was part of the Gang of Seven and helped send Dan Rostenkowski to jail in the Congressional Post Office scandal. (+1)
  • "Character counts," he says. Although marital infidelity should not be a disqualifying factor, it should be a factor. Voters want someone they can trust. (+1)
  • On Newt's remarks on Palestinians, he says we need to "speak the truth," but "do so with prudence." He agrees with Mitt that we shouldn't say that Palestinians are an "invented people."
  • He says the most important need that was met for him growing up was having both a mother and a father who provided him with a supportive home. He's worried about the family breaking down and leading to economic struggle.
  • He says when he first entered politics, he learned about conservatism from Newt Gingrich in the late 80s.

Rick Perry
  • He says his distinguishing idea is a 20% flat tax, but he doesn't talk about it much. He promises to balance the budget by 2020, with spending at 18% of GDP. He also references the $7.7 trillion he says "was being put into these people and these banks," which wasn't at all, but it helps him say the problem with the economy is the link between DC and Wall Street.
  • George Stephanopoulos notes that Perry is against extending the Social Security payroll tax cut, and Perry says, "Very much so." (-1)
  • Bachmann is right that both Romney and Gingrich were for the individual mandate, and we need a candidate who can oppose Obama on the individual mandate. (+1)
  • He brings up Mitt's book, and especially the difference between the hardcover and softcover editions where he eliminated the line about replicating Romneycare for the entire country. Romney offers his $10,000 bet in response, and Perry says he's "not in the betting business."
  • Should voters consider marital fidelity in judging a candidate? He says his marriage vows are both to his wife and to God, and a vow to God is "even stronger than a handshake in Texas." Fidelity is important, he says, because if someone cheats on their spouse, they'd cheat on their business partners or anyone else too. (+1)
  • He says if we enforce the immigration laws we already have, then we wouldn't have so many illegals already here to deal with. He complains that Obama isn't deporting enough people, despite the fact that Obama has set new records for the number deported every year that he's been in office. (-1)
  • Newt's comments on Palestine are a "minor issue" especially compared with Obama's policies, from not supporting the Iranian protesters in 2009 to how he handled Egypt and Libya to the recent drone we lost to Iran. Memorable quote of the evening: "He had two opportunities-- well, he didn't have two opportunities, he had two choices-- actually, he had three." I don't know why they say Perry's a bad debater...
  • Asked about personal hardships, Perry talks about growing up in a house without running water when he was little, but ultimately says he's never felt like he didn't have everything he needed.
  • If states want to have anti-obesity or pro-exercise programs, they can. He's fine with big government as long as it's big state government, not big federal government. He also wants a part-time Congress and a balanced budget amendment, two things that might be good but will never happen. (-1)
  • Of the other candidates on stage, he's learned the most from Ron Paul, particularly about the Federal Reserve. (-1)

Mitt Romney
  • He repeats his seven-point plan from previous debates. Those points are: lower employer taxes (+1), regulation that encourages private sector employment, less free trade policies including limiting trade with China (-1), energy policies to encourage domestic energy production, the rule of law, policies to encourage human capital growth, and a balanced budget (+1).
  • He criticizes Obama for not even having a plan to fix the economy right after Bachmann got done criticizing Obama's plan for increasing the deficit. He also largely avoids talking about extending the payroll tax cut, other than briefly saying he doesn't want to raise anybody's taxes.
  • Asked about Gingrich's statement that he is more conservative than Romney and more electable than anybody else, Mitt says he disagrees, then talks about Obama for awhile. 
  • He makes an off-hand comment that he and Newt have "a lot of places" where they disagree. Stephanopoulos asks him to name some, and after stalling for awhile, he says Newt supports a lunar colony, relaxing child labor laws and cutting the capital gains tax for the wealthy.
  • He says it's true if he'd beaten Teddy Kennedy, he could've been a career politician, but that if he'd gotten into the NFL like he wanted as a kid, he could've been a football star. It's a great laugh line, and he goes on to say that losing to Kennedy forced him to go back to the private sector and learn the lessons that he needed to learn about how the economy works. It's a great way to turn Newt's line around into something positive. (+1)
  • "I know Newt Gingrich, and Newt Gingrich is a friend of mine. But Newt Gingrich and I are not clones, I promise." He goes on to defend Romneycare and criticize Obama for cutting Medicare. (-1)
  • Gingrich favored a national individual mandate, while Romney has only ever favored a statewide individual mandate for Massachusetts. He seems to think the mandate itself is good policy, as long as it's invoked at the state level. His problem with Obamacare is that it raised taxes and cut Medicare. (-1)
  • In the moment that got the most press after the debate, Mitt offers a $10,000 bet to Rick Perry about the content of his book, and whether or not he supported an individual mandate for the rest of the country. Perry, of course, declined the bet.
  • Asked about marital fidelity, he instead talks about Obama and offers platitudes about how he wants to make it good to be in the middle class in America again.
  • He wants to deport all current illegal immigrants and send them to the back of the line if they want to get back into the US legally, no matter how many years it might take them to go through our legal process. He says others have been waiting in line legally, and any kind of "amnesty" would be unfair to them. He acts like it's illegal immigrants keeping out the legal ones waiting in line, rather than the US government's own quotas. If he really feels so badly for immigrants waiting in line, why not just raise the quotas, or get rid of the quotas entirely? That would be too intellectually honest for Romney. (-1)
  • He agrees with most of what Gingrich said about Palestinians, but not that they are an invented people. He says the United States should not be saying things that make it more difficult for the Israelis to talk to the Palestinians, and in that he includes both Obama's 1967-borders statement and Newt's invented-people statement. (+1)
  • He says he didn't grow up poor, but his father did, and his father made sure that Romney learned a good work ethic and to have compassion for others through their church's ministries.
  • Should other states adopt Massachusett's individual mandate? "States can do whatever the heck they want to do." He also says "we have no government insurance" in Massachusetts, since a government mandate to buy private insurance is so much better. He repeats his opposition to a federal mandate, reinforcing the idea that his opposition to Obamacare is on federalism grounds, not because he actually thinks it's bad policy. (-1)
  • He says he's learned about leadership from all the other candidates on stage, but especially from Ron Paul's ability to energize his supporters. Mitt says whenever he goes to these debates, the only signs he sees are Ron Paul signs.

Newt Gingrich
  • To create jobs, he would lower taxes, have less regulation, have "an American energy plan," and "be positive" about people who create jobs. He wants no capital gains tax, no estate tax, a 12.5% corporate income tax, and allow writing off new equipment in one year. That last points sounds like an accounting gimmick to me, but I like the rest of it. (+1)
  • George Stephanopoulos notes that Gingrich is for extending the Social Security payroll tax cut, which presumably is true since Gingrich doesn't speak up to contradict him.
  • He tells Mitt, "the only reason you didn't become a career politician is because you lost to Teddy Kennedy in 1994." It gets boos from the crowd, but I think it's an awesome line. (+1)
  • When he grew up, the space program was "real," and inspired students to study math and science, but NASA has been "bureaucratized." (+1)
  • He says janitors in New York schools are paid twice as much as teachers, and that if we took half of them and had students do the work instead, they would learn a healthy work ethic and make some money.
  • He says if you want to create jobs, you have to cut taxes for those who have capital and can use it to create jobs, meaning those who earn more than $200,000 a year. He criticizes Romney for wanting to cut the capital gains tax only for those making less than that amount. (+1)
  • He agrees with Ron Paul that the housing bubble came from the Federal Reserve, although he downplays the role Freddie Mac played. He says he wasn't a lobbyist for Freddie Mac, he was a strategic advisor. Considering lots of people have been saying contradictory things about what Newt did for Freddie Mac, it's hard to know what the truth is here.
  • He says Bachmann's claim that he was lobbying was not true, and that even if it was, he made a lot more money from his books and speaking deals. Answers that make ya go hmm... (-1)
  • In the 1990s, he says conservatives came up with the individual mandate as an alternative to Hillarycare, but once Hillarycare was defeated, they took a closer look and found problems with the mandate. He sees this as a good justification for having once supported the mandate, but it makes me wonder, what if it had been adopted back then? Do we really want a President who adopts a newfangled idea just because it's different from the other guy's without actually thinking through whether it's a good idea or not? (-1)
  • Bachmann questions whether we can trust Newt or Mitt to repeal Obamacare once in office. Newt simply says, "Yes," and the crowd goes wild. I'm increasingly getting the sense that I would not fit in as an Iowan Republican.
  • Voters "have the right to ask every single question," including ones about marital fidelity. He admits he's made mistakes and he's "had to go to God for forgiveness." He says people should "measure who I am now and whether I'm a person they can trust." (+1)
  • Deportation should be "dramatically easier," he says. He also repeats his plan to make English the "official language of government" and use Selective Service-style boards to decide on a case-by-case basis whether someone actually gets deported or not. (-1)
  • Hamas and Fatah don't admit to Israel's right to exist, so we shouldn't be afraid to say that they're an invented people. He says this is "factually correct" and "historically true," and comes very close to saying all Palestinians are terrorists. He later says he's not making things difficult for Israel, but Obama is. (-1)
  • He says he grew up in an apartment above a gas station in Pennsylvania, and with his wife runs the "small business" of Gingrich Productions, so he understands the struggles that small business owners face.
  • He now thinks the individual mandate is unconstitutional at the federal level because if Congress can compel you to buy health insurance, they can compel you to buy anything. He wants to move towards medical savings accounts and away from the "third-party payment model," whether public or private. (+1)
  • He's learned the most from Rick Perry on Tenth Amendment issues, and from Rick Santorum on Iran. He says, "if we do survive, it will be in part because of people like Rick [Santorum] who've had the courage to tell the truth about the Iranians for a long time."

Ron Paul
  • He says they're all for tax cuts, but he alone understands where recessions come from-- the Federal Reserve. Recessions are actually "corrections," he says and we haven't actually corrected the economy because of all the bailouts. He would cut a trillion dollars from the federal budget in his first year.
  • George Stephanopoulos notes that Paul is for extending the Social Security payroll tax cut, which presumably is true since Paul doesn't speak up to contradict him.
  • Later, Paul confirms that he is for extending the payroll tax cut because he doesn't want to raise taxes. He also wants to pay for it by reducing spending, especially military spending overseas, and complains about the size of our embassy in Baghdad. (+1 for supporting the tax cut, even if I don't like Paul's inevitable dovetail into complaining about the wars)
  • Gingrich has been hypocritical on single-payer health care, by supporting TARP and by taking money from Freddie Mac. Paul says that Newt will have "a little bit of trouble" competing with him on consistency.
  • Character is "very important," but he doesn't want to talk about marital fidelity, he'd rather talk about taking the oath of office seriously. He says if we took that oath seriously, the government would be 80% smaller and we wouldn't have the Federal Reserve or the Patriot Act.
  • He criticizes Gingrich's statement that Palestinians are an "invented people" because he says we shouldn't be dealing with problems like that. Then he turns around and says that Gingrich is "technically correct" and under the Ottoman Empire the Palestinians didn't have a state, but neither did the Israelis. (-1)
  • He says he grew up poor but "I didn't even know it." He and his wife worked to pay for his college to become a doctor. He says what we're seeing now is "the elimination of the middle class" because of bad monetary policy.
  • Government should not be involved in protecting you from yourself, including programs against obesity or promoting exercise. He says all government is force, and if people don't like the force of the individual mandate, they should see that paying Medicare taxes is also force.
  • He says he's learned that if you persistently present your case, the opposition will eventually come around and agree with you, like Rick Perry has on the Federal Reserve.

Michele Bachmann
  • She calls her jobs plan the "win-win-win plan," explicitly referencing Cain's 999. She wants to lower both individual and corporate tax rates, but raise taxes on the 47% who currently don't pay income taxes. She also wants to get rid of Obamacare, Dodd-Frank and the EPA, and "legalize American energy," whatever that means.
  • The Social Security payroll tax cut should never have been implemented in the first place. She says it took away $111 billion from the Social Security trust fund, and doesn't seem to notice that it gave $111 billion back to taxpayers and employers. She also repeats Obama's name as often as she can, trying to tie him to the tax cut that she opposes. (-1)
  • She says Gingrich was a lobbyist for Freddie Mac. She calls him "the epitome of the establishment... the epitome of a consummate insider." She attacks Newt for supporting the individual mandate for longer than Obama has, and she attacks Romney for being the only governor to institute "socialized medicine." She repeatedly calls them "Newt Romney," saying they're basically the same as each other, and they're also close to Obama. (+1)
  • Saying that 2012 will be our only chance to repeal Obamacare, she asks whether we can trust either Newt or Mitt to actually repeal it once in office. (+1)
  • She says she fought Nancy Pelosi on health care and didn't "sit on [her] hands" even though she was in the minority. She promises to work to elect a Republican supermajority in the Senate and maintain the majority in the House.
  • She refers to the Federalist papers and that voters need to know "the measure of a man" or woman who wants to be President. She says she's willing to talk about her religion and her family because that goes to showing voters who she really is. (+1)
  • Asked about Newt's comments on Palestine, she defers and instead talks about the culture in Palestine that vilifies the Israelis.
  • She opposed the bailout because it allowed the banks to have private gains but socialized losses. She was born in Iowa and when her parents divorced she started working at 13 years-old. She says she still clips coupons and understands the hardships people are going through.
  • She's learned the most from Herman Cain, who showed the benefit of being plainspoken and making policies simple and straightforward enough to understand.

With only six candidates, this debate allowed for some more in-depth responses. They actually revisited the individual mandate issue towards the end based on real-time feedback through Yahoo, which is pretty cool. There also seemed to be more questions in this debate where every candidate was given the chance to respond to the same question (or at least very similar questions), unlike previous debates where everyone got different questions. On the other hand, this was less of a policy-focused debate than others, and got into issues like marital fidelity and personal hardship stories.

Adding up the scores, I think this was the closest-scoring debate yet. Santorum, Gingrich and Bachmann all scored +2, while Paul scored 0, Romney scored -1 and Perry scored -2.

Rick Santorum and Michele Bachmann both had a pretty good night. Santorum did a great job of outlining his past and running on his record, even if I disagree with some of his policies. Bachmann clearly was aiming to pick up Cain's supporters with her "win-win-win" motto, and launched an effective "Newt Romney" attack against the two frontrunners. There was also some interesting back-and-forth between Santorum and Bachmann as they both jockey for position to be the next "flavor of the week."

Ron Paul didn't talk as much about the Federal Reserve and the wars as he usually does. He also got accolades from both Rick Perry and Mitt Romney at the end of the debate, which certainly says something about his rising position within the Republican party.

Rick Perry, as always, had a couple flubs and spent most of his non-flubbing time attacking Mitt Romney. That led to Romney's most-talked-about line of the night, the apparently-scripted $10,000 bet offer. I thought what he said about the individual mandate was far more interesting, since Romney seems to believe the individual mandate is actually good policy. His opposition to Obamacare is based on federalism; he disagrees with what level of government should carry out these policies, not whether the policies should be carried out in the first place.

Newt Gingrich did well in this debate. He didn't debate the moderators, and for the most part did a good job defending and/or repenting for his past policies and his past personal actions. At the same time, he wasn't quite the target that Cain was at this point in his rise. Bachmann targeted Newt and Mitt jointly, and Mitt obliged the moderators by attacking Newt when asked to, but the others didn't. Perry only really attacked Romney, while Santorum primarily went after Bachmann, and Ron Paul didn't go after anyone. Does that mean they expect Gingrich to fall just like Perry and Cain before him, so they don't need to attack? If so, that reluctance to attack might prove to be a self-defeating prophecy.

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Eleventh Republican Primary Debate (DC)

CNN held the eleventh Republican primary debate on November 22nd in Washington, DC, cosponsored by the Heritage Foundation and the American Enterprise Institute. This debate had the regular cast of eight candidates, and was billed as a national security debate. A full video is here; a version with higher video quality and skipping the introductions is here.

Before this debate, I had a somewhat negative view of most of the candidates, including Rick Perry, Rick Santorum, Mitt Romney, Newt Gingrich and Jon Huntsman. I had a more negative view of Michele Bachmann and Ron Paul, and a somewhat positive view of Herman Cain. As always, I've summarized the candidates' answers below, although I didn't score them as thoroughly as I have in the past. Usually I try to give a positive or negative score to almost every answer, but this time there were more answers that simply scored zero because they didn't move me one way or the other.

Rick Santorum
  • There was some kind of technical failure that seems to have cut off the recording during part of Santorum's introduction (the same error is in all versions I found and shows up in the official transcript). It sounds like he's saying national security is the "one constitutional responsibility of the federal government," but that sounds more like something Ron Paul would say, not Rick Santorum, and as it cuts back in halfway through his sentence, I'm not sure if that's what he means or not.
  • He supports "profiling," saying, "We should be trying to find the bomber, not the bomb." Who would fit the profile? "Muslims" and "younger males." There's a right way to do profiling, based on psychology, criminal history, that kind of thing. Santorum's got the wrong way to do it. (-1)
  • He says the last time we faced a similar threat on American soil was the Civil War. He says of that time, "of course, Abraham Lincoln ran right over civil rights," and apparently thinks that's what we need to do today. Santorum really out-does Ron Paul in the quest to see who can make Gingrich look sane by comparison. (-2) 
  • "I agree with Ron Paul. We are not fighting a war on terrorism." Rather, he says, we're fighting a war against radical Islam, and the Islamists are saying that they're just going to wait us out. Eventually, we'll get tired of fighting and go home, and then they'll be in charge again. He doesn't address it, but this raises the question of whether there will ever be a point where we can bring our troops home. (-1)
  • He supports Bush's program against AIDS in Africa because "Africa was a country on the brink." He sees our humanitarian aid to Africa as a national security issue because it helps prevent radical Islam from getting a foothold there.
  • He would be willing to compromise with Democrats, but raising taxes would push the economy back into recession and make the deficit situation worse. He's willing to compromise by cutting things that he doesn't really want to cut. (+1)
  • He wants to make sure that products made by companies started by legal immigrants are made in America. Santorum is obviously not a believer in free trade. (-1)
  • He says he has a four-point economic plan, including eliminating the corporate tax only for manufacturing and repatriation of profits. He's less specific on the other two points, which are general regulatory reform and energy policy.
  • What issue is he worried about that no one else is talking about? The "militant socialists" of Central and South America. He criticizes Obama for delaying the Colombia FTA and for taking the wrong side in Honduras. (+1)

Ron Paul
  • His introduction focuses on "needless and unnecessary wars" and how he's against them. I think everyone's against needless and unnecessary wars, they just don't agree on which ones count as needless and unnecessary.
  • "The Patriot Act is unpatriotic." He says Timothy McVeigh was a terrorist and we dealt with him without the Patriot Act, so we don't really need it. I don't exactly like the Patriot Act, but Paul seems to miss the point that we only caught McVeigh after he successfully bombed the Murrah building. (-1)
  • "You can prevent crime by becoming a police state." He warns about having a policeman in every house and rants for awhile. Ron Paul is a master at making Gingrich look sensible by comparison. (-1)
  • We say too often that we're at war, he says, and points out that we're not in a Congressionally-declared war. He says terrorism isn't a person, it's a tactic, so we can't say that we're in a war on terrorism. Then he goes off and talks about how we're all at risk of assassination now because we can all be loosely associated with terrorist organizations.  (-1)
  • He doesn't believe Israel would attack Iranian nuclear facilities, but he says even if they did, it's none of our business. (-1)
  • He does not support Bush's program against AIDS in Africa because it's foreign aid and he doesn't like the "endless wars" or what we did in Libya. (-1)
  • "They're not cutting anything out of anything." He says thanks to baseline budgeting, the cuts to the military really just mean the budget won't go up as fast as it would have gone up before. (+1)
  • He doesn't like the drug war, and he wants the money spent in Afghanistan and Pakistan to be spent instead on securing the US-Mexico border. He says if you have "an easy road to citizenship," that somehow amounts to a subsidy and it's going to encourage more illegal immigration. (-1)
  • Asked a follow-up about the drug war, he says it's a "total failure." We should at least let sick people use marijuana, and alcohol and prescription drugs kill more people than illegal drugs.
  • Someone from AEI asks about "an al Qaida affiliate, al Shabab" in Somalia, and Paul generalizes to al Qaida and overall Middle East policy. In fact, he doesn't address Somalia at all. (-1)
  • What issue is he worried about that no one else is talking about? "Overreaction" and getting into another war. He says the Taliban doesn't want to kill us here, they only want to kill us over there. Even if that's strictly true, he misses the fact that we only care about the Taliban because they supported al Qaida who most certainly does want to kill us here in America. (-1)

Rick Perry
  • His introduction is entirely about his wife for some reason.
  • He wants to privatize the TSA (which would be really good) and strengthen the Patriot Act (not so good).
  • Pakistan has shown us that "they cannot be trusted," and it sends the wrong message to the rest of the world to be giving them money. (+1)
  • He still wants to "engage" with Pakistan, just "quit writing blank checks to these countries." He suggests starting some kind of trade zone between Afghanistan, Pakistan and India, which is one of the few good long-term ideas expressed in this debate, but I can't see any of those countries agreeing to it any time soon.
  • Given that decades of sanctions against Iran have failed so far, does he think that more sanctions will work? "Absolutely." He wants to "sanction" their central bank in order to "shut down that economy." (-1)
  • He says he "signed six balanced budgets" in Texas. He doesn't mention that the Texas state legislature is required by the state constitution to pass balanced budgets, probably because that would be admitting he didn't actually have anything to do with balancing those budgets. That might be why he says he "signed" six balanced budgets, rather than saying that he actually balanced six budgets. (-1)
  • He says he's had to work with Democrats as governor of Texas. That doesn't have quite the same impact as when Romney says it about Massachusetts. Republicans have held majorities in both houses of the state legislature since 2003, and they've held the majority in the state Senate since 1997.
  • He says he wants a 20% flat personal tax, a 20% corporate tax and a part-time Congress.
  • He wants "a 21st century Monroe Doctrine," and promises "that within 12 months of the inaugural, that [Mexican] border will be shut down, and it will be secure." I guess shutting it down would technically make it secure, but that's absolutely the wrong direction for this country to go in. (-2)
  • He first wants to secure the border with Mexico, and any discussion about what to do with immigrants afterwards is "just an intellectual exercise" until the border is secure. At the same time, he does side with Gingrich's view that an illegal who has been here for some length of time should not be deported.
  • We need to use several different tactics to pressure Syria's government, including a no-fly zone, economic sanctions and covert activity. He says we should take Syria seriously. Later in a response to Romney he seems to step back a bit and says the no-fly zone is "one of the options," not necessarily the option that we should take. (+1)
  • What issue is he worried about that no one else is talking about? Communist China, even though he thinks they're "destined for the ash heap of history."

Mitt Romney
  • He introduces himself by saying, "I'm Mitt Romney and yes, Wolf, that's also my first name." But as others have pointed out, it's not.
  • "We could do a lot better" than TSA pat-downs, but he'd rather talk about how he agrees with Newt's criminal law/national security distinction. He says there's "a different form of law" for those who "attack the United States" vs those who merely commit crimes against its citizens. However, he stops short of implying that "innocent until proven guilty" doesn't apply on national security issues, as Newt does.
  • He says America's current approval rating in Pakistan is 12%, and we need "to bring Pakistan into the 21st century, or the 20th century for that matter." I wonder if he thinks quotes like that will help raise Pakistani's opinions of Americans. (-1)
  • He wants to pull out the surge troops from Afghanistan by December 2012 and all but "ten thousand or so" of the rest of the troops by the end of 2014. He says that's the timetable the generals on the ground prefer and that's what he'll do. When Huntsman criticizes him for this, Romney says he's been to Afghanistan and we need to keep our troops there until the generals say it's time to withdraw.
  • He says, "They're cutting a trillion dollars out of the defense budget" and putting it into Obamacare instead, and this amounts to spending us into bankruptcy. But somehow spending the same amount of money on the military instead wouldn't be spending us into bankruptcy? How does that work? (-1)
  • He rattles off a list of military programs that he says are being cut and insists that all of them are necessary for national security. He wants "crippling sanctions" on Iran and says he doesn't care if it makes gasoline more expensive. (-1)
  • Mitt agrees with Bachmann that any kind of path to legality for illegal immigrants amounts to amnesty and is a magnet, but he doesn't say a thing about what we should do with illegals already here. He also agrees with Gingrich that we should give visas to people who get degrees in certain preferred fields. (-1)
  • He says, "I'm not going to start drawing lines here about who gets to stay and who gets to go," then immediately says that illegal immigrants should not "get to stay." That sounds a lot like drawing a line about who gets to stay to me, it's just a different line from Newt's and Perry's. (-1)
  • When asked about Somalia, he doesn't talk at all about Somalia, but rather generalizes to foreign policy in general and bashes Obama for a range of things that have nothing to do with Somalia. (-1)
  • "This is not the time for a no-fly zone over Syria," although he does support sanctions and covert actions against the government.
  • What issue is he worried about that no one else is talking about? What Perry and Santorum said, but also Iran, because that sure wasn't addressed yet. (-1)

Herman Cain
  • The only introduction he gives is that he is a "businessman," and then he says "our national security has indeed been downgraded."
  • He supports what he calls "targeted identification," which sounds like it's just Santorum-style profiling, although he says straight religious profiling is "oversimplifying it." He would be willing to "refine" the Patriot Act, but he thinks for the most part that it's a good law.
  • He would support an Israeli attack against Iranian nuclear facilities if he was satisfied that their plan had a reasonable chance of success. (+1)
  • In a response to Ron Paul, he says he doesn't believe it's very likely that Israel would be able to come up with a plan that had a reasonable chance of success. He's giving Israel a condition that he doesn't think they can meet, but then says it's in America's interest to prevent Iran from influencing Afghanistan. He doesn't clarify how he plans to do that. (-1)
  • He's not sure whether he would support Bush's program against AIDS in Africa because he doesn't know whether it's been successful or not. This is possibly the most common criticism of Cain's campaign, but shouldn't he know that already? (-1)
  • An insecure border is a national security threat. He says terrorists have come into the country through Mexico and says more people were killed by violence in Mexico last year than in Iraq and Afghanistan. He repeats his four-point plan from the earliest debates: secure the border, enforce existing laws, clean up the immigration bureaucracy to make legal immigration easier and allow the states to deal with illegals already in the country.
  • He would not support a no-fly zone over Syria, but would rather work to enact sanctions on Syria's oil exports. He doesn't seem to know what else to say, so he spends the rest of his time talking about growing the domestic economy. (-1)
  • What issue is he worried about that no one else is talking about? Cyber attacks. (+1)

Newt Gingrich
  • His says his father was in the infantry, and then he compliments Heritage and AEI.
  • He wants to make a distinction between "national security requirements and criminal law requirements." He says that "it's desperately important that we preserve your right to be innocent until proven guilty, if it's a matter of criminal law," but not if it's a matter of national security. Hmm... that's not very reassuring. (-1)
  • Asked to clarify, he says, "Again, very sharp division. Criminal law, the government should be frankly on defense and you're innocent until proven guilty. National security, the government should have many more tools in order to save our lives." He apparently really believes that "innocent until proven guilty" doesn't apply, even to American citizens, on matters of national security. (-1) 
  • His response to Ron Paul is, "Timothy McVeigh succeeded." He wants a law that prevents attacks, not a law that punishes people after attacks.
  • He asks Wolf for a chance to respond to Romney and Huntsman, then says their debate over how quickly to withdraw from Afghanistan confuses him and he'd rather talk about Pakistan. He wants to get tough with the Pakistanis and tell them, "help us or get out of the way, but don't complain if we kill people you're not willing to go after." That takes on a somewhat different connotation after the recent attack on the Pakistan military outpost...
  • He's fine with cutting off Iran's supply of oil to Europe "now" because in the long term we'll be able to develop a "massive all-sources energy program in the United States" to replace that oil. He also wants to cut off their supply of gasoline, then sabotage what he says is "the only refinery they have." That reminds of something else. (-1)
  • He is not willing to say that cuts to the military are "unacceptable" because he believes there are things that the military can do less expensively. (+1)
  • He goes on to say that we're just not "serious" as a country, and that if we were, we could drill into enough oil fields to make the price of oil "collapse" within a year. (-1)
  • He would only bomb Iranian nuclear facilities as a "last recourse" and only as part of a larger war to get rid of Ahmadinejad. He wants to "seriously talk about" that larger war. (-1)
  • On Social Security reform, he supports the Chilean model, and yes, this is Gingrich, not Cain. He says Chile has guaranteed their citizens that if they did not earn returns in the private market as high as their previous government benefits, that the government would make up the difference, and that in thirty years, they've never had to make up that difference, even during the global recession. (+1)
  • He wants special visas for foreigners who earn graduate degrees in certain preferred fields. He wants "something like a World War II Selective Service Board" to individually examine every illegal immigrant and determine on a case-by-case basis who's allowed to stay and who isn't. The decision would primarily be based on how long they've already been here, but would also include factors like whether or not they go to church. Yeah, there's no room for corruption in a setup like that. (-2)
  • He says if someone has been here for 25 years and has family and is part of the community here, we shouldn't take them away from that family, but that if someone has just recently arrived, we should send them back.
  • What issue is he worried about that no one else is talking about? He cites the Hart-Rudman Commission under Clinton, which he says concluded their were three major threats: a WMD in an American city, an EMP attack and cyber attacks. (+1)

Michele Bachmann
  • She uses her introduction to talk about her family in the military and to send a Happy Thanksgiving to American troops both home and abroad.
  • We need a national security law that's updated to deal with wireless communications. She complains that the underwear bomber was read his Miranda rights "within 45 minutes," saying that terrorists shouldn't be read their rights because "they don't have any." (-1)
  • Pakistan is "one of the most violent, unstable nations" in the world, and that's why we need to give them money. They're "too nuclear to fail," she says. Now that's a phrase her Tea Party base will love... (-1)
  • She calls Perry "na├»ve" because she's afraid that Pakistan's nukes will fall into al Qaida's hands, and end up in American cities. "We have to maintain an American presence," apparently indefinitely since she never says we should try to get Pakistan to give up their nukes. (-1)
  • She says we're not writing blank checks to Pakistan, and we are exchanging intelligence with them. That may very soon no longer be the case, although of course she didn't know that at the time.
  • She agrees with Newt on Iran. She criticizes Obama for giving the Iranians extra time to get a nuke by meeting with them without preconditions. Because not meeting with them at all would've ended their nuclear program somehow. (-1)
  • She repeats for a third time her idea that a $2.4 trillion check is a "blank check." She says we need to talk about balancing the budget, not just cutting the deficit.
  • She agrees with Gingrich about letting in more highly-skilled immigrants, but disagrees with him on giving any illegals already here any kind of path to legality. She sees that as another kind of magnet bringing more illegals into the country. (-1)
  • What issue is she worried about that no one else is talking about? She starts talking about Iraq, but then mentions al Shabab and broadens it to the issue of homegrown terror and people in America supporting and joining terrorist organizations.

Jon Huntsman
  • He has the most introduction-y introduction, talking not just about his family but also his experience as governor of Utah and ambassador.
  • Asked about the Patriot Act, he says we need to be "very careful" with our liberties, but also supports DHS and doesn't raise any specific complaints about the Patriot Act.
  • When someone from AEI asks about drone campaigns in Pakistan, he stalls for a bit but eventually gets around to saying he does support an expanded drone campaign.
  • He says we've run the Taliban out of Kabul and had free elections since 2004, we've killed bin Laden and "upended, dismantled" al Qaida. He thinks we don't need as many troops in Afghanistan anymore, and we could accomplish our goals there with small numbers of special forces, drones and training units to help the Afghanis. (+1)
  • Pressed by Romney, he thinks we could get by with 10-15,000 troops in Afghanistan. That sounds like the kind of compromise where everyone loses. Either he was right in his previous answer, that we've accomplished our primary goals and can now shift to more of a covert/special ops/drone attack kind of campaign, or we haven't, and we need to keep our troops there until we do. (-1)
  • In response to Romney's comment about doing what the generals in Afghanistan tell him to do, Huntsman says the President is Commander-in-Chief, and that although he would listen to the advice of his generals and other staff, there have been times such as Vietnam where the generals have been wrong.
  • Asked about defense cuts, he talks about the national deficit and something he calls "the trust deficit." He wants defense spending to be on the table when we're talking about cuts. "If we can't find some savings in the $650 billion budget, we're not looking closely enough." (+1) 
  • "We missed the Persian Spring," because Obama declined to support the Iranian protesters. Sanctions against Iran won't work because China and Russia won't abide by the sanctions. (+1)
  • What about the Arab Spring? He advocates caution and doesn't want to take sides just yet. I'm not sure why, but he thinks that's different than Obama's reaction to the Iranian protests. (-1)
  • What issue is he worried about that no one else is talking about? He mentions China, but alludes to the possibly imminent Chinese collapse and says what he's really worried about is our national debt. He also mentions the "trust deficit" again.

Summing the candidates' scores, Huntsman again scored the highest with +1. Everyone else was negative; Cain was at -1, Perry at -2, Santorum at -3, Gingrich at -4 and Bachmann at -5. Paul and Romney pull up the rear at -7 each.

Since this debate, but before I was able to publish this post, Herman Cain has dropped out of the race. With the mounting sex scandals... wait, that's a bad word choice. Erm... anyway, Cain this time didn't talk about 999, but clearly demonstrated his lack of foreign policy knowledge. Most of his answers amounted to relying on his advisers or deflecting from the question to talk about the economy instead. The fact that he had the second-highest score despite this doesn't say very much for the rest of the candidates.

The current frontrunner Newt Gingrich had a few good moments, especially his willingness to cut military spending if necessary. I also like that he's willing to put in place a path to legality for at least some of the illegal immigrants currently in the country. But many of his answers betray a top-down, government-run ideology. The way to choose who to deport, he thinks, is with panels of experts who carefully examine each illegal's personal life, including where they go to church and who they associate with, to decide whether they deserve to stay. On civil liberties, he heavily implies that even American citizens are guilty until proven innocent on national security matters. Newt Gingrich seems to be just fine with "elites" running the show and making decisions about the minutiae of our lives, just as long as he's one of those elites.

Rick Perry loves shutting things down, whether it's the US-Mexico border or the entire country of Iran. After this debate, I'm not sure there's anything he wouldn't shut down. (Except maybe the Department of Energy?) The other Rick's best moment of the night, in my opinion, was at the very end, when all the candidates were asked what they're worried about that no one else is really talking about. Santorum was one of the few who actually answered the question, and was persuasive about it.

Ron Paul, on the other hand, was in rare form in this debate. No matter what the question was, whether it was the border, foreign aid or Somalia, he was able to turn his answer around until he got to talking about the "endless wars" in Afghanistan and Iraq.

I'm not sure either Mitt Romney or Michele Bachmann said anything I agree with in this debate, other than throwaway lines like how we "could do a lot better" than the TSA. Not only did Romney contradict himself on illegal immigrants in a single sentence, but he also got his own name wrong. Bachmann spent half of the debate saying how much she agrees with the current frontrunner and the rest of the time mostly talking nonsense.

The highest scorer of the night, at least in my estimation, was Jon Huntsman, despite pushing some concept he calls the "trust deficit" and even going back to talking about "our core." The only reason he scores so highly is that half of his answers didn't rise to the point of being scored at all, either positive or negative. Of the five answers that I did score, four contradicted each other (in two pairs). He says we've accomplished our goals in Afghanistan... but he wants to keep upwards of ten thousand troops there just in case we haven't. He criticizes Obama for not supporting democracy in Iran, and then turns around and says we shouldn't yet support democracy in the Arab Spring. His best answer of the night that he didn't later retract was when he said, "If we can't find some savings in the $650 billion budget, we're not looking closely enough."

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Thanksgiving Family Forum (IA)

I debated (yuk-yuk) whether or not to cover this "non-debate debate" called the Iowa Thanksgiving Family Forum. On the one hand, there were only six candidates present; Romney and Huntsman declined their invitations. Is it really a debate without the current front-runner? On the other hand, there were only six candidates, giving each of the participants more time to give more detailed answers. At the same time, this was billed as a social issues forum. Since social issues have (understandably) been on the back burner for most of the other debates, this is an opportunity to hear their viewpoints on some issues that they don't typically get to talk about.

The full video is here, as well as on YouTube (with better sound quality). It was not broadcast on any television network, not even C-SPAN. The forum was held at an Iowa church, so the video starts with a Christian song, and the event is opened with prayer. Throw in an ad for the sponsor and a couple speeches (including one by an Occupier) and the candidates don't actually take the stage until 36-and-a-half minutes into the videos linked above.

Considering the "non-debate debate" nature of this forum, and the fact that many of the questions are very personal religious and philosophical questions, I'm not going to be scoring these answers the same as I usually do. I also won't add quite as much personal commentary as I usually do, in the interest of finishing this entry before the election.

Ron Paul
  • The first question goes to Paul, about the phrase, "So help me God" at the end of the President's oath of office. He says that he understands the phrase to signify that the oath of office isn't just a promise to the nation, but a promise to God.
  • "The goal of government isn't to mold society," but to preserve liberty. He believes culture influences the law, but the law should not be used to influence culture.
  • Just because someone might make a bad choice, doesn't mean we should step in and make that choice for them. He says that's what the Left does on economic issues, and the Right should not do it on religious issues.
  • If someone makes bad choices, they should take responsibility for those choices, and they don't have the right to ask the government to take those responsibilities.
  • The US Constitution limits the federal government, not the states. Even when states are wrong, it's up to the states to correct their own wrongs, although he seems to draw an exception for slavery and "civil liberties."
  • He would support a federal abortion amendment, but doesn't think enforcement should be federal. He says crimes involving violence, including murder, are handled at the state level. (He's wrong about that. Murder is covered under federal law, under circumstances as diverse as drug-related drive-by shootings, rape, torture and occurring at an international airport.)
  • He supports using Congress' authority to define the courts' jurisdictions by removing their jurisdiction over matters of abortion.
  • He gives a mini-autobiography. He says he grew up a Lutheran and went through catechism, but was also influenced by Billy Graham. He talks about earning his medical degree and the different experiences of being a doctor, then learning economics and getting into politics.
  • When the topic turns to struggles and mistakes, he tells how as a teenager he was very athletic but suffered some kind of injury and was never able to physically get back to the same competitive level. I can't help but notice that answers in this part of the forum seem a lot more rushed than everyone else's. He really doesn't seem to be comfortable with this level of personal discussion.
  • He would not support a marriage amendment, although he does support the Defense of Marriage Act. In general, he would like marriage to be handled by the states, although he would prefer for it to be handled by the church, independently of government.
  • He believes in St. Augustine's theory of Just War, and that the Constitution is in place to guide us to follow that theory. He says all wars since WW2 have been "illegal, unconstitutional, immoral and all were unwinnable." He says the wars of the past ten years have cost 8,500 American lives (which is true only if you include 9/11) and added $4 trillion to the national debt (which may or may not be true if you count indirect costs projected out to 2020, but is nowhere near true if you're counting actual allocated funds).

Michele Bachmann
  • In her first answer, she relates the President's oath of office to her testimony as a Christian. She says she was 16 when she prayed the sinner's prayer and sought to give her life to God.
  • She doesn't like that pastors can't talk about politics from the pulpit, but she doesn't explicitly mention why (the tax exemption for churches).
  • She says she has "a Biblical worldview," especially in regards to "marriage, family and children."
  • The problem with Obamacare is that it "trumps the states," and that's why she wants to repeal it. She later says that Obamacare means taxpayer-funded abortions, and that this coming election will be our only opportunity to repeal it.
  • Congress needs to limit "subject matter jurisdiction," meaning they need to create certain topics that the judicial system is not allowed to hear cases about. She implies she would remove their jurisdiction over gay marriage, and says explicitly she would remove their jurisdiction over offshore oil drilling leases, which she says are always sued by environmental groups. She also repeats her promise to get the price of gas back below $2 per gallon.
  • She tells the story of her parents' divorce; her father left and she didn't see him again for six years, leaving her mother with four children. She says that experience led her to take in 23 foster children as an adult, which in turn led her to get involved in education reform, which in turn led to politics.
  • She asks, "Why is it that the big decisions always get made by the Supreme Court?" She wants to pass a federal marriage amendment to make sure that the final decision on gay marriage is made by the people, not by judges.
  • She wants to expand the educational choices that parents have, but like Santorum stops short of using the phrase "school choice." She says teaching right and wrong has to come from the parents.
  • War is justified if America is attacked or threatened with attack and there is a "clearly defined American vital interest" in going to war.

Rick Santorum
  • We have lost the sense that our rights come from God. He says we should not be like Islam, where civil law and religious law are the same, but that civil law should still "comport with the higher law." He cites abortion as an area where current civil law does not comport with God's law.
  • He says when he won his first Senate race, he "had a constituency of one," that one being God. He also says he came to the Senate and found God because of the support that he found there. Now that's not a characterization of the US Senate you often hear!
  • Faith and family are the most important things, even above policy, and he says if you have faith and family "in line," everything else will probably fall in line too.
  • He says the Left has co-opted our educational system and through that our culture, and that this is why so many people are hostile to the kinds of things they're talking about in this forum.
  • He talks about "no-fault freedom," or freedom without responsibility, which is what he says the Left advocates. Freedom isn't about what you want to do, but "what you ought to do," and he'll tell you what you ought to do.
  • "Gay marriage is wrong," then quotes Lincoln to say the states do not have the right to do wrong. He's for a marriage amendment, and says he's the only one on the stage who came to Iowa to help get out the vote against the judges who had passed gay marriage in Iowa. Later, he says gay marriage "radically changes the entire moral fiber of our country," and as President he would actively speak out against it.
  • If Gingrich would eliminate a single court he disagrees with, Santorum would eliminate the entire Ninth District. He says that Congress, as an equal branch of government under the Constitution, has the same authority to determine constitutionality of a law as the Supreme Court does.
  • He tells the story of his youngest daughter, who was born with a congenital disorder that kills 99% of children with it within their first year. It's a very moving story, and he obviously tells it straight from the heart. It's deeply personal; he relates how for several months he restrained himself from loving her because losing her was almost certain, before he realized that he was treating her as less than a person because of the disorder. For him, this strengthened his resolve to fight against abortion.
  • "The family is the bedrock of our society." He wants to fight gay marriage in the states because he sees the pro-life movement's failure to fight abortion in the states in the 70s as one of the contributing factors to Roe v. Wade.
  • He says the educational system is broken, and that we need a system that focuses on the customer. That customer is not the child, but the parents. He wants more customization of educational options rather than a one-size-fits-all approach to education. That includes measuring more than just academic achievement, although he doesn't specifically say what else he would measure. He also doesn't use the phrase "school choice" or other buzzwords associated with vouchers, charter schools, etc., so it's not clear that he's for or against those options, or how he wants to achieve the customization of education.
  • He wants to put the last ten years of war into the broader context of the 1000+ year struggle between Islam and the West, and he believes it all comes down to Iran. He really steps up the rhetoric with a list of reasons why Iran is our enemy, and finishes by saying he wants to make clear to Iran that if they do not shut down their nuclear research facilities, we will work with Israel to eliminate those facilities.

Rick Perry
  • He says the President's responsibilities are beyond "human intellect" and he could not do it without the help of God. He also says he has been driven to prayer many times as Governor of Texas.
  • Our laws and policies are built on values, and it's up to us to make sure that those values are "our values." He doesn't think pastors should necessarily talk about politics, but that they shouldn't be afraid to call out political leaders who aren't following their church's values.
  • The Founding Fathers had a much narrower view of the role of the federal government than we currently have, both domestically and internationally. He wants states to have more power in education and health care, and he wants to curtail our spending on foreign aid.
  • The states cannot say no to the federal Constitution, which he says in apparent disagreement with Ron Paul. He doesn't say this explicitly, but it sounds like he would favor both an abortion amendment and a marriage amendment. 
  • He says in Texas, homosexual couples cannot adopt children and he implies that he'd like to see a similar nationwide law.
  • About halfway through the video, there's a short break where everyone gets up and walks around. At the end of the break, the moderator asks the candidates to take their seats, and most of them do (Newt wandered further than the rest and was the last to reach the table). But Perry reaches his seat, then stands next to it and waits for Representative Bachmann to sit down first-- an interesting insight into his personality.
  • He shares the story of growing up in a very small town, saying he graduated in the top ten-- out of a class of thirteen. He says he first became a Christian at the age of 14, but only "truly gave [his] life to Christ" at age 27 after coming home from the Air Force.
  • He says he always wanted to be a veterinarian, that was his goal in going to Texas A&M, "and then he introduced me to organic chemistry, and I became a pilot in the United States Air Force."
  • The role of the government in support of the common good is narrowly defined to issues like public safety, but he includes immigration law under public safety. He repeats his statement from a previous debate that we need to "shut that border down," then shifts to talking about his flat tax proposal.
  • He says he understands the job of Commander-in-Chief because he's led the Texas National Guard while governor. Of the candidates who answered the question about the moral justification for war, Perry's was the broadest justification-- "when America's interests are in jeopardy." He also says we shouldn't let Congress set the rules of engagement, but those should be determined by the commanders on the ground.

Herman Cain
  • About the phrase, "So help me God" at the end of the President's oath of office, he says he is "ultimately responsible to God Almighty."
  • He sees a great divide between "people of faith" and "people of non-faith," and says that people of faith need to not just push back but to fight back against people of non-faith by not being afraid to express their faith in the public sphere.
  • He says the tax code is a form of "intimidation" to pastors, because they're required to not talk about certain topics from the pulpit or they'll lose their tax exempt status.
  • "Freedom without responsibility is immoral." Your right to liberty does not include taking someone else's life, including if that someone else is unborn. He later says the Occupiers are the perfect example of "freedom without responsibility is immoral."
  • The federal government has the power to tell the states what to do when the states are wrong, and the measure of whether or not they are wrong is the principles established in our founding documents, especially "all men are created equal." He holds up the individual mandate as an example of where the states can say no to the federal government.
  • He would support either an amendment or a federal law banning abortion, assuming Roe v. Wade is overturned.
  • He says he joined the church at age 10, but that when he was diagnosed with cancer it was a real blow to his faith. He struggles to tell the story of his wife's support after he was diagnosed with cancer, nearly coming to tears.
  • He says he feels like he wasn't home enough with his kids when they were growing up because he was focusing on his career.
  • If the Supreme Court overturned DOMA, he "would lead the charge to overturn the Supreme Court." He's not clear exactly what that means, but apparently he thinks it can be done legislatively.
  • The common good is enforcing laws, and establishing a level playing field, so that people are treated with fairness & respect.
  • He would not go to war without clearly defining why we're going to war and what the definition of success would be. He believes the moral justification for war rests on defense; he makes no mention of "American interests," only actual defense of life, liberty and property.

Newt Gingrich
  • He ascribes our current woes as a nation to the attempt to create a secular country. He quotes the Declaration of Independence to say that if we recognize that we are endowed by our Creator with certain inalienable rights, then we'll also be able to solve the rest of our problems.
  • He contrasts the French and American Revolutions, and says the French Revolution was a secular, anti-clerical revolution which through history has influenced academia; since academia influences the media and courts, this is why many people are hostile towards religion.
  • He says the Occupiers have no sense of responsibility, and tells them to "go get a job after you take a bath."
  • He believes that under the 14th Amendment, Congress has the authority to legislatively define personhood, and can thus do an end-run around Roe v. Wade. A cursory reading of the 14th Amendment shows it takes a fair amount of "interpretation" to reach that conclusion.
  • He would reinstate Bush's conscience clause, and extend it to adoption agencies on the matter of homosexual adoptions. He would also cut funding to any state or local jurisdiction that did not allow faith-based adoption agencies to choose not to adopt to homosexual couples.
  • He cites a specific justice in San Antonio who recently ruled against school prayer and explicitly said Congress needs to retaliate by eliminating that court.
  • He shares a story about a friend's child who was born with a rare heart defect and brain tumors and went through six years of in-and-out surgery as a child. He says next year's election will be about whether we want bureaucrats to make health care decisions for children like that or if we want a system "that cares about every life at that depth."
  • He reiterates his position from a previous debate that he would not be comfortable with an atheist President. In fact, he says, such a person "terrifies" him because they misunderstand human limitations. He briefly alludes to his marriage problems, but mostly glosses over them. He says although he wasn't drinking, two AA books helped him realize where he had gone wrong and helped him get himself back together.
  • If the Supreme Court overturns DOMA, he says Congress can just re-pass DOMA with a clause saying it can't be reviewed by the courts. This strategy sounds very dangerous to me. As soon as Republicans start adding clauses like that to their legislation, Democrats are going to do it too. There's probably a few Democrats who wish they'd done it to Obamacare. Do we really want to invite the end of judicial review in this country?
  • Asked if he believes in a "common good," he says the role of the government is to create a framework where individuals can seek that common good on their own.
  • "We should not go to war if we can avoid it," but if we can't avoid it, we need to use "overwhelming power." Like Ron Paul, he agrees with St. Augustine's theory of Just War. He says he would be harsher against Iran than Santorum.

Overall, most of the candidates seemed to let their guards down in this forum. Ron Paul and Newt Gingrich were the notable exceptions. Paul kinda seemed uncomfortable with all the touchy-feely emotional stuff going on and really rushed through his answers during those rounds. Newt seemed very aloof, and not Romney-style above-the-fray aloof since there really wasn't a fray this time. Just aloof. Given the opportunity to talk about his marriages, he basically just glossed over them. In a normal debate, it would've been a perfectly fine answer, but compared to Santorum, Cain and Bachmann's soul-bearing, it just seemed lacking.

I hesitate to judge the candidates on their personal answers, but I do have to make a comment about Rick Perry. Where Santorum, Cain and Bachmann seemed very sincere in their answers, especially Santorum, Perry simply didn't. Now maybe it's a cultural thing or a generational thing, maybe things are just different in Texas, maybe it's just how he expresses himself, so what follows is just my observation.

I'm an Evangelical Christian. I grew up in an Evangelical church and went to a Protestant high school. I am intimately familiar with the codewords and buzz phrases Protestants use to communicate their Protestant-ness to each other. Again, maybe it's just me, but in my experience, the more sincere someone is in living the way they claim to believe, the less they actually use those codewords. Perry's answers sounded like he was reading them out of the dictionary. It's like two students, one of whom can only repeat what the teacher said word-for-word, while the other can explain the teacher's point using their own words. Which one do you think really understands the material?

In case it's not clear, Santorum was the second student. As much as I disagreed with a number of the policies he advocated in this forum, I think this was precisely what he needed, and it's a real detriment to his campaign that it wasn't on any television network. He may have gotten more screentime in this debate than in the all others combined, and he really shone in this format. When he's gone on the attack in past debates, he often came across as just petty and angry. This time there wasn't a hint of pettiness or anger, just sincerity and belief. I still don't think he's the right candidate for the Presidency, but my opinion of him as a man is a lot higher than it was before this forum.