Friday, May 6, 2011

First Republican Primary Debate (SC)

The primary season is upon us. The first Republican primary debate was held Thursday, although I didn't get a chance to see it until yesterday (full video here). Notable in their absence were all the losers from the last election, which doesn't bother me a bit. I was also glad to not see Trump on stage.

Among those who showed up, there were two former governors (Pawlenty and Johnson), two Congressmen (one current (Paul) and one former (Santorum)) and... Herman Cain, former CEO of a company I've never heard of and also former chairman of the Kansas City Federal Reserve. I've deliberately avoided most of the 2012 primary talk up until now. Before watching the debate, my opinion of Santorum, Pawlenty and Johnson was basically neutral. I had a vague positive opinion of Herman Cain, having seen one or two Youtube videos of him speaking, and a moderate negative opinion of Ron Paul, for a variety of reasons.

Below, I've summarized and responded to each candidate's positions. Just for fun, I've also scored each position positive, zero or negative based on my gut reaction to it.

Ron Paul:
  • There was some uncharacteristic uncertainty when the candidates were asked to raise their hand if they would release the Osama photo. Paul raised it, lowered it, then raised it again. Really odd, although maybe he just didn't know how long he was supposed to keep his hand raised. (0)
  • Paul says Osama bin Laden would "absolutely not" still be alive if we had withdrawn from Afghanistan years ago; the Afghanistan war "hardly had anything to do with" gathering the intelligence for the Osama raid. Total cognitive dissonance. (-1)
  • Big rant against Guantanamo and "secret prisons," invoking fears of authoritarianism. "We should treat people the way we think we might be treated under dire circumstances." Presumably, he's not talking about televised beheadings. (0) Oy, are the Paulites going to raucously applaud after every statement he makes?
  • Paul says enhanced interrogation doesn't "accomplish anything," and it is "not true" that it led to intelligence that helped us find Osama. No matter what your opinion of "enhanced interrogation" is, it does seem to have revealed information that was useful in catching Osama. (-1)
  • Tort reform is a state matter, not a national matter, and that's why he opposes national tort reform. But he also has his own free-market-based national tort reform plan. (Raucous appluase.) The free market is great, but the first half of his statement doesn't quite mesh with the second part of his statement. (0)
  • "I'd sort of like to follow the Constitution, and then we wouldn't have these kinds of problems." Asked what limited role the federal government should have, he launches into a tirade against militarism and somehow inflation is the same as defaulting on our debt. This question was the perfect opportunity to lay out a real, solid libertarian approach for what the government should be doing, and aside from the first sentence, Paul blew it. (-1) Still gets applause though. I swear, the man could make armpit fart noises and get a standing ovation.
  • Paul says Israel is "too dependent" on us, and he doesn't want any foreign aid, "Pakistan or anyone else." Israel should make their own decisions on attacking Iran. (0)
  • On marriage, government should "get out of it." No restrictions on gay marriage, or if government must be involved in marriage, let it be at the state level. (+1)
  • On appealing to union voters, he says it's fine for the GOP to be anti-union, because we can reach those voters on other issues. This is the first time I really feel like Ron Paul deserved that ever-present applause. (+1)
  • First time the crowd has laughed-- the moderator lists Paul's support for legalizing marijuana, cocaine, heroine, prostitution and gay marriage, then asks, "Why should social conservatives in South Carolina vote for you for President?" Rather than talk about any of those things, Paul talks in general about liberty and the government telling you what you can eat or drink. When pressed, he ends up saying it's okay to legalize heroin because he doesn't think anyone there would actually use it. The Paulites love his answer, as always. (-1)
  • In the first lightning round, he says Obama's greatness weakness is the economy, which Obama doesn't understand. Paul says prices are rising, and we haven't had "the correction" from the previous bubble created by the Federal Reserve. A lot of people love this kind of talk, and not just the Paulites. But when Paul talks about a "correction" from a bubble, he's talking about a recession. He'll never phrase it that way, but that's what a correction is. He doesn't think the Great Recession was deep enough, and the only way to move forward is to have another one. This response would be terrifying if I thought Ron Paul had any chance to win the general election. (-2)
  • In the second lightning round, Ron Paul says he doesn't feel threatened by Bachmann because she's not there at the debate. (0)
  • In his closing remarks, he says the budget and deficit is a philosophical problem, not an accounting problem, then brings up the role of government, including bringing the troops home and restoring sound money. Nice to hear him discussing what the role of government should be, but my ideal role is not Ron Paul's ideal role. (0)
Herman Cain:
  • His first statement for the night is that he would not release the Osama photo. (-1)
  • On Afghanistan, he would follow the advice of his expert advisers, which, since he's not yet President, he doesn't have, so he doesn't know what he would do. Props for honesty, but that's not going to win a campaign. (0)
  • He would support waterboarding in certain circumstances because terrorists have one goal: "to kill all of us." That line of argument could be used to justify absolutely anything. (-1)
  • "We have the all of the resources we need right here in this country to establish energy independence, if we had the leadership." That's a great start, but then he falls into blaming "speculators" for the run-up in gas prices. Ugh. (-1)
  • According to the question the experts say the FairTax is bad for the middle class. Cain's reponse: "With all due respect, your experts are dead wrong... I strongly support totally replacing the current code with the FairTax." Personally, I'm not sure where I stand on the FairTax. I prefer solutions like the Flat Tax that avoid any kind of national sales tax. More to the point, I'm suspicious of ideas like Cain's "prebate" for "every family" on "essential goods and services." If every family receives a prebate, why do we need to tax those "essential" goods and services in the first place? That just sounds like an excuse for people to get an extra check in the mail. (-1)
  • Cain supports the Arizona immigration law. He says there are four problems with immigration: "securing the border, enforcing the laws that are there, promoting the path to citizenship that we already have... and... empower the states to do what the federal government cannot and is not doing." Securing the border is a joke, but enforcing existing laws and cleaning up the bureaucracy in the existing path to citizenship are both worthy goals. However, in the end, Cain says we need to empower states to do what "the federal government cannot micromanage." That's great if we're talking about issues that can be solved by the states. But it's hardly micromanagement for the federal government to handle the nation's immigration policy. (0)
  • We've intervened in Libya, but we never intervened in Syria-- which is right? Cain answers, "Neither." He says we need to have a foreign policy plan in place for every country on earth. Yes, Mr. Cain, and we're trying to find out what yours would be. (-1)
  • Cain has apparently said that Obama's failure to defend DOMA is "a breach of presidential duty bordering on treason." That's a bit harsh, but Cain's point is that the President is to "protect and uphold the laws of the United States of America," and Obama is "asking the Justice Department to not uphold a law." Right on. (+1)
  • Asked about the GOP appearing as a union-busting party, Cain deflects the question to talk about how bad the NLRB is. Which is true, and seeing as the debate is in South Carolina, I guess it's hard to avoid demagoguing on that right now. (0)
  • Cain is given a double-question, partly about his lack of experience in elected office, and partly about abortion. "I'm proud of the fact, quite frankly, that I haven't held public office before. Because I ask people-- Most of the people that are in elected office in Washington DC, they have held public office before. How's that workin' for ya? We have a mess. How about sending a problem solver to the White House?" He gets the third laugh from the crowd, and the first that's not in response to drugs. It's a great response, although I do wish he'd touched on abortion too. (+1)
  • In the first lightning round, Cain says, "One right decision doth not a great president make." Awesome quote. He also says Obama's main problem is the economy in general and gas prices in particular. (+1)
  • In the second lightning round, Cain says he supported Romney in 2008 because of Romney's business experience and approach to jobs, but he's now running against Romney (probably) because, "He did not win." (+1)
  • In his closing remarks, Cain says we need real economic growth, energy independence, and national security clarity, and not... positionship? What on earth is that? For a closing statement that was so clearly prepared and practiced ahead of time, Cain should've stuck to the dictionary. (-1)
Tim Pawlenty:
  • His response about Obama killing Osama bin Laden is mediocre. He congratulates Obama "in that moment," but criticizes him on other foreign policy issues. No surprise there-- this is the default Republican position. His Libya statement does worry me a bit, though. (0)
  • He would release the Osama photo. (+1)
  • "The first order of business of the United States federal government is to protect this country and the American people." A great quote, but it kind of avoided the question about enhanced interrogation and what limits should be placed on it. (0)
  • He went back and forth with the moderator a couple times to clarify the enhanced interrogation hand-raising question, making clear he would support it in "certain" circumstances but not "any" circumstances. I wish I knew what "certain" circumstances, but this is better than either Paul's or Cain's approaches. (+1)
  • In response to what he would do to stimulate the economy besides cutting taxes, he gets in a good dig against Obama for the NLRB's recent Boeing nonsense. Telling us what you won't do isn't the same as telling us what you will do, but it's still a good point to make. (+1)
  • Pawlenty wants to "empower individuals and families" on health care, and "if they need financial help, let's give it to them, but let's give it to them directly." (+1)
  • Asked about balancing the budget in Minnesota, he brags that every one of his four two-year budgets as Governor was balanced. That's great, but he fails to mention that a balanced budget is required by the Minnesota state constitution. (-1)
  • Pawlenty says Obama should have established the Libya no-fly zone a month earlier, and he would never subordinate the US to the UN, which he calls "that pathetic organization." (-1)
  • He supports the Bush approach to embryonic stem cell research funding, giving funds to research on existing lines, but not to research that would destroy more embryos. He also supports "adult-derived" stem cell research, and points out that most of the benefits we've seen so far have been from adult stem cells. (+1)
  • Asked whether he thinks "faith-based theory" (creationism) is equivalent to "scientific inquiry" (evolution), he says in Minnesota he left that choice up to local schools and parents. He says the federal and state governments should stay out of the decision. (+1)
  • He also wants to trumpet about being in "a union family" but the government shouldn't discourage business, and really wishes he'd been asked about unions directly. (-1)
  • On his previous support for cap-and-trade, which actually gets boos from the audience, he apologizes and says he's changed his mind. (0)
  • In the first lightning round, Pawlenty focuses on the economy and federal spending, but also says, "We can't restore America's promise unless we have a President who keeps his promises to America." Nice quote, although the crowd is silent. (+1)
  • In the second lightning round, Pawlenty actually says, "I love the Huck." (-1)
  • In his closing remarks, Pawlenty talks about common sense and then plugs his website. (-1)
Rick Santorum:
  • Santorum would apparently release the Osama photo, although everyone else who raised their hand raised it all the way up, while he seemed more sheepish about it. (+1)
  • "If you look at what President Obama has done right in foreign policy, it has always been a continuation of the Bush policies." I don't agree with this 100%, but this is exactly the message that a successful Republican candidate will need to send in the general election. (+1)
  • He says Islam requires "reformation" and that the United States government needs to address this "ideological battle." Meh. (0)
  • He would support enhanced interrogation in "certain" circumstances, but more importantly, he calls out Ron Paul on how both enhanced interrogation and our role in Afghanistan are linked to the Osama raid. (+1) 
  • Cap Medicare benefits, and "put people in charge instead of the government." According to the question, he's previously regretted voting for Medicare Part D, but based on his answer, he actually likes Medicare Part D. Hmm. (0)
  • Santorum, asked about repealing Obamacare and reforming Medicare for seniors already on the program completely ignores the second half of the question. He doesn't say it outright, but seems to agree that defunding Obamacare is more important than avoiding default, and Republicans should use the debt limit vote to force a defunding of Obamacare. I'd love to see Obamacare defunded and repealed, but that's simply not going to happen as long as Obama is President. On the debt limit vote, we need to focus negotiations on areas where we have a chance of succeeding. (-1)
  • English is "the most powerful language in the world." Interesting word choice. He supports making English the official language, then takes a nice dig at Obama doing nothing on Hispanic issues when Democrats had full control of Congress. Still, this is not an issue to get worked up about. (-1)
  • "We have tolerated a lot of bad behavior" from Pakistan, and we need to return to Bush's "with us or against us." But ultimately he's waffly on continuing to give money to Pakistan's government. Invoking Bush isn't going to help in the general election, and he really should be stronger in withholding money from Pakistan. (-1)
  • Regarding Mitch Daniels, "anybody that would suggest that we call a truce on the moral issues doesn't understand what America is all about." This might be Santorum's first applause. This is obviously something Santorum cares about deeply. He talks about freedom, and then jumps to keeping marriage strong. It's great to see him so worked up, but I just don't share his enthusiasm on social issues, with the exception of abortion and maybe one or two others. (0)
  • Asked about a quote of his from 2005 regarding "radical feminism" and women working outside the home, Santorum is clearly bothered by the question. There's hemming and hawing. He takes awhile to figure out his answer. But... who cares? (0)
  • In the first lightning round, Santorum doesn't mention Obama at all, but focuses on his own electoral history, having beaten (he says), three "unbeatable" Democrat incumbents. (+1)
  • In the second lightning round, Santorum is asked about Gingrich's past marital problems. Santorum hems and haws and says we all make mistakes. (0)
  • In his closing remarks, Santorum says he's got the experience and the "arrows in his back" to prove it. He takes credit for leading welfare reform in the 90s, which might be news to a lot of people. (-1)
 Gary Johnson:
  • He would release the Osama photo. (+1)
  • Johnson would withdraw from Afghanistan "tomorrow", was against the war in Iraq from day one and his opinion on Libya is "I'm opposed to it, A to Z." I'm not sure what "A to Z" means in the context of Libya, or what he would prefer to do in response to the Arab Spring, but the talk of withdrawing from Afghanistan "tomorrow" makes me leery of him. (-1)
  • He would not support waterboarding in any circumstance, but he doesn't get a chance to elaborate at all. (0)
  • Johnson wants to eliminate the corporate income tax and the federal minimum wage, and stop extending unemployment benefits. In his response, he has a good argument for eliminating the corporate income tax, but he's extremely waffly on unemployment benefits and doesn't address the minimum wage at all. (+1, grudgingly)
  • Johnson's upset that "it's like 9 questions for these guys and none for me." He has a point. They're starting Pawlenty's fifth question, Santorum and Paul have both gotten four, Cain has gotten three and Johnson only two. Still, pointing it out like that makes him look like a whiner. (-1)
  • "We're on the verge of a financial collapse." He wants to turn Medicare and Medicaid into block grants, and cut them by 43%. Block grants are good, but no candidate is going to win the general election on a platform of cutting Medicare and Medicaid by 43%. (-1)
  • Immigration will create "tens of millions of jobs." He keeps stressing the difference between temporary work visas vs full citizenship or permanent residence. "Very little, if any benefit" to securing the border. This has probably been my favorite response to any question so far. (+2)
  • Johnson says, "I'm a free market guy... I don't favor tariffs of any kind, whatsoever." Very simple, very straightforward, and exactly what I want to hear. (+1)
  •  Apparently, Johnson is the only person on the stage who does not describe himself as "pro-life." He supports abortion "up until viability," but he opposes late-term abortion and public funds for abortion, while favoring parental notification and counseling. Ultimately, he admits he won't get the pro-life vote in the primaries, but he hopes he will in the general election. In other words, "I might be bad, but I'm not as bad as Obama." (-1)
  • The crowd laughs for the second time when the moderator says Johnson admits he personally smoked marijuana. Talking about drugs sure gets South Carolinians happy. In response, Johnson says he wants to legalize, regulate and tax marijuana, and approach it as a health issue, not a criminal justice issue. Although I support allowing medical uses of marijuana by prescription, I'm somewhere between undecided and opposed on full legalization, and nothing Johnson says is anything I haven't heard before. (0)
  • In the first lightning round, Johnson basically says, if Democrats win in 2012, America is screwed, but if Republicans win, we've got some small chance of maybe not being screwed. Go GOP! (0)
  • In the second lightning round, Johnson is asked, if he had a reality TV show like Donald Trump, what would it be? Um, really? It has to be a question about Trump, so we finally have a perfect opportunity to slam Birtherism, and we get a question about reality TV? Come on, Fox. Johnson handles it well, but it's easily the worst question of the night. (0 for Johnson, -1 for Fox)
  • In his closing remarks, Johnson mostly just says things he's said before-- common sense, cost-benefit analysis, financial collapse, 2-1 Democrats in New Mexico... But he can't leave out a plug for his website. (0)
I couldn't help but notice, when the moderators mention "the potential candidates who are not here," Fox News shows five pictures -- Bachmann, Gingrich, Romney, Trump and Huckabee. No Palin. Since she is a "Fox News contributor," do they know something we don't?

Summing my gut reactions for each candidate, Ron Paul gets -4, Herman Cain -2, Tim Pawlenty +2, Rick Santorum 0 and Gary Johnson +1. These don't really matter, since every candidate got different questions for the most part, and some got more than others.

For the most part, Ron Paul is just typical Ron Paul, and it reinforces why I don't like him. It seems like he never actually thinks his positions through to their logical conclusions (or if he has, he's counting on his supporters not to). Gary Johnson plays the role of the sane libertarian. Overall, I like him, but there are a few issues where he's wrong, like abortion. Still, his position on abortion means I'm closer to him than to the status quo, so I guess that's a net positive.

Tim Pawlenty, for the most part, fulfills his reputation as the generic Republican. He does get the highest score here from my gut reactions, and he got in some good one-liners. On the other hand, getting a +2 out of a possible +16 is still pretty bad. He has a long way to go before I'd be willing to vote for him. Rick Santorum is kind of the more animated version of Pawlenty. He gets really worked up about some things, but for the most part, it's not the right things.

Finally, Herman Cain was a huge disappointment, even though everyone else seems to have declared him the winner of the debate. Cain could be a really great candidate, but a President needs a foreign policy. Based on this debate, it doesn't sound like Cain has any idea what he would do on foreign policy. That's the kind of thing you figure out before you run for President. His approach to domestic policy sounds good, except for that line about oil speculators. As a businessman, he should've known better.