Before watching this debate, I had fairly negative opinions of Gingrich, Romney, Paul and Bachmann, and slightly negative opinions of Santorum, Cain and Pawlenty. My opinion of Huntsman was basically neutral, mostly because I just didn't know who he was or where he stood on the issues.
Just like the first two debates, I've summarized and responded to each candidate's positions below, and I've scored each position positive, zero or negative based on my gut reaction to it. So, here we go.
- "America has unbounded potential." When he grew up, he says 21% of the country worked in manufacturing and now it's 9%. To get it back up, he would eliminate the corporate tax rate-- but only for manufacturing. Hell, why only go back to his childhood? Let's take the economy all the way back to 1870, when 75% of the country worked in agriculture. That'll make things better. (-1)
- He would not compromise on taxes, and would not accept any ratio of spending cuts to taxes, even up to 10:1. Then he criticizes Bachmann for not being willing to compromise. "You need leadership, not showmanship." (-1) "We need to get the economy growing. That doesn't mean taking more money out of it. That means creating energy jobs, creating manufacturing jobs, and my plan will do that." Along with everyone else, raised his hand to say he would walk away from a 10:1 deal on spending cuts to taxes.
- He says he was "the first author of medical savings accounts back in 1992". Then he gets really excited-- he always gets excited about moral issues. "We are a nation that has values. We are a nation that was built on a moral enterprise, and states don't have the right to tramp over those because of the Tenth Amendment." (+1)
- "Iran is not Iceland, Ron [Paul]." "The Iranians are the existential threat to the state of Israel." No points for proper article use, but I like that he calls out Ron Paul. (+1)
- Ron Paul sees the world "exactly the way Barack Obama sees it." He says he authored the Iran Freedom Support Act. "When Rick Santorum is President, Iran will not get a nuclear weapon, because the world as we know it will be no more." Hmm. That's probably not what he meant to say... (0)
- He campaigned to help defeat the Iowa judges who required gay marriage in that state, and he doesn't want the Supreme Court to end up deciding gay marriage. He is willing to fight gay marriage state by state. (-1)
- A man who commits rape cannot face the death penalty, but a child conceived from rape can be aborted. "The child is an innocent victim." (+1)
- Asked about the gold standard, he completely ignores it. He wants to audit the Fed and agrees with Gingrich. He says just because Ron Paul is "mostly wrong, doesn't mean he's always wrong." He also says opposing the debt ceiling increase is "showmanship, not leadership," and brings up the excellent point that we're borrowing far too much to stop borrowing overnight. It's refreshing to hear a Republican admit this. (+2)
- Closing Statement: He's been to a lot of places in Iowa, and pays attention to Iowa, New Hampshire and South Carolina. He also has beat three incumbent Democrats. (0)
- The first thing he would do to get the economy back on track is to "make the tax rates permanent." The top marginal tax rate for corporations and individuals would be 25%, with no capital gains tax, and no tax on repatriated profits. All good ideas. (+2)
- Asked to address some flubs his campaign has made, he does pretty well. He says he was misunderstood about mosques, but stands firm against sharia. He also says that he knows a lot more now than he did before, both about the Palestinians and Afghanistan. (+1)
- "America's got to learn how to take a joke." He wants to secure the border "with whatever means necessary", enforce existing immigration laws, promote legal immigration as a path to citizenship, and empower the states to deal with it. "It turns out that America can be a nation with high fences and wide open doors." I like the wide open doors, but I do not like the high fences. (0)
- Along with everyone else, raised his hand to say he would walk away from a 10:1 deal on spending cuts to taxes. (-1)
- Rick Perry is "just one more politician" who will make the non-politician Cain stand out even more. (+1)
- Our "energy strategy is directly related to national security." He takes seriously Ahmadinejad's threat to wipe Israel off the face of the Earth. He wants to increase American oil production to bring down the world price of oil and so "put a squeeze" on Iran. Uh huh... Foreign policy is not Mr. Cain's strong point, I see. Although I would like more domestic oil production. (0)
- He says Romney's Mormonism doesn't bother him, but it does bother others in Atlanta, because they can't relate to it. (0)
- He did not agree with raising the debt ceiling, but he's pretty vague on what he would have cut instead. He mentions using "performance metrics" which is good, but I don't think those would have been available right away if the debt ceiling wasn't raised. (0)
- Cain reiterates his four points on the economy from his first question. He also says, "If a company were to decide that they want to take some of that money and pay a bigger dividend, so what? It's their money." (+1)
- He would not return to full enforcement of No Child Left Behind, because education choices should be made at the local level. (0)
- Closing Statement: "I represent growth. [...] Send a business problem-solver to Washington, DC." (+1)
- I simply do not understand Paulites. Ron Paul's first answer is a whole lot of rambling and never really answers the question of what he would do to turn the economy around that could get through a divided Congress. He wants interest rates to be higher, and eventually settles on cutting taxes. Asked if he could get that through a divided Congress, he gets a deer-in-the-headlights look for a few seconds, and then goes on a rant about militarism. (-1) And yet, somehow, after this train wreck, he gets raucous applause from all the Paulites in the audience.
- He opposes requiring employers to verify immigration status. "Why do we pay more attention to the borders overseas and less attention to the borders here at home?" Cue rant on militarism. He does turn it around though with a strong statement against giving entitlements to illegal immigrants. (-1)
- Along with everyone else, raised his hand to say he would walk away from a 10:1 deal on spending cuts to taxes. (-1)
- "The federal government can't go in and prohibit the states from doing bad things." Um, yeah it can. What about Jim Crow and segregation? (-1) He gets to mention "medical savings accounts" which is great, but he doesn't go into it at all because he runs out of time.
- Rick Perry "represents the status quo." Paul says he's different from the other candidates and Perry will draw votes away from them, not him. (+1)
- It's "natural" for Iran to want nukes, and the Soviets had tens of thousands of more nukes. Economic sanctions are precursors to war, we should just leave Iran alone and let them build nukes. (-1)
- Bachmann "turns our rule of law on its head." He kind of makes a good point about judging whether someone is a terrorist or not, but then he gets into the Obama administration wanting to assassinate American citizens and "that affects all of us eventually." Paranoid rants like this just reflect badly on sane libertarians, especially without Gary Johnson there to provide a sane alternative. (-1)
- Iran has "some militants" but they're not a threat. People like Santorum are just talking up war propaganda. (-1)
- "Why do we have to have a license to get married?" This is one of the few issues where I agree with Ron Paul completely. We don't need marriage licenses at all. (+1)
- "The Fed creates the business cycle." Which is why before 1913 there were never any recessions. (-2)
- Closing Statement: "My cause has been the cause of liberty, and I am convinced that liberty does not come from our government but it comes from our creator. [...] It is under the principles of liberty that you have the greatest chance of achieving peace and prosperity." He doesn't like the wars, he likes the gold standard, he doesn't like regulations and taxes. (0)
- Mitt won't give a timeframe on recovery, but he does have a plan to get there. First, make the corporate tax rate competitive. (Good.) Second, make regulations work for businesses not for bureaucrats. (Possibly good, depending what he means by it.) Third, have trade policies "that work for us, not just for our opponents." (Whoa. Why are our trade partners suddenly our "opponents"?) Fourth, energy security. Fifth, rule of law. Sixth, institutions that build human capital. (All three of these really depend on what he means by them.) Seventh, the government shouldn't spend more than it takes in. (Good). (0)
- He says he signed the Cut, Cap and Balance pledge. Would he have vetoed the debt deal? He'd rather talk about Cut, Cap and Balance more. (-1)
- He claims he created tens of thousands of jobs while at Bain Capital in a hundred different companies, while the question focused on jobs lost at a single company. If people "want to choose somebody who understands how the private sector works," it's Romney or Cain, Romney says. (+1)
- "We are a nation of immigrants. We love legal immigration." He wants to secure the border and crack down on hiring illegal immigrants, while encouraging "the best and brightest" to immigrate to America. (+1)
- "I don't believe in raising taxes." While governor, he got an increase in Massachusetts' credit rating. He balanced the budget every year while he was governor, but he doesn't mention that in Massachusetts the governor is constitutionally required (PDF) to submit a balanced budget. (-1)
- Along with everyone else, raised his hand to say he would walk away from a 10:1 deal on spending cuts to taxes. (-1)
- Romneycare was good for Massachusetts because the Tenth Amendment allows states to do things like the individual mandate, but not the federal government. He would grant Obamacare waivers to all 50 states. (-1) He points out that states have the ability to require kids to go to school.
- We've helped the Afghanis establish freedom, but "sometime within the next two years" they will have to "earn and keep that freedom themselves." The precise timetable for withdrawal should be established by the generals in Afghanistan. (-1)
- Marriage should be decided at the federal level because people move between states, and he supports a marriage amendment. (-1)
- He wants a personal unemployment account rather than the current system, and would not continue the current plan. Hmm, interesting. I'd like to hear more. (+1)
- Closing Statement: Obama is "out of his depth" and "doesn't understand how the economy works." "In order to create jobs, it's helpful to have had a job." Strong anti-Obama message. Mitt is really good at rising above the back-and-forth between the Republicans and acting like he's already in the general election. The problem is, he's not, and that's not what I want to see. I know they're all against Obama, that's why they're running for the Republican nomination. (-1)
- "We can start to see recovery within three months. [...] We should not have increased the debt ceiling." Using the debt ceiling vote to extract concessions from Democrats is good. Insisting that we should have cut some 40% of federal spending overnight is unrealistic. (-1)
- Bachmann's response to T-Paw's criticism of her record is to not address her record at all, but rather criticize T-Paw's. She says he implemented Cap & Trade, praised the individual mandate and said "the era of small government is over." On her own record, she says she fought the individual mandate and Cap & Trade, and introduced the Lightbulb Freedom of Choice Act. (+1)
- "Nancy Pelosi, Harry Reid and Barack Obama ran Congress, but I gave them a run for their money." Wait a sec, which branch of government is Obama in again? (-1)
- Why did she vote for a cigarette tax increase? Because Pawlenty put a pro-abortion measure in the same bill, so she voted for it because she's pro-life. Huh? As Pawlenty says, "If there were two bad things in the bill... then it's a double reason to vote against it. She voted for it." After a bit of googling, I found that the abortion provision in the bill was a pro-life provision, requiring abortionists to ask women whose pregnancies are past 20 weeks if they would like to give the fetus an anesthetic before the abortion. Bachmann voted for the combined bill, which both raised the cigarette tax and included the pro-life anesthetic provision. I never could've figured that out the way Bachmann told the story. (-1) Even so, there's a very easy answer to the question she was asked. A cigarette tax is fundamentally different than a general tax. Pigouvian taxes aren't intended to raise revenue, although they sometimes do. They're intended to discourage behavior that has negative externalities. Smokers impose a social cost on nonsmokers by spreading their smoke; a Pigouvian cigarette tax corrects that market failure.
- Along with everyone else, raised her hand to say she would walk away from a 10:1 deal on spending cuts to taxes. (-1)
- "The government is without authority to compel a citizen to purchase a product or service against their will." The individual mandate is unconstitutional at both the federal and state levels. While I agree with her opposition to the individual mandate, the Massachusetts Supreme Court disagrees with her reading of the state constitution. (0) I think the individual mandate probably is constitutional at the state level for most states. That doesn't mean I think it's a good idea, but it's probably allowed.
- "I like Sarah Palin a lot." She says there's room in this race for whoever wants to get in. (+1)
- Terrorists from other countries do not have Miranda rights, and we need Guantanamo Bay to fight terrorists. (-1)
- I thought she handled the submissive question very well. Submission doesn't mean respect like she says it does, but as a debate answer it was very good. (+1)
- She supports a federal marriage amendment, and she says she was the chief author on the Minnesota state marriage amendment. (-1)
- "It was very important that we not raise the debt ceiling." She also says Congress gave Obama "a blank check for $2.4 trillion." A blank check doesn't have any amount, by definition. She says S&P has proved her right, and the debt ceiling should not have been raised. (-1)
- The American people want balanced budgets with the right spending priorities, and she led in opposing the debt ceiling increase, she says. Given the chance to respond to Santorum, she doesn't. (0)
- Closing Statement: Obama got started in Iowa, and now Iowa can "bring that Presidency effectively to a close." (0)
- His 5% growth target is "aggressive" and "bold", and he says he has the most specific economic plan of any candidate. But rather than talk about what that plan is, he'd rather talk about how Obama doesn't have one (which is true) and how large Mitt Romney's lawn is (wait, what?). (-1)
- He says Bachmann has done "absolutely wonderful things, but it's an undisputable fact that in Congress, her record of accomplishment and results is nonexistant." Then he talks about his record as Minnesota governor. This is exactly the kind of thing I wanted to see in the first two debates-- the candidates are finally debating each other instead of all collectively debating Obama in absentia. (+2)
- T-Paw says all of the things Bachmann led in opposing, we ended up with anyway. "If that's your view of effective leadership with results, please stop, because you're killing us." That's a great zinger. (+1)
- He says he's one of only four governors to receive CATO's A grade. Like Romney, he brags about balancing the budget as governor. Also like Romney, Pawlenty was constitutionally required (PDF) to submit a balanced budget as governor of Minnesota. Sorry, you don't get credit for simply not violating the constitution. (-1)
- "Obamacare was patterned after Mitt's plan in Massachusetts." He calls them "essentially the same plan." T-Paw also criticizes Romney for raising spending in Massachusetts and appointing pro-choice, liberal judges. (+1)
- We were justified in invading Afghanistan ten years ago, but now we're "ten years removed." Obama is withdrawing troops too quickly, and Pawlenty would listen more to the generals in Afghanistan. (-1)
- We should do everything "plausible" to prevent Iran from getting nukes. He supports economic sanctions and actions like the Stuxnet computer virus (exactly the kind of cyberattack Huntsman just called an act of war). (0)
- As governor of Minnesota, Pawlenty passed several pro-life bills and the abortion rate in Minnesota "dropped dramatically." The only case where abortion should be allowed is danger to the mother's life. (+1)
- Closing Statement: "God has greatly blessed America, but with great blessing comes responsibility, and if we don't fiercely protect our most precious blessing-- freedom-- we may lose it forever." We need "effective, tested, conservative leadership" and he says that's what he is. (+1)
- "If you want to know what I'm going to do [as President], I'm going to do exactly what I did as Governor." He claims he made Utah the #1 state in the union for job creation by enacting an "historic" tax cut. (0)
- Asked to defend serving as Obama's ambassador, he has a great answer. When asked to serve, he says, "I'm the person who's gonna stand up and do it." He also says the stimulus needed more tax cuts, just like he did in Utah. (+1)
- He says he's pro-life, pro-second-amendment and pro-growth. He wants to secure the border with fencing, technology and the National Guard, and doesn't want to talk about what to do with existing illegal immigrants until that's done. (-1)
- What does he think of Rick Perry? "We all need prayers, and I hope he offers a whole lot for everybody here on this stage." Wow, I was surprised when I heard that. That's exactly the kind of thing you would expect to hear from the Democratic camp, not from a Republican. Not even the super-libertarian Ron Paul made fun of Perry's prayer thing. (-1)
- Would you consider cyberattacks acts of war? "Absolutely." He also says, "It'd be a great thing to have a President of the United States who knew something about China." (+1)
- Why does he support civil unions? Because he's running on his record, and he's been married for years and has children and we need to do better on equality. It should be handled at the local level and everyone is entitled to their personal belief. Yeah, way to stand up for something! (-1)
- When he worked in the private sector, he opened facilities in other countries "because of the EPA's reign of terror." He also wants to make the same point about manufacturing as Santorum did. Sorry, but it's just as stupid as when Santorum said it. Even worse, because he goes on to add, "We don't make things anymore in this country." (-2)
- No Child Left Behind should "be done away with" and control should be given to local governments. He also supported Boehner's plan to raise the debt ceiling and avoid default. (0)
- Closing Statement: "Barack Obama won in 2008 on hope. I'm gonna win in 2012 on solutions." (+1)
- Asked why he would be better at creating jobs than the people on stage with real business experience, Newt would rather answer the questions Paul and Cain got about divided government. (-1)
- To Chris Wallace, he says, "I took seriously Brett's injuction to put aside the talking points, and I wish you would put aside the gotcha questions." He compares himself to Reagan and McCain on having trouble with his campaign staff. He wants to repeal Dodd-Frank, Sarbanes-Oxley and Obamacare, and institute "lean six-sigma across the federal government." (+1)
- Decisions on which illegal immigrants could stay and which would be deported would be made by citizen boards with "local, practical decision-making" based on the Selective Service Commission from World War II. He would move people from Homeland Security to Border Patrol to secure the border and set English as the official language. (-1)
- Along with everyone else, raised his hand to say he would walk away from a 10:1 deal on spending cuts to taxes. (-1) He also thinks the supercommittee is "a dumb idea" and thinks it will lead to a choice between "gutting our military" or a tax increase.
- New candidates have "lots of time" to join the race, whether it's Giuliani, Perry or Palin, and "that's what America is all about." (+1)
- What is the way forward in Libya? Gingrich would rather argue about whether the question is fair. When pressed, we need to "rethink" our strategy and have "a serious national debate about it." Mr. Speaker, that serious national debate is the one you're participating in, and we're trying to figure out what your position is. (-2)
- Asked about a Muslim loyalty test, he says it would apply to everyone, not just Muslims, but he doesn't say what it would entail. (0)
- Keeping "some kind of central bank" is important to deal with monetary policy, but the Fed should be publicly audited. I'm wary of "audit the Fed" types because that usually means more political control over the money supply, which is obviously bad. At the same time, the Fed could stand to be more open. (+1)
- Closing Statement: The election is fifteen months away, but "we need real leadership now" so go call your Congressmen. That would have a lot more pull if he hadn't resigned his own seat in Congress. (-1)
This debate was far more entertaining than the others. I felt for the first time like the Republicans were really debating each other, and a lot of it seemed to center around Pawlenty. I was also very happy to hear the time limit bell. The lack of any kind of bell or buzzer in the second debate was a killer.
Summing my gut reactions for each candidate, Cain gets +5, while Santorum and Pawlenty both get +2. Everyone else is negative. Huntsman and Gingrich both get -3, Romney and Bachmann both get -4 and Paul brings up the rear once again with -7. These don't really matter, since every candidate got different questions for the most part, and some got more than others.
Ron Paul really fell apart this time. When he was ranting about militarism in response to economic and immigration questions, he was spouting paranoia about Obama assassinating Americans. Half the time, I thought he was about to start screaming about the NAU, and the rest of the time, I just struggled to make coherent sentences out of what he was saying.
Michele Bachmann was the clear loser of the Pawlenty-Bachmann spat. She also doesn't seem to understand the difference the federal constitution and state constitutions, as Romney was quick to point out. The way she handled the submission question was impressive, but it was her only really good answer of the evening.
Mitt Romney was okay. He had one or two good things to say, but for the most part he held back and let the other candidates slug it out. As the front-runner, he can do that, but it doesn't get him any points from me. Newt Gingrich also didn't get involved with the other candidates, just with the moderators. I really hope Newt drops out after the Ames straw poll.
It was good to see Jon Huntsman in action. I haven't really paid any attention to him until now. I was impressed by some of his statements, like what he said on cyberattacks, but he blew the civil unions question, and the immigration question, and the job question... Not to mention making fun of prayer at a Republican debate in Iowa. I kind of agree with the sentiment that he should be running as a Democrat.
Once again, Rick Santorum showed that he is a very strong social issues candidate. Unfortunately for him, this is going to be an economic issues election. Still, I was very impressed with his take on the debt deal. He was the only Republican on that stage with the guts to admit that there's no way we could cut enough spending overnight to stop taking on debt. If he can channel that kind of clarity and show the same enthusiasm for the economy as he usually shows for social issues, he might stand a chance. On the other hand, some pollsters have already stopped asking about him, and I've read speculation that he'll drop out after Ames, which is kind of a shame.
Tim Pawlenty was really the star of the debate. He did a great job of taking the debate to the other candidates. He was clearly targeting Bachmann and Romney, and he scored some great points against both of them. That said, when he actually got around to talking about his own ideas, they were hit-and-miss for me. I like his stand on abortion, and I like his growth plan, but we don't need to be in Afghanistan any longer than Obama will keep us there. If anything, I think Obama is keeping us there too long. Even so, Pawlenty is in a solid second place for me.
Herman Cain, right now, is my favorite. He's said some really off-the-wall things in past debates, but he's learning, and he's getting better. I love how he approaches problems. He's very methodical, and has four-point plans for almost everything. He's pretty weak on foreign policy, but again, this election will be about the economy, not foreign policy. Picking a strong foreign policy VP would just about seal the deal for me. Then again, one of the ways we got into this mess was electing a President with hardly any experience, and I'm not sure that's a mistake we want to make twice.