Sunday, September 25, 2011

Fifth Republican Primary Debate (FL)

Alright, I was way late on this one. I have no idea where the time went, but this debate entry is for the fifth debate, held on September 12th, not the sixth debate which was held Thursday night. The official CNN video of the debate is here (also parts 2, 3 and 4). This debate had all the same candidates as the previous one, which is a first.

To get my biases out in the open, before watching the debate, I had a fairly positive view of Herman Cain, and somewhat positive views of Rick Perry and Rick Santorum. I had a somewhat negative view of Michele Bachmann, fairly negative views of Jon Huntsman and Mitt Romney, and very negative views of Newt Gingrich and Ron Paul.

Just like the other four 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. Since these "summaries" are kind of long, you may want to skip to the conclusion at the bottom.

Jon Huntsman
  • He wants us to know he has "the experience and leadership necessary to move this country forward." (0)
  • The only thing that should be off the table in reforming Social Security is the drama going back and forth between Romney and Perry. He likes the Ryan plan. (0)
  • We're watching "a great American tragedy." His economic plan is to 1) reform the tax code by eliminating loopholes while lowering the individual rate, 2) reform regulations- "We cannot go forward with Obamacare" or Dodd-Frank, 3) wean ourselves from our "heroin-like addiction to foreign oil." Yikes... heroin-like? Anyway, the first two points are good. (+1)
  • "This country needs more workers." Then, he repeats his three-point economic plan. It was good the first time he mentioned it, but not good enough to get a second point for repeating it. (0)
  • He wants to eliminate tax loopholes and corporate subsidies. He would have three individual income tax brackets: 8%, 14% and 24%. He would also lower the corporate tax to 25%. (+1)
  • "For Rick [Perry] to say that you can't secure the border, I think is pretty much a treasonous comment." I'm really glad to hear the crowd booing this statement. Since I've said similar things, I guess Huntsman would consider me treasonous too. That puts Huntsman out of the running for me. I can't imagine ever voting for someone who thinks I'm treasonous. (-2)
  • We need to fix Homeland Security by... something about H1B visas (they're broken but he doesn't say how or what he would do to fix them) and bringing in foreign capital to raise real estate prices. The crash of the housing bubble was at least a proximate cause for the Great Recession. Reinflating that bubble is one of the last things we need. I agree that Homeland Security needs to be fixed, but I don't have any confidence that Huntsman's idea of fixing it would be anything like my idea of fixing it. (-1)
  • "The time has come for us to get out of Afghanistan." The Afghan people should take responsibility for their own security, and we can help Afghan women and children through NGOs and volunteer organizations. (+1)
  • What would he add to the White House? His Harley Davidson motorcyle. (0)

Herman Cain
  • He says he is "the only non-politician on this stage." (0)
  • Is Social Security a Ponzi scheme? "I don't care what you call it, it's broken." "Start with optional personal retirement accounts." Second... personal retirement accounts as an option. I can ignore the flub because I really agree with the policy. "Instead of giving it to the states, let's give it back to the workers." Cain is right on when it comes to Social Security. (+1)
  • "Throw out the entire tax code" and replace it with his 999 plan. Cain says that others criticize him, saying, "You don't know how Washington works. Yes I do. It doesn't." Cain's got some great one-liners in this debate. I'm still undecided on the 999 plan, although I am warming to it. (+1)
  • Can you be both pro-worker and pro-business? Yes, because he "was a worker before [he] was an executive and before [he] was a business owner." He also came from a "pro-worker family." "The two are not mutually exclusive." The easy answer here would've been that you can't be pro-worker without being pro-business, since workers only get paychecks if the business brings in revenue. Instead, Cain talked about his family and his pizza chain. (0)
  • Yes, he says, the Fed should be audited, and should be given a single mandate. Then he says the US-Canadian exchange rate used to be 1.22, now it's "totally reversed." As someone who visits Canada at least once a month and used to live there, I can say Cain is absolutely wrong here. The two currencies are more or less at par, and have been about at par for a long time now. (-1)
  • How would he bring down the cost of medical care? Repeal Obamacare, then pass "market-driven, patient-centered reforms" such as tort reform, restructure Medicare (although he doesn't say exactly how), and allow association health plans (like the National Restaurant Association of which Cain was once CEO). These are all good things, although I wish he talked about Medicare more. (+1)
  • To become energy independent, remove barriers that have been put in place by the federal government, starting with "an EPA that has gone wild." He wants to create a "regulatory reduction commission for every agency starting with the EPA." (+1)
  • What would he add to the White House? A sense of humor, "because America is too uptight." (+1)

Michele Bachmann
  • She's authored bills to repeal Dodd-Frank and Obamacare, and founded the Tea Party Caucus. She's the first candidate to get applause for her introduction. (+1)
  • We've made a promise to seniors already on Social Security, and we need to keep that promise, but we also need to reform the system for those who aren't yet receiving benefits. She also says Obamacare "stole" money from Medicare. "I'm a person that's had feet in the private sector and a foot in the federal government." She started off strong, but how many feet does she have? She would've done better to stick to Social Security. (0)
  • We have to change "the principle" that government pays for everything and return to "personal responsibility." (+1)
  • Were the Bush tax cuts responsible for the deficit increase? She waffles, basically answering yes without actually saying yes, then talks about the debt ceiling and repatriating corporate money. (-1)
  • She would not reappoint Ben Bernanke. She's really upset that the Federal Reserve makes loans to private businesses and --horror!-- foreign governments. Does she have any idea what it means for the US dollar to be the world's reserve currency? Or the lender of last resort? Does it matter to her that all the loans have been repaid with interest? Politicians like Bachmann are precisely the reason why I don't want to give politicians more control over the money supply. (-2)
  • Does she agree or disagree that Bernanke has committed "treason" as Perry says? She says, "That's for Governor Perry to make that decision." That doesn't sound like something a candidate for Vice President would say, not a candidate for President. (-1)
  • "To have innocent little twelve-year-old girls be forced to have a government injection through an executive order is just flat out wrong. That should never be done." That sounds good, but that gets dangerously close to coming out against all vaccines. (0)
  • She raises the issue of Merck's campaign contributions to Perry. Merck being the maker of Gardasil stood to get quite a bit of money from a state-mandated Gardasil injection (even with an opt-out). It's a good point, and I love the back-and-forth between Perry and Bachmann on this issue. (+1)
  • You can't solve Obamacare with an executive order, which is a great point that needs to be said more often. But then she says individual mandates are unconstitutional at both the state and federal levels, which is going too far. I think it is very likely unconstitutional at the federal level, but the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court has upheld the law in Massachusetts. She also gets very worked up about repealing Obamacare; this is clearly her issue, I just wish she'd lay off the "unconstitutional" rhetoric a bit, especially at the state level, where she's probably wrong. (0)
  • "The American way is not to give taxpayer-subsidized benefits to people who have broken our laws." She says the immigration system worked well until the 1960s by requiring that immigrants had "a little bit of money in their pocket." What happened to "Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free, the wretched refuse of your teeming shore"? (-1)
  • What would she add to the White House? "A copy of the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution of the United States, the Bill of Rights and that's it." ...She has to know the Bill of Rights is part of the Constitution, doesn't she? (0)

Mitt Romney
  • He emphasizes his private sector experience, and says he can get the economy growing again. (0)
  • "The term Ponzi scheme, I think, is over the top and unnecessary and frightful to many people." Perry has called Social Security unconstitutional and said it should be handled by the states. He also criticizes Perry for calling SS a failure, and just like the last debate, uses the fact that "tens of millions" of Americans have received SS benefits as evidence of the program's success. Although I like Romney's combativeness here, I definitely do not agree with him on policy. (-1)
  • When Perry says, "I think we oughta have a conversation," Romney immediately shoots back, "We're having that right now, Governor." (+1)
  • He would not repeal Medicare Part D, but would reform it. "We're not going to balance the budget just by pretending that all we have to do is take out the waste." It's about time someone said it! Then he says first, cut, cap and balance, then grow the economy to raise revenue. He mentions "restructuring" the economy again, which is worrying, but I like most of what he says. (+1)
  • Texas has a lot of advantages, and he has private sector experience. Then he repeats his seven-point plan from the third debate. Thankfully, he gets rid of his "opponents" line in favor of "the other guys." (+1)
  • The Fed should have some oversight, but "we need to have a Fed... because if we don't have a Fed, who's going to run the currency, Congress?" (+1)
  • A national sales tax has advantages, but Mitt says it would hurt the middle class while helping the richest and poorest. He would rather keep the current system, but eliminate interest, dividend and capital gains taxes for "middle-income Americans." I get the impression from this answer that Romney would more or less keep the tax code the way it is, which I think is a mistake. Eliminating savings taxes for the middle class would be nice, but there's a reason why most of the middle class doesn't care about the capital gains tax in the first place. This plan won't have much of an effect, but it's just enough to distract from real reform. (-1)
  • Health care "isn't working like a market," it's "working like a government utility" because consumers are separated from the cost of health care. To fix it, he would encourage health savings accounts. This is exactly what I believe. I'm still a bit worried about Romneycare, but saying things like this goes a long way to convincing me that Mitt would be alright on health care. (+2)
  • If you think Obamacare and Romneycare are the same, "boy, take a closer look." Romney says Obama raised taxes, cut Medicare, put in place a "panel that ultimately is going to tell people what kind of care they can have" while Massachusetts didn't do any of those things. He also says Romneycare addressed the 9% who were uninsured, while Obamacare addresses 100% of the people. When it comes to the individual mandate, Mitt is wrong here. The individual mandate applies to everyone; that's what makes it a mandate. Whether he's right or wrong that Romneycare didn't do the other things that Obamacare does is mostly immaterial, because it's the individual mandate that is the real problem. (-1)
  • If Latinos "came for a handout, they'd be voting for Democrats." Well, Mitt, Latinos voted 60% Democrat in 2010 and 67% for Obama in 2008, so what does that mean? "Of course we build a fence, and of course we do not give in-state tuition credits to people who come here illegally." I like the second part, but not the first. (0)
  • What would he add to the White House? He would return Winston Churchill's bust to the Oval Office. Nice, subtle jab at Obama. (+1)

Rick Perry 
  • He wants to "make Washington DC as inconsequential in your life as [he] can." (+1)
  • Social Security is "slam dunk guaranteed" for seniors and almost-seniors. At the same time, we need to "reform" and "transform" Social Security. "We're not gonna take that program away." We shouldn't scare seniors like Romney is doing, he says, but have a conversation so that the younger generation will have a retirement program there for them too. (+1)
  • Would he repeal Medicare Part D? No, because we have a $17 trillion hole in our budget. Hmm, I'm not sure how his conclusion follows from his premise, and I'm also not sure where his premise comes from. Is $17 trillion the ten-year deficit? He doesn't say, but it's sure a lot more than the one-year deficit. (-1)
  • Obama is going to pay for the tax cuts in the new stimulus bill by raising taxes. The first stimulus created zero jobs, and the new one will also create zero jobs. We need to lower the "tax burden" and "regulatory climate." "People are tired of spending money we don't have on programs we don't want." (+1)
  • To create jobs, pass federal tort reform. I'm sure that would be good, but that's not going to solve the unemployment problem by itself. (0)
  • He says Texas has actually cut taxes by $14 billion, contrary to Paul's claim of taxes doubling. Who's right? According to, Texas' primary statewide individual tax is the sales tax, which has remained steady at 6.25% since 1990. According to ABC, Ron Paul's local property taxes have doubled while Perry has been in office, but that's because the value of his property has doubled (not to mention that the state government does not determine local tax rates). Perry gets the point. (+1)
  • "If you are allowing the Federal Reserve to be used for political purposes that would be almost treasonous." As far as that goes, he's right. But he's talking about Obama and Bernanke; he seems to completely miss the irony that the other Republican candidates have spent the last five minutes calling for more political control over the Federal Reserve. (0)
  • Was his Gardasil executive order a mistake? "It was, indeed. If I had it to do over again, I would've done it differently." That's good, but then he turns around and defends himself by comparing the opt-out measure to parental choice. I suppose opt-out is more of a choice than forced injections, but opt-in would have been far better. (-1)
  • He says Merck gave him a $5,000 donation, and his campaign raised $30 million. "If you're saying that I can be bought for $5,000, I'm offended." That's an interesting response. It's good to point out the perspective of what $5,000 means for a political campaign these days, but the way he words it leads seamlessly into the question, "Well how much can you be bought for, Governor?" (0)
  • Obamacare isn't right for the country, and Romneycare wasn't right for Massachusetts, "but at the end of the day, that was their call" in Massachusetts. (+1)
  • The federal government has been "an abject failure" on immigration. He supports "strategic fences in metropolitan areas" but the idea of a full border fence "is just not reality." He's not the most eloquent person on stage, but he's right. (+1)
  • If you are working towards your citizenship while living in Texas, you pay in-state tuition, Perry says. "The bottom line is, it doesn't make any difference what the sound of your last name is. That is the American way, no matter how you got into that state, from the standpoint of your parents brought you there or what-have-you... I'm proud that we are having those individuals be contributing members of our society rather than telling them you're gonna be on the government dole." He started out pretty good, but subsidizing someone's college education is still giving them government money. I agree that it's better than being on welfare or unemployment, but it's a weird place to draw the line. (0)
  • Perry calls giving illegal immigrants in-state tuition "giving them the opportunity to go on to college." Someone on that stage needs to point out the difference between going to college vs having the government legislate a lower tuition for a select group. (-1)
  • He says he agrees with Huntsman on Afghanistan that "it's time to bring our young men and women home… but it's also really important for us to continue to have a presence there." Presumably, he means bring home the troops, but keep the government contractors and so-called nation builders. (-1)
  • What would he add to the White House? "The most beautiful, most thoughtful and incredible First Lady that this country has ever seen." (0) 

Ron Paul 
  • As President, he will "promote the cause of liberty, and obey the Constitution." (+1)
  • He won't comment on whether Social Security is a Ponzi scheme, but he says it's "broke." He tried but failed to pass legislation preventing the SS trust fund from being used to pay for wars. He wants "the young people" to be able to leave Social Security. (+1)
  • Would he repeal Medicare Part D? We never should've done it in the first place, but it's not high on his list of things to repeal. We're already reforming SS because there's been no cost-of-living increases (never mind that it's because there was little to no inflation during the recession). We need to get out of overseas wars and cut the Departments of Education and Energy "and get rid of them." (-1)
  • Taxes in Texas have doubled, spending has doubled and the debt has tripled under Perry, and also we should cut spending at the embassy in Baghdad. I'm still waiting for the one question where Paul doesn't refer to the wars. Also, it turns out Paul is wrong on taxes in Texas (see above for more). (-1)
  • "Executive orders have been grossly abused by all administrations for a lot of years" but there are certain tasks, like ordering troop movements, that are appropriate for executive orders. Paul says, "I would never use the executive order to legislate." (+1)
  • What should be done with someone who chooses not to purchase health insurance if something happens and they need health care? "That's what freedom is all about, taking your own risks." He starts off really good and says when he was a doctor before Medicaid, "we never turned anybody away from the hospital." But then he starts talking about "the inflation" and says we should "legalize alternative health care." I suspect all the alternative doctors here on the West Coast would be surprised to find out that it's currently illegal. (0)
  • Paul draws a distinction between military spending and defense spending. He would "slash" military spending. "We're under great threat because we occupy so many countries." He says we have military in 130 countries and 900 bases around the world. I like his point about having too many bases in other countries, but it's simply wrong to say "we occupy so many countries." Even if Iraq and Afghanistan ever were "occupied", both nations are currently run by democratically-elected governments, and our troops remain in those countries only with the permission of those democratically-elected governments. (-1)
  • What would he add to the White House? Common sense and Austrian economics. I'm sorry, but Ron Paul's common sense is neither common nor sensical, and Austrian economics is best in small doses. (-1)

Newt Gingrich
  • He wants to change Washington, and it will be "a long and difficult struggle against the forces of reaction and special interest." (0)
  • Would he raise the Social Security retirement age? "No, not necessarily." He gets a good dig in against Obama, whips the crowd into the most raucous cheering yet and... complains that they're eating into his time. Wow, this guy really doesn't want to be President, does he? (-1)
  • Once he gets past the anti-Obama phase of his answer, he basically aligns himself with Cain for personal retirement accounts. (+1)
  • How do you balance the budget? Modernize and eliminate waste to get "hundreds of billions of dollars." Newt apparently doesn't realize the deficit is now measured in the trillions. He criticizes the Supercommittee and plugs a group called Strong America Now, then talks about Medicare fraud. Eliminating "waste, fraud and abuse" is good, but we need a lot more than that if we're going to actually balance the budget. (-1)
  • "The American people create jobs, not government." He would work with Democrats "on principle, not on compromising principle." Compromise is a fact of life in politics, but this is probably as much as we can expect at a partisan primary debate. (0)
  • "Doesn't [Obama] realize that every green tax credit is a loophole?" For oil, "we can depend on Saudi Arabia, Iran, Iraq, Venezuela" or we can develop domestic supplies. I don't like the "energy independence" rhetoric, since I have no problem buying oil from Canada (who sells us 2.5 times more oil than Saudi Arabia does), but we could definitely stand to relax restrictions on domestic supplies. (+1)
  • Those who argue that eliminating tax loopholes is a tax increase "are technically right." "I don't want to have any tax increase at any level for anyone." That's a good soundbite, but did he basically says he's fine with tax loopholes after criticizing Obama for supporting tax loopholes. (-1)
  • Should we reduce defense spending? He doesn't actually answer the question, but instead lists problem areas and says, "We are greatly underestimating the threat to this country." I get the impression he would not reduce defense spending, and might actually increase it. (-1)
  • What would he add to the White House? First, he'd kick out the czars, then bring in ballet and a large chess set for his grandchildren. (0)

Rick Santorum
  • He's a two-term Senator from a state with a million more Democrats than Republicans. Considering he's the strong social conservative of the race, it's worth remembering that he's won elections in Pennsylvania. (+1)
  • On Social Security, is he with Romney or Perry? "Well the question is, who's with me?" Nice rhetorical answer. He says he wanted to raise the retirement age in 1994 in the "second-oldest per capita" state in the country and still won the election because he "had the courage to tell them the truth." It's all good rhetoric, and he's not scowling this time like he was in the last debate, but even though he says he has a "truckload" of ways to reform SS, he doesn't mention any of them except raising the retirement age. (0)
  • Would he repeal Medicare Part D? No, because it uses private insurance incentives and has come in 40% under budget. He would expand that same idea to the rest of Medicare. (+1)
  • He agrees with auditing the Federal Reserve, and thinks the Fed should have a single purpose, "sound money", rather than a dual mandate, sound money plus full employment. Then he repeats his plan from the third debate to eliminate the corporate tax only for manufacturing. I'm undecided on the single vs dual mandate, but I do know that giving politicians in Washington even more control over the economy (ie, auditing the Fed) is a bad idea. To believe in auditing the Fed, you have to believe that the recession would have been better if Obama, Pelosi and Reid had only had more control. (-1)
  • Perry believes his Gardasil policy was right, but he "went about it the wrong way." Santorum believes the policy is wrong; school vaccinations are in place to combat diseases that are spread at school. "There is no government purpose served" by inoculating against sexually-transmitted diseases. This is exactly the kind of issue that gets Santorum most excited, and he is very much in his element on this answer. (+2)
  • Immigration is "an important part of the lifeblood of this country" but he wants to "build more fence." He doesn't want to deal with illegal immigrants already here until after the border is secure. This has sadly become the standard Republican line on immigration, but just because everyone says it doesn't mean I have to like it. (-1)
  • Perry tried to attract Latino voters by providing in-state tuition to illegals, but Santorum would attract Latino voters by... making English the official language. Yeah, that's gonna go over well among Latino voters. "We are a melting pot, not a salad bowl." (-1)
  • Santorum calls Paul "irresponsible" for blaming the US for 9/11. "We were not attacked because of our actions. We were attacked… because we have a civilization that is antithetical to the civilization of the jihadists." Santorum is partly right-- our civilization is antithetical to that of the jihadists, as is excellently outlined over at The Tree of Mamre. At the same time, we were in part attacked because of our actions-- actions taken in support of Israel for decades, and in support of Kuwait during the first Gulf War. These are not actions that we should be ashamed of. Saying that we've been attacked for supporting Israel is like saying we defended someone being bullied and then the bully turned on us. That doesn't make our actions wrong. (0)
  • What would he add to the White House? With seven children, a bedroom. (0)

I thought the titles CNN gave each candidate were interesting. I cringed when they said, "Ron Paul, the Libertarian," even though I knew it was coming. Identifying people like Ron Paul with libertarianism is why 59% of Americans say they are “fiscally conservative and socially liberal" but only 44% say they are "fiscally conservative and socially liberal, also known as libertarian" (source).

Interesting sidenote: During the singing of the anthem, Santorum and Romney both sing along (silently since they're off-mike), while none of the others do. Once the crowd starts singing halfway through, Huntsman also starts singing. Interpret that as you will.

Summing my gut reactions, Cain and Romney both get +4, Perry gets +2, Santorum +1, and Huntsman 0. Paul gets -1 and Bachmann and Gingrich bring up the rear with -2s. Perry easily got twice the screen time some of the others did, but that's because he was defending himself all night.

I usually try to avoid commentary on these debates until after I've had the chance to write these entries. This time, I was running so late and commentary on Bachmann's comment about vaccines and mental retardation was so ubiquitous that I couldn't avoid it. While watching the debate, I kept waiting for her to say it, but she never did. I was a bit disappointed to find out that she only made that comment after the debate. Sticking solely to what she said in the debate itself, Gardasil was one of her was strongest issues. Playing to vaccine fears after the debate, and fears of the Fed during the debate, she certainly lived up to CNN's title of "the Firebrand." She made the US-vs-state-constitutions mistake again in this debate, which makes it even more maddening when she wraps herself in the mantle of the Constitution.

Newt Gingrich, for being labelled "the Big Thinker" by CNN, didn't have a lot of big thoughts in this debate. He contradicted himself on tax loopholes, fell back on "waste, fraud and abuse" for balancing the budget, and joined the Cain camp on Social Security. That is, when he wasn't complaining about the crowd cheering for him.

Ron Paul had another good debate. He stayed coherent most of the time, and actually had two responses where he did not refer to wars or the military. He brought up some good libertarian talking points, like the vast number of countries where the US military has troops and the proper use of executive orders. On the other hand, he also went to bat for alternative medicine, claimed we were occupying "so many countries" and made a clear error in fact regarding taxes in Texas.

Jon Huntsman, "the Diplomat," lost me with his "treasonous" comment. That's a very serious (and non-diplomatic) word, and while other candidates have used it before, Huntsman is the first and only to use it in a way that includes me. Rick Santorum had some good moments, but lost points on auditing the Fed and on immigration.

Rick Perry, again, was on the defensive a lot. Santorum got probably the best shot at Perry, pointing out that Perry still believes his Gardasil policy was right, just that he went about it the wrong way. He defended himself well against Ron Paul, but not so much against Bachmann, Romney or Santorum. I agree with Perry on the border fence, and he had a few good one-liners, but he didn't do his campaign any favors in this debate.

Mitt Romney got in some great digs against Perry, and his stance in this debate on health care is almost exactly the same as mine. Plus, he recognizes the importance of the Fed. I scored him higher in this debate than in any others, but at the end of the day, I keep getting the sense that Romney is the status quo candidate. He wants to keep Social Security more or less the way it is, he wants to make only minor changes to the tax code, and even his support for the Fed could be cast as just wanting to keep things the way they are.

Herman Cain, as before, was the best candidate on the stage from my point of view, and would've been even better with more screen time. His only real stumble was wanting to audit the Fed. I'm still not completely sold on the 999 plan, but I think it's a step in the right direction, and I agree with him completely on Social Security and his idea of regulatory reduction commissions. I also love his last answer of the night, that he would bring to the White House a sense of humor.


  1. Thanks again for doing these extended writeups. I'm not especially excited about any particular candidate, but I view these debates less as a means for picking a favorite candidate and more as a means for gauging the overall current direction of the Repubilcan party... what they're supporting and what they're debating about supporting.