Thursday, September 29, 2011

Sixth Republican Primary Debate (FL)

The sixth Republican debate was held last Thursday in Orlando, FL. The debate is available in its entirety on YouTube; Fox News has also published a transcript. This debate had nine candidates, more than any other debate, and was only the second which invited Gary Johnson. I was glad to see that he got to participate, even though the crowded stage means some of the candidates don't get very much screen time.

Since I was running so far behind with the last debate, I actually streamed this one live before I finished watching the previous one. To get my biases out in the open, before analyzing this debate, I had fairly positive views of Herman Cain and Gary Johnson, and somewhat positive views of the Ricks, Perry and Santorum. I had a somewhat negative opinion of Mitt Romney and a somewhat more negative opinion of Michele Bachmann. I have very negative opinions of Jon Huntsman, Newt Gingrich and Ron Paul, and if any of those three dropped out tomorrow, I wouldn't miss them one bit.

Just like the other five 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" can get quite long, you may want to skip to the conclusion at the bottom.

Gary Johnson
  •  As a libertarian, what makes him a better choice for libertarian Republicans than Ron Paul? "I'm not going to presume to make that assumption." Then... why are you here? (-1)
  • Despite his discouraging opening line, Johnson is solid on policy. He would submit a balanced budget in 2013 and would veto any bill "where expenditures exceed revenue." Since revenue and expenditures are usually determined in separate bills, I'm not sure how he'll stick to that promise, but he does say he thinks he vetoed more bills as governor of New Mexico than any other governor in history. He would switch to the FairTax, which I'm not really sold on, but I like everything else he says. (+1)
  • What would he do about No Child Left Behind? As part of balancing the budget in 2013, he would eliminate the Department of Education. (0)
  • "The biggest threat to our national security is the fact that we're bankrupt." He repeats his promise to submit a balanced budget in 2013, including a 43% reduction in military spending. "It's crazy that we have foreign aid... when we're borrowing 43 cents out of every dollar to do that." He also supports flights to Cuba because trade encourages friendship. (+1)
  • How is he going to turn this country around? "My next-door neighbor's two dogs have created more shovel-ready jobs than this current administration." Balance the budget now, not in 15 years, and replace the current tax system with the FairTax. (+1)
  • If he had to choose a running mate from the other people on stage, who would he choose? Ron Paul. (-1)

Rick Santorum
  •  Would he support federal right-to-work legislation? He won't say, but he is against public sector unions at any level of government. I don't like that he dodges the right-to-work question, and even though I also disagree with public sector unions, I think it's going too far for the federal government to say whether state and local public sector employees can unionize. (0)
  • What would he do about No Child Left Behind? "The education system doesn't serve the customer... And who's the customer? The parents." Um, aren't the students the customer? Even if he's right, how would he change it? He doesn't say. (-1)
  • Santorum says Perry is "making this leap, that unless we subsidize" college education for illegal immigrants, "they won't be able to go" to college. Thank you Rick Santorum! It's about time someone on stage said that. (+1)
  • Would he send troops back to Iraq if the situation there deteriorated? He doesn't want to take them out of Iraq in the first place, which I have to assume means that he would send them back. (-1)
  • "Just because our economy is sick does not mean our country is sick, and it doesn't mean our values are sick." It's a great quote, but he says it in support of keeping our troops in Afghanistan, which I think we no longer need to do. (0)
  • "Any type of sexual activity has absolutely no place in the military." Repealing DADT "tries to inject social policy into the military." While Santorum is right that sex should not be an issue in the military, policies like DADT make it an issue by saying that open homosexuals cannot serve in the military. "Don't ask, don't tell" by itself is fine, but following that with "if you do tell, we'll kick you out" is not. (-1)
  • How is he going to turn this country around? By appealing to Reagan and defeating Obama. (-1)
  • If he had to choose a running mate from the other people on stage, who would he choose? Newt Gingrich. (-1)

Newt Gingrich
  •  Unemployment compensation should be tied to a "business-led training program" and the best way to do it would be to require states to implement the training program, but allow them to experiment to find the best approach. (+1)
  • The federal government borrows 40% of what it spends, so how could Gingrich cut spending by 40%? "Well, the way you described the question, you can't." Then he promises to reveal his plan next Thursday in Iowa and talks about Reagan for awhile. (-1)
  • What would he do about No Child Left Behind? He would "dramatically shrink" the Department of Education, and would like to see "the equivalent of Pell Grants for K-12" that could be used at any school, public or private. (+1)
  • He wants to privatize E-verify, but doesn't understand why employers would oppose being required to use it. Um, how about what Chris Wallace said, that it would turn small businessmen into immigration agents? He also wants to make English the "official language of government." (-1)
  • Newt would get rid of government-to-government aid in favor of incentives for American businesses to invest overseas. "Our bureaucrats giving their bureaucrats money is a guaranteed step towards corruption." (+1)
  • How is he going to turn this country around? By appealing to Reagan and defeating Obama. For the record, Newt used this answer before Santorum did. (-1)
  • If he had to choose a running mate from the other people on stage, who would he choose? He refuses to answer. (-1)

Ron Paul
  • He would "veto every single bill that violates the Tenth Amendment." He says there's "no authority" for the federal government to regulate schools, medical care, the economy or individuals' personal lives. (0)
  • What would he do about No Child Left Behind? He spends some time reminiscing about 1980, then says "don't enforce" NCLB, but rather give tax credits to people who want to opt out of the public education system. I like the tax credits idea, but Ron Paul should know better than anyone that the President can't simply choose not to enforce a law he doesn't like. (0)
  • In the past, Paul has said that a border fence could be used to keep people in. Chris Wallace asks if he knows many Americans who want to take their money and flee the country? Paul says that all the other candidates talking about repatriation of dollars shows that these Americans have already left. Then he rambles for awhile before getting to his point: "no free education, no free subsidies, no citizenship, no birth-right citizenship." Birthright citizenship is one of the issues I feel most strongly about, and it is one of the things that has made America great. Paul is absolutely wrong here. And "no citizenship"? What does he even mean by that? (-1)
  • Abortion "is not a national issue, it is a state issue" but he still supports the day-after pill, saying, "We have too many laws already. Now, how are you going to police the day-after pill?" I think someone can be pro-life and still support the day-after pill, if they believe that human life begins sometime after conception. But Paul's position is simply indefensible. If, as stated in the question, he does believe that life begins at conception, the excuse "we have too many laws already" doesn't fly. If human life begins at conception then intentionally ending that human life is murder. It doesn't matter how many laws we have on other topics, murder should always be against the law. If he had said human life actually begins sometime after the day-after pill does its thing, that, at least, would be defensible. But his position, that it's okay to kill that human life because we have so many other laws already, is just abhorrent. (-2)
  • How is he going to turn this country around? "Government destroys jobs; the market creates jobs." He starts off great, but quickly slides into Austrian economics and having to "deal with" the Federal Reserve. (0)
  • If he had to choose a running mate from the other people on stage, who would he choose? He refuses to answer because he's in third place, but would answer if he was in first or second. What? (-1)

Rick Perry
  • How would he encourage small businesses to grow and hire people? "What we've done in the state of Texas." That includes lower taxes on small business, "fair and predictable" regulation, and "sweeping tort reform." It's the first question of the debate, and a good start. I think tort reform is mostly overrated, but lowering taxes and tackling regulation are good, safe answers for Perry. (+1)
  • Where is his specific jobs plan? Texas is his specific jobs plan. (0)
  • Megyn Kelly asks, how are 50 separate Social Security systems supposed to work? This was a gimme question and Perry blew it. His response should've been to ask how does anything done by the states work with 50 separate systems? Instead, his answer was that he never really said he wanted to give SS to the states, just that state employees should have the option to have separate systems. Yawn. (-1)
  • Romney's hardcover edition of his book says Romneycare is "exactly what the American people needed" but the paperback edition "took that line out." As ABC reports, Perry is right. The hardcover, published less than a month before Obamacare was signed into law, included the line, "We can accomplish the same thing for everyone in the country," referring to Romneycare. The paperback, published almost a year later, removed that line. (+1)
  • What would he do about No Child Left Behind? He supports school choice, including vouchers and charter schools, but he'd really rather attack Romney for supporting Obama's Race to the Top. Except for being passed as part of the stimulus bill, the Race to the Top is actually not that bad. It awards funding to schools that succeed in meeting certain goals, which is certainly much better than blindly giving money to all of them. It's not as pro-market as Gingrich's or Paul's answers, but I think it's a mistake for Perry to hang his education policy on opposition to Race to the Top. (-1)
  • "There is nobody on this stage who has spent more time working on border security than I have." Texas has spent $400 million on securing the border, and they've used Texas Rangers in doing so, he says. Then he builds a straw man to defend the in-state tuition credit for illegal immigrants, saying, "But if you say that we should not educate children who have come into our state for no other reason than they've been brought there by no fault of their own, I don't think you have a heart." He still doesn't seem to see the difference between not subsidizing something vs not having it available at all, which is definitely worrisome. (-1)
  • He asks Santorum, "Have you ever even been to the border with Mexico?" To which Santorum replies, "Yes, yes I have." Perry also says, "You put the aviation assets on the ground." Er... okay. I actually agree with Perry that it doesn't make sense to build a fence, but he's not doing any favors to those of us who agree with him with the way he's answering these questions. (-1)
  • If the Taliban in Pakistan got a hold of Pakistan's nukes, what would he do? He doesn't say, but before that, he wants to "build a relationship in that region." With who? Apparently India. That's not a bad strategy since the Pakistanis are most likely to fire their nukes at India anyway, but Perry's answer is so rambling and I have to connect so many dots myself to get to that point that I'm not sure whether he's actually saying what I think he is, or something completely different. (0)
  • Perry "highly respect[s]" George W. Bush, but disagreed with him on "Medicaid Part D" (Medicare, perhaps?) and No Child Left Behind. (0)
  • On Gardasil, "I got lobbied on this issue" by "a 31-year-old young lady who had stage 4 cervical cancer." This 31-year-old was Heather Burcham, who Perry met only after issuing the executive order. (-1)
  • Is Texas' high percentage of people without health insurance the fault of Texas policies? No, Perry says, because the federal government won't grant Texas a waiver to pursue the best policies. I agree with Perry that states should have more power in setting Medicaid policies, but his conclusion does not follow from his premise. Differences between states in outcomes are not the result of following the same federal rules. (-1)
  • Perry had what could have been one of his best responses of the night in comparing Romney to John Kerry, saying he was against the Second Amendment before he was for it, and the same on "social programs," Roe v. Wade, Race to the Top and Obamacare. But, I'm sorry, Perry stammered so much trying to get out this criticism that it simply didn't feel like the targeted attack it should have been. It felt like Perry was on the defensive and didn't know what to say and was lashing out in the first direction that came to mind. (0)
  • When Romney says Perry is retreating from the positions in his book, he says, "Not an inch, sir." (0)
  • How is he going to turn this country around? Get rid of Obamacare, pull back Dodd-Frank and the EPA, lower corporate and personal tax rates and put in place his plan to become energy independent. (+1)
  • If he had to choose a running mate from the other people on stage, who would he choose? He would like to "take Herman Cain and mate him up with Newt Gingrich." Now that's quite a mental image for your last question of the night! I like the Herman Cain part of it, but not the Newt Gingrich part. (0)

Mitt Romney
  •  "To create jobs, it helps to have had a job," implying that Obama has not. He repeats the first four of his seven jobs points from the third debate. I'm glad he's no longer talking about our trading partners as our "opponents" (calling them "the other guys"), but then he talks about "crack[ing] down on cheaters like China." I think Romney would be really bad on trade, which is one of the most important ways to grow the economy. (-1)
  • "I don't try and define who's rich and who's not rich. I want everybody in America to be rich... I want people in America to recognize that the future will be brighter for their kids than it was for them." (+1)
  • He wants to use his tax plan to help those who have been most hurt by Obama, which he says is the middle class. His tax plan would allow those with incomes less than $200,000 to pay zero savings taxes. I'm one of those, so that would be nice for me, but it will do jack-squat to get the economy moving. (-1)
  • "There's a Rick Perry out there that is saying... [Social Security is] unconstitutional and it should be returned to the states. So you better find that Rick Perry and get him to stop saying that." That's an awesome response to Perry, and it gets a point even though I disagree with Romney's status-quo approach to Social Security. (+1)
  • "This [Romneycare] is a state plan for a state. It is not a national plan... please don't try and make me retreat from the words that I wrote in my book. I stand by what I wrote. I believe in what I did." It's worrying enough that he still believes in what he did with Romneycare, but it's even worse that he basically denies removing that line from his book. As mentioned above, ABC reported that Perry was right. The hardcover included the line "We can accomplish the same thing for everyone in the country," referring to Romneycare, while the paperback removed that line. (-1)
  • Is Obama a socialist? Romney stops short of calling Obama a socialist, but says he has been inspired by the "socialist democrats" in Europe. Romney, on the other hand, believes in capitalism and that government is too big. (+1)
  • What would he do about No Child Left Behind? "We need to get the federal government out of education." He would stand up to the teachers unions and support school choice and standardized testing (apparently at the state or local level). (+1)
  • What about Perry's charge that Romney supports Obama's Race to the Top? Romney says, "I don't support any particular program that he's describing" then goes on to describe Race to the Top and how he supports those ideas. So, which is it, Mitt? (-1)
  • If you're a US citizen from any state other than Texas, he says, you have to pay almost $100,000 more than an illegal immigrant does to go to college in Texas. "We have to have a fence," plus "enough Border Patrol agents to secure the fence." (-1)
  • "You don't allow an inch of space to exist between you and your friends and your allies," speaking about Israel. Then he criticizes Obama for awhile, and finally says it is "unacceptable" for Iran to gain nuclear weapons. (+1)
  • Nothing has changed for the 92% of Massachusites who had health insurance before Romneycare passed, nevermind that both health care costs and wait times have increased since the reform. He says Romneycare was aimed at providing "market-based, private" insurance to the other 8%, nevermind that legally requiring someone to buy a product has nothing to do with market-based anything. (-1)
  • He wrote a book two years ago and stands by it, while Perry has already retreated from a book he wrote six months ago. And the money quote of the whole debate: "There are a lot of reasons not to elect me, a lot of reasons not to elect other people on this stage, but one reason to elect me is that I know what I stand for, I've written it down." I haven't seen it yet, but I guarantee there will be at least one ad using Romney's "There are a lot of reasons not to elect me," probably in black-and-white with scary background music. (-1)
  • How is he going to turn this country around? Patriotism, and leadership. "We are a patriotic people. We place our hand over our heart during the playing of the national anthem. No other people on Earth do that." (-1)
  • If he had to choose a running mate from the other people on stage, who would he choose? Like Newt, he refuses to answer. (-1)

Michele Bachmann
  • How much of every dollar earned should Americans get to keep? "I think you earned every dollar, you should get to keep every dollar that you earn... When people make money, it's their money." That's good rhetoric, but she starts off sounding like an anarchist, favoring no taxes at all. She backs off that a bit when she says, "Obviously, we have to give money back to the government so that we can run the government," but she never gives a number for how much she thinks we have to give back. It's a tough question, but it's already been answered by candidates like Cain (with his 999 plan) and Huntsman (with his 8-14-24 brackets from the last debate). (-1)
  • What would she do about No Child Left Behind? She would "pass the mother of all repeal bills on education," hereafter referred to as MOARB. She would close the Department of Education and send the money back to the states and local governments. (0)
  • She would build a fence "on every mile, on every yard, on every foot, on every inch" of the southern border. For someone who didn't want to raise the debt ceiling, she's pretty glib about spending the tens of billions necessary for such a fence. (-1)
  • Cuba is a state sponsor of terror, so we should "never have flights" between the US and Cuba. Cuba was designated a "state sponsor of terror" in March 1982, almost 30 years ago. How much longer do we have to wait for trade restrictions to work? (-1)
  • She believes that freedom of religion means there is no government-established church, but that religious people should still be able to exercise their religions "in the public square." (+1)
  • Does she stand by her comment linking Gardasil to mental retardation? She says, "First, I didn't make that claim nor did I make that statement." Really? Here's two videos of her making that claim. Yes, it is in the context of the story of the woman who came up to her after the last debate, but it's clear in the videos that Bachmann believes what she is saying and is using it to try and score political points against Perry. If she really doesn't believe that claim, it's even worse that she would repeat the story not once, but twice. (-1)
  • How is she going to turn this country around? Repeal Obamacare. (0)
  • If she had to choose a running mate from the other people on stage, who would she choose? "A strong constitutional conservative," but she won't answer beyond that. (-1)

Herman Cain
  • Chris Wallace asks exactly what I want Cain to answer: With his 999 plan (introducing a national sales tax alongside the income tax), isn't there a danger that a post-Cain President would raise all three taxes? "No, there's no danger in that." The 999 plan eliminates the capital gains and estate taxes and replaces the corporate and personal income taxes with flat taxes at the lower rate. But he never says why a post-Cain President couldn't turn his 999 plan into a 20-20-20 plan. (-1)
  • If forced to eliminate a federal department, it would be the "out of control" EPA, which he would then rebuild to be more "responsible." While that's probably good in itself, in the long run that just replaces one federal department with a better federal department; it doesn't eliminate anything. (0)
  • He repeats his proposal to use the Chilean model, personal retirement accounts, for Social Security. He says not only has Chile successfully used it for 30 years, but so have 30 other countries. (+1)
  • What would he do about No Child Left Behind? "All of the programs at the federal level where there's strings attached, cut all the strings... Get the federal government out of trying to educate our kids at the local level." I'm not sure what programs he would keep or what he's for or against here. (0)
  • "Peace through strength and clarity... If you mess with Israel, you're messing with the United States of America." (+1)
  • Cain says that he would have died from his cancer under Obamacare because he was able, under the current system, to get multiple rounds of chemotherapy and surgery within nine months. Under the bureaucracy of Obamacare, he says he would have been treated on the bureaucrat's timetable. "We need to get bureaucrats out of the business of trying to micromanage health care in this nation." (+2)
  • How is he going to turn this country around? By providing leadership. "Ronald Reagan was the one who said that we are a shining city on a hill. We've slid down the side of that hill. Americans want somebody who's going to lead them back up to the top of that hill." (0)
  • If he had to choose a running mate from the other people on stage, who would he choose? "This is a game," like Newt said, but "I'll play the game." He would choose Mitt Romney if Mitt was willing to sign on to 999, but otherwise would choose Newt Gingrich. (0)

Jon Huntsman
  • "We've learned some important lessons" in the economic downturn. "We have learned that subsidies don't work and that we can no longer afford them." And that's why he wants to subsidize natural gas. (-1)
  • "We're not gonna raise taxes." He wants to fix the "underlying structural problems" by eliminating loopholes and having three rates for individual income taxes, 8%, 14% and 23%. That's different from the 8-14-24 he said in the last debate. It's a minor difference, but I'm not sure which one he actually means. He would also lower the corporate tax rate to 25%. These are decent reforms as far as they go, and if this was the compromise reached at the end of the day, I would be happy. But starting the negotiation with Democrats with these levels of taxation is giving up too much too quickly, and could easily lead to a "compromise" that does nothing but maintain the status quo. (0)
  • What would he do about No Child Left Behind? "Localize, localize, localize." He signed the second school vouchers bill in the US, he supports "early childhood literacy" and opposes "unfunded mandates" from the federal government. (+1)
  • Huntsman keeps talking about fixing "our core" but he never says what that means. He does have a good quote: "After ten years of fighting the war on terror, people are ready to bring our troops home from Afghanistan." But then he goes back to talking about our core. (0)
  • "Only Pakistan can save Pakistan. Only Afghanistan can save Afghanistan. All that I want right now... is for America to save America." That's a bit too isolationist for me. (-1)
  • "We're fundamentally approaching health care reform the wrong way." He calls Obamacare "a one trillion-dollar bomb." But he doesn't address the actual question about the Obamacare requirement that young adults be covered by their parents' insurance up to 26-years-old, other than saying it reminds him of his daughter who has juvenile diabetes. (-1)
  • How is he going to turn this country around? He "would drop three things on the doorstep of Congress." (Does it make me immature that this quote makes me think of flaming bags of crap?) First, his 8-14-23 tax reform plan; second, regulatory reform including repealing Dodd-Frank and Obamacare; third, energy independence through "converting to natural gas." Regulatory reform is necessary, but I'm not sure how he'll accomplish "converting to natural gas," or why, if it's a good idea, the market won't do it on its own. (0)
  • If he had to choose a running mate from the other people on stage, who would he choose? He expects Romney and Perry to "bludgeon each other to death" and compares them to Rudy Giuliani and Fred Thompson. He would choose Herman Cain as his running mate. (+1)

While I sympathize with the dog owners who inspired the change from the previous bell, I stream these debates on my computer, and I do use Gmail chat. Using Gmail chat's new message notification sound for the time's-up bell in the debate had me wanting to check for a message every time it went off.

Chris Wallace says that Cain survived stage four colon and liver cancer, and before even asking the question, the audience erupts into applause. For all the bad press that the Republican crowds have been getting for cheering the death penalty and booing the gay soldier, I haven't heard anything about the long, spontaneous applause for surviving cancer.

Summing my gut reactions for each candidate, only two scored positive in this debate-- Cain got +3 and Johnson got +1. Gingrich and Huntsman both got -1 and Perry got -3. The rest had a four-way tie for last place; Santorum, Paul, Romney and Bachmann all got -4.

Ron Paul was his usual self, with a few good points surrounded by rambling nonsense. Michele Bachmann was more or less the same, just with less rambling and fewer good points. Rick Santorum got off a couple good shots at both Perry and Huntsman, but he fell flat on his face when defending his own ideas. Which really is a pity, because I like Santorum overall.

Mitt Romney, in my opinion, has done badly in every debate so far except the previous one, which seems to have been a fluke. This debate, he looked good on rhetoric, but bad on substance. He repeatedly defended Romneycare, and showed none of the clarity or insight he did in the previous debate. He essentially supports the status quo on taxes and Social Security; he seems to oppose free trade; and he wants a border fence. His best line of the night was, "There are a lot of reasons not to elect me."

Rick Perry wasn't much better. He's the anti-Mitt in more ways than one. Where Romney is pretty good on rhetoric and weak on substance, Perry is pretty good on substance but weak on rhetoric. He had several verbal flubs throughout the night-- "put the aviation assets on the ground," "Medicaid part D," etc. He's also made Texas his whole campaign, but whenever he's asked to defend policies he's followed in Texas, he just resorts to emotional appeals.

Newt Gingrich for the most part avoided his anti-media campaign this time, which is the only reason he scored so highly. He had a few good ideas, like unemployment compensation training programs, Pell Grant equivalents for K-12, and replacing direct foreign aid with incentives. He continues to come across as someone who would be much better behind the scenes of someone else's Presidency.

Jon Huntsman is the downer candidate. Our country is "sick", and we have problems with "our core" and "we're watching a great American tragedy." To a certain extent, the job of the challenger is to point out how bad things are under the incumbent. Listening to Huntsman, I certainly get the message that things are bad, but I never get the feeling that he believes he can actually make them better. Huntsman seems to see himself as a guy with a bucket trying to bail water out of the Titanic.

I liked Gary Johnson in the first debate, and I was counting on him to be the sane libertarian alternative this time as well. But he kept deferring to Ron Paul, even saying that he won't "presume" that libertarian Republicans should vote for him rather than Ron Paul. Johnson's great on his policies when he talks about them, but in this debate it felt like he was just there to sing backup for Ron Paul.

Herman Cain continued to be the best candidate on stage, and from the other commentary I've read on the debate, I'm not the only one who thinks so this time. He was on-message the entire debate, and didn't have any flubs like the most of the others did. At the same time, asked directly about the weakest point of his 999 plan, he completely avoided the question. Since his candidacy will rise or fall with that 999 plan, he needs to come up with a better answer to his first question of the night.


  1. Too bad Gary Johnson didn't come off stronger. I guess he couldn't just say "I'm a cooler libertarian than Ron Paul because I don't ramble about Federal Reserve conspiracy theories" but he could have said "I'm a libertarian who has experience governing and getting re-elected in a blue state by providing practical common-sense solutions that reduced government and left the state with a surplus..."

  2. True. I guess as a libertarian, Gary Johnson couldn't have dissed Ron Paul as much as I would have liked him to. The group of libertarians who don't like Ron Paul isn't exactly the largest faction of the Republican party. Even though Johnson doesn't really stand a chance in this election, I think he's doing a good job of setting himself up as Paul's heir apparent.