Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Eleventh Republican Primary Debate (DC)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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