Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Ninth Republican Primary Debate (MI)

Both the ninth and tenth Republican debates were held last week. This entry covers the ninth debate, hosted by CNBC in Michigan. This debate returned to the regular cast of eight candidates-- Huntsman is back and Johnson is still out. Although the full video was available on Youtube, apparently it no longer is, as CNBC has pulled those versions due to copyright. The official CNBC version can be seen in three parts here. A transcript can be found here.

Before watching this debate, I had a somewhat positive view of Herman Cain, somewhat negative views of Newt Gingrich, Rick Santorum and Rick Perry, and fairly negative views of Michele Bachmann, Mitt Romney, Ron Paul and Jon Huntsman.

As always, I've summarized all the answers for each candidate below, along with my gut reactions. Since the "summaries" can be quite long, you may want to skip to the conclusion at the bottom.

Rick Santorum
  • Asked to defend his manufacturing-only corporate tax cut, he doesn't really. He just attacks Obama and talks a bit about energy. He doesn't seem to get the moderator's point that cutting taxes only on manufacturers is exactly the kind of economic distortion that the rest of the candidates rightly want to move away from. (-1)
  • North Dakotans want "federal help" to deal with the oil rush there (apparently that makes sense in whatever alternate reality Jim Cramer comes from). Santorum rightly says no, they shouldn't get it. (+1)
  • Santorum goes on to say that the unemployment rate for those without a college education is in the double digits, while for those with a college education it's 4-5%, and that's why he supports a manufacturing-only tax cut. Apparently, no one with a college degree works in manufacturing, and everyone in agriculture or the service sector has a college degree. (-1)
  • If we repeal Obamacare, what do we replace it with? He says he supports health savings accounts and block grants for Medicaid, and led on those issues as a Senator in the 90s before any of the other candidates. (+1)
  • He says one of the reasons he's proposed his manufacturing-only tax cut is because he knows Democrats will get behind it too. He also says he understands "that the Wall Street Journal won't like that I'm picking one sector over another. I don't care." Well, that settles it, I guess. (-1)
  • When the moderator asks if any candidate opposes the Social Security payroll tax cut, Santorum raises his hand along with Cain and Perry. (-1)

Michele Bachmann
  • Since the 1980s, the worldwide average corporate tax rate has fallen dramatically but the US corporate tax rate has not. She wants to lower that rate, repeal Obamacare and Dodd-Frank, "legalize American energy" whatever that means and build a border fence (somehow building a border fence is now a job-creator). (0)
  • Why is Romney wrong on the progressive-vs-flat tax question? She would rather say Obama is wrong for something about Axelrod. She then repeats her claim from the last debate that everyone should pay some taxes and doesn't mention Romney once. The Romney-Bachmann dynamic continues to be interesting. Considering her poll numbers, she may well realize that her best shot at getting into the White House at this point is as part of a Romney administration. (0)
  • The moderators again try to pit her against Romney, pointing out the inconsistency between Romney's "let the markets work" approach to housing and her "hang in there moms" speech from the last debate. Again she sidesteps the question and instead talks about Fannie and Freddie asking for bailouts. It sounds like she now agrees with Romney, which is good, but an interesting flip from the last debate. (0)
  • If we repeal Obamacare, what do we replace it with? She would eliminate state health insurance barriers, and allow Americans in any state to buy health insurance from anywhere in the US. It's great to hear someone say this, because these state barriers absolutely need to be torn down. Of course, this begs the question of why we would stop at the US border-- we can buy food, clothing and many other things that come from outside the US, so why can't we buy health insurance that comes from outside the US? Like the other candidates, Bachmann also wants to eliminate the tax on individually-purchased insurance and she wants tort reform. (+1)
  • She opposes the Social Security payroll tax cut because it causes that program to go into the red "six years ahead of time." (-1) 
  • She's worried about what our reliance on Chinese goods means for national security, and says that the interest we pay on our debt to China essentially built their aircraft carrier. Presumably, she means this one. She does say, however, that the way to solve the problem is to stop spending so much, which I like to hear. (0)

Newt Gingrich
  • Asked why Republicans support tax reform to create jobs, and if there are any other paths to job creation, Newt would rather bash Bernanke for awhile, then throw in some feel-good stuff about Reagan and the Contract with America and top it off by bashing Obama. (-1)
  • Can companies both be profitable and create jobs? "Obviously," he says, but the media, academics and Occupiers don't "have a clue about history." He cites Henry Ford who apparently built his first car in his garage at home and Bill Gates who dropped out of college to found Microsoft, and asks were they in the 99% or the 1%? It's great rhetoric, but I could do with less anti-media ranting. (0)
  • Newt says Romney is right to let the market work in housing and to not prevent foreclosures. He also says there's two things we have to do to fix the housing market-- repeal Dodd-Frank and fix the rest of the economy. (+1)
  • Asked about the work his firm did for Freddie Mac in 2006, he says it was not lobbying, but it was advising, and he says he advised them to not give loans to people without credit histories, but they did anyway. This is the first I've heard of Newt and Freddie Mac, so I don't know how much of this is true or not. (0)
  • If we repeal Obamacare, what do we replace it with? That's an "absurd question," apparently, and he'd rather talk about Lincoln-Douglas debates. (-1)
  • Pressed on what he would replace Obamacare with, he dodges for a bit, then finally answers the question. He would go back to the doctor-patient relationship like Ron Paul and Mitt Romney said, give Medicaid to the states like Rick Perry and Mitt Romney said, and give out lots of subsidies to brain research, because subsidies are great when they're for things that he supports. (-1)
  • Given that Social Security is now in the red, does he support extending the payroll tax cut? He does, and says we need to deal with Social Security separately from the rest of the budget. He says we should give workers the option to switch to a Galveston- or Chilean-style personal retirements account system, and that "the Social Security actuary" has said such a reform would stabilize the program. (+1)
  • "We are at the end of the welfare state era." He cites the College of the Ozarks as a model for the future of education. He says, "You cannot apply to it unless you need student aid, and they have no student aid." Students are required to work 20 hours a week in the school year and 40 hours over the summer, and 92% graduate owing no debt. (+1) 
  • Interestingly, he says he'd defer to Huntsman on questions about China. He says we need to address our taxation, regulation and attitudes that make American labor more costly than Chinese labor. He also says that he doesn't think anyone has a good strategic answer to what to do about China (and isn't offering one himself). For someone who is usually as meticulous and well-read as Newt Gingrich, this is a pretty surprising answer. (0)

Mitt Romney
  • Europe is big enough to solve their own problems, and we should not bail out European banks or governments. He's "happy" participating in the IMF and other global institutions like the World Bank, but he doesn't want "a TARP-like program" aimed at Italy. (+1)
  • The moderator says Romney was for the automaker bailout before he was against it before he was for it again, and Romney says now he's against it again. He says they should have gone through a "private bankruptcy" process, and he brushes aside his flip-flopping with some fluff about how great Detroit is. (-1)
  • Pressed on his flip-flopping, he says he's "a man of steadiness and constancy" and that people who know him know that. But he has a great quote: "I've been married to the same woman for 25 -- excuse me, I'll get in trouble, for 42 years" as the camera pans out to show Newt Gingrich standing next to him. (0)
  • The moderator says that while at Bain Capital, Romney had the authority to fire or keep CEOs of companies they bought. He asks if Romney would keep Herman Cain as CEO given the recent harassment accusations, to which the crowd loudly boos. Romney says that it's up to Cain to respond to the accusations, and the American people can make that decision for themselves. (+1)
  • Do corporations exist only to maximize profit, or do they have a social responsibility to create jobs? Romney says the two go together. Profits are used to grow businesses, so a profitable business will be a growing business, and a growing business creates jobs. Although that's a bit simplistic, it's still a great feel-good answer. (+1)
  • He wants a "flatter" tax code but not an actual flat tax. He says he'd like to lower taxes for everybody, but right now he wants to focus on the middle class, because they're the ones who have been hurt by "the Obama economy." (0)
  • Why doesn't his 59-point plan address housing? Because "it's not a housing plan, it's a jobs plan." He also agrees with what Newt said about housing. (0)
  • Pressed about letting housing prices fall, he says the reason we have a crisis in housing is because government "played too heavy a role" in the housing market. He says that when the problem is caused by government, the solution isn't more government. If Romney talked like this all the time, I'd like him a lot more. (+1)
  • If we repeal Obamacare, what do we replace it with? Send Medicaid to the states, treat individually-purchased insurance the same as employer-purchased insurance, encourage health savings accounts like Ron Paul said and institute tort reform. Once again, if Romney talked like this all the time, I'd like him a lot more. This is the answer that he needs to give every time someone brings up Romneycare. The fact that in seven debates he's only said this twice, and spent the rest of the time defending Romneycare, makes me question whether this is what he actually believes. Still, I like it, and I hope I hear it more often. (+1)
  • The governor who passed Romneycare says the problem with health care in America is that "government is playing too heavy a role." Again, if he hadn't spent so much time in the past defending Romneycare's heavy role for government, this would be a lot more believeable. But it's still nice to hear it. (+1)
  • Asked directly about Romneycare and the individual mandate and what that means in relation to his previous comments, he pretty much falls apart. Then deflects to talk about Medicaid. (-1)
  • Asked whether Republican primary voters should be nervous about Romney's history of compromising with Democrats, he says when he was governor, the legislature was 85% Democrat. He had to compromise with them "to get anything done." (+1) 
  • He doesn't want to raise any taxes, including the payroll tax. He wants to cut spending by cutting programs like Obamacare, cutting the federal government workforce by 10% and linking public employee compensation to private compensation. (+1) 
  • China is cheating on trade, therefore the US should cheat too. In one sentence he says "I love free trade" and also that he would slap tariffs on China. Protectionism for everyone, yay! (-2)
  • China's currency policy is equivalent to predatory pricing. Apparently he hasn't seen this graph, which shows that the value of the yuan in US dollars has fallen by about a fifth since 2007. (-1)

Herman Cain
  • How do we prevent Italy's collapse from affecting the US? Focus on the domestic economy; get our own economy growing again with sound money and less government spending. Italy is beyond the "point of return" and there's "not a lot" we can do for them at this point. (0)
  • Asked about the sexual harassment accusations, he says, "The American people deserve better than someone being tried in the court of public opinion based on unfounded accusations." Hmm, that could be taken more than one way. He then says, "the voters have voted with their dollars," alluding to his apparent fundraising success since the Politico article. (0)
  • Asked about 999 not being a progressive tax, he says it's simple, transparent and fair, because "it treats everyone the same." (+1)
  • Why souldn't 999 become 19-19-19? "Tax codes do not raise taxes, politicians do." The tax rate under 999 would be obvious, and politicians trying to raise it would be "very visible," which would allow people to "hold the politicians' feet to the fire" and prevent them from raising it. (+1)
  • What's his solution for housing? First, switch to 999. Second, eliminate harmful regulations (he alludes to Dodd-Frank but doesn't mention it by name). Third, eliminate uncertainty by... switching to 999 and eliminating harmful regulations. Not the most eloquent answer ever, but I think it's good policy. (+1)
  • What specifically would he do about Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac? Turn them into "private entities" and get the government out of the housing market. (+1)
  • If we repeal Obamacare, what do we replace it with? HR 3000, and here we apparently have one of Cain's practiced phrases (apples and oranges, anyone?), as he says "the legislation has already been written" three times in 30 seconds. Still, from what I can tell, HR 3000 is a good piece of legislation. (+1)
  • Boeing should "absolutely not" have to shut down its plant in South Carolina. Asked about Santorum's manufacturing-only tax cut, he says 999 "makes every sector grow." Then he says "bold" several times. (+1)
  • When the moderator asks if any candidate opposes the Social Security payroll tax cut, Cain raises his hand along with Santorum and Perry. (-1) 
  • Asked about California hiring a Chinese company to build a bridge, he says, "There's something wrong with that." Given that the Chinese company was the less expensive option, and considering California's widely-publicized budget woes, there's something wrong with Cain's answer. He also says that 999 contains provisions to discourage imports, in apparent violation of WTO rules. (-2)
  • The volatility in the stock market is driven by uncertainty in the business environment. I'm not sure how much that's actually true or not. Then he says there are three big problems with Dodd-Frank. The first problem is that it doesn't do anything about Fannie Mae or Freddie Mac.The second and third problems with Dodd-Frank are Dodd and Frank. That's a nice applause line for the base. (0)

Rick Perry
  • Does Romney's apparently flip-flopping really just show a flexibility that's needed to govern? This was really a softball question and the moderator pretty much gave him the answer by saying "you are running as a politician with strong convictions," but Perry instead responds to the previous round of questions about bailouts of Italy and the automakers. He says, "if you are too big to fail, you are too big." (+1)
  • Can companies both be profitable and create jobs? "They better be," whatever that means, and then mentions his tax plan- a 20% flat personal tax and a 20% corporate tax. I'd like to hear more about that but he doesn't get the time to get into it. (0)
  • The moderator says GDP figures lately have been negative for housing, and Perry says not in Texas. How would he translate that to the country as a whole? Get rid of regulations that kill jobs, whether it's the EPA, Dodd-Frank, Obamacare or any other regulation passed since 2008. (+1)
  • If we repeal Obamacare, what do we replace it with? On Medicare he wants to give people "a menu of options" but doesn't say what those options would be, and on Medicaid he wants to give it to the states, presumably through some sort of block-grant system although he doesn't get into specifics. (0)
  • He says his flat tax will balance the budget by 2020 (that is, the last year of his second term). Then comes his shining moment of the night: "I will tell you, it's three agencies of government, when I get there, that are gone. Commerce, Education, and the uh, what's the third one there...?" There's lots of laughter, and the moderator tries to get him to say the third one. Repeating the list, he starts with Education, and then seems to have trouble even remembering Commerce, and finally he says, "I can't. The third one, I can't, I'm sorry. Oops." So much ink has already been spilt on this answer that there's not really anything I can add. (-1)
  • When the moderator asks if any candidate opposes the Social Security payroll tax cut, Perry raises his hand along with Cain and Santorum. (-1) 
  • He says the Department of Energy is the third one he would cut that he couldn't remember before. He twice ignores the moderator's question about cutting defense in favor of talking about reforming Social Security. His preferred reform is apparently to "blend price and wages," presumably in the cost-of-living adjustments? He's not really clear at all here. (-1)
  • He wants to "force these universities to be efficient," and he wants governors to take more direct roles in education, apparently dictating what graduation rates and tuition will be. "You have to have control," he says. (-1)
  • He says regulators have "cozy relationships" with the lobbyists of the corporations they're supposed to be regulating. When people break laws or "are pushing the bounds," they either need to be prosecuted or removed from their jobs. Presumably, he's talking about people in government, but he doesn't actually make that distinction, leaving open the possibility that he wants the government to remove private individuals from their private sector jobs for "pushing the bounds." (0)

Ron Paul
  • "You have let it liquidate," and by "it" he means Italy. If we keep bailing people out and propping up bad debt, we'll end up like Japan. (0)
  • In the first year, he would cut a trillion dollars from the federal budget. He mentions five departments, but it's not clear just from this answer whether that trillion would involve eliminating those five departments or simply cutting a trillion from those five departments. (+1 for cutting a trillion, even if it's less than what Gary Johnson would cut)
  • Then he gets into monetary policy, and says that interest rates are too low, and "one person" (Bernanke) shouldn't get to decide what the money supply is (never mind that the Board of Governors usually makes decisions by consensus). He thinks interest rates should be set by the market, a position that for me has always raised more questions than answers. (-1)
  • If we repeal Obamacare, what do we replace it with? Return power to the doctor-patient relationship with medical savings accounts that can be deducted from your taxes just like current employer-purchased insurance. Ron Paul is exactly right on this issue. (+2)
  • He eventually wants to "move [Medicaid] back into the economy," although I'm not sure what exactly he means by that. He does say that he would not do that in his first year. (0)
  • He says the problem with housing is price-fixing, and Fannie and Freddie are fixing the price of mortgages too high. He would either get rid of them completely or sell them off to the private sector. (+1)
  • The moderators play a clip of some students saying how bad the cost of college is, and Paul very nicely turns it around and says, "I think you've proved the policy of student loans is a total failure." He makes a good point that in markets with competition, like cell phones and computers, quality keeps going up while prices come down. At the same time, in markets with government intervention, like education, health care and housing, we end up with bubbles. In his mind, it all comes down to the Fed, which we should audit, and then end. He's spot on for most of this answer, but I think his conclusion does not follow from his premise. (0) 
  • "There's a lot of crony capitalism," but he says he doesn't know enough about Perry to say one way or another whether Perry is a crony capitalist. Considering Perry is Ron Paul's governor, and has been for almost 11 years, you'd think he would know a bit more about the man. Since, in my opinion, this is potentially one of the most dangerous aspects of the Perry candidacy, Paul's answer is worse than a cop-out. (-1)

Jon Huntsman
  • What would he do about Italy? He'd rather talk about our domestic situation and how we might end up looking like Italy if we don't get our own spending under control. He also wants to "get back" to having "properly-sized" banks so that none of them are "too big to fail." (+1)
  • "I want to be the President of the 99%. I also want to be the President of the 1%." So... what does that mean? He doesn't agree with the Occupiers' "anti-capitalism messages" but he does agree that we shouldn't bail out corporations. (0 because his first quote confuses me)
  • What would he do about banks that are "too big to fail"? He's asked several times point-blank whether he would break them up and dodges every time, so apparently the answer is no. But he would support a tax on "too big to fail" banks. (-1)
  • If we repeal Obamacare, what do we replace it with? Sit down with the 50 governors and figure it out. He also wants to harmonize medical records and somehow "close the gap on the uninsured" but without a mandate. Just a lot of fluff. (-1) 
  • The government still owns stock in GM, is behind 90% of mortgage origination and the Federal Reserve has greatly expanded the money supply. What would he do about this? He says, "I would clean up the balance sheet," and then bashes Obama for awhile. Then he brags about being the only one on stage who has actually instituted a flat tax (in Utah). Since as far as I know, his national plan is not a flat tax, I'm not sure why that's relevant. (-1) 
  • He thinks the policy of throwing tariffs at China is "pandering," but pressed, doesn't want to say that Romney himself is pandering for proposing that policy. He's against tariffs, and rightly points out that when we accuse China of having an overvalued currency, they'll point to quantitative easing and say so do we. (+1)

For the most part, this was another nice, generic debate. There were no fireworks, and the moderators mostly stuck to questions about the economy. The questioning was definitely better in this debate than in most of the others. These moderators clearly knew something about the subject material, often more the candidates. There were some good philosophical questions, like the profit-vs-jobs question, but there were also questions that got down to specifics, like what to do after Obamacare is repealed.

Adding up the scores I gave each candidate shows some narrower results than usual. The Ricks, Perry and Santorum bring up the rear with -2 each, with Huntsman at -1. Bachmann and Gingrich tied at 0, while Ron Paul scored +2, the first debate where he's actually scored positive. Romney and Cain tied for first with +3 each.

Rick Santorum spent the debate defending (or not) his manufacturing-only tax cut, and it was very nice to see the problems with that idea addressed, even if he doesn't really stand a chance at this point. Jon Huntsman's answers had a lot of fluff and several were just confusing as he seemed to try to appeal to everyone.

Michele Bachmann was very much a non-entity this time, twice turning down opportunities to go after Romney. Her best answer was on health care, where she said she wants to eliminate interstate insurance barriers, something I haven't heard any of the other candidates address. Ron Paul had a lot of very good answers this time, and for the most part stayed away from the zaniness for which he is so well known. He kept the ranting to a minimum, and only once said to end the Fed (and that at the end of a long answer that was really good in every other way).

After the debate, everyone was talking about Rick Perry's flub, where he said he wanted to eliminate three federal departments and couldn't remember what the third one was. This is far more than a stylistic error. For Perry, departments to be eliminated are just words on a list to be remembered. Combined with his "you have to have control" quote, this debate raised some serious issues about Perry's actual beliefs. He is running as "an authentic conservative," but the philosophy underlying some of his answers seems to indicate otherwise.

Newt Gingrich seems to have had an off-night. He had a few good answers, but was mostly more general than he usually is, and pretty much said we should listen to Huntsman on China right before contradicting Huntsman on China. He did not at all come across as the new anti-Romney that many are painting him as. Herman Cain, on the other hand, had a pretty good night, with the crowd booing the question when he was asked about the sexual harassment accusations. Even so, he continued to showcase his lack of foreign policy experience, seeming to misunderstand the questions about Italy and China.

In a lot of ways, this was Mitt Romney's debate. Not only did he seem to get more questions than anyone else, but he had great answers for the most part. He had solid conservative/libertarian answers on health care, supporting health savings accounts and other conservative solutions. His worst part of the night was his insistence to carry on with his recent anti-China rhetoric, but the crowd seemed to enjoy it.

1 comment:

  1. Thanks again. I'm preparing a lengthy blog post summarizing each of the candidates and I think I'm going to link to these debate summaries at the end.