Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Twelfth Republican Primary Debate (IA)

The twelfth Republican primary debate was held this past Saturday in Des Moines, Iowa. The full, official ABC video is here, and the transcript is here. This was the first debate since Herman Cain left the race, and with Jon Huntsman skipping the debate to campaign in New Hampshire, only six candidates took to the stage. (There was also the "Huckabee Forum" on December 3rd, attended by the same six candidates as this debate, but that wasn't so much a debate as a series of back-to-back interviews.)

To get any potential biases out of the way, I don't like any of the candidates who showed for this debate. Ron Paul, Michele Bachmann and Rick Santorum all have tendencies to support truly dangerous ideas, the only difference is which policy areas they're most dangerous on. For that matter, Mitt Romney does too, although he's more likely to switch sides to get support. Newt Gingrich and Rick Perry both seem to me like big government, crony capitalism supporters who are just fine with the government running things as long as they're running the government. As always, I've summarized the candidates answers below, and scored and responded to them along the way.

Rick Santorum
  • He complains that manufacturing employment has gone from 21% of Americans to 9%, and wants to subsidize manufacturing to stop the shift towards a service-oriented economy. Of course, he doesn't say it like that, but that's exactly what his manufacturing-only tax cuts amount to. (-1)
  • Diane Sawyer complains that only Romney supplied a number of jobs that he expects to create in his first term, and Santorum speaks up to say he doesn't think the government can "from the top down, dictate how many jobs" will be created. (+1)
  • "You either care about Social Security and you want to fund it, or you don't." Santorum makes clear that he does not support extending the payroll tax cut. (-1)
  • He counters Newt's claim that all conservatives supported the individual mandate in the 1990s, and says in 1994 he supported medical savings accounts as a bottom-up solution instead of the top-down solutions of Hillarycare and the individual mandate. (+1)
  • He says Bachmann is a consistent conservative, but she's been fighting and losing, whereas he has a history of fighting and winning (until he lost by an 18-point margin in 2006, that is).
  • In response to Bachmann, he says he was in the minority too, but still found a way to fight and win, not just fight. He says he was part of the Gang of Seven and helped send Dan Rostenkowski to jail in the Congressional Post Office scandal. (+1)
  • "Character counts," he says. Although marital infidelity should not be a disqualifying factor, it should be a factor. Voters want someone they can trust. (+1)
  • On Newt's remarks on Palestinians, he says we need to "speak the truth," but "do so with prudence." He agrees with Mitt that we shouldn't say that Palestinians are an "invented people."
  • He says the most important need that was met for him growing up was having both a mother and a father who provided him with a supportive home. He's worried about the family breaking down and leading to economic struggle.
  • He says when he first entered politics, he learned about conservatism from Newt Gingrich in the late 80s.

Rick Perry
  • He says his distinguishing idea is a 20% flat tax, but he doesn't talk about it much. He promises to balance the budget by 2020, with spending at 18% of GDP. He also references the $7.7 trillion he says "was being put into these people and these banks," which wasn't at all, but it helps him say the problem with the economy is the link between DC and Wall Street.
  • George Stephanopoulos notes that Perry is against extending the Social Security payroll tax cut, and Perry says, "Very much so." (-1)
  • Bachmann is right that both Romney and Gingrich were for the individual mandate, and we need a candidate who can oppose Obama on the individual mandate. (+1)
  • He brings up Mitt's book, and especially the difference between the hardcover and softcover editions where he eliminated the line about replicating Romneycare for the entire country. Romney offers his $10,000 bet in response, and Perry says he's "not in the betting business."
  • Should voters consider marital fidelity in judging a candidate? He says his marriage vows are both to his wife and to God, and a vow to God is "even stronger than a handshake in Texas." Fidelity is important, he says, because if someone cheats on their spouse, they'd cheat on their business partners or anyone else too. (+1)
  • He says if we enforce the immigration laws we already have, then we wouldn't have so many illegals already here to deal with. He complains that Obama isn't deporting enough people, despite the fact that Obama has set new records for the number deported every year that he's been in office. (-1)
  • Newt's comments on Palestine are a "minor issue" especially compared with Obama's policies, from not supporting the Iranian protesters in 2009 to how he handled Egypt and Libya to the recent drone we lost to Iran. Memorable quote of the evening: "He had two opportunities-- well, he didn't have two opportunities, he had two choices-- actually, he had three." I don't know why they say Perry's a bad debater...
  • Asked about personal hardships, Perry talks about growing up in a house without running water when he was little, but ultimately says he's never felt like he didn't have everything he needed.
  • If states want to have anti-obesity or pro-exercise programs, they can. He's fine with big government as long as it's big state government, not big federal government. He also wants a part-time Congress and a balanced budget amendment, two things that might be good but will never happen. (-1)
  • Of the other candidates on stage, he's learned the most from Ron Paul, particularly about the Federal Reserve. (-1)

Mitt Romney
  • He repeats his seven-point plan from previous debates. Those points are: lower employer taxes (+1), regulation that encourages private sector employment, less free trade policies including limiting trade with China (-1), energy policies to encourage domestic energy production, the rule of law, policies to encourage human capital growth, and a balanced budget (+1).
  • He criticizes Obama for not even having a plan to fix the economy right after Bachmann got done criticizing Obama's plan for increasing the deficit. He also largely avoids talking about extending the payroll tax cut, other than briefly saying he doesn't want to raise anybody's taxes.
  • Asked about Gingrich's statement that he is more conservative than Romney and more electable than anybody else, Mitt says he disagrees, then talks about Obama for awhile. 
  • He makes an off-hand comment that he and Newt have "a lot of places" where they disagree. Stephanopoulos asks him to name some, and after stalling for awhile, he says Newt supports a lunar colony, relaxing child labor laws and cutting the capital gains tax for the wealthy.
  • He says it's true if he'd beaten Teddy Kennedy, he could've been a career politician, but that if he'd gotten into the NFL like he wanted as a kid, he could've been a football star. It's a great laugh line, and he goes on to say that losing to Kennedy forced him to go back to the private sector and learn the lessons that he needed to learn about how the economy works. It's a great way to turn Newt's line around into something positive. (+1)
  • "I know Newt Gingrich, and Newt Gingrich is a friend of mine. But Newt Gingrich and I are not clones, I promise." He goes on to defend Romneycare and criticize Obama for cutting Medicare. (-1)
  • Gingrich favored a national individual mandate, while Romney has only ever favored a statewide individual mandate for Massachusetts. He seems to think the mandate itself is good policy, as long as it's invoked at the state level. His problem with Obamacare is that it raised taxes and cut Medicare. (-1)
  • In the moment that got the most press after the debate, Mitt offers a $10,000 bet to Rick Perry about the content of his book, and whether or not he supported an individual mandate for the rest of the country. Perry, of course, declined the bet.
  • Asked about marital fidelity, he instead talks about Obama and offers platitudes about how he wants to make it good to be in the middle class in America again.
  • He wants to deport all current illegal immigrants and send them to the back of the line if they want to get back into the US legally, no matter how many years it might take them to go through our legal process. He says others have been waiting in line legally, and any kind of "amnesty" would be unfair to them. He acts like it's illegal immigrants keeping out the legal ones waiting in line, rather than the US government's own quotas. If he really feels so badly for immigrants waiting in line, why not just raise the quotas, or get rid of the quotas entirely? That would be too intellectually honest for Romney. (-1)
  • He agrees with most of what Gingrich said about Palestinians, but not that they are an invented people. He says the United States should not be saying things that make it more difficult for the Israelis to talk to the Palestinians, and in that he includes both Obama's 1967-borders statement and Newt's invented-people statement. (+1)
  • He says he didn't grow up poor, but his father did, and his father made sure that Romney learned a good work ethic and to have compassion for others through their church's ministries.
  • Should other states adopt Massachusett's individual mandate? "States can do whatever the heck they want to do." He also says "we have no government insurance" in Massachusetts, since a government mandate to buy private insurance is so much better. He repeats his opposition to a federal mandate, reinforcing the idea that his opposition to Obamacare is on federalism grounds, not because he actually thinks it's bad policy. (-1)
  • He says he's learned about leadership from all the other candidates on stage, but especially from Ron Paul's ability to energize his supporters. Mitt says whenever he goes to these debates, the only signs he sees are Ron Paul signs.

Newt Gingrich
  • To create jobs, he would lower taxes, have less regulation, have "an American energy plan," and "be positive" about people who create jobs. He wants no capital gains tax, no estate tax, a 12.5% corporate income tax, and allow writing off new equipment in one year. That last points sounds like an accounting gimmick to me, but I like the rest of it. (+1)
  • George Stephanopoulos notes that Gingrich is for extending the Social Security payroll tax cut, which presumably is true since Gingrich doesn't speak up to contradict him.
  • He tells Mitt, "the only reason you didn't become a career politician is because you lost to Teddy Kennedy in 1994." It gets boos from the crowd, but I think it's an awesome line. (+1)
  • When he grew up, the space program was "real," and inspired students to study math and science, but NASA has been "bureaucratized." (+1)
  • He says janitors in New York schools are paid twice as much as teachers, and that if we took half of them and had students do the work instead, they would learn a healthy work ethic and make some money.
  • He says if you want to create jobs, you have to cut taxes for those who have capital and can use it to create jobs, meaning those who earn more than $200,000 a year. He criticizes Romney for wanting to cut the capital gains tax only for those making less than that amount. (+1)
  • He agrees with Ron Paul that the housing bubble came from the Federal Reserve, although he downplays the role Freddie Mac played. He says he wasn't a lobbyist for Freddie Mac, he was a strategic advisor. Considering lots of people have been saying contradictory things about what Newt did for Freddie Mac, it's hard to know what the truth is here.
  • He says Bachmann's claim that he was lobbying was not true, and that even if it was, he made a lot more money from his books and speaking deals. Answers that make ya go hmm... (-1)
  • In the 1990s, he says conservatives came up with the individual mandate as an alternative to Hillarycare, but once Hillarycare was defeated, they took a closer look and found problems with the mandate. He sees this as a good justification for having once supported the mandate, but it makes me wonder, what if it had been adopted back then? Do we really want a President who adopts a newfangled idea just because it's different from the other guy's without actually thinking through whether it's a good idea or not? (-1)
  • Bachmann questions whether we can trust Newt or Mitt to repeal Obamacare once in office. Newt simply says, "Yes," and the crowd goes wild. I'm increasingly getting the sense that I would not fit in as an Iowan Republican.
  • Voters "have the right to ask every single question," including ones about marital fidelity. He admits he's made mistakes and he's "had to go to God for forgiveness." He says people should "measure who I am now and whether I'm a person they can trust." (+1)
  • Deportation should be "dramatically easier," he says. He also repeats his plan to make English the "official language of government" and use Selective Service-style boards to decide on a case-by-case basis whether someone actually gets deported or not. (-1)
  • Hamas and Fatah don't admit to Israel's right to exist, so we shouldn't be afraid to say that they're an invented people. He says this is "factually correct" and "historically true," and comes very close to saying all Palestinians are terrorists. He later says he's not making things difficult for Israel, but Obama is. (-1)
  • He says he grew up in an apartment above a gas station in Pennsylvania, and with his wife runs the "small business" of Gingrich Productions, so he understands the struggles that small business owners face.
  • He now thinks the individual mandate is unconstitutional at the federal level because if Congress can compel you to buy health insurance, they can compel you to buy anything. He wants to move towards medical savings accounts and away from the "third-party payment model," whether public or private. (+1)
  • He's learned the most from Rick Perry on Tenth Amendment issues, and from Rick Santorum on Iran. He says, "if we do survive, it will be in part because of people like Rick [Santorum] who've had the courage to tell the truth about the Iranians for a long time."

Ron Paul
  • He says they're all for tax cuts, but he alone understands where recessions come from-- the Federal Reserve. Recessions are actually "corrections," he says and we haven't actually corrected the economy because of all the bailouts. He would cut a trillion dollars from the federal budget in his first year.
  • George Stephanopoulos notes that Paul is for extending the Social Security payroll tax cut, which presumably is true since Paul doesn't speak up to contradict him.
  • Later, Paul confirms that he is for extending the payroll tax cut because he doesn't want to raise taxes. He also wants to pay for it by reducing spending, especially military spending overseas, and complains about the size of our embassy in Baghdad. (+1 for supporting the tax cut, even if I don't like Paul's inevitable dovetail into complaining about the wars)
  • Gingrich has been hypocritical on single-payer health care, by supporting TARP and by taking money from Freddie Mac. Paul says that Newt will have "a little bit of trouble" competing with him on consistency.
  • Character is "very important," but he doesn't want to talk about marital fidelity, he'd rather talk about taking the oath of office seriously. He says if we took that oath seriously, the government would be 80% smaller and we wouldn't have the Federal Reserve or the Patriot Act.
  • He criticizes Gingrich's statement that Palestinians are an "invented people" because he says we shouldn't be dealing with problems like that. Then he turns around and says that Gingrich is "technically correct" and under the Ottoman Empire the Palestinians didn't have a state, but neither did the Israelis. (-1)
  • He says he grew up poor but "I didn't even know it." He and his wife worked to pay for his college to become a doctor. He says what we're seeing now is "the elimination of the middle class" because of bad monetary policy.
  • Government should not be involved in protecting you from yourself, including programs against obesity or promoting exercise. He says all government is force, and if people don't like the force of the individual mandate, they should see that paying Medicare taxes is also force.
  • He says he's learned that if you persistently present your case, the opposition will eventually come around and agree with you, like Rick Perry has on the Federal Reserve.

Michele Bachmann
  • She calls her jobs plan the "win-win-win plan," explicitly referencing Cain's 999. She wants to lower both individual and corporate tax rates, but raise taxes on the 47% who currently don't pay income taxes. She also wants to get rid of Obamacare, Dodd-Frank and the EPA, and "legalize American energy," whatever that means.
  • The Social Security payroll tax cut should never have been implemented in the first place. She says it took away $111 billion from the Social Security trust fund, and doesn't seem to notice that it gave $111 billion back to taxpayers and employers. She also repeats Obama's name as often as she can, trying to tie him to the tax cut that she opposes. (-1)
  • She says Gingrich was a lobbyist for Freddie Mac. She calls him "the epitome of the establishment... the epitome of a consummate insider." She attacks Newt for supporting the individual mandate for longer than Obama has, and she attacks Romney for being the only governor to institute "socialized medicine." She repeatedly calls them "Newt Romney," saying they're basically the same as each other, and they're also close to Obama. (+1)
  • Saying that 2012 will be our only chance to repeal Obamacare, she asks whether we can trust either Newt or Mitt to actually repeal it once in office. (+1)
  • She says she fought Nancy Pelosi on health care and didn't "sit on [her] hands" even though she was in the minority. She promises to work to elect a Republican supermajority in the Senate and maintain the majority in the House.
  • She refers to the Federalist papers and that voters need to know "the measure of a man" or woman who wants to be President. She says she's willing to talk about her religion and her family because that goes to showing voters who she really is. (+1)
  • Asked about Newt's comments on Palestine, she defers and instead talks about the culture in Palestine that vilifies the Israelis.
  • She opposed the bailout because it allowed the banks to have private gains but socialized losses. She was born in Iowa and when her parents divorced she started working at 13 years-old. She says she still clips coupons and understands the hardships people are going through.
  • She's learned the most from Herman Cain, who showed the benefit of being plainspoken and making policies simple and straightforward enough to understand.

With only six candidates, this debate allowed for some more in-depth responses. They actually revisited the individual mandate issue towards the end based on real-time feedback through Yahoo, which is pretty cool. There also seemed to be more questions in this debate where every candidate was given the chance to respond to the same question (or at least very similar questions), unlike previous debates where everyone got different questions. On the other hand, this was less of a policy-focused debate than others, and got into issues like marital fidelity and personal hardship stories.

Adding up the scores, I think this was the closest-scoring debate yet. Santorum, Gingrich and Bachmann all scored +2, while Paul scored 0, Romney scored -1 and Perry scored -2.

Rick Santorum and Michele Bachmann both had a pretty good night. Santorum did a great job of outlining his past and running on his record, even if I disagree with some of his policies. Bachmann clearly was aiming to pick up Cain's supporters with her "win-win-win" motto, and launched an effective "Newt Romney" attack against the two frontrunners. There was also some interesting back-and-forth between Santorum and Bachmann as they both jockey for position to be the next "flavor of the week."

Ron Paul didn't talk as much about the Federal Reserve and the wars as he usually does. He also got accolades from both Rick Perry and Mitt Romney at the end of the debate, which certainly says something about his rising position within the Republican party.

Rick Perry, as always, had a couple flubs and spent most of his non-flubbing time attacking Mitt Romney. That led to Romney's most-talked-about line of the night, the apparently-scripted $10,000 bet offer. I thought what he said about the individual mandate was far more interesting, since Romney seems to believe the individual mandate is actually good policy. His opposition to Obamacare is based on federalism; he disagrees with what level of government should carry out these policies, not whether the policies should be carried out in the first place.

Newt Gingrich did well in this debate. He didn't debate the moderators, and for the most part did a good job defending and/or repenting for his past policies and his past personal actions. At the same time, he wasn't quite the target that Cain was at this point in his rise. Bachmann targeted Newt and Mitt jointly, and Mitt obliged the moderators by attacking Newt when asked to, but the others didn't. Perry only really attacked Romney, while Santorum primarily went after Bachmann, and Ron Paul didn't go after anyone. Does that mean they expect Gingrich to fall just like Perry and Cain before him, so they don't need to attack? If so, that reluctance to attack might prove to be a self-defeating prophecy.

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