To get any potential biases out of the way, I don't really like any of the six candidates at this debate, although I'm increasingly leaning towards Jon Huntsman. I think Ron Paul has a tendency to be nutty, and I think he gives sane libertarians a bad name. Mitt Romney, Newt Gingrich, Rick Perry and Rick Santorum are all big government conservatives of one brand or another. The two governors naturally prefer big state government, especially Perry, while the Speaker and the Senator prefer big federal government as long as it does what Republicans want instead of what Democrats want. Jon Huntsman seems to have the most reliably conservative record of the six remaining candidates, which makes it even more tragic that his campaign has done its level best to paint him as the moderate alternative of the race.
As always, I've summarized the candidates answers below, and scored and responded to them along the way.
- He's the last candidate to get a question, more than fifteen minutes into the debate, and he ignores the question. He says Romney has criticized him for serving as an ambassador under Obama, and Huntsman says he was willing to serve under a Democrat President just like his sons in the Navy are willing to serve under a Democrat President. Being an ambassador isn't quite like being in the Navy, but it's a good answer. (+1)
- Defending his decision to be Obama's ambassador, he says the nation is divided because of partisan attitudes like Romney's, which gets a surprising amount of applause from the audience.
- Asked for three areas that need to be cut that will cause pain, he says he supports the Ryan Plan because it doesn't have any "sacred cows," and gives two examples, Medicare and the Department of Defense. When pressed, he says he wants to introduce means testing to Social Security and Medicare, and that he would cut Defense. (-1 for means testing because I think that's a step backwards)
- He repeats his point from the previous debate that he wants to eliminate tax loopholes and deductions, as well as corporate subsidies. (+1)
- Asked about working with Democrats, he talks about "trust" again, although he avoids using his phrase "trust deficit." He pledges to support term limits for Congress as President.
- He calls oil a "one product distribution monopoly" that we need to break up in favor of more diverse energy sources. He doesn't explain why he thinks there's a "distribution monopoly," but he sees it as a major hurdle to energy independence. (-1)
- Asked to give some fluff about New Hampshire's motto, he obliges, and even throws in a reference to the "trust deficit."
- He criticizes Romney for not running for re-election, saying if his record as governor was as good as he claimed, he would have run for re-election. Then he compares their two elections in 1994, where Santorum won and Romney lost "by almost 20 points." Santorum doesn't mention his own 17.4-point loss in 2006. (-1)
- He supports means-testing for Social Security, and wants to turn food stamps, Medicaid and housing programs into block grants to the states. I am not nearly so enamored with block grants to the states as he is. (-1)
- He says seniors "should be free to make the choices in their healthcare plan that's best for them." It's not clear from his answer whether that means they should be able to choose to stay on their current Medicare plan, or just be able to choose from a variety of premium support plans.
- He criticizes Ron Paul for "being out there on the margins" and never getting anything done, but says that as commander-in-chief, he'd be able to do the things Republicans don't want him to do. "The problem with Congressman Paul is all the things that Republicans like about him he can't accomplish, and all the things they're worried about he'll do day one."
- How will he change the culture in Washington when both Bush and Obama have promised but failed to do so? He points to welfare reform in the 90s and says that was a cultural change where he had to work with the Democrats to get it done, and he would do the same thing as President.
- Asked about gay rights, he talks a lot about respect, saying he wants everyone to have equality of opportunity, but that does not mean he wants to change marriage laws. He says "the beautiful thing" about the First Amendment is that we can have public discussions respectfully and that the people then decide by voting for candidates they agree with. Regardless of his conclusion on gay marriage, his opponents would do well to listen to his points about respect. (+1)
- What if his son said he was gay? "I would love him as much as I did the second before he said it, and I would try to do everything I can to be as good a father to him as possible." (+1)
- He signed a pledge to support a federal right-to-work law, but says he voted against it as a Senator from Pennsylvania because Pennsylvania was not a right-to-work state. In other words, he's fine telling other states to change their laws, but doesn't want anyone to tell his state to change its laws. (-1)
- On Medicare Part D, he says there were a lot of good things, including support for health savings accounts, and for premium support through Medicare Advantage, but there was one bad thing, that they didn't fund it. "We should have paid for it and that was a mistake." He doesn't say how he would have paid for it though, whether through higher taxes or cutting spending elsewhere.
- Iran is a theocracy, and Ahmadinejad has said matyrdom is a "principal virtue" for the country. Where the Soviets, Chinese and other nuclear powers were dissuaded from using nukes by the threat of retaliation, Iran in their apocalyptic desires is actually encouraged by such threats.
- Pakistan is different from Iran because they're not a theocracy, and because we still have hope that they will maintain "secular" governance.
- How would he use the bully pulpit? To push families and marriage. He criticizes Obama for having a "secular ideology," which is a fascinating thing to say after using that same word quite differently in relation to Pakistan. (-1)
- He says his record in Massachusetts is one of "a solid conservative." His evidence is that he cut taxes 19 times (nevermind how many times he raised other taxes), balanced his state's budget every year (nevermind that not balancing the budget would be violating the Massachusetts state constitution), increased the money in the state's rainy day fund, and got the state police to enforce immigration laws. (-1)
- In response to Santorum's criticism about not running for re-election in Massachusetts, he says he had set out a list of 100 things he wanted to accomplish, and he accomplished those things, so he didn't need to run again. That's a great response, but then he waters it down by saying if he's elected President, "of course I'll fight for a second term." Why the "of course," if he really meant what he said earlier?
- Responding to Newt, Mitt doesn't say anything about his 2007-08 campaign, he only talks about 1994. He says he knew he couldn't beat Ted Kennedy in Massachusetts, but that he was running unopposed and somebody had to run against him.
- He says he's grown more conservative as time goes on, as he's seen government try and fail to solve problems.
- He says he doesn't "disrespect" Huntsman's decision to be Obama's ambassador, but he does think it disqualifies him from being the Republican nominee. (He also stutters a bit, so he actually says, "I don't don't disrespect," but I won't get into conspiracy theories...)
- Government has been growing faster than inflation for decades, and he wants to cut spending, including Obamacare. He supports Santorum's list of programs to block grant to the states.
- He says as governor of Massachusetts, his legislature was 85% Democrat, so he knows how to work with the other party. Considering Romneycare came out of that arrangement, I'm not sure that's something he should be bragging about.
- We don't need "a federal government saying we're going to solve all the problems of poverty across the entire country," but rather, he thinks anti-poverty programs should be run at the state level so that different programs can be tailored to the needs of the poor in each state. (+1)
- He says he opposes sexual orientation discrimination, but he also opposes gay marriage. Asked when was the last time he advocated expanding gay rights, he says, "Right now."
- He agrees with Perry in supporting a federal right-to-work law, and goes a bit further saying that federal employees should have their compensation tied to their private sector equivalents. (+1)
- Businesses aren't hiring because "they feel they're under attack" from Obama's policies. He mentions Obamacare, the NLRB and Dodd-Frank as examples where Obama's policies are hurting businesses. He says Obama is "anti-investment, anti-jobs, anti-business."
- Asked about cross-state pollution, he mostly sidesteps, saying he's not familiar with those particular regulations, but that we could have less pollution all around and cheaper energy by switching to natural gas.
- Responding to Newt, he points out that under the law, he can not have any control over what independent PACs say. Then he lists some of the things they did say about Newt; his couch moment with Pelosi, his opposition to the Ryan plan, having to repay money after an ethics investigation and being "forced" out of the speakership, and Romney says all those are true. I don't know how much he was "forced" out, but the others are true. (+1)
- With Newt, he says he "hopes" that the PACs only talk about the truth, and if there's anything wrong, that they'll take it out.
- More than eleven minutes into the debate, Paul becomes only the fourth candidate to get a question. He says we won't be able to effectively challenge Obama if we put up somebody who supported single-payer health care and the TARP bailouts or who doesn't "challenge this huge empire we have overseas." Does Paul know the difference between the individual mandate and single-payer? How could he effectively challenge Obama if he doesn't? (-1)
- He has sponsored 620 measures as Representative, only four of which made it to a vote, and one of those became law. (The moderator doesn't say which one.) Paul says that's evidence of how "out of touch" most people in government are. He says he'll work with Democrats when Republicans won't work with him and he'll work with Republicans when Democrats won't work with him.
- Defending his lack of success, he says it's not easy to repeal a hundred years of "sliding away from our republic."
- Asked about energy policy, he says subsidies in general are bad economic policy, and he also doesn't like the monetary policy of printing more money to fund the subsidies. (+1)
- "Entitlements are not rights." We have rights to life and liberty, which are individual rights, not group rights. No group has the right to take from another group. He says the entitlements we should be worried about are for banks and "the military-industrial complex."
- How would he use the bully pulpit? "Preaching the gospel of liberty."
- He repeats his point from the previous debate that he is "a bold Reagan conservative" while Romney is "a relatively timid Massachusetts moderate." I don't know how timid Romney actually is, but considering his debate tactic has almost always been to stay above the fray, it looks like a decent attack. (+1)
- When Romney says he didn't run for re-election in Massachusetts because he'd accomplished what he wanted, Newt says, "Just level with the American people," and tell them he left office to run for President. (+1)
- He says he likes the Ryan-Wyden bill because it gives seniors the choice of whether to stay on the current Medicare system or switch to vouchers. He also criticizes the moderator for asking about the pain of austerity, saying we could save a trillion dollars over ten years just by eliminating theft and fraud. He doesn't mention that the deficit is over a trillion dollars every year, or that even in a best case scenario we still need massive cuts to balance the budget. (-1)
- Asked about working with the other party, he refers to the Clinton years, saying "We got welfare reform, the first tax cut in 16 years, 4.2 percent unemployment and four straight years of a balanced budget with a Republican speaker and a Democratic president." (+1)
- Romney's line that someone in college will have a job if he's elected but not if Obama's re-elected is "a statement of fact."
- He wants to open up offshore drilling and drilling on federal lands to bring down the price of energy and encourage job growth. He says that will raise revenues and save on expenses, so it will also help the deficit, and by increasing our energy independence it helps our national security as well. It's a fairly succinct answer that hits on almost every major issue in a pro-market way. Answers like this make me feel a lot better about Newt. (+2)
- Asked about his "Environmental Solutions Agency" proposal, he says of the EPA "it is increasingly radical, it's increasingly imperious, it doesn't cooperate, it doesn't collaborate, and it doesn't take into account economics." He cites examples where the EPA issued a citation to the city of Nashville, then couldn't back up the citation because they'd lost the records, so Nashville had no idea why they were received the citation; in other examples, he criticizes regulation of crop dust in Iowa and desert dust storms in Arizona. (+1)
- He's criticized Romney for hiding behind a PAC, so is he willing to stand beside what a PAC is now saying against Romney to support Newt? "Sure," but then says he hasn't seen the video and can't comment on it, and says it's the New York Times criticizing Romney's role at Bain, not him. (-1)
- Asked if he stands by his claim that Romney is "a liar," he says "Well, sure," then turns to Romney and says, "Governor, I wish you would calmly and directly state it is your former staff running the PAC, it is your millionaire friends giving to the PAC, and you know some of the ads aren't true." (+1 for passing the Pawlenty test, -1 for criticizing Romney over a PAC he legally has no control over)
- With Mitt, he says he "hopes" the PACs will stick to the truth and that a future half-hour film on Romney's time at Bain from his PAC will reflect the truth.
- He gets his first question thirteen minutes into the debate. He says the nominee needs to both challenge Obama and inspire the Tea Party. He says his opponents on stage "from here down to Rick Santorum" were all "insiders" and "big spending Republicans in Washington, DC." He pointedly excludes Huntsman from the "insiders" criticism, just as he had the night before, although again it's not at all clear why Huntsman is not an insider but Romney is. (-1)
- In reference to the three areas of pain asked of other candidates, he jokes about his forgetfulness in the ninth debate, saying the pain would be felt by the bureaucrats in the Departments of Commerce, Energy and Education.
- He says it's "wrong-headed" to think that Americans are "clamoring for government" assistance. Rather than focus on direct assistance, he wants to focus on creating an environment where jobs are created by the private sector. (+1)
- What would he do to make Republicans uncomfortable? He would call out Republicans for the spending increases under Bush. Asked if there's anything else, he says he wants a part-time Congress with less pay and a balanced budget amendment.
- He says he's "not anti-union," but rather "pro-job," and "a right-to-work guy." He supports federal right-to-work legislation and would also support right-to-work laws on the state level. (+1)
- He's "proud" to say that Obama is a "socialist." Perry says he supports the Tenth Amendment and wants states to have more power, especially regarding education, health care and environmental regulation.
Adding up the various scores, Huntsman did a lot worse than the previous evening, Romney, Gingrich and Perry did much better, while Santorum and Paul were more or less the same. Huntsman and Paul both got 0, and Santorum came in last at -2. Gingrich, Romney and Perry were all positive for once, with Gingrich at +4, Romney at +2 and Perry at +1.
Although I'm growing to like him, Jon Huntsman's answers this time felt like mostly fluff. It didn't help him that his biggest moment was fighting the moderator over whether or not he'd give an answer about the "pain" from austerity. Mitt Romney wasn't exactly fluff, but I found it very hard to care about most of his answers one way or the other. Most answers seemed to balance things I agreed with with things I disagreed with. Actually, that goes for Ron Paul this time too.
Rick Santorum held himself together this time, and still kept up his Presidential air that he's had since doing so well in Iowa. Rick Perry hardly got any time in this debate, and really struggled to say something worth remembering.
Newt Gingrich, on the other hand, had a few shining moments in this debate that pushed him to the top of the field. In particular, I liked his statement on energy policy, and his early attacks on Romney, even if I didn't like the direction the attacks took later in the debate.