To get any potential biases out of the way, I don't really like any of the candidates at this debate. 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. Since the fifteenth debate was held a whole ten hours after the end of this fourteenth debate, I'm already two behind as I start this, so the responses here aren't as verbose as usual. Okay, who am I kidding, they probably are, but I tried to make them shorter.
- He says Romney's time at Bain Capital is a part of his record and it will be scrutinized, but that more important is Romney's record as governor of Massachusetts, especially how it compares to Huntsman's own record as governor of Utah. He says in Utah he instituted a flat tax, reformed health care without a mandate, and led Utah to being the #1 state for job creation, even better than Texas. (+1)
- He repeats that as governor he led Utah to being #1 in job creation, this time comparing it to Massachusetts, which was #47. Then he talks about the "trust deficit" for awhile, and advocates term limits for Congress.
- He says he's the only candidate on stage to have lived overseas, and having run two embassies, he says he'd be better on foreign policy issues than any of the other candidates.
- He supports civil unions, apparently with all the same rights as marriage, but also wants to reserve the word marriage for the relationship between a man and a woman.
- He repeats the points he's often made on Afghanistan--we've killed bin Laden, the Taliban is no longer in power, al Qaeda in Afghanistan is broken, and the country has had free elections. He would draw down our troops there over his first year in office to about 10,000 who would remain in the country for counterterrorism and intelligence purposes, but not for "nation building." (+1)
- Employing the trademark Huntsman tactic of turning optimism into pessimism, he says he really wants to get out of Afghanistan, not because he actually believes the schtick from his last answer, but because he thinks they're headed for a civil war, and he doesn't want to be around when it happens. (-2)
- When Santorum says that we can "wait the next few weeks and months" and watch the violence in Iraq to see what will happen to Afghanistan if we pull out, Huntsman asks, "So how long do you want to wait, Rick?"
- Asked how he would pay for infrastructure, his answer boils down to economic growth, which he would encourage by revamping the tax code and eliminating many deductions along the lines of the Simpson-Bowles proposal. (+1)
- He says China's growth is slowing, and getting closer to our own, and we have an opportunity to reclaim lost manufacturing jobs by eliminating all tax loopholes and deductions. I think his analysis of China is spot on, but his analysis of the manufacturing sector is lacking. Then again, I like his policy of eliminating all the loopholes and deductions, so doing the right thing for the wrong reason is better than vice versa. (+1)
- Putting a tariff on China like Romney wants to do is "nonsense." (+2)
- Showing off his Mandarin, he says Romney's policy towards China would lead to a trade war. If we put tariffs on China, they'll put tariffs on us, and that's just going to hurt Americans. (+1)
- If he wasn't at the debate on a Saturday night, where would he be? He'd be on the phone with his sons in the Navy.
- He cites a survey that found Santorum was "one of the top corrupt individuals" because of connections to lobbyists. Paul also says Santorum is "a big government, big spending individual," who voted to raise the debt fives times, voted to double the size of the Department of Education through NCLB, but voted against right to work. (+1)
- He agrees with Santorum that Congress has the right to earmark spending, but says that Santorum is still a "big government conservative," and even saying he's a conservative "is a stretch" because of his support for higher spending and opposition to right to work laws.
- He repeats his belief that Congress should earmark "every penny" because it gives his branch of government more power. This is a point about Ron Paul that I don't think gets nearly enough coverage. This is one of the very few areas where he wants to give politicians more power, and the politicians he wants to have more power just happen to be the ones holding the same job title as he does. (-1)
- People who did not serve in the military, as Paul and Perry did, "have no right" to support wars or to "be even against the wars that we have." Only those who have been in the military have any right to have any opinion on what the military does either way. How exactly did this guy get a reputation for being pro-liberty? (-2)
- Asked about the newsletters, he says they were written 20 years ago, and he didn't write them anyway. But rather than explain how exactly that happened, he wants to talk about how MLK Jr. and Rosa Parks are heroes of his, and how he says drug laws are unfairly enforced. If he really believes that, fine, but it comes across as an attempt to say "I can't be racist because I believe this!" (-1)
- He says the Fourth Amendment does have a right to privacy, but that even without it, the interstate commerce clause would allow the federal government to require that states allow contraception to be sold. I think his interpretation of the commerce clause is too broad, but I agree with him on the right to privacy. (+1)
- He "essentially ha[s]" ruled out running on a third party ticket, but he says, "I don't like absolutes." After all, only a Sith deals in absolutes... He says he's not planning a third party run, but doesn't want to absolutely rule it out.
- "The President is commander-in-chief, but he's not the king." He would not want to send troops into a country without a Congressional declaration of war. He's also against sanctions on Iran because sanctions "always lead up to war."
- His "great vision" is individual liberty. He says we're at the end of a 40-year bubble that is still collapsing. He says we need to "liquidate the debt," apparently talking about private debt since he goes on to talk about businesses and individuals.
- If he wasn't at the debate on a Saturday night, where would he be? With his family, and after they went to bed, reading an economic textbook.
- He's optimistic about the economy, but says any turnaround we see is in spite of Obama's policies, not because of them. He says the recovery has been slow because of Obamacare, Dodd-Frank, and "a stimulus plan that was not as well-directed as it should have been." I like the optimism, but it sounds like Romney would support spending-based stimulus as long as he's the one doing the spending. (-1)
- Succeeding in the private sector isn't just about management, it's also about leadership. He says he's learned leadership skills in the private sector, as governor of Massachusetts, and also leading the Olympics.
- He says that in the private sector, "sometimes investments don't work." He admits there were companies Bain took over that lost jobs as Bain tried to make those companies profitable, but says "net-net" the companies he was involved with created 100,000 jobs. That is, at best, a dubious claim, and may even be impossible to either verify or falsify. (-1 for hiding a decent defense of free enterprise behind a distracting and dubious number that plays straight into statists' hands)
- Given time to respond to Huntsman's attack on his record as governor, Romney completely ignores Huntsman, and focuses entirely on his private sector experience. (-1)
- He thinks Huntsman would be better than Obama, and then proceeds to attack Obama for the rest of his answer. He criticizes Obama for not standing up for the Iranian protestors in 2009, and for deciding to "shrink" the military.
- Asked about the federal right to privacy and whether or not that means states can ban contraception, he calls it an "unusual topic." He tries to punt the question to Ron Paul, "our constitutionalist here," then gets into a long back-and-forth with Stephanopoulos about banning contraception. Ultimately, he seems to say there is no right to privacy in the constitution, but that states shouldn't be allowed to ban contraception anyway. When Stephanopoulos points out that Romney seems to have given two answers to the question, he gets boo'd, and they move on to Ron Paul.
- He says gay people forming "loving, committed, long-term relationships" is "a wonderful thing to do," and they have "every right" to do so as long as they don't use the word "marriage" to describe it.
- He agrees with Gingrich on the issue of bias against Catholics, and says that in Massachusetts after that state's supreme court ruled gay marriage legal, that the Catholic church was no longer allowed to provide adoptive services, even though they had been providing for half of the state's adoptions beforehand.
- He wants "to bring our troops home as soon as we possibly can," but doesn't want to say when that will be. He notes that Huntsman wants to do it in 2013 while the President and current generals are saying 2014, but Romney himself says he'll wait until he has more information. That's a departure from previous debates, where he's advocated staying in Afghanistan much longer than 2014.
- Before going back into Iraq, he would want to "require significant, dramatic American interests" to be at stake, and would outline a specific endgame in terms of what would qualify as success. (+1)
- Asked about infrastructure, he gives some lip service to the idea that building infrastructure is a proper role for government, then spends most of his answer talking about Obama. He points out that America's GDP per capita is 50% higher than Europe's, which is something that I think surprises some people, so it's good that he's saying it on TV. (+1)
- He says in the days of JFK, government at all levels was 27% of the economy, and today it's 37%. He says government is already too big, so he wants to make it smaller. He would cut the corporate tax rate to 25%, and eliminate taxes on savings for "middle income Americans." Why not eliminate taxes on savings for everybody? Why should the poor pay taxes on savings? I don't think Mitt actually wants to tax the poor's savings, but you couldn't tell that from his rhetoric. (-1)
- Asked why he would not want to close all the tax loopholes, he deflects, and instead talks about "the soul of America." The rest of his answer is just fluff. (-1)
- He wants to "open up markets for our goods," and complains that Obama hasn't opened up any new trade relationships while Europe and China have. While I welcome his support for trade, his rhetoric once again betrays him. He supports trade where it increases our exports, but he's made clear in other debates that he does not support trade where it increases imports, such as with China.
- Romney finally responds directly to criticism from Huntsman. He says for two years Huntsman was putting into place Obama's policies as his ambassador, while everyone else on the stage was working to elect Republicans to fight those policies. That's a devastating response to Huntsman, even if Romney does go on to defend putting tariffs on American consumers who buy from China. (+1 for the Huntsman attack, -1 for the trade policy)
- He says China sells us more than we sell China, so they would do more to avoid a trade war. Because exports are the only aspect of trade that matters. (-2)
- If he wasn't at the debate on a Saturday night, where would he be? Like the others, he'd be watching football.
- He says we need "someone who can paint a positive vision for this country" and who "has the experience to go out and be the commander-in-chief." He cites his eight years on the Armed Services Committee in the Senate as qualifying experience, and says the most important issue the next President will face will be Iran.
- In his earlier comments that "we don’t need a manager as president," was he talking about Romney? "Yeah, well, of course I was talking about Governor Romney." (+1 for passing the Pawlenty Test)
- He says the corruption charge stems from CREW, or Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, which he calls "left-wing" and "Soros-like." He says, "If you haven’t been sued by CREW, you’re not a conservative." He goes on to say that after losing his seat in the Senate, he joined several causes he believed in, including the fight against cap and trade, and the Ethics and Public Policy Center where he wrote about Iran.
- In the same answer, in response to Paul having called him a "big government individual," he says, "Ron, I’m a conservative. I’m not a libertarian." Apparently he thinks being a conservative means being for big government. He also says his job as Senator was "to make sure that Pennsylvania was able… to get its fair share of money back." (-1)
- He cites his support for a balanced budget amendment and the line item veto as evidence that he's not a big spender, but says there are areas where the government should spend more, "particularly in defense." (-1)
- He says he did vote to raise the debt limit while in Congress, but that he also wrote the welfare reform bill, tried to pass Social Security reform, and tried to reduce spending every time they raised the debt limit.
- He agrees with Paul that there is a right to privacy in the Fourth Amendment, but says that Roe v. Wade and Griswold v. Connecticut went beyond that right to privacy to create an additional right to privacy that was not in the constitution.
- Marriage is a federal issue, but adoption is a state issue. He says, "We can’t have somebody married in one state and not married in another," but doesn't explain why that same logic doesn't apply to adoption.
- He thinks Obama has made mistakes in Iran, Egypt, Syria, Libya and Israel. He says if we want to know what will happen in Afghanistan after we withdraw, we can watch what is happening in Iraq now.
- When Huntsman asks, "So how long do you want to wait, Rick?" meaning how long do we stay in Afghanistan, Santorum responds, "Until the security of our country is ensured."
- In responding to Ron Paul on national security, Santorum uncharacteristically focuses on Obama, criticizing him for tacitly supporting Ahmadinejad's 2009 election. He says "the Iranian people love America," and we need to do more to support them and to support their desire for freedom. (+1)
- Stephanopoulos asks if anyone besides Huntsman would support the tax increases in Simpson-Bowles. Santorum speaks up and says no, he wouldn't, but he would get rid of a lot of the current tax deductions, except for "health care, housing, pensions, children and charities." That's a long list of exceptions, and just about the only one I'd agree with is health care. (-1)
- In the same answer, he says he wants to cut the corporate tax rate to 17.5% for everybody, which is the first time I've heard that. He also repeats that he wants to cut it to zero for manufacturing corporations. He says that because of government regulation and taxes, our businesses face a 20% cost disadvantage compared to our nine largest trading partners, and therefore he's worried about manufacturer's facing that cost disadvantage, but not about anyone in the service industry who faces that cost disadvantage. (-1)
- He attacks Romney for using the phrase "middle class," saying that Republicans don't put people in classes, and that Romney is buying into Obama's "class warfare arguments." He's absolutely right, and I had thought the same thing listening to Romney. (+1)
- In the same answer, he attacks both Romney and Gingrich on the individual mandate, saying he had never supported it. He also says he would appeal to blue collar voters in swing states in a way that Romney won't.
- If he wasn't at the debate on a Saturday night, where would he be? He'd be with his family watching the football game.
- He says, "I'm very much for free enterprise," then goes on to justify why it's "a legitimate part" of a political debate to attack Romney for what he calls "a particular style of investment." He doesn't seem to see the contradiction there. (-1)
- He says he grew up as "an army brat," with his father in the Army, and understands what military families need. He promises some specific changes to the way veterans affairs are handled in New Hampshire, but doesn't say whether or not he supports similar changes in states that vote later in the primary.
- "Dr. Paul has a long history of saying things that are inaccurate and false." Specifically, he takes issue with Paul's comment about deferments from the draft. Gingrich says he never asked for a deferment because he wasn't eligible for the draft in the first place.
- He says, "The sacrament of marriage was based on a man and woman, has been for 3,000 years." He says marriage is "an historic sacrament," not "just a civil right." I'm not sure what that means.
- He says the Catholic church is being forced to close its adoption services in Massachusetts because it won't accept gay couples, and that the Catholic church has been discriminated against by the Obama administration because of its stance. He says "there’s a lot more anti-Christian bigotry today than there is concerning the other side."
- The problem in the Middle East is "not primarily a military problem." He mentions Pakistan, Iran, Egypt, Libya and Iraq and says "we need a fundamentally new strategy for the region comparable to what we developed to fight the cold war." What exactly that strategy is, he's less clear about.
- Later, he gets a chance to clarify some of that long-run strategy. He says if we're worried about Iran going into Iraq, the answer is not to send troops into Iraq, but to raise the stakes on Iran. If we're worried about the spread of Wahabism, the answer is to work on energy independence so that we can pressure the Saudis from a position of power.
- On infrastructure, he focuses on the need to compete with China and India, which he thinks requires a top-down solution through federally-funded infrastructure. He also wants to have an energy independence program, and although he doesn't say exactly what that would look like, it would generate enough government revenue that one-third of the new revenue could pay for all the infrastructure investment he wants to do. I have no idea how that's supposed to work. (-1)
- He says his approach is "a bold, Reagan conservative model," while Romney's is "cautious." He cites the Wall Street Journal in calling Romney's plan "timid and more like Obama" than his own. He wants zero capital gains tax, a 12.5% corporate tax and 100% expensing for all new equipment. (+1)
- If he wasn't at the debate on a Saturday night, where would he be? He'd be watching the championship basketball game, until Santorum corrects him and says it's a football game.
- In his first answer of the night, he says Americans want an outsider, not an insider, "and it doesn’t make any difference whether you’re an insider from Washington, D.C., or you’re an insider from Wall Street." I would say that this reinforces the idea that Perry believes the only bad government is the federal government, since working in the Texas state government for 21 years apparently doesn't make you an insider. But he also says that he and former ambassadaor Huntsman are the only real outsiders. I have no idea what makes Romney an insider and Huntsman an outsider in Perry's mind, except maybe their poll numbers. (-1)
- The "biggest problem that America faces," bigger than Iran, bigger than the economy, bigger than the debt, bigger than entitlements, bigger than civil liberties issues, is Obama's cuts to the defense budget. Are you kidding me? (-1)
- Rather than talk about whether anyone should rule out a third party candidacy, he instead wants to talk about the "war on religion." What does he consider to be the "war on religion"? Obama's decisions to not defend a law he believed to be unconstitutional, to not give government subsidies to the Catholic church, and to not allow the ministerial exception (without which, churches would be forbidden from considering a person's religion in hiring decisions). Those first two don't seem like very big deals to me, although the last one seems pretty significant.
- He would send troops back into Iraq right now. He says, "We’re going to see Iran, in my opinion, move back in at literally the speed of light." Either he doesn't know what "literally" means, or he doesn't know what "the speed of light" means. Or more comically, perhaps he actually believes the Iranians have that technology, in which case I'd be soiling my pants too. But complaints about word choice aside, sending troops back into Iraq without some major change in the situation on the ground needs to be taken off the table. (-2)
- Americans "want Washington out of their hair." He wants to allow federal lands and waters to be explored and developed by energy companies, "whether it’s solar or wind or oil and gas or coal." (+1)
- If he wasn't at the debate on a Saturday night, where would he be? At a shooting range.
Adding up the various scores, Huntsman hit it out of the park with +5, the only positive score. Santorum and Gingrich both got -1, Paul got -2, Perry got -3 and Romney came in last with -4.
In his first time in the middle of the stage, Rick Santorum had some hits and misses, but mostly misses. On the other hand, he came across as more Presidential than usual, more sure of himself, less angry and more focused on Obama than the other Republicans.
Jon Huntsman's strong showing and Mitt Romney's poor showing were almost entirely related to trade. Those two candidates are the only two to really talk about trade and to really make trade an important issue. But while Huntsman wants to encourage trade and is opposed to tariffs and trade wars, Romney very much has a mercantilist view of trade and would rather punish American consumers to make a political point than encourage trade.
Ron Paul ended up negative because of his bizarre and self-serving claim that only people who have served in the military have the right to have an opinion on what the military does. It hardly felt like Newt Gingrich or Rick Perry were even at this debate.