Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Nineteenth Republican Primary Debate (FL)

The nineteenth debate was held in Florida on Thursday, January 26th, in anticipation of that state's primary on the 31st. This was the third debate with only four candidates-- Rick Santorum, Mitt Romney, Newt Gingrich and Ron Paul. The full video is here, and a transcript is here.

To get any potential biases out of the way, I've lately been leaning towards Newt Gingrich as the best of a bad field. I don't like his support for government-sponsored enterprise, and he favors more government involvement in the economy than I do, but he would at least be better than the status quo, and in most areas, I believe he would move us in the right direction.

While I like Ron Paul's support for liberty, I don't like other things he supports and his overall style is just as likely to turn people off of libertarianism. Plus, I don't agree with him on monetary policy, which isn't usually an issue in electing a President, but for Paul it would be. Mitt Romney is too slick and self-contradictory for me, and I simply don't have any confidence that Rick Santorum would do the right thing on economic issues, which is what really matters right now.

As always, I've summarized the candidates' answers below, and scored and responded to them along the way.

Rick Santorum
  • In his introduction, he introduces his 93-year-old mother, who is in the audience.
  • He agrees with Romney's "self-deportation" idea, saying "we are a country of laws." He repeats what he's said in earlier debates that an illegal immigrant who is working is breaking the law, and therefore deserves to be deported. (-1)
  • He is "not with Congressman Paul" on supporting free trade in South America, and then he talks about Honduras for awhile, and how Obama sided with Chavez and Castro in opposing the rule of law in Honduras. Then he says something really bizarre. He says the EU understood "how important it was for diverse people to be able to come together in an economic unit," and implies that we need some arrangement with South America that even goes beyond the EU, although he doesn't say exactly what that would be. Being in "an economic unit" means free trade as I understand it, yet free trade was the central point of Ron Paul's answer, which Santorum said he disagreed with. Am I missing something? (-1)
  • He objects to Paul's answer criticizing Santorum for wanting to use force, saying he doesn't want to use force in South America. He criticizes Obama for holding up the Colombia free trade agreement, so he does want free trade, at least on some level, with South America, so I'm not sure why he said he disagreed with Ron Paul, unless it was specifically about Cuba, perhaps.
  • He says in 2006 he tried to reform Fannie and Freddie in the Senate, but it didn't get anywhere. He wants to gradually reduce the amount of mortgages they can underwrite until they disappear, although he doesn't put a specific timeframe on it. Then the old angry Santorum comes back, hitting on the pointlessness of the Gingrich-Romney spat. He says, "Can we set aside that Newt was a member of Congress and used the skills that he developed as a member of Congress to go out and advise companies -- and that's not the worst thing in the world -- and that Mitt Romney is a wealthy guy because he worked hard and he's going out and working hard, and you guys should leave that alone and focus on the issues." (+2)
  • Asked about tax policy, he really struggles with his answer, stammering quite a bit. He links his tax policy to Reagan, saying that even though he doesn't want to reduce the top rate as much as the other candidates, none of the other candidates want the same top tax rate as we had under Reagan. I think that's taking the hero worship a bit far. He also says he believes in the "differential" of multiple tax brackets, and does not believe in the flat tax. He does want to simplify the tax code, limiting it to five deductions which he doesn't list (although I think he's listed them in previous debates), and two brackets, 10% and 28%. He also opposes eliminating the capital gains tax, saying "lower rates are better than zero." (-1)
  • On releasing his medical records he nods and gives a thumbs up.
  • He promises to cut spending every year of his administration, and criticizes Gingrich for "grand schemes" which will cost enormous amounts of money, like his proposals for NASA and Social Security. While I like Santorum's commitment to cutting spending, you simply can't cut spending enough in the long term without reforming Social Security, and Gingrich's NASA proposal, as I understand it, would be accomplished through shifting the resources already spent on NASA towards a better purpose, that being prizes to spur innovation in the private sector. (-1)
  • He says we're not in the same situation as we were 15-20 years ago when we were able to balance the budget but still increase spending on programs like the NIH. He says we need "bold solutions" to fix the debt problem, which is an interesting contrast to his critique a few minutes before of Gingrich's "grand schemes." (-1) 
  • On health insurance, he says, "All three of these folks sound great and I agree with them." He mentions health savings accounts in passing, but then spends most of his answer attacking Gingrich and Romney for supporting the individual mandate. He says Romney supported it as part of Romneycare, and Gingrich supported it for twenty years before Obamacare. It's a good critique, although I wish he would've spent less time on the attack and more time talking about health savings accounts. (+1)
  • Santorum's response to Romney's support of Romneycare is pretty much what mine was. He highlights that Romney "just said that top-down government-run medicine in Massachusetts works well." He also points out that Obama is going to say the same thing in the general election, which is true. Romney and Santorum go back and forth a couple times, and Santorum is the clear winner, even judging by the crowd's response, which otherwise had been very pro-Romney. (+1)
  • What Hispanic leader would he consider for his Cabinet? Marco Rubio.
  • Why would his wife make a good first lady? He mentions the eight children they've had, one of whom died, and says his wife wrote a book about that experience that has saved "at least hundreds" of lives of people who would have been aborted, but were not because of the book.
  • He says, "I've been 100 percent in support of the Cuban people and their right to have a free Cuba," but not to the extent of actually reaching out to them through trade and freedom of travel. His idea of supporting the Cuban people is to make sure Americans can't buy anything from them. (-2)
  • He supports "self-determination" for Puerto Rico, saying, "I don't take a position one way or the other on statehood, commonwealth, independence, that's for the people of Puerto Rico to decide." (+1)
  • The Constitution is the "how of America," while the Declaration of Independence is the "why of America." He's very clear that our rights come from God, quoting the Declaration's line that we are "endowed by our Creator with certain unalienable rights."
  • Why is he the best to beat Obama? Because he opposed the bailouts, the individual mandate and cap & trade, unlike Gingrich and Romney, and because like Obama, he appeals to the manufacturing sector. He says his appeal to manufacturing is "the centerpoint of my campaign."

Newt Gingrich
  • In his introduction, he mentions that Jacksonville will be "the site of the next nuclear aircraft carrier battle group."
  • He wants to "fix legal immigration" to make it easier to immigrate legally than to do it illegally. This right here is the only real solution to illegal immigration, and I wish he spent more of his answer talking about it. As it was, he spent the rest of the answer talking about his draft-boards to decide case by case whether illegal immigrant grandmas should get to stay or not.
  • He's run an ad calling Romney "the most anti-immigrant candidate" according to Wolf Blitzer. Asked if he still believes that, Gingrich says yes, of the four on stage, Romney is the most anti-immigrant candidate, based on his attacks on Gingrich's plan to allow some illegals to stay in the country. They go back and forth a few times, neither of them saying very much of substance. Gingrich says grandmothers aren't going to self-deport, so we should allow them to "finish their life with dignity under the law."
  • In response to Romney's "language of the ghetto" ad, he says he never mentioned Spanish or called it that, but he does think English should be the "official language of government." He doesn't want people "trapped in a linguistics situation" because they don't know English. This argument simply doesn't make sense. What Newt is saying here is that there is a clear economic incentive for people who live in the United States to learn English... but that they won't do it unless government requires it. This is the kind of logic Obama has been following with the whole contraception mandate thing, and it doesn't work any better for Newt. (-1)
  • When Wolf Blitzer says they've verified that the "language of the ghetto" ad actually is from Romney's camp, Romney asks Gingrich directly if he said that. Gingrich says no, and that what he did say was taken out of context-- that we're better off if children learn English.
  • This time he's done his homework on his Freddie Mac relationship and comes out swinging, saying Romney has invested in not just Freddie Mac and Fannie Mae, but also Goldman Sachs. I think this is just about as relevant as Newt's own work for Freddie, which is to say not at all, but it's still nice to see that he finally found a good answer on this issue.
  • That is, until Romney's answer, which pretty well blows Gingrich out of the water. Romney says they're in a blind trust (where the executor does not tell the owner what he's investing in to avoid conflicts of interest), and that Gingrich himself has also invested in Fannie and Freddie. Newt walked into his own trap on that one. (-1)
  • Regarding what he would actually do about Fannie and Freddie, he says he'd break them up into "five or six separate units," then slowly wean them off federal financing over a five year period.
  • In the wake of Santorum's call to "focus on the issues," Wolf Blitzer asks Gingrich whether he's satisfied with Romney's tax record release. Gingrich takes Santorum's stance and calls it a "nonsense question." When Blitzer insists, saying that Newt had brought it up on the campaign trail, Mitt speaks up and criticizes Gingrich for saying something on the campaign trail that he's not willing to defend face-to-face. Gingrich comes off looking pretty bad in the exchange, and goes on the offensive against Romney, criticizing him for having a Swiss bank account.
  • He says he wants a "Mitt Romney flat tax," where he brings everyone's taxes down to the 15% that Romney pays. He repeats his line that he wants "to shrink the government to fit the revenue, not to raise the revenue to catch up with the government."
  • Like Paul and Romney, he says he'd be happy to release his medical records, and adds that having watched Ron Paul campaign, Paul is in great shape.
  • Asked about his plan for a moon base, he doesn't actually talk about it. He does, however, say that the current bureaucracy at NASA has mismanaged our space program, and that with a focus on private sector involvement through prizes like the old aviation prizes, we could have a private sector race to the moon. He doesn't mention it, but the success of the Ansari X Prize and the excitement over the Google Lunar X Prize seem to support his position. (+1)
  • He says he agrees with Paul that space exploration should be done by the private sector, and that 90% of the spending under his program would ultimately come from the private sector. He wants "to get NASA out of the business of trying to run rockets, and to create a system where it's easy for private sector people to be engaged." He thinks that with private sector involvement, we'll eventually get to a point where space launches are commonplace. (+1)
  • In response to Romney's charge that he's telling every state what they want to hear, he says part of the job of the President is to pay attention to what the states want. In response to Santorum on the spending issue, he brings up the balanced budget of 1997, saying they doubled the size of the National Institute of Health even though they balanced the budget, because they prioritized. "It is possible to do the right things in the right order to make this a bigger, richer, more exciting country." (+1)
  • He says he agrees with Ron Paul that Social Security should be off-budget, but doesn't address the charge that if it had been off-budget, he wouldn't have balanced the budget.
  • Responding to the health insurance question, Gingrich very concisely says what I think Ron Paul was trying to say. "Dr. Paul is right. She ought to get the same tax break whether she buys [health insurance] personally or whether she buys through a company." He also advocates association insurance, and he says that we need to repeal Obamacare, Dodd-Frank and Sarbanes-Oxley to get the economy going again. (+1)
  • On the individual mandate, he says he had founded the Center for Health Transformation, and had talked about the individual mandate with an escape clause at the state level, not at the federal level. That doesn't exactly make it better... (-1)
  • He speaks up after Ron Paul to say that health care was "fundamentally more flexible and less expensive" back when Paul was a physician in the 60s.
  • What Hispanic leader would he consider for his Cabinet? Susana Martinez, Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, and possibly Marco Rubio for "a slightly more dignified and central role than being in the Cabinet."
  • Why would his wife make a good first lady? "First of all, having gotten to know them, I think all three of the wives..." of his competitors would make good first ladies. Newt needs to be more careful about referencing "all three wives" in his answers... In his actual answer, he says she's very artistic, especially with music.
  • He mentions the "Romney attack machine," and claims it's distorting history to say that Newt wasn't as close to Reagan as he claims. Yawn.
  • He's "proud" of the Helms-Burton Act that reinforced the Cuban embargo in 1996, and he wants to encourage a Cuban Spring through a "stated explicit policy, that we want to facilitate the transition from the dictatorship to freedom." From where I'm sitting, those two statements don't fit together. (-1)
  • He stands by his statement that Palestinians are an invented people, saying they are "technically an invention of the late 1970s," and that they used to just be Arabs. He says Palestinians could have peace "any morning they are prepared to say Israel has a right to exist, we give up the right to return, and we recognize that we're going to live side-by-side."
  • He says he agrees with Romney that the President should seek God's guidance in making decisions. He adds that "if you're truly faithful," your belief will "suffuse your life" and be evident in whatever you're doing. He also makes clear that he believes there's a war on religion, and he would stand up to prevent that as President.
  • Why is he the best to beat Obama? He cites his involvement in "the two largest Republican sweeps in modern time," 1980 and 1994, and says he'll run "a big election with truly historic big choices."

Mitt Romney
  • In his introduction, he talks about his wife, his sons, his daughters-in-law and his grandkids.
  • He repeats his plan to require employers to check an immigrant's national ID card to hire them, saying the employer would be "severely sanctioned" if they hire someone without a card or with a counterfeit card. Nevermind the implications for a national ID card for citizens that I've raised before; Romney raises a whole new issue with counterfeit cards. If it's up to individual businesses to determine whether a card is counterfeit or not, just how much is that going to add to the cost of hiring someone? When businesses are already not hiring because they're overburdened with regulation and taxes, Romney wants to add a new regulation specifically targetting new hiring. How does anyone think that's a good idea? (-2)
  • In the same answer, he says we have a "responsibility" to the millions who are "waiting at home" in other countries to be told they've reached the front of the line and can immigrate legally. Apparently that "responsibility" doesn't extend to actually making it easier for them immigrate legally. It only extends to punishing those who aren't "waiting at home" because of our archaic immigration laws. (-1)
  • He says Gingrich calling him "anti-immigrant" is "absolutely inexcusable" and "repulsive." He says they have "differences of opinion on issues," but he doesn't deserve such "highly-charged epithets." They go back and forth a few times, neither of them saying very much of substance. Romney points out that his father was born in Mexico and his wife's father was born in Wales. The crowd absolutely loves him, for some reason.
  • Romney ends the immigration argument by saying "our problem is not 11 million grandmothers... Our problem is 11 million people getting jobs that many Americans, legal immigrants, would like to have." This is the crux of the bad economics that informs immigration opinions like Romney's. If 11 million illegal immigrants are takin' our jerbs, what jobs are the legal immigrants taking? For that matter, if immigrants only take jobs without creating more jobs (if they only add to labor supply and not labor demand), why doesn't that also apply to Americans who move between states? Or between counties? Or if you're Don Boudreaux, between households? (-1)
  • Wolf Blitzer asks about a Romney ad that claims Gingrich called Spanish "the language of the ghetto." Romney says he doesn't know anything about it, even though it apparently includes the legal notice "I’m Mitt Romney and I approve this message." (-1)
  • He says, "I believe English should be the official language of the United States, as it is." But it's not. The United States has no official language and never has. In the United States, our culture is determined by the people, not the government. (-1) 
  • When Wolf Blitzer says they've verified that the "language of the ghetto" ad actually is from Romney's camp, Romney asks Gingrich directly if he said that, and when Gingrich says no, Romney said we should "take a look at what he [Gingrich] said," seeming to stand by the ad's claim.
  • He criticizes Gingrich for working for Freddie Mac during the housing bubble, offering the memorable line, "we should have had a whistle-blower and not a horn-tooter." When Newt says Romney has investments in Fannie and Freddie, Romney says it doesn't matter because they're through a blind trust and mutual funds, then says Gingrich also has invested in mutual funds that have invested in Fannie and Freddie. 
  • He says his Swiss account had been managed as part of his blind trust, and had been fully reported in the US. Then he says, "Let's put behind us this idea of attacking me because of my investments or my money," which is funny, because that's what Gingrich was trying to do before Romney insisted they talk about it.
  • He says, like Paul, that he'd be happy to release his medical records.
  • He says Newt's plan for a moon base would cost too much, and he'd rather spend the money on housing. He doesn't really have a plan for space, but would develop one in office through consultation with academia and industry. He likes manned spaceflight, but that's as much as he's willing to say. (-1)
  • He attacks Gingrich for advocating huge new spending projects in every state they visit on the campaign trail. While that's something I'd noticed in past debates, particularly South Carolina, attacking him for it on space is a bit weird. Gingrich has advocated a prize-based space program for years, going back to when he was in the House.
  • On health insurance, Romney says pretty much what Paul and Gingrich said on the tax disparity in health insurance, and like Gingrich, he says the other thing we need to do is get the economy going again. To do it, he says he'd lower corporate taxes, lower regulations, open up energy and crack down on China. I can't help but notice that one of these things is not like the others...
  • He says Romneycare is working "pretty well," and Massachusites like it 3:1. He says, "the people of each state should be able to craft programs that they feel are best for their people." He also says he would repeal Obamacare on "day one." I have a hard time believing that someone who still stands by the individual mandate as a good program would be that quick to repeal it at the federal level. I understand the federalism position, but giving any level of government the power to force individuals to purchase a private product as a condition of being alive is not a good idea, to put it mildly. (-2)
  • What Hispanic leader would he consider for his Cabinet? Brian Sandoval, Susana Martinez, the Diaz-Belart brothers, Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, Mel Martinez, Marco Rubio and Carlos Gutierrez. If you interpret this question as "name as many Hispanic politicians as you can," Romney wins hands down.
  • Why would his wife make a good first lady? She's battled both multiple sclerosis and breast cancer, and will be able to reach out to Americans who are suffering, especially young women.
  • Gingrich was "of course" closer to the Reagan era that Romney was, since Romney was in the private sector at the time.
  • He wants more free trade agreements throughout South America, but opposes free trade with Cuba. He says freedom for Cubans is a "God-given right" that we shouldn't do anything to support until "Fidel Castro finally leaves this planet." Since Fidel is no longer in power, I'm not sure why that should matter unless, as I pondered in the last debate, Romney doesn't actually know that Raul is in power now, not Fidel. (-1)
  • Asked about peace between Israel and Palestine by a self-identified Palestinian-American Republican, Romney says, "the best way to have peace in the Middle East is not for us to vacillate and to appease, but is to say, we stand with our friend Israel. We are committed to a Jewish state in Israel. We will not have an inch of difference between ourselves and our ally, Israel." It's a very strong answer, and he says it with conviction, on a question where it would have been very easy to tone down the rhetoric and play to both sides. (+1)
  • He says he agrees with Ron Paul on religious beliefs, though he adds that he would seek God's guidance on critical decisions. He says America was founded on "Judeo-Christian values and ethics," and he would uphold those values.
  • Why is he the best to beat Obama? We need to change Washington, and he is the only candidate left who has not spent his career in Washington.

Ron Paul
  • In his introduction, Ron Paul is the only one to actually talk about real issues, bringing up in a few seconds monetary policy, a gold standard and military policy. (+1 for bringing up the issues, even if I disagree on some of them)
  • On immigration he makes a good point, saying "the way we're handling our borders is actually hurting our economy," although he seems to be talking about loss of tourism rather than more general deadweight loss. But then he repeats his old talking point about bringing the resources now on the Afghanistan-Pakistan border and putting them on ours. Is he talking about actual militarization of the border with this talking point, or is he talking about financial resources? He's never made that clear, at least that I've seen, but it's an important distinction.
  • What should we do about left-leaning governments in Latin America? Paul says, "I think free trade is the answer," including with Cuba. (+2)
  • In South America, we can get what Santorum wants without resorting to using force or payouts to "bully" those nations around. I don't think Santorum was talking about using force-- I think Paul here is jumping to the wrong conclusion. Although to be fair, I don't know what Santorum really did mean, so maybe I'm wrong.
  • On the Fannie and Freddie spat between Gingrich and Romney, and on their investments, Paul says, "that subject really doesn't interest me a whole lot," and instead he talks about actual issues surrounding housing. He says Fannie and Freddie should've been auctioned off years ago; that he opposes the Community Reinvestment Act; and that he wanted to shut down their special line of credit from the Fed ten years before the crash. It's a great answer. He brushes off the inconsequential bickering that Romney and Gingrich got themselves mired in and zeroes in on the real policy issues that the campaign should be about in the first place. (+2)
  • He wants to get rid of the Sixteenth Amendment, which allows for the income tax. He goes on to say, "I understand and really empathize with the people who talk about the 99 percent and the 1 percent." (-1)
  • Asked about his age and health, he says he would "obviously" be willing to release his health records, and is willing to challenge any of the other candidates to a 25-mile bike ride in the Texas heat.
  • He supports space spending for national security, but doesn't think we should spend any money on space science. He says he doesn't like the idea of government-business partnerships, but he misses the point that Newt's prize structure is designed to avoid explicit partnerships in the first place. Contracts aren't awarded to government partners, and indeed no contracts are awarded at all-- rather, the prize money is awarded to those who actually succeed at the tasks. (-1)
  • Regarding the balanced budgets of the 90s, Paul says the national debt actually increased in those years because it doesn't count Social Security. I'm not sure about the details here, and Paul doesn't go into them.
  • An audience member says she's unemployed and can't afford health insurance. I think I agree with Paul's answer, but it's not a very direct answer. He says people should have individual health insurance, not employer-provided health insurance, and that we should get a total deduction for health spending on our taxes. I like that as far as it goes, but he goes back and forth between that idea and medical inflation, ending by saying the government caused the recession. It dilutes his answer and I wasn't actually able to figure out what he was saying until I went back to the transcript and picked it apart. Still, I do agree with most of it. (+1)
  • Asked whether Santorum or Romney was right about health care, he says, "I think they're all wrong," because they're just "arguing about which form of government you want," when we should be getting government out of health care. He's right, but I think he missed the point that that's what Santorum was also saying.
  • What Hispanic leader would he consider for his Cabinet? He won't name any names, but rather talks about issues, saying he would want someone who understands monetary policy and non-interventionist foreign policy. (+1 even if I mostly disagree with him on those issues, because he's the only one of the four to use this question to actually talk about issues)
  • Why would his wife make a good first lady? He says they've been married for 54 years, they have five children and 18 grandchildren, and she wrote a cookbook.
  • On Cuba, he says, "as well intended as these sanctions are, they almost inevitably backfire and they help the dictators and hurt the people." Right on target, although he does take awhile to get there. (+1)
  • His religious beliefs affect his character and his lifestyle choices, but they wouldn't affect his Presidential decisions, as those would be based on the oath of office and his campaign promises.
  • Why is he the best to beat Obama? He mentions that polls have indicated he would do well in the general election, and says the message of liberty appeals to people in both parties, because it supports both free markets and civil liberties.

Adding up the scores, Romney once again was the clear loser with -9. Santorum got -2 and Gingrich 0, and Ron Paul took a surprise lead with +6, which I think is the highest I've ever rated him.

As in other debates, Mitt Romney really said very little I agree with. He defended the individual mandate and had a whole lot of nonsense to say about immigration. His best answer by far was the one he gave on Israel and Palestine towards the end of the debate, but by then it was too little, too late.

I didn't think Rick Santorum did himself any favors in this debate, either. He did the best in his attacks on Gingrich and Romney over health care, but he was much weaker on the economy and downright confusing on trade.

Newt Gingrich had a very ho-hum debate. A lot of it was focused on meaningless issues, like his and Romney's investments, or how close he actually was to Reagan. He momentarily tried to get past that, at Santorum's urging, but quickly went back to it when it was clear Romney wasn't going to leave it behind.

Ron Paul, on the other hand, had a great debate. Where the other three got angry and protested the pointlessness of the questions, he quietly and persistently pressed the issues in question after meaningless question. There were times he seemed to jump to the wrong conclusions about the others' positions, and other times he diluted his answer with some rambling, but when he was on target, he was really on target. It also helped that the issues where I disagree with him were mostly kept out of this debate.

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