The second Republican debate in four days, hosted by CNN took place last night in Florida ahead of Next Tuesday’s crucial primary.
This debate was again poor, with yet again no questions on monetary policy of any real substance, Solyndra, the State of the Union Address or the Fast and the Furious scandal were all noticeably missing. It was a better debate on balance then the previous debate hosted by CNN the previous week.
Wolf Blitzer was the tactful moderator, and stood firm on a number of occasions when former Speaker Gingrich tried to turn the debate on its head again. Some although not all of the questions were worthless however, the overall standard again fell short of that expected for a national presidential debate.
Wolf understood that the focus is supposed to be on the candidates and not the moderator and gave a fair allocation of time for Rick Santorum, Ron Paul, Newt Gingrich, and Mitt Romney to speak. All four men acquitted themselves well. There was no clear winner, but none of them embarrassed themselves.
The first question dealt with immigration, specifically with regards to the concept of self-deportation. Mr. Santorum and Mr. Romney support the concept, while Mr. Gingrich believes grandmothers will not self-deport. Dr. Paul pointed out that the way we are handling our borders is bad for our economy.
Fireworks broke out when Mr. Gingrich reiterated that he thought Mr. Romney was anti-immigrant. Mr. Romney pointed out that his dad was born in Mexico and his wife’s dad in Wales. He called the accusation “repulsive,” and pointed out that Florida Senator Marco Rubio condemned such attacks. Mr. Romney evoked laughs when he pointed out that “our problem is not 11 million grandmothers.”
One of the biggest criticisms of most of these debates is the lack of questions about foreign policy. Murderous Islamic theocracies in Iran and Syria have been virtually ignored. Yet foreign policy is more than just the War on Terror. It is also about trade. For the first time, a very intelligent and useful question about Latin America combined the various aspects of foreign policy. The questioner wanted to know if we should increase trade with Latin America and support democracies.
Ron Paul unequivocally stated that free trade is the answer. He also advocated that we should trade with Cuba.
Rick Santorum pointed out that the policy under President Obama has been abysmal. We had a terrible policy on Honduras. Obama sided with Fidel Castro and Hugo Chavez. He was siding with leftists and Marxists, not standing up for our friends in Columbia. Santorum warned of the threat of Iranian ties with Venezuela.
Dr. Paul mentioned that standing up for nations means undermining nations and sending money. We should not use the bully attitude. “I know a better way than using force to get along with people.”
Senator Santorum was feisty throughout the night. “I don’t know what answer Ron Paul was listening to. He was not listening to mine.” Mr. Santorum mentioned that Obama delayed free trade agreements. He sided with organized labor and environmentalists, and left our friends out to dry.
The worst part of the debate came when somebody asked how to phase out Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac. They wanted to know if more regulation is needed. Sadly this insightful question led to Romney and Gingrich hammering each other over who earned more money from the company. They both have mutual funds that include those stocks, which was not even worth mentioning or criticizing.
Ron Paul throughout the night was at his best. This was easily his finest debate performance. He and Rick Santorum both made it clear that they had no problem with Americans making money legally in the capitalist system. Dr. Paul was also very funny throughout the night. In past debates he has occasionally wasted time with tangents. On this night Gingrich and Romney were on a tangent, and Dr. Paul played one of the roles as “adult.” On the subject of his opponents’ investments, Dr. Paul elicited laughter by saying “That subject really doesn’t interest me a whole lot.” Dr. Paul then pivoted to his strength, which is talking about the economy at large. He accurately referred to the Community Reinvestment Act as affirmative action, resulting in regulators telling banks that they have to make certain loans. We should remove the line of credit to the treasury.
Mr. Santorum pointed out that in 2006 he asked for Fannie and Freddie reform. He then angrily defended his rivals. Newt used his knowledge to make money and Romney worked hard. “Leave it alone. Focus on the issues.” The crowd roared with approval.
When Mr. Blitzer tried to bring up Romney’s tax returns, Mr. Gingrich said “This is nonsense.”
Mr. Romney pointed out that it was wrong for Mr. Gingrich to make charges while campaigning that he would not make in the debate. “Don’t castigate individuals for being successful.” “I earned the money. I took the risks and created jobs.” “My taxes plus charitable contributions come to 40%.”
Wolf pointed out that under the Gingrich tax plan, Romney would pay zero. This is because Romney earns his money from interest, dividends and capital gains, not ordinary income taxed at a higher rate. The zero in this situation should be the controversy since anybody at H and R Block could easily explain this. Mr. Gingrich wants to reduce everyone’s taxes to 15%, not raise them to the Obama 35% level. We should shrink government to fit the revenue, not the converse.
Rick Santorum exposed the fallacy behind the class warfare notion of the “wealthy pay more.” We want the wealthy to deploy that wealth. Otherwise they invest in non-taxable income that does not hire people. Mr. Santorum wants a simplified tax system with five deductions, but not a flat tax. He does not believe in a 0% capital gains tax rate.
At the risk of harping on the past debate, Beth Reinhard was so busy hurling accusations that the candidates could not discuss their own plans. Wolf Blitzer allowed the candidates to discuss the issue, and Americans benefit from knowing the differences.
Ron Paul went big. “My goal is to get rid of the 16th Amendment.”
The candidates were asked about releasing their medical records. Dr. Paul is 76, and would be the oldest person ever elected. The question was fair, and Dr. Paul answered it with flair and humor. It may have been his best debate moment in a very good night for him. He said he obviously would, and that “it’s one page long.” He also cracked up the audience by saying “I’d challenge any of these guys to a 25 mile bike ride in Texas heat.” The laughter continued as he turned to Blitzer and said “I may have to sue you for age discrimination.” The candidates all agreed, and Mr. Gingrich stated that Dr. Paul is in great shape.
The levity subsided and the seriousness returned when the candidates were asked about the future of manned space and NASA. Theyw ere asked if we should put a permanent base on the moon.
Mr. Romney called this an “enormous expense.” He would bring in top experts in physics and military matters.. Corporate America and defense should form a partnership to keep the space program thriving and growing. He would say no to a colony on the moon, it would cost trillions.
Mr. Gingirch called NASA a “mismanaged bureaucracy.” He asked “What does NASA do?” “Do they think about space?” He favored the use of prizes and incentives to get people involved in space exploration.
Mr. Santorum called America a frontier nation, and that the next frontier is space. We need to inspire, and young people now are not interested in math and science. Yet he pointed out that with a 1.2 trillion deficit, to promise new programs and big ideas is a good tactic to get votes, but is not responsible. We are going to cut programs.
Ron Paul again evoked laughter, and the audience was laughing with him and not at him. “I don’t think we should go to the Moon, maybe we should send some politicians there.” He feels that the only space expenditures should be for defense purposes. He does not like governmentt-business partnerships. A healthy economy would lead to more private investment. Healthcare deserves more priority than going to the Moon.
Newt Gingrich joked that he was meeting Rick Santorum’s threshold for the “grandiose ideas” that the Speaker was accused of having in a recent debate. Gingrich cited JFK, and that the program would be 90% from the private sector. Improving from one launch occasionally to six or seven per day through private entities wanting to do it would be optimal. Giving up the space race to the Chinese would make us a “nation in decline.”
Mitt Romney pounced. If a corporate executive came to him and wanted to put a colony on the moon, he would say “you’re fired.” He then stated that Newt goes state to state and promises people what they want to hear. “We’ve got to say no to this kind of spending.”
Gingrich fired back by noting that the purpose of campaigning is to go to states and listen to concerns of people in those states. During the balanced budgets of the 1990s, we doubled the size of the National Institute for Health. Everything comes down to priorities.
Ron Paul disputed those balanced budgets, pointing out that the national debt went up one trillion during that time, since the calculation does not count money taken out of Social Security. Newt Gingrich proposed back then that we take Social Security out of the budget so no president like Obama can threaten to withhold checks. Both men are actually right. Mr. Gingrich obeyed the rules and used the numbers he was given that everyone uses, while Dr. Paul questioned the honesty of the numbers and argues that nobody should use them.
Santorum noted that President Obama ignores our financial health. He ignores hard work and leveling with America. We’ve been downgraded. We need leaders who will be honest with bold solutions.
A woman who was unemployed and without healthcare spoke of her situation, but without attacking all conservatives as heartless, evil men.
Dr. Paul lamented the tragedy of government being involved in medicine since 1965. “When you pump money into something, the cost goes up.” This was a government created recession.
Mr. Gingrich noted that there were two different problems. We need to get the economy growing. We must repeal Obamacare, Dodd-Frank, and Sarbox. As for the woman, she should be able to buy into a pool.
Mr. Romney would allow individuals to own their own insurance and get the same tax treatments companies do. “Obama’s speech was like Groundhog Day.” It was the same speech, and people are still not working. Mr. Obama says the right things but doesn’t do any of them.
Mr. Santorum pointed out that he introduced Health Savings Accounts with John Kasich. He also noted that Gingrich and Romney did not always say what they are saying now. He cited Romneycare and then got very emotional. “We cannot give the issue of healthcare away in this election. It is too foundational.” He claimed that free-riding has gone up five-fold in Massachusetts under Romneycare. People would rather pay the fine than purchase care.
Romney said “It’s not worth getting angry about.” He stated that 98% have insurance in his state, so the idea of more free-riding is impossible. “You don’t like my plan. I don’t like the Obama plan.” “Obama did not focus on the 8%. He focused on 100%.”
Ron Paul said “I think they are all wrong.” “When I started in medicine there was no Medicare and Medicaid and nobody was out in the street suffering.”
Sadly the debate then turned to pandering, as the candidates were asked which Hispanic leaders they would consider for their cabinet. Santorum went with the obvious choice in Marco Rubio. Gingrich mentioned Susanna Martinez, Ileana Ros-Leahtinin, and Rubio for a more dignified role than mere cabinet appointee. Romney picked Brian Sandoval, Susanna Martinez, Mel Martinez, Rubio, and Carlos Guitierrez. Dr. Paul refused to pander. He did not have one particular name. He wants people who understand monetary policy and non-intervention.
The candidates were then asked why their respective wives would make the best 1st lady. The initial reaction was to lambaste the question as feel-good nonsense, but the candidates gave answers that did give insight into them as people. This was better than “Coke vs Pepsi.”
Ron Paul joked that his wife was the author of a very famous cookbook, the Ron Paul cookbook. Romney poignantly spoke of his wife beating Multiple Sclerosis and breast cancer. Gingrich praised them and said that they are all great. His wife has a tremendous artistic focus. She is a pianist, is great with art and education, and is very patriotic. Santorum said his wife is a mom to their seven children. “She is my hero.” She was a neonatal nurse for nine years and has a law degree. She gave it up to be a mother. Her book “Letters to Gabriel” has saved hundreds of lives. “She wrote a book on manners. Kids are not born good.”
Another useless question came in the form of which candidate was the true heir to the Reagan mantle. Earlier in the debate Mr. Romney slightly erred when he continued an attack after Mr. Gingrich refused to fight. This time Mr. Romney was gracious, and Mr. Gingrich refused to accept that graciousness. It was a minor mistake. Romney pointed out that he was in business at the time. He then turned around the Olympics, then ran for Governor. Gingrich said “Michael Reagan has endorsed me.” Nancy Reagan in the 1990s said that Barry Goldwater passed the torch to Reagan, and Reagan passed it to Newt.
A question about Cuban liberalization allowed for a sharp contrast.
Santorum said “I oppose it. I Stand on the side of the Cuban people” against despots reigning terror. They have a puppet in Chavez in Venezuela, like a cancer growing. Liberalization is the “exact wrong message at the exact wrong time.”
Ron Paul said “I would ask Chavez if he called what he called about.” Most of Dr. Paul’s one-liners were successful, but this one did not go over well. He then got serious. “1962 was a different world, there were nuclear weapons in Cuba.” Dr.Paul correctly pointed out that “Sanctions are well intended but they inevitably backfire.” “The Cold war is over, they are not going to invade us. Americans don’t see a Jihadist under the bed every night.”
Sanctions are a complete waste, but the difference is Mr Santorum wants an even tougher line while Dr. Paul wants to go in the opposite direction. This is the heart of the disagreement between Neocons and non-interventionists. A whole debate on this topic would be worthwhile.
Romney said “I’m talking about Obama right now, we can talk about Ron Paul later.” “Our responsibility to help spread the gift of freedom.” Gingrich was delighted that Helms-Burton passed, and that Dan Burton was campaigning with him. “Obama cannot imagine a Cuban spring.” Romney and Gingrich on this issue were overshadowed by Paul and Santorum in terms of stark contrasts.
An excellent question was asked, and it was most unfortunate that all of the candidates were not allowed to answer it. A self-described “Palestinian Republican” wanted to know how their can be peace between Palestine (which does not currently exist) and Israel when most people don’t recognize Palestine?
Romney and Gingirch both shined on this issue because it is one thing to offer a full-throttled defense of Israel in front of a Jewish audience. To deliberately, respectfully, and forcefully take on a Palestinian questioner by defending Israel is the opposite of pandering. Florida does have a large Jewish vote, but the questioner could have led to a weak moment. Instead it was a fine Sister Souljah moment.
Romney mentioned that the Palestinian leadership includes Hamas. Their schoolbooks teach kids how to kill Jews. Palestinians do not want a two state solution. They do not want Israel to exist. Obama threw Israel under the bus. He disrespected Bibi Netanyahu. There is a greater sense of aggression among Palestinians.
Gingrich said that Palestinians are technically an invention of the 1970s. Eleven rockets were fired into Israel in November. Imagine rockets into Duval County. This is war by another form. Palestinians must recognize Israel’s right to exist and give up the right to return. Their political leadership would never allow that. On day one, the U.S. Embassy would be moved from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem.
These answers were as fantastic as they were 100% historically accurate. The problem was that the other two candidates did not get to answer the question. Everybody knows Rick Santorum is pro-Israel, but it was vitally necessary for Dr. Paul to answer this question. The question of “Is Ron Paul pro-Israel” has been debated fiercely on internet message boards. Yet the debate audience did not get to hear him answer. No matter where one is on the issue of Ron Paul or Israel, he deserved the chance to make his case. He was denied this opportunity, which was unfair for him, his supporters, and his critics.
Another pandering question about Puerto Rican statehood was asked. Rick Santorum said it was an issue of “self-determination.” None of the other candidates were asked about it, which was again unfortunate. Any of them answering “no” would have been courageous in that situation.
The candidates were then all asked how their religious beliefs affect their decisions.
Ron Paul said that it would not affect how he governs, but that it does affect how he lives and treats people. “The oath of office affects me.”
Mitt Romney would seek the guidance of providence, since we are a Judeo-Christian nation in terms of law and ethics. The Declaration of Independence describes the relationship between God and man. We share our values with other nations not by conquering them, but through trade and soft power.
Newt Gingrich said that some decisions are so enormous that leaders should go to God and seek guidance. Faith is not an hour on Sundays. It should siffuse your life, and is inextricably tied. There is a war against Christianity in this country largely by the secular elite.
Rick Santorum said that faith is an important part of his life and this country. The Constitution is the operator’s manual, who we are is the Declaration of Independence. The Constitution is there to protect God given rights, not government given rights. Faith has everything to do with it. If rights come from the state, everything given can be taken away. He believes in faith and reason.
The final question was an important one because it did not involve mere election strategy and process. It was a chance for all four men to make their case as to why they were each the most likely to beat Obama.
Ron Paul said that in polls, “I do well against him.” A freedom and Constitutional message “protects free markets and civil liberties. It has broad appeal.” Lastly, “peace and prosperity requires someone who understands money.”
Mitt Romney asked “Will we have another American century or become like Europe?” We need change in Washington to have the private sector reemerge. “Such change requires an outsider. I know how the private sector works.”
Newt Gingrich mentioned the “two largest sweeps in modern times, 1980 and 1994.” Do we support Independence and a paycheck or dependence and food stamps? This is a choice between supporters of the Declaration of Independence over those supporting the tactics of Saul Alinsky.
Rick Santorum asked if we wanted a bottom up or a top down government. Santorum was “against the bailouts.” He was “against cap and trade.” He “did not buy into the global warming hoax.” He also pointed out that Reagan Democrats understand the importance of manufacturing, which is the centerpiece of his campaign. “I can win the industrial heartland.”
In all, the Republican National Committee need to review the amount of debates they are subjecting their candidates to or insist in a proper standard of national and international questions. Wolf did a good job moderating the debate against the back drop of a clearly Mitt Romney dominated audience which even saw former Speaker Gingrich booed when entering the stage.
The candidates need to simply stop the personal attacks. While many in the media may be supporting Governor Romney and believe he had a good performance, one must look to the entire campaign and ask the question, do you know what he stands for? I wouldn’t want someone getting into the Oval office who outspent their opposition and ran a campaign telling the nation what their opponents were and were not for, I want to know what the eventual GOP nominee will stand for and promises to do on a whole range of issues.