I’m calling this the 14th televised debate. It was held in Des Moines on December 10, sponsored by the Iowa Republican Party and conducted by ABC. Liberals Diane Sawyer and George Stephanopoulos (had to look up the spelling) were the moderators. My guess on attendance was around a thousand, all selected by the party. The six candidates present were: Santorum, Perry, Romney, Gingrich, Paul, and Bachmann. John Huntsman failed to attend, possibly because he wasn’t invited, or possibly because he’s off in his own world. Either way, he has never been relevant.
The format was similar to previous debates conducted by news networks: one minute responses, 30 second rebuttals. Romney and Gingrich were positioned in the center and received the most time, but all had a chance to speak. Some of the questions seemed designed specifically to expose Newt, and this was good for him because he blasted them out of the park. Both Gingrich and Romney may have stumbled slightly, however. Bachmann came across as a mean little lady, and didn’t help herself much, in my opinion. Perry was himself, which isn’t good, Paul remained strange, and Santorum probably gave his best performance.
The first question was a bit naive: how many jobs would you create as president, and how long would it take? Romney said 11 million in 4 years; Newt repeated his record on job creation, especially while speaker. Someone gave the correct answer, I believe it was Perry, who said no one can tell but he would create an economic climate to allow the private sector to create them. Every one mentioned lower corporate taxes and less regulation, except Paul, who gave his usual meandering poppycock.
Are you in favor of renewing the payroll tax cut? Bachmann said no – it cost 111 billion this year, we’re already borrowing from general revenue; Santorum voted no, while Romney, Perry, and Gingrich were for it in a qualified way. Not sure what Paul said, but then I never am.
Who is the most conservative candidate? This useless question provoked no intelligent responses – each candidate said “me” within a cloud of words.
The first attack on Newt: addressed to Paul, Why did you run an ad saying Newt is a “serial hypocrite”? Paul listed several things – the Pelosi ad, I believe; Newt’s “Right-wing Social Engineering” comment on the Ryan Plan health reform; and making money at Freddy Mac. Newt responded and explained each of these rather well in the short time he had to talk, but he did get some extra time here. Others went on to attack Newt: Michelle called him “the poster boy for crony capitalism” – again referring to his time with Freddy Mac, and Newt explained again, but told her she should be truthful in her comments. Perry attacked Romney and Perry on health insurance mandates. Gingrich explained that it first began in 1994, to counter Hilary Care, and originally began with the Heritage Foundation as a conservative idea, but rapidly lost his support as the unintended consequences became clear. When Romney tried to address the question, he said it was OK for states, bad for the federal government. Perry came back and said that wasn’t what Mitt’s book said, and here Romney offered to bet Perry ten thousand dollars. This may have been a blunder, according to pundits after the debate – insensitive in bad economic times. Perry turned it down.
Somewhere, I think in the prior round, Romney cast himself as an outsider and implied Gingrich was a career politician. Gingrich responded by saying Romney would have been one if he hadn’t lost the 1994 senatorial election to Ted Kennedy. Mitt and Newt laughed with each other several times during the debate, appearing to have a good time on the stage. Perry’s exchanges with Romney also appeared friendly. Only Michelle seemed to lack a sense of humor. It now strikes me that she never has, and perhaps that’s why she hasn’t done well as a candidate.
Then came the question seemingly designed to hurt Gingrich. Should marital fidelity, family values, and faith be considered important factors in choosing a president? Diane Sawyer knew full well only Gingrich has had marital problems and is known to have been unfaithful to his spouse. Of course, she selected every other candidate to speak before Gingrich. Every candidate agreed those attributes were very important – talked about how long they had been married, how many kids they had, etc. Perry said, “If you’ll cheat on your wife, you’ll cheat on your partner, and who knows who else.” (Paraphrase, but the general idea.) Then it was finally Newt’s turn: he said: of course those things are important. He cited the Federalist Papers words on integrity, said voters should consider those factors in choosing a candidate. But he said he has made mistakes but now he’s a 68 year old grandfather. It was the best possible answer under the circumstances.
I’ll paraphrase the next question: What would you do about illegal aliens still in the country (after you close the border)? This is another gadfly question, since there is a controversy among the candidates – only Gingrich has suggested any sort of leniency. Here, I believe Newt stumbled, but so did the other candidates, of which only Romney gave a slightly better answer – he mentioned registering the aliens, but then deporting them and making them get back in line. Newt explained his plan to have long-term illegals pass through some tests to become legal, but Diane asked him how long – and Newt said 25 years. So, only aliens who could prove they had been in the country since say, 1987, could qualify. That struck me as incredibly harsh. What about someone who has been here 20 years? Newt insisted on 25. I don’t think Newt has given the matter sufficient thought, nor have any of the candidates – or perhaps they don’t really want to touch this with a 10 foot pole. Perhaps only I see this.
However, the others displayed no leniency whatever. All illegals would be deported. I’m not sure Paul had a chance to give his usual incompetent answer.
Do you think Palestinians are an “invented” People? This was a phrase from another comment by Newt. Newt responded yes, and we need to stop lying about people who attack Israel every day and deny Israel’s right to exist. Mitt Romney mostly agreed, but thought Newt caused unnecessary turmoil, should watch what he says. Newt responded by saying he is a Reaganite who, like Reagan, will tell the truth, referring to Reagan’s “Evil Empire” and “Mr. Gorbachev, tear down that wall” comments which made history. Santorum said truth should be spoken with prudence; Perry thought it a minor issue, and Bachmann was critical and talked about how many times she has visited Israel.
What was the last time you had a financial problem? (paraphrased) Perry, grew up poor; Romney, was rich but dad had been poor, made him work; Bachmann, came from a middle class family but divorce made her mother struggle and Michelle had to get a paying job at 13; Santorum, came from a modest home; Paul, wife worked his way through medical school; and Gingrich, family once lived in an apartment over a service station, and his father’s income as an army officer wasn’t much.
Should federal government regulate unhealthy habits (such as obesity, smoking)? Paul, hell no; Perry, such things should be left to the states.
What important thing have you learned from another candidate? Santorum, as a young politician, watched Newt’s tapes on government; Perry, Paul got him thinking about Federal Reserve problems; Romney, no one specific, all show leadership; Gingrich, Santorum’s consistency on Iran; Paul, incoherent answer; Bachman, Herman Cain’s 9-9-9 plan shows value of simplification and plain speaking.
The debate ended there, at the 1:47 mark.
Afterward, several pundits thought Romney was hurt, differed on Bachmann, one thought Gingrich has taken over as the inevitable nominee and solidified his position.