Final debate before Iowa

Fox News held the final debate before the Iowa Caucus in Sioux City, Iowa on December 15, 2011.  Brett Baier moderated.  Chris Wallace, Megyn Kelly, and Neal Cavuto were questioners.   Candidates present were Gingrich, Romney, Paul, Perry, Bachmann, Santorum, and Huntsman.  Donald Trump has withdrawn from his proposed debate, which has not been officially cancelled.

A good review of the debate can be found at Rich Lowry’s review.  Rich doesn’t like Gingrich much, see his editorial bashing Newt at Winnowing the field.  I don’t yet know how to respond to his charge that Newt was kicked out of the House by his colleagues in 1998.  I do know that Newt was voted out as Speaker, and then resigned rather than continuing as an ordinary member.  This was after Newt was censured for alleged ethics violations by a violently reacting Democrat majority – pushed by Nancy Pelosi.  I don’t know Lowry’s politics.  I continue to support Newt as the best candidate.

Video snippets from the debate can be found at Fox News debate.

The first question to each candidate challenged them with bad things currently said about them: Gingrich on how conservative he is; Paul that he is unelectable; Bachmann that she doesn’t appeal to moderates and is too conservative; Perry, a weak debater who might have to debate Obama;  Huntsman, in that he is praised by moderates but isn’t very conservative; Santorum, with all the effort in Iowa, why has he failed to catch fire?  The candidates had a chance to refute those assertions.  Most did fairly well.

The next question: If you are president, and like the current situation have a House or Senate in the other party and face a government shutdown, what would you do to break the impasse?  Santorum said he would lead, motivate, and go to the public; Perry said he would apply his governing experience; Romney stressed his leadership ability, said in Massachusetts he had a legislature that was 85% Democrat; Gingrich pointed to his experience in working with Bill Clinton; Paul went off on a tangent and talked about cutting spending; Bachmann said she would speak before entire Congress and set ground rules – no new taxes, balance the budget, and follow the Constitution; Huntsman said leadership is action, not words. 

The next round consisted of questions giving each candidate a chance to refute criticisms against them.  Romney, about Newt’s criticism of his Bain experience, that Obama would level the same attacks.  Gingrich, that he worked for Freddie Mac, said that government sponsored enterprises (GSE’s) like Freddy Mac are sometimes good and effective, but he would bring down Fanny Mae and Freddy Mac, that he worked with them as a private citizen, never tried to influence any politician, while Barney Frank and Chris Dodd were at fault in the housing crisis.  Paul was asked about his negative ads on Gingrich, responded that big business and big government are bad.  Bachmann accused Gingrich of peddling influence with Freddy Mac, when Newt responded she wasn’t factual, she came back and accused him of taking paychecks from them.  In general, Bachmann struck me as a vicious little bitch, but Krauthammer said after the debate she was strong and on point.  Gingrich was asked about his endorsement yesterday of Paul Ryan’s and Ron Wyden’s new bi-partisan health care reform plan.  He praised it and welcomed the bipartisanship. Romney agreed.  Perry talked about his part-time Congress.  Huntsman, asked about the 22% tariff China has placed on American car imports, gave a long-winded answer saying we need to get closer to the Chinese people.  Santorum, I forgot what he was asked, but he talked about his plan to have zero per cent tax on money corporations bring back from overseas.

The next round started out with one question to Romney, then went to the Judicial Branch.   To Romney, which 10 industries will grow in the next 10 years?  Let the market decide.  Gingrich, that attorneys have said his comments on reigning in the courts are dangerous, gave a very strong response saying that courts are arrogant and should not legislate;  Bachmann, should the 9th circuit court be abolished?  Courts should follow Constitution, should not make laws.  Paul, subpoenas for judges to Congress would be bad.  Romney, need care in appointing judges.  Santorum, recited his experience in taking on judges.  Perry doesn’t want lifetime terms for judges.  Huntsman, emphasizes rule of law, not a memorable answer.

The round on foreign policy was where Paul stumbled badly, while the other candidates gave predictable answers.  Paul would remove sanctions on Iran, said there is no evidence they will ever have an atom bomb, predicted America will overreact.  Santorum: Iran has been at war with us since 1979.  Romney: Obama asked Iran to give back the drone, pretty please.  The President’s weakness invites war.  Bachmann: Iran will move into Iraq right after we move out.  She never heard of a more dangerous answer than Paul’s.  Paul: war is dangerous.  Bachmann: Paul’s biggest problem would be under-reaction.  Gingrich: would re-examine a U.N. that is anti-American in many ways.  Huntsman: U.N. serves as peacemaker.  Perry: would impose a no-fly zone over Syria.

On energy:  Gingrich: grand slam home run when he criticized Obama’s putting off the Keystone Pipeline decision until after the next election.  Huntsman: generalities, as usual.  Bachman: Obama’s Keystone decision based on his re-election, not America’s need.  Perry: federal government should not pick winners and losers. 

On Immigration (but questions not always answered): Perry: as president, if Eric Holder didn’t know about Fast & Furious, Perry would fire him immediately.  Santorum: Iraq is training jihadists in Venezuela.  Romney, asked why illegals would leave if he didn’t round them up, said he would implement an ID card system and punish employers who hired illegals.  Gingrich, on becoming president, will stop all lawsuits against states, cut off federal aid to sanctuary cities.  Huntsman, says we need a more moderate approach to illegals, says numbers have dropped.

On social issues:  Romney, accused of changing positions on abortion and same-sex marriage, admitted changing from pro-choice to pro-life, said he opposes discrimination against gays but has always opposed same-sex marriage, said the Massachusetts Supreme Court made him allow it as governor.  Santorum said Romney ordered the state to issue same-sex marriage licenses.  Bachmann accused Newt of having the wrong idea on life.  Newt said life begins at conception,  said Bachmann didn’t have her facts right.  Bachmann, said she was outraged that Newt said she didn’t have her facts right, accused Newt of (indirectly) supporting partial birth abortion.  Newt denied. 

That was essentially it, although candidates were polled on whether they should break Reagan’s “11th commandment” and go after other candidates.  All essentially said, “we can take it” and “Obama will do worse.”

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My overall evaluation: Romney was smooth, didn’t attack, and wasn’t hurt.  Gingrich hit home runs – getting strong applause — on all but his response on Freddy Mac, which he addressed but didn’t convince the crowd or the pundits.  The remaining major skeleton in his closet, which I haven’t seen him address, is the fact that he was censured by the House, including virtually every Republican, as he was on his way out.  He has mostly put the other criticisms down.  Paul was exposed, and if his followers weren’t so fanatical, he might lose support.  Bachmann, Perry, Huntsman, and Santorum didn’t help themselves.  Romney and Gingrich probably won the debate, most likely a tie. 

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