The debate held on February 22, 2012 in Mesa, Arizona may have been the last of the entire Republican primary season. CNN hosted, and Don King moderated. The audience saw Ron Paul on the left, the Santorum, Romney and Gingrich.
It was a spirited debate, largely without mistakes by the participants. There were no standing ovations, but applause was frequent. There were even a few boos.
If you assume that Paul and Gingrich were irrelevant, and the only real contest was between frontrunner Santorum and close runner-up Romney, I would say Romney won. Santorum failed to gain significant ground, was booed over his statements on Title X (subsidies to Planned Parenthood), and even though the two men attacked each other Romney probably inflicted a few more wounds on Santorum than the other way around. The two received the most time.
Rating the performances only, Gingrich stood head and shoulders above the others. He hit doubles and triples on every at bat, while the others hit only singles. He almost certainly helped himself by giving the best answers on every question. Asked about what he would do on illegal immigration, a huge issue in Arizona, he hit a home run by saying he’d build the entire fence, then work with the governors of the states which border Mexico. He looked comfortable and happy on stage, smiling a great deal, but there were virtually no attacks on either him or Paul. Paul was also comfortable as he responded in his typical erratic fashion. Santorum and Romney spent a much of their time bashing each other – with trivialities, for the most part.
My notes on the debate follow, with my evaluation at the end. I’ll abbreviate by using the first letter of the candidate’s last name. I’ll also use O for Obama.
? As president, what would you do about the national debt? S – I’d cut 5 trillion in my first 5 years; I have experience in tackling tough jobs; would cut entitlement spending. R – S voted for raising the debt ceiling 5 times; in business, you balance the budget or go out of business; I’d look at every government program, if unessential, cut it; if state could do it better, I’d give it to them. S – while I was in Congress, the % of national debt to GDP went from 68% to 64%. R – will cut taxes on everyone by 20%; the federal government doubled in size during Santorum’s time in office. G – we balanced the budget 4 consecutive years while I was Speaker; you can’t make major cuts while there is high unemployment, we’d have to tackle that first; there is enormous potential for federal income in allowing oil, coal and gas production from them. P – S is a fake fiscal conservative; S voted for No Child Left Behind; I never voted for a deficit; S has a credibility problem. S – The Weekly Standard rated me the most fiscally conservative senator during my time; I took on Medicare and Social Security reform; I took on the tough issues. P – Republicans like foreign aid; I don’t.
? (for R) You described yourself as severely conservative. What’s that? R – I cut taxes 19 times, etc.
? (for G) Is it possible to have both deficit reduction and economic growth at the same time? G – current fed government is a disaster; I’d modernize government.
? (for S) R said you gave too many earmarks. S – R asked for earmarks to help the Olympics; took 300-400 million for Massachusetts as governor; there are good and bad earmarks; Congress has a role in allocating resources. R – as prez, I would ban earmarks tacked on to other bills, would require them to be separate bills, or ask for the line item veto; while I fought to save the Olympics, S was voting for the Bridge to Nowhere. S – R is misrepresenting the facts; I support line item veto; G – I worked to help the Olympics get the money they needed.
? (for S) Was it wrong to bail out the auto industry? S – I oppose bailouts with federal money; opposed the Wall Street bailouts; government gains too much control; we should allow the markets to work; R supported the Wall Street bailouts, but opposed those to the auto industry. R – there was danger that all the banks would go under, we would have had a financial collapse, so I supported it; the auto industry would have been helped by going through managed bankruptcy. G – auto management caved to the UAW; O paid off the UAW at the expense of GM bondholders. P – no bailouts, ever; government should protect contracts.
? Do you believe in birth control? G – O voted, as a state senator, to protect doctors who kill survivors of late term abortions. R – Obama warring on religion – his position is clear; in Massachusetts, I worked to help Catholic institutions keep adoption, but couldn’t win.
? (for S) If elected, will you talk about the dangers of contraception? S – children out of wedlock much less likely to succeed; 5 times the chance that a child raised in a single parent household will be poor. P – government gets involved in things they shouldn’t; morality is bad, not pills. R – there should be no requirement for Catholic institutions to provide a morning after pill. G – when government is the provider of services, you move toward tyranny. P – S voted for Planned Parenthood; they should get nothing. S – I did, but it was part of a very large bill; if prez, I will defund Planned Parenthood. R – S, you said you personally don’t support contraception. S – true, but I voted for bills that support it. Romney-care was the model for Obama-care. R – our bill was 20 pages, while O-care was more than 2000. As prez, I will repeal Obama-care; S, you supported Arlen Spector; I balanced the budget every year as governor. S – R, you used federal money to pay for Romney-care; you had a constitutional requrirement to balance the budget.
? What will you do as president to secure the border? P – we need more resources. G – Walls work; when we erected a wall between San Diego and Tijuana, illegals went elsewhere; I’d be prepared to move up to half of the 23,000 Homeland Security employees to the border.
? (for R) You talked about self-deportation. R – I’d use e-verify; I’d drop lawsuits against states; will complete the fence.
? (for S) Would you penalize homeowners for hiring illegal aliens? S – I won’t require them to use e-verify.
? (for G) Rubio said Republican rhetoric on illegals is too harsh. Is it? G – We may have been; I voted to close the border as early as 1986, but it never happened; we must go step by step, first close the border.
? Describe yourself with only one word. P – consistent. S – courageous. R – resolute. G – cheerful. (G got a laugh.)
? As commander-in chief, would you send women into combat? R – I’d ask the military; more than 100 American military women have lost their lives in Iran and Afghanistan; O is cutting our military; I would strengthen it. G – we now live in a world of total warfare; all citizens are at risk; nuclear weapons used against our cities is a real possibility; Obama is the most dangerous president in history, because of his foreign policy incompetence. P – we fight too many offensive wars. S – women are in danger now; I am concerned about women in the infantry.
? How should we deal with Iran obtaining nuclear weapons? G – Administration has it all wrong; General Dempsey said Iran is rational – that is totally wrong; when a dictator says he wants to kill us, I believe him; 3 nuclear weapons would wipe out Israel; I believe they have a moral responsibility to protect themselves, even with a pre-emptive strike. R – we can’t allow Iran to have nukes; O bowed to stolen elections in Iran. S – I agree with R’s comments; do the opposite of what Joe Biden says and you can’t go wrong. P – we don’t know if Iran has a weapon; other crazy talk.
? (for S) Should we intervene in Syria? S – Syria is a puppet state of Iran; O never stands up to Iran. G – we should change our energy policy to become independent, so we will never again have to bow to a Saudi king; I would covertly work to destroy Assad’s regime in Syria. R – O is feckless; Syria is a key ally of Iran. P – we have spent 4 trillion dollars in the mideast for no good results.
? What about No Child Left Behind? S – I supported it, now I don’t; the feds and the states should get out of education; we must stand up to teacher’s unions. G – I supported charter schools; we should urge states to return power to the parents; we need fundamental rethinking in education. P – there’s no authority for the federal government to do anything in education.
? What’s the biggest misconception about you? P – that I can’t win. G – that I can’t get things done, unlike politicians who just talk about things they will do. R – that I won’t lead the country as a conservative. S – that I can’t defeat O, and that I can’t run a campaign on a shoestring.