Iowa GOP/Fox debate discussion thread

Eight Republican candidates take the stage this evening in Ames for a debate co-hosted by Fox “News” and the Republican Party of Iowa: Representative Michele Bachmann, former Godfather’s Pizza CEO Herman Cain, former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, former Utah Governor Jon Huntsman, Representative Ron Paul, former Minnesota Governor Tim Pawlenty, former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney, and former U.S. Senator Rick Santorum.

Several Republicans who have launched presidential campaigns weren’t invited to the debate, including former New Mexico Governor Gary Johnson, longtime GOP activist Fred Karger (the first openly gay Republican presidential candidate), and Representative Thad McCotter. Fox made that call because those candidates didn’t receive an average of 1 percent support in five national polls. It’s an especially tough break for McCotter, who might have assumed automatic entry to the debate after paying for space at Saturday’s straw poll event. He will be on the straw poll ballot, along with the eight candidates debating tonight.

Former Texas Governor Rick Perry isn’t in Ames because he hasn’t officially declared his candidacy. Perry will try to bigfoot the straw poll by making his intentions clear on Saturday in South Carolina.

I’ll update this post later. Meanwhile, comments about the debate or the GOP presidential race are welcome in this thread.

UPDATE: Thoughts about the debate are after the jump.

In a sense, Grover Norquist won the debate, because all the candidates raised their hands when asked if they would refuse to raise taxes in exchange for spending cuts ten times as large.

I missed the fireworks between Bachmann and Pawlenty early in the debate.

“It’s an undispatuble [sic] fact in Congress her record of accomplishment and results is nonexistent,” Pawlenty said of his fellow Minnesota Republican. “The American people are going to expect more.”

Pawlenty said that Republican voters want a presidential candidate who can compete with President Obama when it comes to results. For instance, he said he tackled health care reform “the right way” in his state.

Bachmann rattled off a list of charges against Pawlenty that she’s cited before: That Pawlenty as governor “implemented cap and trade,” that he supported an “unconstitutional” health care mandate, and that he once said, “the era of small government is over.”

“That sounds a lot like Barack Obama to me,” Bachmann said. By contrast, she said, “I have fought all of these unconstitutional measures against Barack Obama.”

Bachmann’s team was ready for the confrontation: Her staff handed out to members of the press at the debate a two-page document entitled “The Big Government of Tim Pawlenty.” The document, among other things, charged, “Tim Pawlenty was for government bail-outs before he was against them.” […]

Furthermore, Pawlenty pointed out that while Bachmann has been vocal in her opposition to policies like raising the debt ceiling and the bank bailouts, those policies were nevertheless implemented.

“It’s not her spine we’re worried about, it’s her results,” he said. “If that’s your view of effective leadership with results, please stop, because you’re killing us.”

Pawlenty probably doesn’t have a better angle against Bachmann, but I am not convinced that the average Iowa Republican caucus-goer wants someone who’s gotten “results” versus someone with a diehard conservative voting record. Pawlenty declined to make an issue of Bachmann’s migraines, saying he’s worried about the headache President Barack Obama is causing. He did make several funny comments; if you can find Obama’s plan on any of these big issues, I will come to your house and cook you dinner. Or, if you prefer, I will mow your lawn, but Mitt Romney is limited to one acre if he wins. Pawlenty got lost in the shuffle during the second half of the debate.

Bachmann is a strong speaker, and I think she helped herself by emphasizing her record of not compromising. “When others ran, I fought” is a pretty good sound bite. She is 100 percent wrong to suggest that the U.S. could get by with never raising the debt ceiling again, but she probably sounded convincing to a lot of Republicans watching. Byron York asked her the worst question of the debate (which is saying something): would she be submissive to her husband if she were president. The crowd didn’t like it.

Ron Paul had the loudest cheering gallery, and I thought his performance was strong. Most Republicans will not agree with his foreign policy comments (we need to stay out of wars, what’s wrong with talking to other countries, Al Qaeda was not in Iraq, we created the Iranian problem in 1953). But he turns out people on Saturday the way he turned out people for the debate audience, he could do very well in the straw poll. I still see him stuck around 10-15 percent for the caucuses, though.

Mitt Romney benefited from other candidates mixing it up with each other instead of attacking him. I didn’t hear any gaffes. (He got heckled at the Iowa State Fair soapbox earlier today, but I don’t think this “corporations are people too” line is going to be a big deal either.) On the negative side, several of Romney’s answers were evasive, feeding the impression that he is weaselly. He didn’t address the question about why he bragged to a credit rating agency about Massachusetts raising taxes. He didn’t make clear whether he would or would not extend unemployment benefits; instead, he talked in general terms about reforming the unemployment system. I still don’t think his health care reform finesse sounds credible–why was Romneycare the right thing for Massachusetts if Obamacare is so wrong for the rest of the country?

Jon Huntsman did well to defend his stance on civil unions and speak out for not letting the country default. I completely reject his premise that environmental regulations keep manufacturing out of the U.S., but that’s probably a popular line with Republican primary voters. He’s not competing in Iowa and not going to be a factor in the caucuses, but if any moderates in New Hampshire were watching, I think Huntsman came across well.

Rick Santorum probably helped himself with social conservatives tonight. He gave a passionate answer about why abortion is wrong even in cases of rape. Responding to a question about marriage, he talked about the moral imperative of the federal government to step in and prevent states from adopting certain kinds of laws and standards (the 10th amendment has limitations). He mixed it up with Ron Paul on foreign policy, and I think most Republicans would agree with Santorum. Toward the end he criticized Paul and Bachmann for their stance on the debt ceiling, explaining some facts of life about why we can’t get by without ever raising it again. I don’t think Santorum will finish in the top three in the straw poll or in the caucuses, but he may appeal to the same kind of people who supported Alan Keyes or Gary Bauer in past years.  

Herman Cain is a good speaker, but I don’t know who his constituency is supposed to be. I didn’t hear him say anything “wrong” from a Republican perspective, but I don’t think he made a compelling case for his candidacy either. Bachmann has probably hurt Cain as much or more than she’s hurt Pawlenty in Iowa.

Newt Gingrich is also a non-factor in the race, but he spoke with his usual confidence. He got cheers by attacking the panel journalists for asking stupid questions, and I agree with at least one thing he said: the super Congress committee to solve the debt problem is a dumb idea.

What did you think of the debate, Bleeding Heartland readers? Who had the best and worst lines?

The dumbest idea I heard was Romney’s plan for personal unemployment savings accounts. How many people could afford to sock away money in a special fund, just in case they lose their job? If you’re not living paycheck to paycheck, you’re probably trying to save up to buy a house/car, or for retirement, or for children’s education. There is no way that individual unemployment savings accounts could replace the current system of jobless benefits.

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  • I think Bachmann

    might have gotten the better of Pawlenty in the debate tonight.  However, it must be incredibly frustrating for Pawlenty, who is basically screaming, “She’s done nothing!”

    While they were both mostly accurate on their attacks tonight, which is of the following is less desirable for the Iowa Straw Poll voter?

    1.  The fact that Michelle Bachmann has not written even one bill that’s now a law in 5 years in Congress and has very few legislative accomplishments.

    2.  The fact that Tim Pawlenty has taken some less conservative positions while governor of Minnesota.

    I guess when it comes down to it, for the GOP electorate choosing between these two candidates, it’s a choice between

    1.  Red meat in the primary but a near-certain loss against Obama OR

    2.  Past sins of a “less than conservative” nature, but an actual chance to beat Obama in swing states such as Ohio.

    I’ve taken the opportunity to write several blogs about each of the candidates’ strengths and weaknesses.  However, while Pawlenty might be likely to lose to Obama in the general election, it is all but certain that Bachmann would lose to the President.


  • Thoughts

    I would have advised Cain to highlight his support for the gold standard and the FAIR Tax.  Cain has been arguably more successful in business than Romney.  Cain worked in the restaurant and food people don’t get as upset about layoffs in that sector as they do in manufacturing, Romney laid off more  middle class people than Romney.

    Huntsman was too nervous to go after Romney and tout his own business record.  

    Gingrich might still be a factor in the race had he not been intellectually honest about some basic flaws in Paul Ryan’s bill.  His fundraising was lagging before that but it completely dried up after the Ryan comments.  He probably would have participated in the straw poll had the Ryan controversy not happened.  

    Rick Perry is way too “big government” for this crowd, he had to do a lot of things given the immense poverty that so many in Texas face.  If people actually looked at the records of people, no one would consider Perry.  

  • Is it faux pas

    to add a link to an outside side?  If so, I apologize.

  • unemployment

    How many people could afford to sock away money in a special fund, just in case they lose their job?

    I think most financial advisers actually recommend doing something like this. They’ll say to have 3 or 6 or 12 months of expenses in an emergency fund. Many people do it (especially people who don’t use credit cards – I prioritize my personal rainy-day fund over the other items you mentioned), and some kind of tax incentives or something would be a nice way to encourage people to do something positive with their personal finances, but keeping it only for the possibility of unemployment is way too overly rigid. Even if they broadened it to cover other emergencies, I don’t think I like the idea of having to go through a legal process just to access my own money in the case of an emergency.

    And even if it were a good idea in itself, I agree that it couldn’t replace all jobless benefits.

    • sure, an emergency fund is great

      to handle unplanned medical expenses, home repairs, job loss, whatever. But since real wages haven’t risen in decades, Americans don’t have a tremendous amount of disposable income to put in those funds.

      Republican opposition to extending unemployment benefits is counter-productive. Unlike tax cuts for wealthy people and corporations, unemployment benefits are quickly turned around and spent on goods and services. That and food stamps are the most stimulative forms of government spending.  

      • I agree.

        I’m not at all opposed to unemployment benefits, food stamps, etc.

        I was just entertaining the idea of what the government could do to encourage those who can to help themselves. I mean, there are incentives to encourage house buying (recently even car buying), saving for retirement, and saving for education. I would argue that keeping an emergency fund is at least as important as all of these (and helps enable people to get into a spot where they can do the others better because they’re not paying all kinds of credit card interest to clean up past emergencies). I’m skeptical that something like this could be done right, but it’s not a bad goal.  

        • tricky balance

          when 70 percent of the economy is consumer spending. Saving money is good for individuals, but if everyone focuses on saving money, it’s bad for most businesses.

          I think tax incentives to support retirement and education savings make sense. However, I would like to change current policies that encourage house buying. People should not be able to deduct mortgage payments on second homes, and there should probably be some kind of cap on total mortgage payments that can be deducted. High-income Americans derive most of the benefit from the mortgage interest tax deduction, and that’s not fair to everyone else, especially renters.

          • Why should there be any mortgage deduction at all?

            Seems like a market distortion that makes people buy more house than they need, which is bad in a whole host of other ways.

  • Good Article

    I liked Gingrich’s understanding of the urgency of our problem.  The President and Congress have not done their duty.  They have given themselves permission to let the problem get bigger and permission to take vacation.

    I like Paul’s understanding of the problem.  Unfortunately the format of the debate does not let the complexity and the heart of problem be adequately discussed.

    The problem is that there will always be needy in our society and we want security that we will be taken care of.  We have set up the Federal government to manage the central storehouse for needs.  The storehouse has been empty for a long time.  The security that we all want is not there.

    We have gone from a country of work and charity (love) to a country of entitlement, lack of accountability and coveting (wanting our neighbor’s property).

    The four largest expenses for our Federal government are Medicare/Medicaid, Social Security, Military and Income Security.  

    The military has become a global offensive machine.  It needs to return to a defense only position.  

    Medicine needs to reconnect the service requested with the cost.  If people were responsible for the costs of medical care, they would refuse many expensive options until the price is brought down through a free market.  

    The needy need charity and not entitlement.  We all need personal accountability with other people.  This cannot be managed through our Federal government.  The needy need accountability that they are doing what they can.  The wealthy need accountability that they are showing charity to those in need.  This can be fully funded locally.  We need to show mercy because we have received mercy.  All of us at some time in our lives have been, are, or will be needy.

    We have prospered in the past through work and local charity.

    Drew Miller is right, the free market would have avoided our housing crisis.

    • at least there is

      one thing we agree on. It’s ridiculous to go on vacation for a month when Congress needs to do something to create jobs. Not that this Congress would agree on effective jobs legislation…

      Ron Paul raises some important points about our military budget and our foreign policy that never get discussed in the mainstream media.

      • Agreement

        Hey, I think you are doing a good job and I think we have more in common than you realize.

        I agree with you that Congress should pass effective job legislation.  Is there evidence to show us what an effective job environment would be?  We cannot control for every variable, but we need to look at the best objective information available.

        Between June 2009 and June 2011, Texas created 51.5% of the new jobs in America (the rest of the country created 48.5% of the new jobs).  Seven other states had net job creation during Obama’s administration.  Since January 2009 the nation has lost 2.4 million jobs according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.  Texas employment growth has been broad based in education, health, leisure, and professional and business services.

        Texas’ jobless rate has been consistently and is currently below the national average by 1 to 2%.

        In 2010, Texas’ economy grew 5.3% compared to the national growth of 3.8% according to the Bureau of Economic Analysis.

        Texas’ wages rose 7.4% compared to the nation’s rate of 5% between May 2008 and May 2010 according to Bureau of Labor Statistics.

        500,000 Americans migrated into Texas between 2004 and 2008.

        These are the results, now what caused Texas’ success in this tough national time?  We need to be very careful that our believes do not reject some possible reasons.  What kind of legislation promotes jobs?

        Nationally, business were chastised.  Wall Street was attacked.  New regulations appeared.  Higher incomes were attacked.  Federal spending has increased 28% during Obama’s administration.

        Texas has the second lowest tax rate in the country.  Texas limits the red tape. (They rejected the Federal law that will force us to buy fluorescence light bulbs.) Tort reform has been very successful and many doctors have moved to Texas.  Texas has demonstrated fiscal discipline which allows the private sector to create jobs.

        Texas is the most business friendly state according to Chief Executive magazine and CNBC.  The state ranks third in the Small Business and Entrepreneurship Council’s annual Small Business Survival Index.