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4 Things to Watch For in CNN National Security Debate of GOP Presidential Hopefuls…

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Tomorrow’s (Tuesday, November 22, 2011) debate between Republican Presidential nominee hopefuls at the DAR Constitution Hall in Washington DC, and produced by CNN, will focus on National Security. Here, then, are four things to watch for in this, the final debate of November:

  1. Can Herman Cain stop the bleeding?

    Former National Restaurant Assocation lobbyist Herman Cain has seen his support plummet dramatically: the latest CNN poll [PDF] shows support for Mr Cain down almost half between October and November (from 25% to 14%). Is there any way for Mr Cain to stop the slide, or reverse the trend? There are really just three options for Herman Cain: hope one of his rivals (most likely former House Speaker Newt Gingrich) sees a substantial drop and further hope to fill the void that leaves, or hope the voting public’s memories are short and both the allegations of sexual harassment, and perhaps more importantly Mr Cain’s seemingly shallow grasp of issues outside the realm of his proposed tax plan, are forgotten, or make a bold move and attempt to recapture the lead. Notably, security/foreign policy has been a real weakness for candidate Cain.

  2. Will Texas Governor Rick Perry continue his largely gaffe-free recent debate performances?

    In the two debates since his now-famous “oops” moment in Michigan, Rick Perry has performed without any overt failures and less of struggles to articulate himself which were a hallmark of every prior debate. Still, with just 12% support in that same CNN poll, a history of heavy spending as Governor of Texas and a platform he has yet to fully articulate, it may be an awfully steep hill for Mr Perry to climb (and Perry is polling around 3% in New Hampshire, according to Bloomberg).

  3. Can Texas Representative Ron Paul, currently in a four-way tie for the lead in Iowa and in a distant second place in New Hampshire, change the perception of his security policies?

    Virtually every media account of Dr Paul’s foreign and national security policies includes the word “isolationist”. Will Ron Paul be able to successfully argue that the presence of the United States’ military in 150 countries around the globe, and the interventionist foreign policy of the past 60 years, is a cause of threats to America’s security? Will Mr Paul’s message (effectively, “If we go to other people’s sandboxes and kick down their sand castles, they will want to come to our sandbox and kick down our sand castles”) resonate with voters in the midst of six far more “hawkish” candidates (former Utah Governor Jon Huntsman’s views are similar to Ron Paul’s; the rest of the candidates are all in favor of interventionism and nation building, particularly former Pennsylvania Senator Rick Santorum and Minnesota Representative Michele Bachmann).

  4. Will other candidates label Newt Gingrich a “flip-flopper” in light of his new web site?

    The New York Times published an article about Mr Gingrich’s new web site, on which the candidate explains his reasons for changing his position on seven issues (among them, the personal mandate for health care, which Mr Gingrich used to be in favor of but now considers unconstitutional). Former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney has been the favored target of “flip-flopping” accusations to date; will the candidates attempt to bestow Mr Gingrich with similar accusations?

The debate begins at 8pm ET on CNN. (Note: for the complete schedule of upcoming Republican debates, as well as links to all previously aired debates, visit 2012 Election Central).

Des Moines, Iowa GOP Debate Features Tears from Multiple Candidates…

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The November 19, 2011 debate between hopefuls for the Republican Presidential nomination at First Federated Church in Des Moines, Iowa was at least as noteworthy for the odd sight of multiple Presidential hopefuls breaking down in tears, and the absence of former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney, as it was for any answers elicited from the candidates. It often had the feel of a daytime talk show more than a serious debate, with multiple candidates choosing to bare their souls for the cameras. Religious themes were prevelant throughout the debate.

Rather than our usual candidate performance overview, for this article we’ll outline the themes covered, and then we’ll address how the candidates performed against our list of five things to look for:

The Crying

The waterworks began during the second hour, with former National Restaurant Association lobbyist Herman Cain, as he struggled to recall his battle with cancer, and paused for long stretches in attempts to collect himself. Mr Cain’s tale of his stage four cancer diagnosis, his will to battle through it and his ultimate triumph were moving, and set the tone for what followed.

And what followed sometimes felt like a contest between the candidates to one-up each other with stories of tragedy and heartache and battles fought and sometimes won. Former Pennsylvania Senator Rick Santorum used an extraordinarily lengthy story about his youngest daughter’s life and death struggle to argue against government health care. Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich did likewise with a dramatic story of a child who is a friend of his, and who suffered from numerous medical challenges, over which he ultimately triumphed, and also a tale of Mr Gingrich’s former feelings of “emptiness”. Minnesota Representative Michele Bachmann told the story of her parents’ divorce and her family’s struggle to survive thereafter. The tears flowed, heart strings were pulled (in often rather calculated ways, a cynic might say). Only Texas Governor Rick Perry and Texas Representative Ron Paul kept things upbeat, in Perry’s case recounting his rise from humble beginnings in a very small town, and in Paul’s case stating that, while he has had some difficulties, the life he’s been blessed with makes those difficulties trivial (although Ron Paul later added that he hates seeing himself on television and had a promising athletic career cut short for medical reasons).

Whether inducing pity translates successfully into votes remains to be seen – some viewers no doubt feel it “humanizes” the candidates, while others may be more inclined to think, “Ya, we all have our problems”. In any case, it was odd, unexpected, sometimes touching and at other times painful to watch.

The Comedy

Rick Perry had perhaps the best lines of the evening, starting during his story about growing up in small town Texas (“I think there were about thirteen kids in my graduating class, and I’m happy to tell you I graduated in the top ten!”) and continuing with his quips referencing his “oops moment” (As Ron Paul discussed cutting the Education Department, Mr Perry added, “And energy too!”, referring to the department he was famously unable to recall during the Michigan debate. The moderator quipped, “Governor, is there a third Department you’d like to cut?”).

Another funny line came after Rick Santorum explained how he considered it a “miracle” that he won the race for Pennsylvania Senator and that God had put him there. The moderator responded with: “What message did God have for you when you lost the last race?”

Newt Gingrich, on the “Occupy Wall Street” protestors, said, “That is why you have to tell them: go get a job, right after you go have a bath”.

When health care came up, the moderator chimed in with: “If only Mitt Romney were here.” Herman Cain responded with, “Mitt who?”

The Religion

The debate was heavy with religious topics, with candidates asked to describe when they were “called by God” and asked to reveal their personal struggles in “this sanctuary” of the First Federated Church. The first question asked candidates to elaborate on their feelings about what the words “so help me God” in the Oath of Office of the President mean to them (notably, unlike Oaths of Office for the judiciary, military, Congress and others, this is not part of the Constitutionally prescribed oath, although it has been traditionally included by Presidents). However important distinctions emerged:

  • Rick Santorum declared Muslims must “modernize” their religion as it is “stuck in the seventh century”. It is unclear if Muslims are looking to Mr Santorum for guidance on reforming their belief system;
  • Newt Gingrich argued that the United States Constitution is predicated upon Judeo-Christian principles and that the “pursuit of happiness” mentioned in the United States Declaration of Independence in fact means “the pursuit of wisdom”, and further seemed to argue that “liberty” leads to “libertines”;
  • Michele Bachmann cited a law passed by Lyndon Johnson which prohibits preachers from discussing politics (the Internal Revenue Service, which is charged with enforcing that law, has been challenged repeatedly by churches);
  • Ron Paul made the point that (contrary to Mr Gingrich’s argument) “liberty” is not the same as being “libertine” and that “liberty” comes with the consequences of decisions;
  • Michele Bachmann stated that she has a “biblical world view” and that God “created government”, and that she would like to “see what he [God] has to say about it”;
  • Rick Santorum argued that “liberty” is not “what you want to do but what you ought to do”, in comportment with God’s law.
  • Newt Gingrich argued the Fourteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution gives Congress the right, with a simple majority of Congress, to declare life begins at conception. Section 1 of the Fourteenth Amendment (which is presumably what Mr Gingrich is referring to) deals with citizenship.

The Courts

Perhaps the most revealing opinions came on the topic of what to do with the Supreme Court in instances whereby the Court rules in a way which does not satisfy the candidate’s point of view. The issue arose in the context of both gay marriage and abortion. Newt Gingrich, rather shockingly, called for the government to remove the Court’s power to rule on the constitutionality of certain issues. Such a plan, of course, would have profound implications: a federal government no longer bound by the Constitution where it deems itself above the scrutiny of the court. Mr Gingrich no doubt views this in light of court interference with items he supports, but such a stance would have equal power under a different administration, which might pass laws antithetical to Mr Gingrich’s views, and Mr Gingrich would have no recourse whatsoever to challenge the validity of such a law. On this issue, Mr Gingrich seems to share the view point of Minority House Leader Nancy Pelosi, who appears to believe the government can pass any law, and is not constrained by the Constitution. It was a shocking revelation by Mr Gingrich.

Rick Perry reiterated his argument that the terms of Supreme Court Justices should be limited (the issue of the Constitutional Amendment this would require, and whether it would pass, did not arise).

Rick Santorum would like to abolish the Ninth Circuit Courts, which he stated after Newt Gingrich declared that he would abolish the court of Federal District Judge Fred Biery of San Antonio.

The Wars

Candidates fell into their now-predictable stances on war: Mr Santorum seemed, as usual, almost eager to go to war; Ms Bachmann lamented the lack of access by the government to waterboarding and other torture methods; Mr Gingrich trumpeted his “big-government Republican” world view; Dr Paul argued for the Congressional approval required for war, and then only in defense.

The Five Things We Suggested Viewers Look For

  1. Did Herman Cain have something to offer beyond “9-9-9”? Mr Cain continued to lack the confidence and charisma which he exudes (in buckets) when on the topic of his “9-9-9” tax plan. The debate did not showcase any new planks for Mr Cain to showcase his personality with.
  2. Will the surging Ron Paul solidify recent gains with a strong performance? Dr Paul’s performance was solid. He did nothing to “hit it out of the park” but also remained consistent throughout, and drew applause often. The most important distinction Ron Paul made probably came on the topic of whether government should attempt to force a particular cultural perspective on the populace: all the other candidates seemed to favor the government peddling cultural values; Ron Paul instead argued the government should not be in the business of enforcing culture. It’s an important distinction, because the other candidates argue that the “left” is forcing a cultural viewpoint, and argue not that it is not government’s place to do so, but rather that government should instead push a different cultural agenda.
  3. How will Newt Gingrich handle his recent surge in national polls? Mr Gingrich was more subdued and less combative than he usually is in these debates, and his points were well received by the crowd.
  4. Will Mitt Romney’s absence sway Iowa voters, where Mr Romney is in a dead heat? This remains to be seen, but in a caucus state, it’s hard to imagine Mr Romney’s absence won’t have an impact.
  5. Will any of the other candidates be able to suprise with a strong showing? Rick Santorum clearly savored the opportunity to get more speaking time, and got a good opportunity to show how his candidacy is different than the others. Viewership was particularly low for this debate, however (it was only streamed online and not broadcast on television – you can find it archived here), therefore it’s unclear if Mr Santorum’s increased air time will result in a bump in the polls in Iowa. Rick Perry, too, had his best debate to date, generally articulate and didn’t exhibit the “deer in the headlights” syndrome he has so commonly demonstrated in these debates.

5 Things to Watch For in Tonight’s GOP Debate…

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The latest in the long series of debates between hopefuls for the Republican Presidential nomination takes place at 5pm ET tonight, Saturday November 19th at First Federated Church in Des Moines, Iowa (live stream available here). Here are five things to keep an eye on during the debate:

  1. Does Herman Cain have something to offer beyond “9-9-9”?

    Former lobbyist Herman Cain (who, interestingly, supported Mitt Romney in the 2008 race) has shown great appeal with voters when a question can be answered by working in his “9-9-9” tax plan, but has seemed far out of his depth when issues stray to things like foreign policy (where he’s made several odd statements about China and Libya and other topics). With poll numbers heading south, and Mr Cain’s “9-9-9” mantra growing repetitive, will Herman Cain find another winning line?

  2. Will the surging Ron Paul solidify recent gains with a strong performance?

    Recent polls show Texas Representative Ron Paul in a four way tie for first place in Iowa and in second place in New Hampshire. With a strong ground game and poll numbers higher than Perry, Bachmann and Santorum, but disproprotinately less media coverage (an alternate title to this point could easily have been, “Will Ron Paul get more than 89 seconds in this debate?”), Dr Paul has a chance to solidify recent gains with another strong performance.

  3. How will Newt Gingrich handle his recent surge in national polls?

    With a new spotlight shining on former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, given his recent rise in the polls, the debate will be a chance for Mr Gingrich to consolidate his standing. However amusing his often flippant responses are (the alternative title for this point might well have been, “How long will it take Mr Gingrich to attack the moderators or avoid answering an unfavorable question by employing sarcasm?”), he’ll now have to answer questions about his dealings with Freddie Mac and other potential skeletons in his closet (as did Mr Cain upon his time in the spotlight amidst surging poll numbers).

  4. Will Mitt Romney’s absence sway Iowa voters, where Mr Romney is in a dead heat?

    Former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney hasn’t spent much effort or money in Iowa, and his poll numbers reflect that fact. This debate, in Iowa, won’t feature Mitt Romney. Will his absence give his fellow contenders the chance to pull away?

  5. Will any of the other candidates be able to suprise with a strong showing?

    The rest of the field is hanging on by a thread, with the exception of Texas Governor Rick Perry, who would be out of the running entirely but for his rich campaign chest. With less than seven weeks until voting begins, will any of the candidates on the margins go for a game changing performance?

Is There a Path for Ron Paul to the Republican Presidential Nomination?

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House Representative Ron Paul of Texas, currently running for the Republican Presidential nomination, presents an unusual case: here is a candidate who gets the third largest amount of campaign contributions among GOP Presidential hopefuls (behind former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney and Texas Governor Rick Perry), who spoke to the causes of the Tea Party long before the modern Tea Party was born (and when doing so often meant being a lone voice, and frequently ridiculed), who consistently polls higher than former Utah Governor Jon Huntsman, Minnesota Representative Michele Bachmann and former Pennsylvania Senator Rick Santorum combined (and consistently higher than Rick Perry, but for Perry’s initial surge) and who has been consistent about his positions throughout his twenty-two years in public office, rather than adopting positions for the sake of popularity among voters of the moment. Ron Paul also polls well against President Obama in theoretical head-to-head match ups, beating every other candidate except Mitt Romney (and Ron Paul beats Obama among independent voters by 48% to 39%, according to this Public Policy Poll). At the same time, Dr Paul gets an inordinately low amount of media coverage: witness his eighty-nine seconds of air time at the South Carolina candidates debate on foreign policy, or, as we previously reported, his lack of coverage after finishing second in the Ames, Iowa straw poll (missing first place by just 152 votes out of 16,892 total votes cast). This is a candidate the media, and the establishment, clearly dismisses (see too the Pew Research Center’s Project for Excellence in Journalism study of media coverage of candidate Paul).

Most “pundits” are of the opinion that Mr Paul’s support is “a mile deep but an inch wide”. In other words, his supporters are few but passionate. It is also assumed that Representative Paul has a “ceiling” on his support, somewhere around 10%, above which he cannot climb.

But multiple recent polls show Ron Paul in a virtual tie in Iowa and in second place in New Hampshire (trailing Mitt Romney). So today we ask: are there a set of circumstances whereby Representative Paul could win the Republican Presidential nomination?

So far, the course of the nomination campaign has made clear that there are really only two votes: Mitt Romney or someone not Mitt Romney. Consider this: Mr Romney consistently polled around 23% when Rick Perry entered the race with polling numbers in the forties. After Mr Perry’s numbers receded dramatically (down to the high single digits currently), where was Mr Romney left? Around 23%. The same thing happened while former lobbyist Herman Cain experienced a significant surge and subsequent decline (thought Mr Cain’s decline appears not yet finished): as voters’ support left Mr Cain, it did not go to Mr Romney. The latest “anti-Romney” candidate has been former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, who has seen his poll numbers rise dramatically as Mr Cain’s have fallen (and as Mr Perry’s continue to fall). But Mr Gingrich’s period in the spotlight as the “anti-Romney” is as fragile as was Mr Cain’s, and Mr Perry’s before him: new revelations that Newt Gingrich accepted between $1.6 million and $1.7 million from Freddie Mac (the amount was previously thought to be $300,000, the figure used in the Michigan debate) could seriously harm Mr Gingrich (who claims these funds were not for lobbying purposes but rather for “historical consultation”). The former Speaker also has a style which, while initially appearing amusingly acerbic, often reveals itself to be more akin to a method of deflecting some inconvenient truths – witness Gingrich’s response when pressed by Mitt Romney about Mr Gingrich’s support of a personal mandate for health care coverage (“We got the idea [for a personal mandate in Massachusetts] from Newt Gingrich”): Mr Gingrich denied he favored a personal mandate several times, before, finally, conceding that he was indeed in favor of an individual mandate for health care (for the record, Newt Gingrich had this to say in 1993: “I am for people, individuals — exactly like automobile insurance — individuals having health insurance and being required to have health insurance.”). If Newt Gingrich’s polling numbers collapse like Rick Perry’s did and like Herman Cain’s are, where does that leave the “anti-Romney” voters?

Michele Bachmann, who won the Ames, Iowa straw poll, but who has seen her polling numbers shrink dramatically since, doesn’t seem a viable alternative to Mitt Romney. Statements like this one, from the South Carolina debate, don’t help: “It seems like the world is gearing up for a world wide nuclear war against Israel.”

Jon Huntsman, former Ambassador to China under President Obama, is running on a platform somewhere to the left of Mitt Romney. That’s hardly going to appeal to that significant portion of Republicans who are opposed to Mr Romney for being too far to the left.

Former Pennsylvania Senator Rick Santorum hasn’t often polled above 1%, and when he lost his re-election bid for the senate, he lost it very convincingly: his loss to Democrat Bob Casey Jr. was by the largest margin of defeat ever for an incumbent Republican Senator in Pennsylvania (which makes Mr Santorum’s statement at the Las Vegas debate particularly amusing: “I can win Pennsylvania, and if we win Pennsylvania, we win the election!”).

That brings us back to Representative Ron Paul.

There are currently somewhere around three quarters of Republicans who do not wish to see Mitt Romney as their candidate for President. Many of those same Republicans do not wish to see Ron Paul as the candidate. If the only real options come down to Mitt Romney and Ron Paul, the race will be decided by three things:

  • Will the “anti-Romney” Republicans be more likely to hold their noses and vote for Mitt Romney, or similarly hold their noses and vote for Ron Paul?
  • Will other “anti-Romney” candidates like Herman Cain and Newt Gingrich siphon off enough votes from Mitt Romney to allow Ron Paul to squeak out a win with 20% to 25% of the vote (it seems far easier to imagine a Romney supporter switching to Gingrich or Cain than it is to imagine a Paul supporter making that same switch)?
  • What role will independents play?

If, as it increasingly looks like, Tea Party supporters are left with a choice between Mitt Romney and Ron Paul, and the remaining candidates take votes from Romney but not Paul, and enough “anti-war” independents register as Republicans and support Ron Paul, there may indeed be a path for Dr Paul to the nomination.

Largely, this race has come down to “establishment versus anti-establishment”, with Mitt Romney firmly representing the “establishment” and other candidates temporarily (but ultimately unsatisfactorily) representing the “anti-establishment”, except for candidate Ron Paul, who has been “anti-establishment” for over two decades now (with about 99% of his campaign contributions coming from individuals, versus 56% for Mr Romney).

Can Ron Paul pull off a surpise upset? We’ll start to find out in less than seven weeks.

South Carolina GOP Debate: Waterboarding, Foreign Aid and Iran…

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The CBS News/National Journal debate between GOP Presidential hopefuls, held Saturday, November 12th in Spartanburg, South Carolina, focused on foreign policy, and shed light on some significant differences between the candidates. Additionally, moderators Scott Pelley of CBS and Major Garrett (that is his name, and not his rank) of National Journal were a substantial improvement from the moderators CNBC featured in the Wednesday economic debate in Michigan: neither Mr Pelley nor Mr Garrett featured the synthetic histrionics of a Jim Cramer or the eye rolls of Maria Bartiromo. The one trip up came early, when Scott Pelley insisted former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney had used up his time. Mr Romney protested, noting the yellow warning light was still on, and Mr Pelley promptly apologized and let Mr Romney finish. Both moderators did a good job keeping candidates within their alloted time. Strangely (and confusingly, for many), the debate lasted ninety minutes, however only sixty minutes were aired on television, the final half-hour pre-empted by NCIS.

Moderators Scott Pelley (CBS) and Major Garrett (National Journal) proved a significant upgrade over the CNBC moderators

The entire ninety minutes was streamed at the CBS News site, however the accompanying live comment stream showed a great many people complaining about cut outs and generally poor reception of the stream (no such problems were encountered on our feed of the stream, however we’re on a 25 Mbs fibre optic line).

Notably, the candidates were not given anywhere near equal time during this debate, with, most notably Ron Paul (but Rick Santorum and Michele Bachmann) spending long periods without getting a chance to speak to a question.

The debate featured some interesting responses from the candidates, to be sure.

Here, then, is a brief overview of the candidates’ performances (we’ve noted each candidate’s position on “nation building”, foreign aid, war with Iran, torture/”waterboarding”, and whether the president is permitted to unilaterrally assassinate United States citizens):

Rick Perry

Texas Governor Rick Perry fared fairly well, by his standards (that is, however, a particularly low bar indeed). There were no overt mistakes (other than referring to House Represenatative Ron Paul as “Senator” at one point).

Governor Perry seems to be peeking at Dr Paul’s playbook a lot these days: in the prior debate, his now infamous brain cramp occurred as he unveiled his “lite” version of Ron Paul’s plan to eliminate five Departments (Perry’s plan instead prososes to eliminate three). This time, Mr Perry pledged to start all foreign aid at “zero”, which sounds remarkably similar to Mr Paul’s plan to eliminate foreign aid entirely, but differs materially on the details. For example, candidate Perry pledges not to cut all foreign aid, but to evaluate the amount each year. As he was laying out his plan, his aides were simultaneously tweeting assurances that Israel would certainly qualify and continue to receive significant funds from United States tax payers. Things like this continue to reveal Mr Perry for what he is: a politician who wants desperately to say the “right things” to appeal to voters, while being rather steadfastly committed to the status quo (see too his spending record in as Governor of Texas, whereby he has increased state spending by over 80% during his time in office but continues to attempt to portray himself as the “real conservative” and fiscally responsible).

On the issue of torture, Mr Perry again hedged, first stating he opposes torture, but then saying he favors anything which will “save young American lives” and further stated, “This is war. That is what happens in war.” The takeaway, yet again, was that Governor Perry wants to say the thing which will appeal the most, and if he does not get the requisite applause with his first answer, he is willing to try another.

While Mr Perry did not have a gaffe such as that he exhibited in Michigan, he continues to struggle to communicate. For example, at one point he stated, “This whole issue of allowing cyber security to go on”; he presumably meant “cyber attacks”.

Nation building: unknown.

Foreign aid: Yes, and substantial aid to Israel, but he will “zero out” aid in the beginning and re-evaluate. “Obviously Israel is a special ally and my bet is we would be funding them at some substantial level”.

War with Iran: unknown.

Torture/”Waterboarding”: Yes, sometimes: “That is what happens in war.”

President can unilaterally assassinate United States citizens: unknown.

Rick Santorum

The most hawkish of all the GOP Presidential hopefuls, former Pennsylvania Senator Rick Santorum argued the case in favor of continuing financial aid to Pakistan, claiming their possession of nuclear weapons makes it imperative that they remain the United States’ “friends” (“Pakistan must be our friend”). There are a few fundmental problems with this position:

  • maintaining a flow of substantial money (approaching $20 billion over the past decade) to Pakistan to “help fight terrorism” does not motivate Pakistan to eliminate “terrorism” – quite the opposite, since absent the threat of “terrorism”, the money spigot will be turned off. If anything, it encourages Pakistan to make it appear as though they are fighting “terrorism” but never actually reduce it much, such that the perceived threat remains and the money keeps flowing. This is precisely what appears to be happening.
  • the argument that the United States tax payer should go to work for some small part of each day for the purpose of having the fruits of his or her labor sent to what is, effectively, a military dictatorship might be a tough sell in the midst of a severe economic downturn.
  •  the argument that possession of nuclear weapons entitles a nation to the economic support and “friendship” of the United States is great motivation for other countries to obtain nuclear weapons – this type of policy is an overt incentive for other countries to pursue nuclear armaments.

Mr Santorum further argued that foreign aid is “all spent in the United States”, “creates jobs” and “creates dependency on our weapons systems”. It is an interesting argument in favor of “sovereign welfare”: the ends justify the means.

One of the most telling remarks from Mr Santorum came when he described how he would build his team: “I’ll get together people that will share my point of view…I didn’t hire people who didn’t share how I approached the problem.” This is a very dangerous approach, because it risks “group think”, and the absence of opposing view points in a discussion of options means important options may go unexplored. Most senior leaders struggle against people simply telling them what they think the leader wants to hear. Surrounding oneself with a team of people who agree is not a mark of effective leadership.

Nation building: Yes.

Foreign aid: Yes.

War with Iran: Yes: “As more sanctions and, and, and providing, you know, more support for pro-democracy movement isn’t going to be enough in time.”

President can unilaterally assassinate United States citizens: unknown.

Michele Bachmann

Minnesota Representative Michele Bachmann didn’t mince words: she came out in favor of “waterboarding” and other forms of “enhanced interrogation” (read: torture), decried the notion that the Central Intelligence Agency is “run by the ACLU” (American Civil Liberties Union) and claimed torture produces results (there is considerable evidence that torture, and specifically “waterboarding”, is not an effective interrogation technique, including a report from the CIA, as well as a book by a former FBI interrogator, Ali H. Soufan, who calls such techniques “unnecessary and counterproductive”).

Representative Bachmann’s answer came in response to this question, from Stephen Schafroth of Oregon:

“I served on an aircraft carrier during the Vietnam War. I believe that torture is always wrong in all cases. What is your stance on torture?”

It should seem obvious that the task of peddling notions of freedom and liberty and decency to other nations, or to hold other governmnts accountable for their humanitarian misdeeds, is made the more difficult when one engages in torture or indefinite imprisonment without trial. Thirty years ago it would have been hard to imagine the United States, as a matter of governmental policy, torturing people, or “rendering” people to other nations for torture by proxy, or ordering the assassination of United States citizens absent a trial or declaration of war, all the while trumpeting “American Exceptionalism”.

Mrs Bachmann also came out in favor of foreign aid, with no preconditions, and, like Rick Santorum, particularly favors aid to Pakistan.

At one point, Representative Bachmann stated, “It seems that the table is being set for world wide nuclear war against Israel.”

Interestingly, prior to the debate, Mrs Bachmann’s team was inadvertently copied in on an email from CBS Political Director John Dickerson in which Dickerson stated that Representative Bachmann won’t be asked many questions. So much for equal time requirements (see too the limited questions and time allotted Representative Ron Paul).

Nation building: unknown.

Foreign aid: Yes.

War with Iran: unknown.

Torture/”Waterboarding”: Yes. “I would be willing to use waterboarding. I think it was very effective.”

President can unilaterally assassinate United States citizens: unknown.

Herman Cain

Former lobbyist and CEO of Godfather’s Pizza Herman Cain had his weakest outing of all the debates thus far – as we previosly noted, he seems far out of his depth on matters outside the economy, or when retreat to his “nine nine nine” tax plan is impossible.

Mr Cain attempted a cautious approach, exhibiting none of the flair or charisma of prior debates. Instead, he appeared nervous, and glanced frequently at his notes. He made it a point to mention there are nine nuclear nations, presumably to make up for his prior comments whereby he appeared unaware China has a nuclear arsenal.

On the issue of “waterboarding”, Mr Cain stated he does not consider it to be torture. It would have made for an interesting moment had the moderators asked those candidates who do not consider “waterboarding” torture whether they would be willing to put their money where their mouth is and be “waterboarded” live on television.

On the question of Pakistan: friend or foe, Mr Cain replied, “We don’t know” and called for the relationship to be re-evaluated.

On the question of on what basis Mr Cain would decide to over-rule his advising Generals, Herman Cain gave a long, meandering reply which contained no real substance.

Nation building: Yes. Favors “assisting the opposition movement that’s trying to overthrow the regime”.

Foreign aid: Yes.

War with Iran: “Not at this time”, but would move “ballistic missile defense war ships” to the area.

Torture/”Waterboarding”: Yes. “I see it as an enhanced interrogation technique”.

President can unilaterally assassinate United States citizens: unknown.

Ron Paul

Texas Representative Ron Paul showed stark differences with all the other candidates (except former Utah Governor Jon Huntsman, who had similar positions) on foreign policy, coming out in favor of the rule of law, the requirement of Congressional approval for any acts of war, against torture and opposed to an invasion or sanctions against Iran. In past debates, Dr Paul has been booed for his foreign policy positions; in this debate, he came across as the voice of reason (it’s worth pointing out Mr Paul has received more campaign contributions from members of the military than all the other candidates, plus President Obama, combined).

Nation building: No.

Foreign aid: No aid to any countries.

War with Iran: No.

Torture/”Waterboarding”: No. “Torture is illegal by our laws. It’s illegal by international laws…waterboarding is torture…there is no evidence you really get reliable evidence…it is really un-American to accept on principle that we would torture people we capture”.

President can unilaterally assassinate United States citizens: No.

Mitt Romney

Former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney continued his steady performance in these debates (with the one notable exception of the Las Vegas debate, where he appeared to lose his cool under attack by Mr Perry). Mr Romney came out firmly against negotiating with the Taliban.

Nation building: Yes. “It’s worth working with insurgents in the country to encourage regime change in the country” in Iran.

Foreign aid: unknown.

War with Iran: Yes. Claims President should have “built credible threat of military action”. “Of course you take military action”.

Torture/”Waterboarding”: unknown.

President can unilaterally assassinate United States citizens: Yes. “Absolutely.”

Jon Huntsman

Former Utah Governor Jon Huntsman had, by far, his best debate performance to date (that is, admittedly, rather a low bar).

Mr Huntsman came out strongly against a trade war with China, made an impassioned case against torture, and generally came across as well-versed in matters foreign.

Nation building: No. Specifically came out against “nation building” and claimed those resources could be better used domestically.

Foreign aid: unknown.

War with Iran: No.

Torture/”Waterboarding”: No. “We diminish our standing in the world and the values that we project, which include liberty, democracy, human rights and open markets when we torture. We should not torture. Waterboarding is torture. We dilute ourselves down like a whole lot of other countries and we lose that ability to project values that a lot of countries in corners of the world rely upon us to stand up for.”

President can unilaterally assassinate United States citizens: unknown.

Newt Gingrich

Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich was in his usual sardonic form, starting his first answer with, “There are a number of ways to be smart about Iran and relatively few ways to be dumb, and the administration skipped all the smart ones.” He also came out in favor of “maximum covert operations, all of them deniable”, which elicited laughs from the audience.

Mr Gingrich expressed his concerns that the “Arab Spring may become an anti-Christian Spring” and called for the State Department to intervene on behalf of Egypt’s Coptic Christians.

Asked to evaluate Mitt Romney’s abilities to “think outside the box and change United States’ national security or foreign policy perspectives”, Mr Gingrich flatly refused, and when pressed on why he brought the matter up on a radio show the prior day but refused to address it during the debate, he said, “I brought it up yesterday because I was on a national radio show”.

Nation building: Yes.

Foreign aid: Appears to be in favor of foreign aid, but agreed with Rick Perry that foreign aid should be “rethought”.

War with Iran: Yes.

Torture/”Waterboarding”: Yes.

President can unilaterally assassinate United States citizens: Yes. Mr Gingrich argued that it is permitted if a secret “panel” finds the person guilty.

Michigan GOP Debate: Atrocious Moderators and Perry Implosion…

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The Michigan debate between the GOP Presidential nominee hopefuls, Wednesday, November 9th, was notable first and foremost for Rick Perry’s implosion (which we’ll get to later), but also for the behaviour of the moderators: CNBC inexplicably decided to include Jim Cramer among the rotating panel of moderators (yes, it apparently takes at least six CNBC people to moderate a debate, because it is important for a no-name network to get as much exposure as possible for its “talent”). Mr Cramer, he of the “I’ve had too much coffee and must yell in all instances” schtick, annoyed immediately and repeatedly, starting off by insisting that the Italian economy is “too big to fail” in making his own case for a US bailout while attempting to bait candidate Representative Ron Paul. Each time Mr Cramer opened his mouth, the credibility of CNBC took a hit. Mr Cramer is, quite simply, rather too buffoonish and far too much the cartoon character to ever be permitted a role (much less a speaking role) in an important thing such as a debate.

Moderator Maria Bartiromo rolls her eyes as Newt Gingrich responds.

The next low point arose almost immediately: in a debate ostensibly focussed solely on the economy, moderator Maria Bartiromo instead asked Mr Cain about the various allegations recently leveled against him. The audience, rightly, booed. The next question remained on the topic, when moderator John Harwood followed up by asking Mr Romney if he would fire Mr Cain, were Herman Cain the CEO of a company Mr Romney had acquired. The audience booed more loudly, candidate Romney shook his head in disbelief and responded by saying that Mr Cain was the one to answer that question and that he just had. The moderator then announced the focus would return to the economy, and the crowd erupted into applause. This, it seems, is the level to which CNBC has sunk in attempting to grab headlines in lieu of taking their debate responsibilities seriously. This was, by far, the most poorly produced debate to date, and two of the many moderators (Mr Cramer and Ms Bartiromo) seemed far, far out of their depth. Rick Santelli, meanwhile, with his extremely long-winded questions and pedantic delivery proved himself well suited for work outside the realm of television.

Here, then, is a summary of how the candidates performed:

Herman Cain

Mr Cain, former CEO of Godfather’s Pizza and former lobbyist for the National Restaurant Association, focused heavily on his now famous “nine nine nine” plan whenever possible (to the point that Mr Cramer asked him not to include “nine nine nine” or any other numbers in one of his final responses).

When asked about the recent allegation against him, Mr Cain made a forceful case against having one’s character put on trial in the court of public opinion via unproven allegations from, in at least three cases, anonymous sources. Shortly thereafter, Mr Cain made the perhaps imprudent decision to refer to former House Speaker Nancy Pelosi as “Princess Nancy” – something which will no doubt be analyzed in the context of the allegations he has been facing.

On topics outside of taxation and the economy in a general sense, Mr Cain (as we noted previously) seems far less certain of himself, and occasionally struggles to answer. But when he gets into territory he is more comfortable with, he is routinely able to hit it out of the park with his delivery. The “nine nine nine” refrain is wearing awfully thin, however, and he’ll need to get some new material to keep things fresh.

Overall score: B

Ron Paul

Representative Ron Paul of Texas had a reasonably good showing. Asked about his plan to eliminate student loans (which currently total an astonishing $1 trillion), and how students would pay for their tuition, Dr Paul answered, “the same way they pay for their cell phones and computers.” He went on to point out that every sector of the economy the government gets involved in faces substantially higher rates of inflation, and gave as examples housing, health care, education and stocks.

Representative Paul continued his common themes of the need to audit the Federal Reserve, and then abolish it, made the distinction between “crony capitalism” (current GOP buzzword) and plain old “capitalism” (while avoiding an attack on Governor Perry, which is what the moderator seemed to set up the question for) and emphasized his plan to cut $1 trillion from the federal budget in his first term in office.

Overall, Ron Paul fared well, but will be lost in the attention Mr Perry is going to receive, which is going to be overwhelming, given his massive gaffe (see below).

Overall score: B+

Mitt Romney

Former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney gave a middling performance, and clearly has an ongoing and serious problem with the health care issue and his imposition of a personal mandate in the state he previously governed. It is a problem that both won’t go away (and will only get worse if he ever goes up against President Obama) and can’t be solved, because Mr Romney’s arguments are logically inconsistent and there is no possible answer that logically reconciles his insistence on repealing “Obamacare” with his actions while Governor in instituting a materially similar plan. Mr Romney looks rightfully pained when the topic comes up, but he can’t possibly believe it isn’t going to come up in every single debate and many interviews too.

The moderators pointed out inconsistencies in Mr Romney’s position on bailouts (he was against them before he was for them before he was against them again) to question his consistency, which Mr Romney rebutted unconvincingly.

Not the best performance for Mr Romney, but with Mr Cain dogged by scandal and Mr Perry accelerating his implosion, Mitt Romney gains simply by running in place.

Overall score: C+

Newt Gingrich

Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich was in a testy mood, and took the moderators to task repeatedly. The first instance came when he scolded the media for their poor job of educating the public on matters economic. Moderator Bartiromo seemed to take that remark personally, and was clearly irritated by it.

Later, the moderators asked each candidate in turn to spend thirty seconds explaining their plan for health care once “Obamacare” is repealed. Mr Gingrich was the sixth candidate to respond, and he started with, “My colleagues have all done a fine job answering an absurd question”, before pointing out that a topic which consistutes eighteen percent of the economy and affects every person in America requires a more elaborate answer (and plugged one of his books in the process). Moderator Bartiromo told the former Speaker to take all the time he needs, to which Mr Gingrich clumsily demurred, claiming the other candidates would object.

Overall, though, Newt Gingrich had a fairly strong performance, and once again came across as the most intelligent (and most belligerent) of the people on the stage.

Overall score: A-

Rick Santorum

Rick Santorum continued to push his plan to eliminate the corporate tax for the manufacturing sector. While this may play well in his home state of Pennsylvania, and perhaps Michigan too, the moderators (in one of their few redeeming moments) pointed out the logical inconsistency of being opposed to the government picking and choosing individual companies as winners and losers in the economy while being in favor of the government picking and choosing individual sectors of the economy as winners and losers. The point seemed lost on Mr Santorum, but it is an important one, because he seems to be arguing not that government should not pick winners, but rather that the government should pick winners in a different way: “the federal government should indeed meddle in the economy, and here’s how I would do it” is what his position amounts to. That’s a strange position to take while strongly arguing the federal government has no busines in mandated health care.

Mr Santorum, like Mr Huntsman, is seriously short of money and typically polling in the bottom single digits, and is unlikely to be in the running much longer.

Overall score: C-

Rick Perry

Another horrible performance from Perry – it is becoming physically painful to watch Governor Perry attempt to keep up with the grown ups in the room. Mr Perry’s worst moment of all the debates so far came when he announced his plan to shut down three Departments, and began to list them off. “Commerce”, he said. “Education. And…um…ah…” One of the other candidates finally threw out the EPA as a helpful suggestion, and Mr Perry said, “Ya!”. The moderator then asked if the EPA was indeed one of the departments Mr Perry would eliminate: “No.” The moderator then followed up by asking if Mr Perry really couldn’t remember the third Department he would shut down. Mr Perry couldn’t.

The only reason Mr Perry is taken even remotely seriously as a contender is because he has raised an awful lot of money. He is not a serious contender, and never was (as we previously noted, “…it’s hard to imagine a scenrio whereby he recaptures the lead in the polls, or comes anywhere close to the Republican nomination”) – he is of the school of politician which believes policy positions are incidental to obtaining power: pick whatever positions your crack support team thinks will get you in office, then you can do what you want. In a more intelligent politician, this can work (see Obama; Bush). Not so Mr Perry.

Rick Perry’s run is done, and no amount of money can help now – that clip is going to be viral on Youtube by the time this article is posted. And so the political system shows its strengths: given enough exposure and opportunities to hang themselves, many frauds inevitably reveal themselves. Mr Perry is one such fraud: the former chair of Al Gore’s Presidential campaign in Texas; the Governor who increased spending over 80% during his time in office but campaigned as the “true conservative”; he of the tongue tied moments, repeatedly, and cursed with an inability to clearly articulate the time of day has been exposed as little more than a political opportunist.

Overall score: F (is there a lower score available?)

Jon Huntsman

Back on stage after boycotting the Las Vegas debate, former Utah Governor and Obama Ambassador to China Jon Huntsman didn’t have any notable moments, but thankfully didn’t try too many of his usual poorly delivered jokes.

Mr Huntsman has all his marbles on New Hampshire, and doesn’t have much cash on hand. Not a signficant contender, and did nothing to persuade viewers otherwise.

Overall score: C-

Michele Bachmann

Minnesota Representative Michele Bachmann, normally one of the stronger debaters, didn’t have a particularly strong showing by her standards, nor was her performance particuarly poor. Her explanation of her opposition to cuts in the payroll tax wasn’t fully formed, and much of her answers were recycled in whole from prior debates.

Overall score: C

An Ode to the Establishment Three…

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Just in time for the weekend, an…

Ode to the Establishment Three:

Mr Establishment one…I mean Perry
His spending record is pretty damn scary
Lifetime in politics should keep voters wary
He’s no Mr Reagan – more like Mr Kerry!

Plummeting poll numbers just ain’t so nice
But fat cat donors from Texas add spice
If I could give poor little Ricky advice
I’d suggest that he really should have thought twice

About running a race way in over his head
Should have stayed in his kingdom in Texas instead
Where his cronies were keeping him rather well fed
Guess all the backslapping went to his head!

‘Cause keeping positions consistent and straight
For ninety minutes of a TV debate
Ain’t so easy for this candidate
Harder to fool all the folks out of state!

Mr Establishment two…I mean Romney
Can’t get the polls much above a low twenty
Ain’t looking like “President” is his destiny
Hell, they’re calling again for Pawlenty!

Poor poor Mitt can’t get here from there
Really too bad – he’s got slickness to spare!
Bad timing, I guess – these days voters they care
About Mitt’s heavy spending and ObamneyCare

Twenty-three twenty-three twenty-three twenty-three
Polls keep repeating what Mitt doesn’t want to see
Cain goes up more and down there goes Perry
But Mitt’s twenty-three is the only consistency

It’s a real shame ’cause he seems like a good guy
But Mitt’s selling stuff that the people just won’t buy
At least you can say that you gave it a good try
There’s twenty sixteen and you’re still young and spry!

Mr Establishment three would be Cain
Former Fed banker came in from the rain
Tries to come off as just simple and plain
But that former lobbyist is at it again

Old big tobacco used to help pay the bills
Now Cain’s got a smoking guy as one of his shills
Goofy campaign ads don’t give us the thrills
And the “Cain Tax” (read: sales tax) makes us run for the hills!

“Harassment! Harassment!” old co-workers say
“He done me wrong, back in the day!”
“I don’t remember, but yes we did pay”
But somehow the story just won’t go away

But maybe, just maybe the story will pass
With hands in your pockets and not on a…lass
Hard to appear like you have so much class
When lawyers on TV keeping shouting “harass!”

Deep in the status quo these fellows three
Shouting in unison “Please vote for me!”
“I’m the true ‘outsider’, yes honestly!”
“But please, oh please, don’t look so closely!”

Because what you’ll see is the same tired dance:
Establishment figures who hope you’re entranced
By promises that won’t withstand second glance
Designed to fit nicely in all circumstance

Written by westcoastsuccess

November 5, 2011 at 9:38 am