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CNN National Security Debate Revealing…

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The CNN National Security Debate between Republican Presidential nominee hopefuls, held at the DAR Constitution Hall in Washington, Tuesday, November 22, featured several important and revealing distinctions between the candidates. Moderator Wolf Blitzer did a superb job moderating the debate, giving each candidate roughly equal time (even Ron Paul had more than 89 seconds to make his positions known!) and, in several instances, followed up with candidates who didn’t answer questions directly by interjecting, “Just to be precise…” and attempted to pin down candidates on the questions. The event was held among members of the Heritage Foundation and the American Enterprise Institute, many of whom asked candidates questions directly.

One topic of particular interest was the candidates’ positions on cuts to military spending: the United States spends more money on their military than the next 17 countries combined, however several candidates came out against any meaningful cuts, and some candidates came out against any cuts whatsoever (most of the “cuts” which have been proposed are not, in fact, “cuts” but are instead reductions in the pace of growth: America’s Defense budget has about doubled in just the past nine years).

If you ask any insurance executive the best way to sell insurance, they’ll tell you in one word: fear. Scare the customer and they’ll buy. Many of the candidates in this debate were selling insurance, of the United States military variety.

There were some radical positions on display by the candidates. Here, then, is a summary:

Newt Gingrich

Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich exhibited none of the animosity towards moderator Wolf Blitzer that he has previously unleashed against debate moderators, and presented himself well. Some of his positions, on the other hand, were surprising in some instances, disturbing in others, and flat out incorrect on at least one.

The first question of the debate was asked by Edwin Meese, former Attorney General of the United States under President Ronald Reagan, who asked whether the Patriot Act should be extended. Mr Gingrich was the first candidate to field the question, and he came out in favor of the Patriot Act and further stated he would expand it, again making a distinction between “crimes” (which should be dealt with by criminal courts) and “terrorism” (which should be dealt with however the government wishes to deal with it, which in prior debates has included torture and secret tribunals under Mr Gingrich’s vision). The most obvious problem with this notion that the protections of the Constitution do not apply to those the government deems “terrorists” is of course that the government could, at will, declare anyone a “terrorist” and thereby absolve the government of the restraints placed on it by the Constitution: the government becomes judge, jury and executioner in secret and without any restraint. That is not, of course, an example of the “rule of law”. Other countries have experimented with secret courts and arbitrary removal of citizen’s rights. It hasn’t gone well for the people of those same countries.

Wolf Blitzer, smartly, asked Texas Representative Ron Paul to comment next – smartly, because it brought out the enormous contrast between Paul and Gingrich. Ron Paul made a passionate argument against the Patriot Act, stating liberty needn’t be sacrificed for security and that the court system had worked in cases like the Timothy McVeigh bombing in Oklahoma. Mr Gingrich responded by pointing out that Mr McVeigh had succeeded in killing 168 people, and that the government should have the ability to pre-empt such attacks. Dr Paul responded by pointing out that each household could have a police officer and cameras placed inside it for the purposes of reducing child abuse and wife battering, and that a police state might reduce crime but in the process the government becomes the criminals. It was a telling exchange, and showed the vast differences between the candidates.

On the issue of oil, Newt Gingrich claimed that a different energy policy would allow the United States to produce enough oil to make up for all of Iran’s production and that as a result, global oil prices would plummet. Such an approach would require the United States to increase its oil production by about 50% and would require decades (and as one questioner pointed out, the United States hasn’t purchased oil from Iran for thirty years).

Mr Gingrich’s positions, evolved from his prior positions now that he is running for President (see too Mitt Romney for another example of positions of plasticity), are always conveyed with authority and plenty of (sometimes obscure) references and name dropping, but Newt Gingrich did a solid job of presenting those positions in this debate.

Overall score: A

Herman Cain

Former National Restaurant Association lobbyist Herman Cain had another poor showing, as he has in past debates on any foreign policy question. Here was a debate entirely focused on foreign policy, with nary a chance to trumpet his “9-9-9” tax plan. There was nothing in Mr Cain’s performance in this debate which can be expected to reverse his sliding poll numbers (most recently at 14% nationally[PDF]).

Herman Cain never seemed at ease during the debate, and he had that “deer caught in the headlights” look, formerly so familiar on Rick Perry’s face, on multiple occassions.

Often, Mr Cain answers foreign policy questions by saying he will listen to other people and rely upon their judgement. It’s good to get opinions, particularly on matters as important as foreign policy. But it is also important to convey the notion that, while you will seek out advice, you are the ultimate decision maker.

Rarely did Mr Cain display any of the incredible charisma he once beamed at the audience.

Overall score: C-

Ron Paul

Texas Representative Ron Paul was easily the most differentiated candidate of all those present. Coming out strongly against the Patriot Act (“The Patriot Act is unpatriotic!”), the “war on drugs” (“Another war we ought to cancel!”; “I think the war on drugs is a total failure”; “Federal government is going in there and over-riding state laws”; “I fear the drug war because it undermines our civil liberties”) and in favor of Congressional approval for acts of war (which including a rebuttal to Mr Santorum, who kept talking about the “war on terror” – Mr Paul pointed out that “terrorism” is a tactic, not a nation or an enemy or a war).

Ron Paul, for once, got some air time, and it was an excellent decision on the part of CNN producers, because the contrast was, at times, shocking. On the issue of the extension of the Patriot Act, Mr Gingrich’s argument that pre-emptive and extra-judicial actions should be permitted the government was smartly rebutted by Dr Paul’s plea that liberty need not be sacrificed for security, calling on the Founding Fathers in the process. On the issue of defense cuts, Mr Paul put the other candidates to shame, pointing out the “cuts” were only reductions in the speed of increased spending, not real cuts.

Overall, it was Mr Paul’s strongest debate to date, and even amidst the deeply establishment Republican crowd, Ron Paul drew cheers and applause for his anti-war, anti-interventionist positions. With Paul in a dead heat in Iowa, his performance in this debate may put him on top with the anti-Romney crowd in the state.

Overall score: A

Mitt Romney

Former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney took the hawkish approach, bemoaning defense cuts, favoring intervention in Iran and backing Israel by stating his first foreign visit as President will be to Israel.

Where Mitt Romney has been playing it relatively slow and steady, and avoiding engaging the other candidates since the Las Vegas entanglements with Rick Perry, Jon Huntsman seemed to get under Mr Romney’s skin on the issue of troop levels in Afghanistan.

Mr Romney is in a difficult bind, despite being the “front runner” in most media circles: essentially three quarters of Republican voters want a candidate for President who is not Mitt Romney, and it doesn’t appear as though anything Mr Romney says or does, or the other candidates’ rises and falls, have any impact on that cruel fact.

Mitt Romney’s best chance to win the nomination, it seems, is to split the conservative votes among the other contenders. But again, here Mr Romney is in a bind, because the voters seems to flock en masse to the most prominent anti-Romney candidate of the moment (currently Newt Gingrich). Do his performances at these debates win him any new voters? Probably not, according to the polls. So for Mitt Romney, the debates are something to get through without any obvious gaffes. That he did.

Overall score: B-

Rick Perry

Texas Governor Rick Perry, while still occassionally tongue-tied and cursed with the intellectual gravitas of Pauly Shore on a bad day, nonetheless has now marked his third consecutive debate without a major embarrassment. Mr Perry’s policy ideas still seem half-baked (as in not really fully formed, and certainly not fully articulated), like his plan to impose a no-fly zone over Syria (to which Mitt Romney replied by pointing out the Syrian government is not attacking its people with aircraft but that they do have 5,000 tanks and therefore perhaps a “no-drive” zone would be more appropriate), or his solution to Pakistan, which seemed to be some concept of creating a trade zone among several countries and forcing them to work together.

Rick Perry continues to seem like the only kid on a stage of men, but at least it’s no longer so painful to watch, almost to the point that one feels a bit sorry for the man. It’s clear Mr Perry is much more comfortable speaking one-on-one, and he often turns to whichever candidate is beside him to address a point directly to another human, rather than the wider audience. But Mr Perry is at best a puppet with deep-pocketed string masters, and it shows. His greatest accomplishment in this race may be that he has held on as long as he has – his poll numbers are certainly stagnant.

Overall score: C+ (this is an “A” on the Perry Bell Curve).

Michele Bachmann

Minnesota Representative Michele Bachmann, it is hard to believe now, was once considered a front-runner, after narrowly defeating Ron Paul in the Ames, Iowa straw poll. Since then, her poll numbers have plummeted, and she regularly polls in the low single digits. What’s a candidate to do?

Make odd statements and appear increasingly like a fringe candidate as you move towards the totalitarian territory where Rick Santorum lives, that’s what.

Some select statements:

“We won the peace in Iraq.” Yes. Iraq. That bastion of peaceful tranquility.

“Our CIA has no ability to have any form of interrogation for terrorists.” This in support of reinstating torture tactics against suspects who have never been formally charged and whose revelations while being tortured are of little to no use (CNN has an interesting fact-check on this statement).

“…most recent decision he [President Obama] made to cancel the Keystone Pipeline.” That pipeline has been delayed, not canceled, by the Obama administration.

Ms Bachmann, in short, did nothing to distinguish herself, and a few things to embarrass herself.

Overall score: D

Jon Huntsman

Former Utah Governor and Obama Ambassador to China Jon Huntsman had a strong night, in a debate focused on topics he’s most familiar with as a former Ambassador.

Mr Huntsman made well-articulated points on China and Pakistan, and at one point engaged with Mitt Romney on the issue of troop levels in Afghanistan (Mr Romney wants troops to remain longer in that country; Mr Huntsman wants to bring them home but leave a small contingent behind).

All Mr Huntsman’s marbles are on New Hampshire, and unfortunately for him, he is not polling in the top two there (positions held by Mr Romney and Mr Paul).

Overall score: A-

Rick Santorum

Former Pennsylvania Senator Rick Santorum opined that people should be treated differently (read: more harshly) depending upon the religious beliefs they hold, by way of applying different standards to Muslims in security screenings and other state intrusions. Hitler, too, believed people of different religious beliefs should be treated differently. On the other hand, The Founding Fathers of the United States, most notably did not, enshrining freedom of belief in the Constitution. Mr Santorum, throughout these debates, has never shied away from the more fascist side of the spectrum, and later applauded Lincoln for “trampling on the civil rights” of Americans. It is deeply reassuring that Mr Santorum has never polled much above 1% – his positions on foreign policy, and his almost viceral disgust for civil liberties, is truly frightening.

Overall score: F (The world becomes a safer and saner place once Mr Santorum retires from politics).

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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).

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