NH Debate: Still No Conservative Frontrunner

The Republican Presidential candidates went at it again last night in New Hampshire.  As always, there were high points and lows.

Are we serious about spending cuts or not?

One of the lowest points of the night is when many of the more conservative candidates went after Obama’s decision last week to cut the defense budget.  This was really disappointing and these candidates should be ashamed of themselves.  All our party talks about is cutting spending but when it comes down to it, all we want to do is cut democrat spending.  That isn’t going to do it.

Because of conservatives, the conversation has moved right towards “how much to cut” rather than “whether to cut.”  Governor Perry said that Obama had put us in “danger” because of these cuts.  The implication was that we wouldn’t be able to provide for our own defense because of this minor budget cut.  It was a disappointing low.  The Governor should know better.

The defense budget is so bloated that it continues to grow.  Obama, Bob Gates and Leon Panetta took action to slow future increases.  You heard me right.  We didn’t even stop increased spending or reduce spending.  We slowed future spending.  When these “cuts” go into effect, we will still be spending more than what we are spending now.  To attack Obama on this is disingenuous.

Rather than pretending that Obama made the wrong call on this one, Republicans should be claiming the credit for forcing the conversation to the right.  We can be a better party than this.

The Non-Romney’s.    

Each candidate had weaknesses and strengths on full display Saturday night.  No one stopped Romney from being inevitable.  Here’s how they did.

Senator Santorum was way too hawkish.  Senator, we know that you want to go to war.  It seems his constant refrain revolves around prolonging old wars while reserving the right to embark on new ones.  Whether discussing Iran, taking on Muslim extremists or staying in the middle east and southeast Asia indefinitely, it is an obsession.  After eleven years of war, this is not what the electorate wants to hear.  He needs to show the same passion for his manufacturing jobs plan that he shows for war.

Santorum is 100% dead on, on all of the social issues.  But some of these views are a half step out of line with the average voter.  The media is going to label him as “extreme” already, the last thing he needs is an aggressive foreign policy.  If Santorum wants to be president, he has be more responsible in his foreign policy rhetoric and more sexy on his jobs plan.

Dr. Paul scored major points tonight at Newt Gingrich’s expense.  It isn’t necessarily a proper logical or academic argument to say that those who haven’t served in the military cannot lead our military, but it still serves as an effective emotional appeal.  It stands to reason that those who have dodged bullets and roadside bombs have a better understanding of what they are asking from young Americans every time we go into a war with undefined goals in faraway places would be less likely to jump in.  While Romney won the night in the short term, Ron Paul continues to change hearts and minds long term.

Ambassador Huntsman still doesn’t seem to entirely understand the politics game. 

Huntsman came out tonight in favor or “revenue raising.”  Governor Romney was there to point out that government always wants “just a little bit” more taxes, “just a little bit of a more powerful government” to fix these problems.  The government is already too big, too powerful and the taxes are too harsh.  Raising taxes will do nothing but give government more money to spend.  This is not to mention the fact that the republican brand must stand against all tax increases.  We have to reduce government and spending.  That is the solution.  Spending more can never solve these problems because it doesn’t do anything to get spending down to what we can afford.

Next, Huntsman’s plan to eliminate all tax deductions sounds good in theory, but is politically impossible.  While many corporate deductions could be eliminated in exchange for a reduction in the overall corporate tax rate, the same won’t fly in personal taxes.  If Huntsman even tried it, democrats would be using it to claim that republicans want to take away deductions for your marriage, home ownership, children, etc.  Remember Paul Ryan shoving your grandma off a cliff?  People love their deductions and will be manipulated into thinking they cannot lose them in this kind of political environment.

Finally, Governor Huntsman loses me on his argument for civil unions.  Tonight he stated that his marriage “wasn’t threatened” by civil unions and that we had needed to bring dignity to these homosexual relationships.  Yet he failed to explain why these couples didn’t deserve the “dignity” of marriage.  The argument that civil unions ruin any individual’s personal marriage has always been a straw man argument.  To tear it down accomplishes nothing.  No one has ever argued that they got divorced because of homosexual marriage.

The argument is that the institution of marriage and the entire culture as an extension, is weakened when we create new morals by tearing down traditional social standards.  Simply claiming that children no longer need both a man and a woman as parents, doesn’t make it so.  Substituting the masculine and feminine features of parenting for a false imitation doesn’t raise strong children.  The point is especially relevant in the realm of same sex adoption.

Opponents will surely argue that in many cases, same sex adoption is superior to the alternative and that will no doubt be true in many cases.  But that doesn’t mean it should be the stated policy of government.

Santorum has this one right.  Although we’ll never get one, we need a Constitutional amendment defining marriage to clear up any problems with DOMA and full faith and credit, if not to honor our history, culture and social norms.  From this, a consistent adoption standard would flow.

Along the same lines, Governor Perry was right to call out the Obama administration for failing to defend the Defense of Marriage Act.  It isn’t the Justice Department’s job to make political calls or to determine what is constitutional, it is to represent the nation.  DOMA was passed by the Congress as the voice of the people and therefore needs to be protected by the government of the people.

Iraq and Afghanistan.

Governor Huntsman seems to be the only one with a clear handle on how to draw down troops in Afghanistan.  At this point, a cost/benefit analysis of how much blood and treasure is being expended on attainable goals has to be a serious question.  Huntsman realizes that you can still keep “terrorists” at bay without nation building indefinitely.  By now we should all be in agreement on this.  Unfortunately, not all candidates were.

But, anyone who thought the Afghanistan views were wild, probably weren’t prepared for the candidates position on Iraq.

Many candidates after wanting the troops to come home in previous debates, now say that it was too soon.  It is easier to tear down than to build up and that is exactly what our guys did tonight.  Anyone who states that it wasn’t time to draw down troops in Iraq needs to wake up to reality and stop pandering.

But that wasn’t all.  Some candidates called for troops to potentially be put back into Iraq.  Anyone who wants to put troops back into Iraq next year needs to use Obamacare to their advantage and get a psychological evaluation.  We do not need to send troops back to Iraq.  That is just plain stupid talk.  What would we hope to accomplish?  How would we do it?  Could we afford it?  What could we gain this time that we couldn’t obtain during the first decade?  Come on.

Red meat.

Although Newt Gingrich lacks the conservative record the base constituency continues to seek, he sure does know how to get the grassroots excited.  His comments on the media bias in discussing government crack downs on Churches was brilliant.  These comments go along way in endearing the candidate to the many undecided voters out there.

Likewise, Gingrich seems to get it on foreign policy.  While Santorum and Perry discussed invading countries or propping up failing regimes in order to protect American interests, Gingrich noted easier and more effective methods.  A new energy policy, changing the Iranian regime — these are the long term answers to our problems, not staying in Iraq indefinitely.

Oh, and Governor Romney?

No one knocked Romney off of his pedestal tonight, and no one really tried.  For all his talk, Gingrich was impotent in his attacks on Romney.  Perry didn’t throw a punch, Santorum gave him a pass and Huntsman didn’t even give it the old college try.  Many candidates spent too much time on the low hanging fruit (Ron Paul) rather than going for the kill.  Romney is going to run away with New Hampshire and then the stage will be set for the conservative last stand in South Carolina.  Is anyone willing to go up against Romney, articulate conservatism and stand on their record?  We’ve only got a couple more weeks to find out.