MSNBC started off the debate on Wednesday night encouraging infighting between the candidates. While Fox News did the same in the previous debate, MSNBC targeted most of their questions primarily at the frontrunners – Perry and Romney. While the questions by the moderators were often just biased statements attacking each candidate, I will not join some of my fellow conservatives in spending too much time on this point. MSNBC is biased – that is the reality. Any Republican presidential nominee will have to effectively deal with this in the general election.
Unsurprisingly, this became a Perry v. Romney debate. As his first debate as a Presidential candidate, Perry lacked polish in his delivery. Unlike Romney who has been running for President for more than four years, Perry has had no experience debating at the national level. Perry needs to work on his debating skills to get those voters who are swayed by speaking ability more than message. Nevertheless, what Perry lacked in delivery, he made up for with his unapologetic conservative convictions on Social Security and the death penalty. By contrast, Romney did well on delivery as usual. This time, we even saw a little feistiness in Romney with Perry in this debate. We also learned that Romney is very prepared to fight against Perry in this primary. The following is a breakdown of the winners and losers on the main issues in this debate only. No doubt, the winners and losers will change throughout the primary.
CANDIDATES ON THE ISSUES
Jobs – Draw
As the opening issue in the debate, Perry and Romney each touted their own respective records creating jobs. Governor Perry’s State of Texas has created more than 40% of jobs in the United States during this difficult economy – a fact that Perry is proud to boast. While Perry focused on the Texas record, Romney concentrated primarily on his experience as a businessman and his creation of jobs in the private sector. In a clear shot at Perry, he stated, “if my experience was entirely in government, I wouldn’t be running today.” Perry later challenged Romney arguing that – “his public record does not match his private record of creating jobs” – Romney defended Massachusetts’ poor jobs record when he was governor by pointing out that Texas has a more business friendly environment.
In this argument, Romney ran away from his state’s record by pointing out Texas’ friendly business environment and advantages in job growth. Perry was obviously proud to run the Texas record. They are both very competent candidates on jobs. However, in this debate, the jobs issue comes out a draw. Perry will have to work harder in future debates to overcome Romney’s presence as the businessman in the room (in addition to Herman Cain). But with the Texas record to run on, Perry will continue to stand his ground.
Social Security – Perry Win
Perry’s strongest moment in the debate was the position he took on Social Security. Perry called Social Security – “a monstrous lie, a ponzi scheme.” When asked about criticism he received from Karl Rove for calling Social Security a ponzi scheme, Perry responded that “[m]aybe it is time to have some provocative language in this country.” Romney quickly chastised Perry for calling Social Security a failure and argued that it should be reformed, not abolished.
Romney’s biggest failure Wednesday night was to “duck and cover” on the issue of Social Security when pressed. This shows Romney’s tendency toward the preservation of big government in the long run. If he cannot talk candidly about Social Security in a Republican Presidential Debate, there is not much chance that he will challenge Obama on big government issues a general debate.
Politicians can no longer duck and cover at the mention of entitlement programs like Social Security and Medicare for fear of being demonized. These programs, whether you agree with their premise or not, are failing. Real changes to entitlements are necessary to save these programs for current beneficiaries and those nearing retirement age. As for the younger generations, we need to make changes to the system so that they don’t have to continue to contribute to a failed government program.
Border Policy/Immigration Reform – Draw
The primary difference between Perry and Romney on border control and immigration reform is the order in which it should be addressed. Perry argues that the United States needs to secure the border before we can address the issue of immigration reform. Romney argued that the United States has a “magnet on” enticing people to come here illegally – i.e. giving government benefits to illegal immigrants. If it is not turned off, they will keep coming over the border.
Both candidates have good points on this issue. I think this issue is probably a draw in terms of the debate. However, Governor Perry should be prepared to answer further questions on his policies granting benefits to illegal aliens in Texas in the future. If they spend more time on this issue in the next debate, Perry will not fair as well.
Obamacare/Romneycare – Perry Win
Debating healthcare, Perry argued that the people in Texas want the government out of their business. Furthermore, he called for the issuance of block grants to allow states to innovate in their administration of Medicaid instead of passing “strings attached federal legislation.” Romney continued to stand behind Romneycare in Massachusetts – the Obamacare of his state. He based his reasoning on a free rider problem in Massachusetts – essentially arguing that people who could afford health care were not paying their emergency room bills causing a higher cost to those with insurance.
Unfortunately for Romney, Perry didn’t have to argue anything in this debate to defeat Romney on Romneycare. His free rider argument was very similar to the argument that was used to pass Obamacare. Although Romney did say that he would sign an Executive Order exempting all states from Obamacare on his first day, it doesn’t appear as if Romney really understands why an individual mandate, even at the state level, was bad policy. This issue will continue to haunt Romney as he makes the bid to challenge Obama in 2012.
Gardisil/HPV Vaccination – Romney Win
Romneycare is Romney’s Achilles Heel; mandating Gardisil HPV vaccinations for children is one of Perry’s. Many, including Senator Paul, Governor Santorum, Congresswoman Bachmann and MSNBC, challenged Perry on this decision. Though Perry correctly stated that there was an opt-out clause, Santorum quickly rebuked that there should have been an opt-in clause. Perry made clear that he thought he was acting in the best interests of the people in Texas when he signed the Executive Order. He explained the strong connection between HPV and cervical cancer and the other cancer-fighting initiatives he proposed.
Perhaps realizing he didn’t need to attack Perry, Romney did the best thing that he could have done in this debate – he deferred to Perry’s response that he wouldn’t have made the same decision again. While Perry did a good job of explaining this issue, mandating a vaccination that isn’t absolutely necessary to prevent the spread of communicable diseases is big government at its worst. While there might be a great medical benefit from the vaccination, I agree with Bachmann that this is a decision best left to parents. Romney came out ahead on this issue without saying much at all. Perry will have to explain and apologize to many conservatives throughout the campaign before Gardisil is a non-issue.
Other Debate Highlights
Though this debate was mostly centered on Romney and Perry, there were six other candidates in the room. Aside from the issues aforementioned, there were several moments worth mentioning. First, Bachmann came out strong on her criticism of Obama for calling for Israel’s return to the 1967 borders and ignoring the threat of Iran. Ron Paul also added his libertarian spin to the debate arguing that FEMA should be abolished and that the free market and individuals would provide in disasters. Thirdly, Cain proposed a complete change of the tax system with a 9% tax rate on corporate income, individual income, and a national sales tax. He joked, “If 10% is good enough for God, 9% is good enough for government.” Santorum, the ever true conservative argued for a temporary 0% corporate tax rate, repatriation of jobs legislation, and for America to remain a good moral force around the world. Lastly, taking charge as we expected he would, Gingrich picked a fight with the moderators denouncing their attempts to get Republicans to fight each other.
Conclusion – Perry Wins
In a field of eight candidates, we were not afforded the benefit of everyone’s response to the issues presented by the commentators. The focus in this debate was clearly Perry and Romney. Romney and Perry each had two draws on the issues of jobs and border control/immigration reform. Perry lost on Gardisil. Romney lost on Romneycare and Social Security.
Both because it is the tie-breaking issue in my analysis and because of the importance of entitlement reform, the most significant comments in this debate were the statements made by Perry and Romney on Social Security. It highlighted the best of Perry in his unapologetic analysis of Social Security as a “monstrous lie” and “ponzi scheme.” Romney took a more moderate tone on the issue calling for reform and chastising Perry for his remarks. On the whole, Perry came across as more conservative than Romney. Because I will always support the most conservative electable candidate, Perry had a slight edge on Romney on Wednesday night.