By Paul Gable
Watching a presidential candidate debate is a subjective experience leaving impressions that strike each viewer differently. Each question was not asked of every candidate, so responses were not comparable on every question.
Below are my impressions of the candidates, their positions on some issues that stood out and their performance as it struck me during the Fox News debate at Myrtle Beach Monday night. I’m sure you will disagree with some, maybe agree at times and hopefully found out more about the candidates along the way.
My initial impression is Newt Gingrich and Rick Perry received the most applause and gave the clearest, most direct answers. Mitt Romney spent much of the evening defending himself against various attacks, often receiving only lukewarm applause. Rick Santorum often gave too technically involved, almost convoluted answers. Ron Paul sometimes struggled to get his points across.
I would rank their debate performance in this order: Gingrich, Perry, Romney, Santorum and Paul.
Romney came under almost immediate attack for his record at Bain Capital and for not making his income tax records public.
Perry said Bain Capital swept into Georgetown (SC) to take over a steel mill and lost a lot of jobs there.
Romney said Bain Capital did not go into any deal with the intention of eliminating jobs and pointed to other successes such as Staples, Bright Horizons and a steel company in Indiana where he said thousands of jobs were created.
“Free enterprise, with all of its different dimensions and players, makes America the strongest economic nation in the world,” Romney said.
Perry said his tax records are “out there” every year. “Mitt, we need for you to release your income tax so that the people in this country can see how you made your money,” Perry said.
Romney said around about April that comes up and he may release his income tax records then.
Each candidate was asked what he believed the maximum income tax rate should be on Americans. Perry said a 10 percent flat tax on all; Santorum said 10 percent to 28 percent; Romney said 25 percent; Gingrich said 15 percent flat tax and Paul said zero percent – no income tax.
Gingrich and Romney traded barbs about the accuracy of ads from the respective super PACs supporting them with each asking the other to edit the inaccuracies in the ads.
An example of Paul’s difficulties in getting his points across was when he gave both positive and negative comments on the American justice system at different times in the debate.
Discussing discrimination, Paul said the (American) justice system was one of the worst places where discrimination still exists in this country. Discussing the recently signed National Defense Act, Paul said we are going in the wrong direction in the definition of civil liberties at home. “Don’t give up on the American judicial system so easily,” he said.
Paul advocated not launching military missions in foreign countries, such as the one that eliminated Osama bin Laden, until all other types of foreign relations actions, such as working with other countries to arrest someone such as bin Laden, have been tried.
“Consider the Golden Rule in foreign policy,” Paul said. “Don’t do to other countries what you don’t want done to us.”
Romney said the military should go and kill American enemies. He advocated increasing military spending rather than decreasing it by $1 trillion as the Obama administration recently proposed.
“We should have an American military so strong that no one would think about testing it,” Romney said.
Gingrich said the analogy Paul used about working with other nations to arrest someone like bin Laden was “irrational.”
“Nobody believes bin Laden was living in a compound in a military city, one mile from a major headquarters and the Pakistanis didn’t know it,” Gingrich said.
Paul evoked former President Dwight Eisenhower in warning about the military industrial complex. He said we should bring our troops, stationed in foreign countries, home inferring defense of the homeland can be attained from within our shores. Paul also tried to make a distinction between military spending and defense spending that was, at best, cloudy.
Perry said it was time to have a discussion about NATO and countries such as Turkey, which is moving more toward an Islamic law nation.
“Our current foreign policy makes our allies nervous and emboldens our enemies,” Perry said. “It’s time to go to zero with foreign aid (for countries that don’t support us.”
Perry was a strong advocate for states’ rights. “Washington, D.C. needs to leave the states alone,” he said.
Santorum and Gingrich both said 99 weeks is too long for unemployment benefits with Santorum adding unemployment programs should be decided at the state level including any work or job training requirements to collect benefits.
Perry said the border between Texas and Mexico needs to be completely secure with a wall and national guard troops until immigration officers can be trained.
Romney said there should be no special treatment of illegal immigrants currently within the country. They should be sent home and told to stand in line to become legal immigrants.
Gingrich said the No Child Left Behind Act was clearly a failure. He said federal regulations on education should be eliminated as should state regulations and education decisions should be returned to the local county boards throughout the country.
Santorum and Perry both advocated balancing the federal budget with Perry adding that he would work for a balanced budget amendment to the Constitution and advocate making Congress a part-time body “so members of Congress can go out and get a real job.”
Gingrich defended his attacks on Romney’s business record with Bain Capital saying Republicans should not be intimidated by charges that they were doing the bidding of Democrats in asking hard questions of the front runner.
Recent polls show Romney with 32 percent of the vote among South Carolina voters with Gingrich at 21, Paul 14, Santorum 13 and Perry 5 percent.
This was a strong performance by Perry, maybe his strongest debate performance so far. It should help him in Saturday’s voting. Romney did not hurt himself while Gingrich may close the gap between now and Saturday’s voting based on his debate performance. Santorum should remain around his current level while I expect Paul to drop in voter preference after tonight.