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Seven Republican challengers met face to face for the first major debate in the run-up to the Republican nomination. Rick Santorum, Michele Bachmann, Newt Gingrich, Mitt Romney, Ron Paul, Tim Pawlenty and Herman Cain sparred over health care, jobs, and U.S. involvement in Libya. But the candidates primarily focused on President Obama rather than each other. The debate was billed as the most important event of the Republican nomination process so far. But did the candidates set themselves apart? And will this early debate matter in the voting booth? Analysis of the Granite State’s first Republican debate.
- Ron Elving Washington editor for NPR.
- Michael Tomasky special correspondent for Newsweek and The Daily Beast; editor of the quarterly journal Democracy.
- Stephen Hayes senior writer at the Weekly Standard and a Fox News contributor.
- Susan Page Washington bureau chief for USA Today.
MS. DIANE REHMThanks for joining us. I'm Diane Rehm. New Hampshire hosts the nation's first presidential primary. And it's where most of the 2012 Republican contenders gathered last night to debate each other. Joining me to analyze just how they did and where the campaigns go from here, Michael Tomasky of Newsweek and The Daily Beast, Ron Elving of NPR, Stephen Hayes of the Weekly Standard and Fox News.
MS. DIANE REHMJoining us from Manchester, N.H., Susan Page of USA Today. I really want to hear your thoughts about last night's debate. So give us a call, 800-433-8850. Send us your email to email@example.com. Join us on Facebook or Twitter. Good morning, everybody.
MR. RON ELVINGGood morning Diane.
MR. MICHAEL TOMASKYGood morning, Diane.
MR. STEPHEN HAYESGood morning, Diane.
MS. SUSAN PAGEGood morning.
REHMSusan Page, give us a sense of the tone of the evening.
PAGEThe tone was, I would say, pretty fast paced. We felt sometimes we were just careening from issue to issue. It was also largely passive among the Republican candidates, with one or two exceptions. No criticism of each other or even of the frontrunner, Mitt Romney. Instead, the -- all the fire was directed at President Obama, especially on the issue of the economy. He got bashed every way he could by the candidates who were on stage last night.
REHMAnd, Ron Elving, I'm sure you watched, listened to every word. Mitt Romney went in as a candidate to beat. I mean, were they after him? Were the others after him?
ELVINGI'd say, if he were so inclined, it would be a good night for Mitt Romney to chill some champagne or maybe just a little bit. Because while the other candidates certainly where after him, it was mostly in the sense of trailing after him. They did not go after him the way some people, many of us, had expected they would. He had the target on his back. He's the frontrunner, no question about it, in New Hampshire and nationally.
ELVINGAnd it seemed like their first opportunity to try to bring him down a peg. They didn't do it. Even Tim Pawlenty, who had taken him on pretty seriously on Sunday, saying that the Obama health care plan was just a Romney clan - plan and calling it, in fact, Obamneycare. When he was given the opportunity to continue that attack...
REHMHe didn't use that word.
ELVING...he clearly backed off of it...
ELVING...two times, three times, little biblical there. It got just a little bit dramatic for just a moment, just for a moment, because it was so clear that Tim Pawlenty did not want to take this opportunity to take Mitt Romney on.
REHMMichael Tomasky, was there some agreement among those candidates to really sort of back off each other and stay focused on Obama?
TOMASKYWell, I doubt, Diane, that there was any kind of explicit agreement. I think it was just the natural course of things in a first major debate. There was, of course, one previous debate in South Carolina, but the major contenders, particularly Romney, were not there. So I don't think there was anything explicit. I think it was just natural that they wanted to get out there, talk to the base.
TOMASKYThe base wants to hear Obama bashing, and that's what they wanted to do. The current circumstances of our political situation, particularly the recent jobs numbers and the unemployment number, made that a more attractive thing for them to do. I think, over time, obviously, we'll hear them try to separate themselves from one another. But I also think that there probably aren't very many big differences among them on major questions.
REHMSteve Hayes, I kept asking before the debates began, wasn't this a debate for declared candidates? And until last night, Michele Bachmann had not declared. She chose last night to do that.
HAYESYeah, I was sort of talking about drama, the one moment of real drama when she didn't answer directly the first question, or at least took a moment before she did and announced that she would be filing her papers. And there were some applause in the audience. You know, I thought the most interesting moment of the night was this Tim Pawlenty-Mitt Romney exchange.
HAYESAnd one of the reasons I thought it was so interesting is I had spent some time with Tim Pawlenty in Iowa -- really, a week-and-a-half ago -- and asked him in the course of our conversation -- we talked about policy for maybe a half-hour and then talked about politics and process for 15 minutes. And I asked him, do you trust Mitt Romney? And it was a clear set up.
HAYESIf he wanted to take an opportunity to challenge Romney, either really go on the attack or just point out substantive differences, he could have done so. And he didn't take that opportunity. And so I pressed him, and he didn't take the opportunity again. And this went on five or six times...
HAYES...almost mirroring what we saw last night. So what's odd is his decision on Sunday to talk about Obamneycare and to launch this attack and then pulled back from it last night. It doesn't make a lot of sense.
REHMWhat do you make of it, Susan?
PAGEI thought it was odd and quite damaging to Tim Pawlenty. You know, it's not as if Tim Pawlenty is the frontrunner. He's in single digits. He's been -- he's at 6 percent in the USA Today Gallup poll that came out on Monday, fifth in the field. That's not a strong position. He wants to make an impression. He wants to be seen as the alternative to Romney. He didn't do that last night. And I'll tell you what else was perplexing.
PAGEWhen he coined that word, Obamneycare, in one of the Sunday shows -- I think it was on "Fox News Sunday" -- his campaign had immediately sent out emails highlighting it in case anybody had missed it. And so then you thought that was going to be a line of attack. And it's a clever one because it's got a little bit of humor. So you're having a zinger, but you don't look too mean.
PAGEAnd for him to refuse to repeat the word, even after John King, the moderator from CNN, went after him a couple times, I thought it was perplexing. I thought it raised questions about his capabilities as a candidate in this league.
TOMASKYI thought there was a second odd Tim Pawlenty moment, which came toward the end, which had to do with foreign policy when he was asked about the bombing campaign in Yemen. And he invoked Sept. 11, and he got kind of thunderous and passionate for probably the first -- or the most passionate he got, I think, during the entire two hours was while he was answering that question.
TOMASKYAnd on the surface, maybe it sounded good. But then you stepped back and you thought, well, all he's really doing here is endorsing what the Obama administration is doing in Yemen. And yet he got all high and mighty. It was a little bit of a strange moment.
REHMRon Elving, tell me about the rules for last night's debate. Were there any?
ELVINGThe rules essentially were John King, but John King, I thought, did a good job. I thought he was a strong moderator. Susan mentioned the pace, and while I think the pace might have been a little breakneck at times, it's a two-hour show. And you're trying to pull an audience here. And you're trying to keep not only the people in the hall interested but also millions of people around the country watching on television and far and far more people watching it on YouTube, today, and looking just for the good bits.
ELVINGAnd this is an important thing from the standpoint of the moderator, so that was really much more of a personality thing. And the rules were, try to keep your answers under 30 seconds.
ELVINGNow, some of these guys have already prerecorded little tapes in their head that ran a lot more than 30 seconds. And they were trying to get those longer speeches in, try to fit their stump speech into their answers. And John King was working very hard in trying to cut that off.
REHMOn that very point, posted on the drshow website from Andy is the following: "I thought the format of the debate did a disservice to the process of assessing candidates. The moderator continually cut them off. Ironically, he would say, we need to keep things short, so we can get to more. I believe he had it exactly backwards. If he asks a big question such as, is a 5 percent annual rate of growth a reasonable expectation, then he should allow adequate time for a response -- certainly more than 30 seconds." Steve Hayes.
HAYESWell, or in some cases, even more than, you know, than one or two sentences. I mean, I think there was some frustration, I think, both from the viewers and from the candidates themselves that they weren't given an opportunity to really talk about the issues, or even to answer the questions as they were posed. I mean, it's a delicate dance. I don't envy John King for having to be in this position because, on the one hand, as Ron says, you don't want to let this guy just filibuster.
HAYESI mean, they can blab on for 10 minutes if you let them. So you don't want them to do that. On the other hand, you really do need to if you're going to explore their views on these things. You really do need to give them an opportunity to answer the questions. And I think in that context, there wasn't enough time for some of these candidates.
HAYESAnd the other, I think, odd thing about the format of the way the debate went was how little foreign policy discussion there was. I mean, that didn't happen until 20 minutes left in this two-hour debate. And, even then, it was almost sort of glancing, a passing discussion on foreign policy.
ELVINGThis format, I think, definitely favors some candidates over others, someone like Herman Cain, for example. The Godfather's Pizza executive is used to giving inspirational speeches or being a talk show host and talking for as long as he likes or, for that matter, Ron Paul, the Congressman who is a person who's Libertarian with a very elaborate kind of philosophy. It's quite different from ordinary Republicanism.
ELVINGIt takes a little time to explain. His views are quite different, especially on foreign policy. And so he wants a little bit more time to get his points out. When he doesn't get it, when he gets interrupted, he becomes a little bit uncomfortable. He gets knocked off his stride. He doesn't really get a good chance to represent himself.
PAGEYou know, the...
REHMSusan Page, Chris has posted a question on Facebook, says, "If Michelle Bachmann's announcement last night wasn't official, what was it?"
PAGEIt was -- you know, I was just going to say to the previous discussion that I don't think people take nearly enough into consideration the needs of newspaper reporters. 'Cause we're sitting there, you know...
PAGE...and they start filing stories. My first story had -- we filed at 8:45 p.m. to my editor back in Washington. And I think there should -- they should do -- and so I was a little frustrated by the format and the fact that candidates didn't get -- and not only not enough time to answer questions, but that the follow-ups weren't as full as I'd hope they would be.
PAGEI sort of contrasted with your show, Diane, which is kind of marked by, of course, a very thoughtful discussion, a lot of follow-ups. And, of course, it's very different. The demands and the debate with seven people is a different thing. But in that way, I thought it was an unsatisfactory debate. But in terms of who used the format best, Michelle Bachmann.
PAGEFirst of all, by this -- with the very question that Chris raises, her first time out, she announces that she's officially filed her papers at the FEC to be a formal candidate. The FEC told us this morning that they, in fact, had found that in the mail this morning, so she was telling the truth. That gave you something to say at the top of the story. I thought she was the break-out star last night in...
REHMInteresting, Susan Page. She's Washington Bureau Chief for USA Today, joining us from Manchester, N.H.
REHMAnd welcome back. We're talking about last night's first presidential debate in New Hampshire with Michael Tomasky. He's with Newsweek and The Daily Beast, editor of the quarterly journal Democracy. Ron Elving is Washington editor for NPR. Stephen Hayes is with the Weekly Standard and Fox News. Susan Page of USA Today, she is in Manchester, N.H. Here's a tweet from Tashwell. (sp?)
REHM"Remember," says Tashwell, "no voters in New Hampshire actually watched the game. The Bruins' game was on. The media and insiders watched it." Is that probably true, Susan?
PAGEThat is totally true. Biggest applause line when Ron -- when Mitt Romney announced that the Bruins were leading 4-0.
REHMAnd here's a tweet from Clayton. "Michele Bachmann exceeded expectations. Her strong performance may have gone a long way toward moving Sarah Palin offstage for 2012." Steve Hayes.
HAYESI think that is absolutely true. I mean, she was, as Susan said, the break-out star of the night. You know, I think she benefited from low expectations coming in. People didn't expect her to perform that way. But you go back, and you look at it. I watched the debate last night, and then I listened to it on the way in. And you go back, and you look at, listen to -- the substance of her answers was quite good.
HAYESHer answer on health care -- for a Republican audience, appealing to conservatives -- was pitch-perfect. She started talking about Obamacare and taking some shots that you would expect a candidate to do about Obamacare. And then she talked about the Congressional Budget Office's estimate that it would cost 800,000 jobs, which is exactly what you want to be saying at this moment.
HAYESThen she talked about Medicare and talked about the amount of money that is being shifted away from traditional Medicare to Obamacare more broadly, which is a discussion of entitlement reform. It's an appeal to seniors. I mean, everything she did in that answer was just as you would do if you were her strategist and you had scripted it out six weeks ago. And the more you listen to her answers, the more she did that, answer after answer after answer.
REHMSo what about Sarah Palin, Michael Tomasky?
TOMASKYI never thought Sarah Palin was inclined to run. I guess if last night has any effect on her thinking, it probably makes her somewhat less inclined. But, you know, I do think that Bachmann -- and it's not just because they're both women. There have been these comparisons. Some people have complained that it's unfair because they're both women, but that's not the reason. The reason is that they both appeal to a very similar constituency.
TOMASKYThey both appeal to more of the Tea Party wing of the conservative primary electorate. Having said that, there is a difference between Sarah Palin and Michele Bachmann -- which has always been evident to me and which is why Bachmann did not really exceed my expectations -- which is Bachmann, however extreme her views, does know her stuff in policy terms in a way that, I think, Sarah Palin doesn't.
TOMASKYSo I wasn't surprised to see Bachmann do well. And I thought before last night and think now that the only three people on that stage who might be the nominee are Romney, Pawlenty and Bachmann.
PAGEYes. I think that what Michele Bachmann did last night was go a long way to emerging as the likely Tea Party-backed candidate. You know, we know that Mitt Romney is likely to be in the finals for the nomination. And we know that there will be some candidate who's a favorite of the Tea Party. She did so well last night compared to others who would like that mantle, like Rick Santorum and Herman Cain.
PAGEI think she did present herself in a way that -- to the degree we can know what Sarah Palin is thinking. It makes it a little less likely, perhaps, that she would feel the need or compelled or desire to jump in this race. I think -- as I said before, I think, Tim Pawlenty still needs to show that he's going to be in that final -- in those final few when this field is narrowed down. I didn't see it last night.
REHMWho wasn't on the stage that we might see later on, Ron Elving?
ELVINGWell, of course, we've all been talking about Sarah, who might, last night, have been singing that old pop song, "Somebody Is Taking My Place." But we...
REHMI like that song.
ELVINGIt was a good song.
ELVINGIt was a good song. And then, of course, there's Jon Huntsman, Jr., who most of us have been expecting to see jump in the race. He has moved to Washington. He's got a nice house here in D.C. Now, he has shown every sign of having come back from China with a purpose, and we expect him to get in the race. But he has not done it officially, and there are still those who are questioning whether or not he sees a lane for himself.
ELVINGThen there has been a little boom in recent days for Rick Perry, the governor of Texas, longest serving governor in Texas history. He might remind some people of George W. Bush. That wouldn't be a positive. But he is also a different guy, and he is a strong social and fiscal conservative. I think if he were to get in the race, it would be the first time that the Republican Party has seriously considered a candidate who has expressed sympathy for the idea of secession.
ELVINGThat would take us back to 1861 in an interesting way. But times have changed. It's a different Republican Party, and maybe Rick Perry could bring that concept into the debate.
REHMHere's an email from Dan in Tulsa, Okla., who says, "Now that Republicans have had their Obama-bashing cathartic session, maybe the so-called candidates can start talking about something of substance, like what any of them would do to reverse the disastrous economic policies of the last Republican president, George W. Bush, and create jobs for the middle class. Mr. Pawlenty didn't even have the courage to take on Romney over his health care record." Steve Hayes.
HAYESWell, I think if Dan thinks that this one session got it out of their system, he's going to be sorely disappointed. I suspect that we'll have more cathartic Obama-bashing sessions from the Republicans, in fact, going forward.
REHMBut are we going to have substantive discussions?
HAYESI think we will, and I think -- look, I actually think -- of all the criticisms you could have of the debate, it got into -- given the time pressures and the formatting, there were some substantive exchanges. I mean, I think that some of the discussions of Mitt Romney, for instance, talking about the differences between Obamacare and his care. Now, I think, most conservatives in the Republican primary electorate won't buy the distinctions that he drew.
HAYESBut he, nonetheless, spent some time drawing those distinctions and talking about them in a substantive way. Tim Pawlenty was asked about his economic speech that he gave last week and asked to defend it. He did defend it, I think, by using some substance. So, I guess, I have a different viewpoint about the substance in the debate.
REHMWhat about you, Michael?
TOMASKYThere was some substance. I would have liked to have seen a little bit more, particularly on Pawlenty's plan. But I don't think there's going to be the kind of debate on that that the country needs until and unless Pawlenty is the nominee. I looked up these numbers, and it was interesting. The United States has never had 10 years of 5 percent growth in its entire history. And, in fact, no advanced country in the world has, except for South Korea.
TOMASKYSo that's an assumption that, I think, if he is the nominee, he's going to have a hard time sustaining. But I don't think that these things are going to come out very much in future Republican debates. I would agree that there's going to be less complete Obama-bashing and more picking at one another. But, again...
REHMAs time goes on.
TOMASKYRight. But, again, I don't think there are that many...
TOMASKY...huge substantive differences among them.
REHMAll right. Let's hear what our listeners have to say. Let's go first to Palm Coast, Fla. Good morning, Theresa. You're on the air.
THERESAFirst of all, I support President Obama's re-election. But I believe that none of the Republican candidates will be the 2012 candidate. It will be Jeb Bush, and here's why. Some years back, Karl Rove said he'd be interested in helping former governor of Florida Jeb Bush become president. I know many people think it's unlikely another Bush would run, but Jeb has a large base.
THERESAHis wife is Mexican descent, so he's got an edge on the Hispanic vote, the Christian right. And the NRA love him. And he has a lot of wealthy influential supporters. Now, as governor of Florida, Bush's policies looked in a shambles. But he's very ambitious, and he's very arrogant. So what do your guests think of the possibility of Jeb running?
PAGEWell, I would say Jeb Bush has made it pretty clear he's not going to run this time. But I agree with the caller that he's an ambitious guy with a lot of political assets. And I would not be at all surprised if he's not a candidate in 2016.
ELVINGI think you can agree with absolutely everything the caller said, but still interject not only has Jeb Bush kind of ruled it out as much as anyone ever can in politics, but there are also extraordinarily strong reasons for him not to make his bid now. If he ever wants to be president -- I do believe he does -- he has to wait until we've reached that point in history where people are saying, you know, George W. Bush wasn't so bad.
HAYESYeah, I think that's true. And he has said more than the other candidates, who have been -- sort of taken themselves out of the running, in a much more forceful way, that he's not interested. But I think the broader analysis that the caller makes, that we might not have seen the eventual 2012 Republican nominee on the stage, I think that may well be true.
HAYESI mean, if you believe, as many conservatives do, that Mitt Romney's support is soft, that it's based mostly on name identification, that people have continuing problems with the way that he handled health care in Massachusetts, it's reasonable to assume that somebody else might get in. Paul Ryan, who has been talked about a lot, was talked about -- I think he was mentioned at least 10 times on the stage last night -- is now considering a bid.
HAYESHe hadn't been before. He sort of ruled himself out. He said, about a week-and-a-half ago on Neil Cavuto's show on Fox, that he wanted to see how the field develops before saying, look, I'm not seriously looking at it. You've had John Thune sort of dip his toe in again recently. You've got Rick Perry, who we mentioned before, and Chris Christie, who's ruled it out before, but is giving a speech in Iowa in July.
HAYESHe's on CNN, doing an hour-long interview tonight. He has -- he stopped --unless I've missed it, he stopped using the one line he used to use to take himself out of consideration, which is, I'm not ready. We haven't heard that from Chris Christie in a while.
REHMInteresting. What about Newt Gingrich? Nobody has mentioned his name so far.
TOMASKYWell, I think we haven't mentioned his name because we just think that he's probably not going to be the nominee unless some kind of lightning -- five kinds of lightning strike. You know, he got some attention last night. He came up with the most striking -- one might say demagogic, but striking, line, the Obama depression.
TOMASKYBut the other thing he did, that I thought was a little bit odd, was that when he was asked about Paul Ryan's Medicare plan, he, again, kind of attacked it. Not kind of attacked it...
TOMASKY...he certainly separated himself from it, so he said those things on "Meet the Press" three weeks ago, or whenever it was. Then he spent all this time apologizing and getting pilloried for it, and his staff quit. And then, at the first high-profile opportunity he has (unintelligible)...
PAGEHe does it again. Susan Page.
PAGEYes. I agree, you know, and it's been 16 years since Newt Gingrich was in elective office. I thought you could see that last night. I thought he had a little bit of trouble getting into the mix of the debate. There were times when he kind of forgot he was out there on stage. He has that kind of professorial thing going, which is not always the most effective way, I think, for a candidate to be.
PAGESo there were questions from the start about whether this is really a race in which he can emerge as a candidate -- or maybe he can. He's a guy who has a lot of ideas. But I didn't think he emerged as a big factor last night.
REHMAll right. To South Bend, Ind. Good morning, Barry.
BARRYGood morning. I find it extremely hypocritical that these GOP candidates stood up there and talked about how they're pro-life, yet none of them favor some type of universal health care. I have a friend that died yesterday (unintelligible) health insurance.
REHMOh, I'm sorry.
BARRYThank you. She worked hard. She waited until you could literally see the tumor through her skin before she sought treatment. And I just find it hypocritical that they all say they're pro-life but don't support universal health care.
REHMIt's an interesting point. What do you think, Michael?
TOMASKYWell, first of all, a really sad and graphic story. But their opposition to Obamacare is going to be one of the central planks of all their campaigns, whoever is the nominee. I think there will be basically three things that the Republican will run on: cut taxes, shrink government, repeal the health care act. That's going to be the campaign. If the economy is still bad, then that will resonate.
TOMASKYIf the economy is better, then I don't think it will resonate so much. But that's going to be one of the central pillars of the campaign.
REHMYou know, last night, Susan, I heard Jay Rockefeller talk about Medicaid and the really horrendous problem of people who cannot afford any kind of health care. And Barry's friend certainly sounds as though she was in that position, yet I don't hear many people talking about Medicaid.
PAGEYou know, Medicaid just does not have the same political punch that Medicare has because you're talking about poor people as opposed to seniors. Seniors are very likely to vote, a big political force, poor people, less likely than more affluent Americans to vote. So even though there's a big Medicaid part of the Obama health care plan, dramatic expansion of Medicaid that some of the states -- some of the governors aren't happy about, it has not been part of the political discussion the way Medicare have.
REHMAnd you're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." Ron Elving, did you want to add to that?
ELVINGJust to say that Susan is absolutely right. Medicaid being identified with the poor is not as politically potent. However, there are aspects of the Ryan plan and the cutbacks on Medicaid and capping how much the federal government will do for the states -- which means that there will be less Medicaid for people on the ground -- that also does apply to many seniors.
ELVINGNow, they may not realize that yet, but a very large proportion of all Medicaid spending goes to seniors, people who have Medicare but also wind up on Medicaid. And when that one bites, then you're going to see the seniors turn around on some of the Paul Ryan issue.
REHMLet's go to Saint Louis, Mo. Good morning, Mike.
MIKEGood morning. Thank you very much. Listen, I wanted to make a comment based on the situation. Last night, I watched the debate. There is no talk whatsoever about homelessness in this country or the amount of people on welfare. And I think that the media needs to really focus on some of these other issues because people want to know about these things. There are a lot of people, just like your caller before, who had a friend who didn't detect her cancer until it's too late.
MIKEWhat are we going to do about this? They seem that they want to be able to give these people a safety net, but yet big corporations have a free pass. And there's a big difference. Thank you.
HAYESWell, I think some of that has to do with the kind of questions that were asked. I mean, there were a couple of questions on immigration, a couple of questions on abortion. We didn't get questions about welfare reform. We didn't get questions about some of these other issues, homelessness, that the caller mentioned. I think if you look at the way that Republicans are handling these issues more broadly, you know, some of them are eager to talk about the things that -- where they sense President Obama is most vulnerable.
HAYESThat, right now, is on the economy. So you saw many of them take these -- the questions they were asked and turn them back towards President Obama and the economy.
REHMWhat about creation of jobs? Were there any new ideas, Michael?
TOMASKYI didn't really hear any, no. I don't think there were any. I think, with regard to the caller's point, some of the issues, that he seems like he's concerned about, I think, those will be discussed later on. They'll be discussed in the general election campaign, for sure, because you can count on Democrats to -- I hope -- to bring some of these things up. We'll see if they do.
TOMASKYAlso, Medicare -- Medicaid, excuse me -- Ron is absolutely right that Medicaid affects a lot more non-poor people than most people know. Democrats will probably try to bring these things out and highlight those differences between them and whoever the Republican is. But I think in a Republican context, those things aren't going to be discussed that much.
REHMSo what about jobs later on, Ron Elving?
ELVINGJobs are, in the minds of Republican candidates for president, the product of a healthy private sector. And you heard Herman Cain with his train analogy. And the engine has to be the private sector, and any jobs that are created in any other way are not really good jobs.
REHMRon Elving, he is Washington editor for NPR. Short break. And when we come back, more calls, your comments. Stay with us.
REHMAnd we've had a number of people write in saying, "The commentator should not refer to the current health care bill as Obamacare. That feeds into the Republican argument. The bill, now law, is the Affordable Care Act." And we should remember that.
REHMThen Danny in Arlington, Texas, says, "It appears Republicans have no plans on how to fix the economy. They just talk about how bad President Obama is doing. The only thing they talk about is less regulation. Less regulation is what caused the banking crisis and the recession. I don't understand what they plan to do." Steve Hayes.
HAYESWell, I'm not sure that's a fair characterization. I mean, you did hear calls for tax cuts. You did -- you certainly did hear the -- the emailer is correct in that you heard a call for less regulation, but that's the same thing you're hearing from the White House these days. The president spent a fair amount of time talking yesterday, and over the past week, about the need for less restrictive regulation.
HAYESNow, I think that the same time that he's calling for this, he is imposing quite a bit more through the EPA and others in the 2,000-page Dodd-Frank law. But he's making the same kind of call. I think the fact of the matter is most people at this point don't know what the answer is on the economy, so you're hearing a lot of the same thing.
TOMASKYThere is a difference, though, between cutting payroll taxes -- payroll taxes fall most heavily on working class people and poor people -- and cutting the top marginal rates. So, I think, Obama and the Republicans are talking about different kinds of taxes, and I think that's the distinction that very much should be borne in mind. Again, I'd like to point to Pawlenty's economic plan, which wasn't discussed very much last night in this kind of detail -- again, it will be if he is the nominee.
TOMASKYA study came out from the Tax Policy Center, I think, at the end of last week, which showed that his tax plan would have a cost over 10 years of $11.6 trillion. Now, to put that in perspective, the current estimates are that George Bush's tax cuts have cost over 10 years, about $2.7, $2.8 trillion. So he's talking about taking from the Treasury four times as much money as the Bush tax cuts did. If he's the nominee, that should really be a front and center issue.
REHMSusan Page, here's an email from Cedric in Charlotte, N.C., who says, "I thought Rick Santorum was the break-out star of the debate, very knowledgeable. Could he be the VP nod to the right if Romney wins? Bachmann was solid overall. Her answer on gay marriage, supporting an amendment but not trying to get state laws overturned, was a consistent, mature, surprisingly nuanced though typically conservative position. She couldn't be hypocritical, considering Republican love of states rights."
PAGEYou know, the -- I think that the listener makes a good point of it. Rick Santorum had a good night. His problem, though, is he's competing for the same group of voters that Michele Bachmann will be competing for. And he's got the additional disadvantage that he lost, rather decisively, his race for re-election to the Pennsylvania Senate. And some people say, well, if you can't win re-election to the Senate seat in your own state, what are your chances nationwide?
PAGEHe is doing an enormous amount of traveling. He's made more trips than any other contender to places like Iowa and New Hampshire and South Carolina, and he had a good night. Now, in terms of Romney choosing him as a VP, he was the one guy who took a real shot at Romney last night. And that was on the issue of abortion. He was asked about Romney's past support of abortion rights.
PAGEOf course, his flip-flop was a big issue the last time around when Romney ran for president. And Santorum said that that was really a fair question, the authenticity of a candidate. Will they push an issue like that to the back burner when they're elected if they don't really believe in it? I thought that was the toughest line used against Romney in the whole evening.
REHMAll right. To Cleveland, Ohio. Good morning, Bob.
BOBGood morning. What really upsets me is the way the media lets the GOP candidates get away with their adoration of people serving in the military. I thought Michele Bachmann was going to drop to her knees and worship them (unintelligible) in the Navy. And yet, on the other side, when it comes to taking care of veterans -- and this is what infuriates me about the media.
BOBThey should've ask the candidates, well, how come the deplorable conditions at Walter Reed were allowed to exist under George Bush's, you know, service as president? Why were veterans being turned away with post-traumatic stress disorder from the VA because it was underfunded? You know, why are so many veterans of the Iraq and Afghanistan war homeless? A couple of months ago, "USA Today" reported nearly 70 percent of veterans were -- of the homeless were veterans.
BOBI mean, it seems like the Republicans, they use veterans or they use people in the military to make it look like they're for a strong defense. But on the other side -- and it was George Bush and the Republican Congress...
BOB...who were against the new GI bill.
REHMAll right. I'm going to stop you right there. Ron Elving.
ELVINGThis is a long-standing critique of the Republicans and their very aggressive foreign policy stand, certainly throughout the last decade. There was a contrast between the treatment of people who are on active service who recently returned and the treatment of some who had come back and who were, in some sense or another, increasingly becoming a burden upon society.
ELVINGThen, suddenly, they became people who were, you know, in that other category of people who were a drain on resources for the public sector and that maybe in some cases were becoming an entitlement, which is, of course, something of a bad word in the Republican Party and in the conservative discussion and therefore not quite so much revered, not quite so much lifted up in these kinds of honorific ways. There is a contradiction there, and it's been brought up before.
HAYESNo, I disagree with that. I mean, I think there are -- there have certainly been problems in the bureaucracies, whether it's at the VA, whether it's at Walter Reed. But to use that, to suggest that Republicans generally don't care enough about veterans, I think, is just not true. I mean, it's hard for me to recall ever meeting a Republican officeholder who, or not, who has not held -- was not sincere in his or her belief about taking care of veterans.
HAYESNow, when these things have been brought to light, they've been taken care of. And they should've probably been more aggressively pursued at the time. But, I think, you've had Republicans go out of their way on many different occasions, not just by passing a bill, but by doing things on their own to help to reach out to veterans, to help wounded warriors.
TOMASKYI'd like to shift a little bit and talk about something that I think is related and return to the foreign policy discussion last night. This wasn't the Republican Party of George Bush, Dick Cheney, Rumsfeld, Wolfowitz. This was really a different Republican Party. There was Ron Paul, whom we haven't mentioned, with his isolationist streak. Aside from that, I was very struck by the conversation about Libya when all of them were basically against it, against what the administration is doing.
TOMASKYAnd, you know, they had their particular points. You know, somebody made fun of France. But it's very surprising that the Republican Party, given the posture that it had on this kind of intervention over the past decade, is now apparently completely against this sort of thing. I have a feeling they're just completely against it because it's Barack Obama doing it. If it were President McCain doing it, they'd be gung ho for it.
ELVINGDid the name Muammar Qaddafi come up during the debate or was it just what's going on in Libya? There was a lot of talk about who the rebels might be and maybe they might be al-Qaida or al-Qaida related, and that's a legitimate point. But I don't remember any of the candidates saying, well, you remember what's going on here. They're trying to throw off the tyranny of Muammar Qaddafi. I don't think that ever came up.
REHMAll right. To Charlottesville, Va. Good morning, James.
JAMESGood morning. I just wanted to add one comment that's from last night's discussions there and that was that it seems that the central policy of the Republicans, all of them, is tax cuts are the answer to everything. It's -- that's the panacea for the world. But, yet David Stockman, who was Ronald Reagan's director of the OMB, himself said that these ideological tax cutters of the Reagan administration were a significant cause for the great increase in the national debt.
JAMESSo why do they keep sticking to the same plan? And Bush promised no tax cuts, oh, for the wealthy. Oh, they create jobs. And five years later, we go over Niagara Falls, and we don't even have a barrel. So how do the tax cuts really pay off? That's my question.
PAGEYou know, this is going to be -- James has identified what will be, I think, the fundamental debate going forward in this election. And that is, how do you pursue this economy? And the Republican candidates have pursued a pretty consistent and very classic conservative plan, which is cut taxes, cut regulation, get the government out of the way, rely on the private sector to be the engine of growth.
PAGEAnd James is quite right that that prescription didn't work exactly as planned in the Bush administration. But that is the plan that Republicans are united behind, in contrast to a different approach that President Obama has pursued. That's going to be the referendum of this election.
HAYESWell, I think it's not exactly accurate to draw a straight line from the Bush tax cuts to the economic collapse in 2008. But setting that aside, I think you're likely to hear a lot of discussion about tax cuts and more -- especially tax reform. You've had President Obama, at least rhetorically, endorse tax reform. Now, we haven't seen much in the way of his specifics, but he says he's open to tax reform.
HAYESAnd, certainly, you're going to hear from Republicans about tax reform, whether it's, you know, a move to a consumption tax, whether it's a kind of two-tiered tax system that Tim Pawlenty laid out, where -- with the top marginal rate at 25 percent and the second rate at 10 percent and eliminating capital gains and dividends tax.
REHMBut do you think this is going to happen before the election?
HAYESI don't think that's -- I don't think we're going to see those cuts.
HAYESBut I think that that will certainly be a major part of the debate because both parties and the leaders of both parties have indicated that they want to have that debate.
REHMOkay. I want to go back for a moment to foreign policy, Michael, because I wonder about support for bringing the troops from Afghanistan home.
TOMASKYThe only people I heard talk about that last night at any length were Ron Paul and Mitt Romney. And Paul said, I'd be the commander in chief. I'm not going to sit around this with my generals. I'm going to tell my generals what to do, and that is going to be, bring them home -- a predictable Paul position. It got a fair amount of applause. I don't think that would be a majority position in the Republican Party. I don't think.
TOMASKYThen Romney, basically, to my ear, endorsed what Obama is doing. I'm going to listen to my generals, or we're going to have a phase withdrawal over the next couple of years.
PAGEYou know, my collective thought -- I heard something a little different from Mitt Romney than we've heard before, where he said, we can't win independence for Afghanis. They have to win independence for themselves. And in that, I think, we're hearing increasingly from the Republican candidates concern about the Afghanistan war support for a faster pull out.
PAGEWe've also heard that from Jon Huntsman, who, of course, was not on stage last night. But this week, he also talked about -- appealing that the war in Afghanistan has gone on long enough. It's time to bring the U.S. troops home. That's different from what Republicans traditionally have said.
REHMAnd then Newt Gingrich said something about the National Guard and its use.
ELVINGWell, Newt Gingrich, you know, was able to be himself on that stage last night for two hours. And while he certainly didn't dominate the event, he survived the event. And the extraordinary thing is that, you know, half the candidates in these things are -- they're really there to enhance their brand and their speaking fees, and they know they're never going to be on the ticket.
ELVINGThey would absolutely be going to heaven if they thought they could be the running mate. And that's usually true about half of these fields. But in Newt Gingrich's case, he had started in the upper half. Now, he slid into the lower half. And the fact that he got through the whole evening being able to talk about policy and not about his entire staff quitting, I thought, was a bit of a victory.
REHMRon Elving of NPR, and you're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." What about Herman Cain? He talked about why he'd be reluctant to appoint a Muslim to his administration. Susan, was that actually a debate question?
PAGEWell, you know, in an interview he did the other day, he said he wouldn't be comfortable appointing Muslims to his administration. And so he got called on that last night, and I thought did not have a very satisfactory answer and response, saying he really meant that -- he didn't mean loyal Muslims. He meant Muslims who were trying to kill us. And then that we had this rather odd debate about whether you could tell in an interview whether somebody was going to be loyal to the United States or not.
PAGEI thought it displayed his lack of political background. He hasn't held office before. He did run for the Senate nomination in Georgia a couple of years ago. But I thought it was an answer and an issue that is going to dog him. He needs to have a more compelling response to that question that doesn't sound like he's discriminating against Muslims if he's going to be taken seriously.
TOMASKYYeah, experienced politicians have a governor in their brain, a little switch that tells them what to say and what not to say before the words actually come out of their mouths. And they know the effect of the words that they're about to speak. Experienced politicians are good at that. Herman Cain, obviously, is not one of those.
REHMAnd, finally, to Saline, Mich. Good morning, Kerry. You're on the air.
KERRYHi. I have a two-part question. My first question is, what kind of evidence, in your opinion, did the candidates offer? What are their opinions? Or do you feel like they were slanted more in an ideological van? And my second question is, what kind of expectations do you think the American public has for the candidates going to the next presidential election around providing evidence, providing statistics and reports from economists? I mean, it's so complicated, extremely complicated.
REHMSure is. Steve Hayes, what kind of evidence did you hear offered last night?
HAYESWell, I think, you know, as we alluded to earlier, you know, Michele Bachmann talked about the Congressional Budget Office report to support her contentions on health care and how it relates to jobs. Interestingly, if you talk to strategists, they will tell the candidates, offer a piece of evidence here and there if you can. But if you offer too much, you're going to be down in the weeds so much so that people will tune out and just stop paying attention to you.
HAYESSo I think that you'll hear some of that. You'll hear some more of that. And people, I think, Republicans especially, will be glad to support evidence that cites the ideological arguments they're making. I mean, they'd be happy to talk about the 9.1 unemployment rate and the fact that the Obama administration had predicted 8 percent at the tops.
HAYESSo I think you'll hear more of that. But don't expect to hear, you know, these debates layered with lots of claims from the economists.
TOMASKYThe Congressional Budget Office did not actually say that the Obama health care bill would kill 800,000 jobs. It said something very different. I'm not going to go into it because it's a couple minutes before 11:00, and it would take a lot of time. I'll just say this The Washington Post looked at this issue a little while ago.
TOMASKYThey do this rating, which you're all familiar with -- maybe some listeners are -- where something is either the truth or is one or two or three or four Pinocchios. And they gave that claim three Pinocchios, pretty big lie.
REHMMichael Tomasky, he is with Newsweek and The Daily Beast, Ron Elving of NPR, Steve Hayes, Weekly Standard and Fox News, Susan Page, Washington bureau chief for USA Today. More "debates" to come. I'll hope to have you all back again. Thanks for listening. I'm Diane Rehm.
ANNOUNCER"The Diane Rehm Show" is produced by Sandra Pinkard, Nancy Robertson, Susan Nabors, Denise Couture and Monique Nazareth. The engineer is Tobey Schreiner. Dorie Anisman answers the phones. Visit drshow.org for audio archives, transcripts, podcasts and CD sales. Call 202-885-1200 for more information.
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