The Des Moines ABC/Yahoo GOP Presidential Debate, Part 2

The second question in Saturday night’s ABC News/Yahoo News debate co-sponsored by WOI-TV, The Des Moines Register and Drake University opened the most substantive section of the debate. George Stephanopoulos asked about which candidate was the best combination of consistent conservative and most electable. (The question itself was milquetoast. It’s the answers that were good.) The details in the reponses and the point-by-point rebuttals that followed flew by faster than I could keep up with, so I will combine the notes I made about the flow of the debate with the candidates’ own words, taken from the official debate transcript released by the debate’s sponsors and co-sponsors.

Romney compares himself to President Obama first: Obama wants to transform America into an entitlement society. Romney believes America should be a merit society.
Romney, with prompting from George S, gives a 4-point criticism of Gingrich
We can start with his idea to have a lunar colony that would mine minerals from the from the moon. I’m not in favor of spendin’ that kinda money to do that. He said that he would like to eliminate, in some cases, the child labor laws so that kids could clean schools. I don’t agree with that idea. His plan in capital gains, to remove capital gains for people at the very highest level of income is different than mine. I’d eliminate capital gains, interest, and dividends for people in middle income. So we have differences of viewpoint on some issues. But the real difference, I believe, is our backgrounds. I spent my life in the private sector.
George S asks Gingrich for a response. Gingrich asks if he gets to respond to all 4 points. George says yes, but doesn’t really look happy about it.
Here’s the highlights from Gingrich in the transcript (he wasn’t quite as concise as Romney)…
Okay. Let’s start with the last one. Let’s be candid. The only reason you didn’t become a career politician is you lost to Teddy Kennedy in 1994…
Now number two, I’m proud of trying to find things that give young people a reason to study science and math and technology and telling them that some day in their lifetime, they could dream of going to the moon, they could dream of going to Mars. I grew up in a generation where the space program was real, where it was important, and where frankly it is tragic that NASA has been so bureaucratized….And I’m happy to defend the idea that America should be in space and should be there in an aggressive, entrepreneurial way. Third, as to schools, I think virtually every person up here worked at a young age. What I suggested was, kids oughta be allowed to work part-time in school, particularly in the poorest neighborhoods, both because they could use the money….I’ll stand by the idea, young people oughta learn how to work. Middle class kids do it routinely. We should give poor kids the same chance to pursue happiness. Finally on capital gains taxes…[a] $200,000 cap on or capital gains tax cut is lower than Obama….I’ll stick with zero capital gains will create vastly more jobs than your proposal.
Stephanopoulos asks Paul about the negative TV ad he’s been running against Gingrich.
Paul answers…
Well, he’s been on different positions on so many issues. Single payer: he’s taken some positions that are not conservative. He supported the TARP funds. And…he received a lot of money from Freddie Mac. Now, Freddie Mac is essentially a government organization…[Newt is] a spokesman for ’em and you received money for ’em, so I think this is something that the people oughta know about
But, you know, if you were lookin’ for a consistent position, I think there’s gonna be a little bit of trouble anybody competing with me on consistency.
Gingrich gets to respond…
Well, first of all, as you say…normally in your own speeches, the housing bubble came from the Federal Reserve inflating the money supply. Now, that’s the core of the housing bubble and I happen to be with you on auditing the Fed…and frankly on firing Bernanke. Second, I was never a spokesman for any agency, I never did any lobbying for any agency. I offered strategic advice. I was in the private sector. And I was doing things (LAUGHTER) in the private sector.
(What the transcript doesn’t show is that Gingrich basically pointed to Romney on that last “private sector” point).
Stephanopoulos tells Bachmann it’s her turn to take a shot at Gingrich. Will we hear “frugal socialist”?
No, Bachmann widens the question, to criticize “Newt Romney”…
When you look at Newt Gingrich, for 20 years, he’s been advocating for the individual mandate in healthcare. That’s longer than Barack Obama. Or if you look at Mitt Romney as the governor of Massachusetts, he’s the only governor that put into place socialized medicine. No other governor did. Our nominee has to stand on a stage and debate Barack Obama and be completely different. I led 40,000 Americans to Washington D.C., to the Capitol, to fight ObamaCare. I didn’t advocate for it. If you look at Newt/Romney, they were for ObamaCare principles. If you look at Newt/Romney, they were for cap and trade. If you look at Newt/Romney, they were for the illegal immigration problem. And if you look at Newt/Romney, they were for the $700 billion bailout. And you just heard Newt/Romney is also with Obama on the issue of the payroll extension.
So if you want a difference, Michele Bachmann is the proven conservative. It’s not Newt/Romney.
I think the rules of the debate are that if canidate X mentions candidate Y’s name, candidate Y automatically gets time to respond. Ultimately, this format seems to make Diane Sawyer very unhappy.
Gingrich gets to respond first…
A lot of what you say just isn’t true, period. I have never…I oppose cap and trade, I testified against it, the same day that Al Gore testified for it. I helped defeat it in the Senate through American solutions…I fought against ObamaCare at every step of the way…the Center for Health Transformation was actively opposed, we actively campaigned against it…
And most of the money I made, frankly, I made in ways that are totally– had nothing to do with anything you’ve described. I did no lobbying, no representation. And frankly, my speech money and other things I did, they had nothing to do with that…
Romney responded next…
Newt Gingrich is a friend of mine. But, he and I are not clones, I promise. (Note: Between the camera angles, and the way Romney delivered the line, this was a pretty funny physical comedy moment)
Let me say this about health care. One, I didn’t send a team of anybody to meet with Barack Obama. I wish he’d have given me a call. I wish when he was putting together his health care plan, he’d have had the courtesy and perhaps the judgment to say, “Let me talk to a governor. Let’s talk to somebody who’s dealt with a real problem that understands this topic,” and get on the phone. I’d have said, “Mr. President, you’re going down a very, very bad path. Do not continue going down that path because what you’re gonna do is you’re gonna raise taxes on the American people. You’re gonna cut Medicare…And finally, the plan we put in place in Massachusetts, it deals with the 8% of our people who didn’t have insurance. The 92% of people who did have insurance, nothing changes for them. If I’m President of the United States, we’re gonna get rid of ObamaCare and return, under our constitution, the 10th Amendment, the responsibility and care of health care to the people in the states.
George S asks Perry an amorphous, “it’s your turn” question. Perry answers…
Both of these gentlemen have been for the individual mandate. And I’m even more stunned, Mitt, that you said you wished you could’ve talked to Obama and said “You’re goin’ down the wrong path,” because that is exactly the path that you’ve taken Massachusetts. The Beacon Hill study itself said that there’s been 18,000 jobs lost because of that individual mandate. The study continued to say that there’ve been over $8 billion of additional cost…But the record is very clear. You and Newt were for individual mandates. And that is the problem. And the question is then, “Who can stand on the stage, look Obama in the eye, and say, ‘ObamaCare is an abomination for this country?” And I’m gonna do that. And I can take that fight to him and win that fight.
Romney gets to respond…
A good deal of what you said was right. Some was wrong. Speaker Gingrich said that he was for a federal individual mandate. That’s something I’ve always opposed. What we did in our state was designed by the people in our state for the needs of our state. You believe in the 10th Amendment. I believe in the 10th Amendment. The people of Massachusetts favor our plan three to one. They don’t like it, they can get rid of it. That’s the great thing about a democracy, where individuals under the 10th Amendment have the power to craft their own solutions.
By the way, the problem with President Obama’s plan is it does three things we didn’t in my opinion, among others. I understand we disagree on this. But among others, one, it raises taxes by $500 billion. We didn’t raise taxes. Two, it cuts Medicare by $500 billion. We didn’t do that, either. And three, it doesn’t just deal with the people that don’t have insurance. It’s a 2,000-page bill that takes over health care for all the American people. It is wrong for health care. It’s wrong for the American people. It’s unconstitutional. And I’m absolutely adamantly opposed to ObamaCare. And if I’m the President of the United States, I will return to the people and the states the power they have under the constitution and they can craft the solutions they think are best for them…
You had a mandate in your state. You mandate that girls at 12 years old had to get a vaccination for a sexually-transmitted disease. So it’s not like we have this big difference on mandates. We had different things we mandated over. I wanted to give people health insurance. You want to get young girls a vaccine. There are differences.
Gingrich tries to explain his earlier support for a mandate as being a pragmatic maneuver needed to oppose Hillarycare (he used that word) in the 1990s.
Perry says Romney has re-edited one of books, to downplay his support for the mandate.
Romney bets Perry $10,000 he can’t prove that.
Bachmann reiterates that no one who has supported a mandate in the past will be effective at opposing it in the future.
George S tells Santorum it’s his turn. Fortunately, Santorum remembers the original question, about conservative consistency and electability…
Back in 1994, when I was running for the United States Senate and I did not support an individual mandate and I was a conservative, I supported something called Medical Savings Accounts that I drafted with John Kasich when I was in the House, because I believe in bottom-up solving the problems in America, not top-down government solutions….
You can’t talk about whether someone’s consistent unless you look at their record. And I’d agree with Michele. I mean, I think Michele has been a consistent conservative. But, she’s been fighting and losing. I fought and won. I was in the United States Senate and I fought and passed Welfare Reform. I was the principal author when I was in the United States House and managed the bill on the floor of the United States Senate. I was the leader on pro-life issues and pro-family issues….I went out and fought on national security issues, conservative things like putting sanctions on Iran….You’re not gonna hear them talk about all the positions I took and flip-flopped on. I was there. I led. And I won.
Bachmann gets to respond to Santorum’s mention of her…
I think the important thing to know is that you fight and that you lead….when I was in the United States Congress, we were in the minority. Nancy Pelosi wasn’t interested in my pro-growth policy on health care. But, I didn’t sit on my hands. I saw what was happening to this country. Our country was going to lose because of socialized medicine. And so I did everything I could, including bringing and leading 40,000 people to the Capitol to get the attention of the Congress to get rid of ObamaCare. As President of the United States, my proven consistent record will be that I will take on every special interest. I will take on K Street. And I will pre-lobby. And I’ll make sure that I help elect 13 more Republican U.S. Senators so we have 60 senators in the Senate, a full complement in the House. And I won’t rest until we repeal ObamaCare. You can take it to the bank.
That’ pretty much ended the unplanned but informative round-robin phase of the evening.

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