Reactions to the Fox News-South Carolina Debate

Last night, the five remaining Republican candidates met for a debate in South Carolina.  It was good to see the candidates play a home game for a change, debating on Fox News.  If it was up to me, of course, Fox would get basically all the debates rather than subjecting ourselves to the gotcha game from the Drive-By Media.  (Then again, we did have Juan Williams playing the gotcha game.)  The format was different also because we’re down to five candidates, as opposed to the nine we had on the stage at one point.  The fewer candidates allowed for longer responses by candidates so we could get a better view of each candidate.
One final note:  In the interest of full disclosure, I’d like to remind everyone that, as the editor of Biblical Conservatism, I have endorsed Newt Gingrich. 
So let’s play a round of everyone’s favorite debate analysis game, Buy, Hold, Sell or Sell All.  As always, my reaction to the candidate's LAST debate performance (or in this case performances, from the two back to back New Hampshire Debates last week) are in italics above.
Newt Gingrich – Buy (Hold):   
It’s been a tough few weeks for Newt.  He lost his frontrunner status in the polls and finished a disappointing fourth place in the Iowa Caucuses.  He made a mistake in trying to stay positive instead of responding to Mitt Romney’s attack machine. 

Saturday:  Newt did a good job of going after the attacks on him.  He took it to Ron Paul early on his attacks and I feel he did a fine job of refuting those attacks.  Newt is great in debates.  Unfortunately for Newt, this debate spread out the speech time oddly (why in Heaven’s name did Jon Huntsman get more time than Gingrich, based on their poll numbers, for example).  Yet I do believe he is going to rebound because of these debates. 

Newt stated my personal view on marriage fairly well by saying that we can create another vehicle for homosexual couples to join in some sort of legal union without attempting to forcibly change the definition of marriage to shoehorn in couples that do not fit that definition.  I also cheered when Newt slammed the Drive-By Media for their double standard against Christians and the bigotry against people of faith.

Newt also nailed it on the issue of Iraq and Iran, specifically by saying get rid the Iranian influence and Iraq will be fine.

Sunday: Newt did what he really needed to do by going after Romney and his other competitors.  I felt like he didn’t get his fair share of time from the moderators (big shock coming from NBC), especially given the amount of time they gave Jon Huntsman even though Huntsman has a fraction of Newt’s support nationally. When he did talk, he showed the sort of fight that I believe will cause Newt to rebound.  I hope he does, because I still believe Newt has the strength and the conservative record to be able to install a true, Reagan conservative who will pass a flat tax, a Balanced Budget Amendment and truly make this nation a country that is the Shining City on a Hill. 

Newt started off talking about why he was going on the attack against Mittens.  He did just an ok job at first explaining why he was making those attacks.  I didn’t like that Newt at first seemed like he was admitting to playing spoiler and not trying to win the nomination.
And then Newt turned back into Newt.  When he said regarding the length one can receive unemployment benefits, Newt said (accurately) that 99 weeks is an associate degree.  I also loved when Newt explained conservatism thusly: “Saying to someone I’ll help you IF you’re willing to help yourself is good, and we think unconditional efforts by the best Food Stamp President in American history to maximize dependency is terrible for the future of this country.”  Bingo.  That’s the Newt Gingrich I endorsed!  Conservatism is not about telling people they can starve, but it’s also not about just giving people benefits forever.  Welfare and unemployment are meant to be an insurance…a just in case situation. 
I have car insurance.  I pay my premiums hoping that I’ll never have to use it again.  I’ve had to use that insurance a few years ago when I was in a bad accident, including receiving short-term disability coverage when I was out of work.  (This insurance was private insurance that I paid for, not government insurance, by the way.)  However, as soon as I was able I went looking for a new job because I was physically unable to perform the job I had at the time.  I went to work as soon as I could.  I didn’t milk it for every penny so I could not work.
Another place where Newt nailed it was this: “I’d like to see us reduce government to meet the revenue and not raise revenue to meet the government.  He also had a great point to Juan Williams’ attack on Speaker Gingrich’s point on letting kids work to help clean their schools.  His story that his daughter worked cleaning their church at 13 and was pleased to do that job and learn that when you work you get paid.  It’s a great point. 
When I was younger I was taught that work pays.  As I child I created a few “businesses” making crafts and things which I sold and even enlisted neighborhood kids to help me sell those items, splitting the sale with them. Many times my father gave me the opportunity to work for a few hours with him at his office sorting papers and other odd jobs in exchange for some money.  My mother once paid me to clean the living room carpet rather than paying a professional.  I was a babysitter for a while as well.  When I was 14 my father gave me a job for 5 hours per week doing data entry for his company.  When I was 16 I got a part-time job and have worked ever since. 
Jobs are good for kids.  They have to be responsibly regulated.  When we talk about kids doing janitorial work at their school, that should mean things like sweeping and mopping, not doing maintenance on the boiler.  But it’s a good policy.
Best Newt moment of the night: “I know among the politically correct you’re not supposed to use facts that are uncomfortable,” to Juan Williams.
This debate was exactly what I meant when I said that the debates could give Speaker Gingrich a boost.  Let’s see if it pans out, but I do believe you could see Newt win South Carolina and reinvigorate his campaign, especially if he has this strong of a debate on Thursday night.
When asked what the highest tax rate people should be asked to pay Newt said: A 15% Flat Tax.*
Ron Paul - Sold (Sold):         
Paul finished third in Iowa, which, as I said last week, is a disappointment for him.  Caucuses will be Paul’s best bet, and if the best he can do is third in a Caucus state he’s simply not going to win the nomination.  His beliefs on foreign policy I believe have lost him any chance, which is too bad because his economic policies are perfect.
Saturday:  Congressman Paul did a lot of sputtering and rambling.  I respect the Congressman but in many places he was scatterbrained.  More importantly, the Congressman’s foreign policy mentality is simply out of line with the conservative base of the Republican Party and that will stop him from being the nominee.  In addition, I would like to make a note about something Congressman Paul has continued to say:  the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq were “undeclared” only in technicality.  Both wars were undertook with legal resolutions from Congress.  Whether or not the official document was a “declaration of war” in the most technical facets it is false to say that Congress was denied their proper role in going to war. 
Sunday:  Paul didn’t do as much sputtering but he didn’t come across as positive and someone who can succeed.  As Senator Santorum stated, Congressman Paul has minimal record of actually passing major legislation in his career.  I simply don’t expect Congressman Paul to do better than third or maybe squeak a second place finish or two in one or two states, which means he’s not going to be the nominee.  He’s got his supporters but the rest of us remain wary of him, and even more wary than mainline conservatives are of Mittens…which is saying something. 
Let’s be honest with ourselves as to why Congressman Paul is in this race. He wants to get his policies onto the eventual Republican platform.  Provided he realizes that his foreign policy doesn’t have a snowball’s chance in July of being part of the GOP platform, I would LOVE to have Congressman Paul’s policies in our ticket.  I want Ron Paul’s economic policies to become part of the platform.  Make no mistake about it: The Tea Party has pushed the GOP to the right, and people like Ron Paul deserve a share of the credit for that.
In the debate, however, Ron Paul did his usual out of touch with the GOP foreign policy statements.  Again, this is why he won’t be the nominee.  The audience booed him in many places, then others cheered his desire to end wars.  It’s a great example of the Ron Paul phenomenon: 75% of the room boo his foreign policies, 25% cheer.
When asked what the highest tax rate people should be asked to pay Congressman Paul said: We should have the lowest tax we’ve ever had and up until 1913 it was 0%, what’s so bad about that? (Note: This would require reinstituting widespread tariffs, but hey, sounds good to me!)
Rick Perry – Hold (Sell All):             
Perry finished a disappointing fifth in Iowa.  I expect him to stay in the race for a bit because he’s got the money to do it, but barring a miracle I don’t think he’s got a shot. 
Saturday:  The moments when Perry spoke were strong, but he’s off the radar.  I believe he’s got a better chance to be the Republican Presidential nominee NEXT TIME.  Note – NEXT TIME (which by the way will be 2020, because I am very sure we will win the Presidency in 2012).  He said great things but, unless he does very well in South Carolina I don’t think he’s going anywhere. 
Sunday:  Perry showed glimmers of why he just might make a splash in South Carolina and get back into things.  I still don’t think there’s quite enough time but maybe.  And again I do think there’s a good possibility for Perry to be a great candidate in 2020 if he still wants it.  There’s also a possibility that come 2020 Perry’s chance will be gone because the great up and comers like Marco Rubio, Bobby Jindal, Chris Christie and Nicky Haley will be ready to step onto the nation stage.
Perry had a strong debate.  Judging by the reactions he received last night, I can see a chance for Rick Perry to forge a comeback.  It’ll be hard, don’t get me wrong.  But Perry really effectively communicated conservatism last night.  I wish Perry had gotten this strong back in August when he got into the race, because I do believe he was one of if not the most conservative candidate in the race. 
I’m rating Perry as Hold for now for one reason:  South Carolina is a home game for Perry, and in a home game occasionally you get a surprising upset.

When asked what the highest tax rate people should be asked to pay Perry said: A 20% Flat Tax*

Mitt Romney– Buy (Buy):     
Mittens would be a Dwight Eisenhower type President.  He’s a nice guy, he’d be steady and solid and he’d be fairly conservative, but right now we have an opportunity to be better than that.  We can get absolute conservatism, we need to take that opportunity to nominate someone who can fire up the electorate about conservatism, and I don’t think Mitt’s the one to do it.  He’ll win if he’s the nominee (as will Gingrich, as will Bachmann, as will Foghorn Leghorn (R) if they face Obama).  However, I don’t think Romney will be the transformational conservative, like Ronald Reagan.  He’ll be a good nominee, we can have a great nominee.
Saturday: Mitt won the Iowa Caucuses, barely, when he was previously expected to not do well at all.  There’s a lot of consolidation of the Republican vote behind him because we’ve begun to believe the line that Mitt has the best chance to beat Obama.  As I’ve said before, Foghorn Leghorn (R) will beat Barack Obama.  The big test for Mitt is can he get above 30% of the vote. 
On Saturday, Mitt was calm, comfortable in his skin and, dare I say it, Presidential.  That is his strong suit.  Mitt doesn’t have a lot of charisma.  What he does have his a steady, confident leader quality.  I recently made the comparison between Romney and Dwight Eisenhower.  Mitt reminds me of speeches I’ve seen and heard from Ike in the 1950s and what I know about the Eisenhower Administration.  Here’s where I continue to be unsure of Romney:  A guy like Mitt might be the perfect President in a booming economy like the 50s…a nice guy who will be a gentle leader in good times.  We aren’t in good times right now. 
Mitt channeled Newt Gingrich when responding to Snuffleupagus on the whole birth control issue.  It was a stupid question and I was thrilled to see Mitt to tell him to shut up on it.  On marriage, Mitt said something that made me cheer regarding homosexual couples forming long term relationships: “It doesn’t mean you have to call it ‘marriage.’ ”  On a final note, Mitt got passionate (for him) when he got on the topic of what makes America great. 
Ultimately, Mitt showed me why, if I can’t have my preferred candidate, why I find Mitt at least palatable.  Some of my fellow bloggers and fellow Tea Partiers argue this point.  Some think Mitt is no better than Obama.  Romney is infinitely better than Obama.  We have better choices, but Mitt isn’t the worst.
Sunday:  Mitt was back on his heels.  Newt Gingrich and Rick Santorum especially were hitting him hard early on.  One thing I’ve noticed about Mitt is that he starts to get frustrated in a manner that’s reminiscent of Lou Pinella arguing against a clearly incorrect call from an umpire.  He didn’t kick dirt, but he gets this look of “I can’t believe you’re bringing THAT up” whenever he’s asked about his questionable conservative record.  Where Mitt gets it right is when he continues to hammer the reality that government is not the solution of the problem. 
I want to go on record as saying I do not buy into the attacks on Bain Capital being levied against Mitt and I think they are bad for the country.  I think it was good that Speaker Gingrich retracted and instructed his Super PAC to back down from this attack. 
Mitt was under fire tonight.  He did a pretty decent job responding to the attacks.  I find it interesting that Mitt was absent in a lot of places in the debate.  He was steady and strong, and as I’ve said before I can live with Mitt, but I want better.  I do think Mitt had a weak debate.  I do not believe he scored as many points as he could have.  Mitt was Presidential in the debate.  His best moment was when he talked about the difference between himself and President Obama (and also Ron Paul) in foreign policy.
When asked what the highest tax rate people should be asked to pay Mitt said:  I’d like to get it down to 25%.
Rick Santorum - Buy (Buy):
Saturday:  Senator Santorum, welcome to the club of candidates that I was wrong about.  I’d like to introduce you to our other members: Herman Cain and Newt Gingrich.  I had written him off.  I still don’t know if Santorum’s success will stick, however, because retail politics don’t work nationally and won’t be possible leading up to days like Super Tuesday. 
I have issues with Santorum’s definition of conservatism.  Or, at the least, I believe Santorum is doing a poor job so far of communicating conservatism.  I do agree with him that there are certain things government should be spending on.  These things include provision for a common defense (which includes both military and police) as well as, on the local level, such public works as roads, water mains, etc.  I do not believe Ron Paul is perfectly accurate when he calls Santorum a “big government” guy.  I think the problem is that Santorum has not yet figured out how to communicate that point.  I think Santorum is also incorrect when he says “I’m not a libertarian, I’m a conservative” because it creates a poor definition of conservatism.  As a general rule the places where genuine libertarians and genuine conservatives differ is social issues and not the issues of what things government should do.  We generally agree with the topics government ought to do. 
Now I confess I need to do my homework on Santorum.  I have considered him a candidate without a prayer.  What I genuinely need to know is if Santorum’s issue is failure to communicate conservatism or failure to be conservative.  I will give him huge credit for calling out Romney when he even mentioned “middle class” because I agree with Senator Santorum: the Republican Party is not about class.  We are about people.  All people.
Sunday: Senator Santorum did a good job of handling the gotcha questions against him and also getting after Mittens.  He’s answered well and the Senator seems comfortable in his skin.  He had great moments and really didn’t have bad moments.  He did still seem a little too safe in his answers.  As I said above, I need to do some research into the Santorum plan, and I feel like I owe both you my regular readers and frankly myself a study on the Santorum plan.  So look for a “Here Comes Rick Santorum” post in the coming week and we can discuss that further.
Senator Santorum was steady tonight.  He had a couple good moments, but he was otherwise kind of tepid.  I do love that Senator Santorum stands up for marriage and for strengthening the American family.  His statement from the Brookings Institute Study that people who do 3 things have a 98% chance to avoid poverty: Those things are 1 – Work 2 - Graduate from High School 3 – Get married before you have children.  Aside from the fact that “people who work are less likely to be in poverty” is a DUH statement, it’s a great point.  The traditional path for life is one that leads people to be functioning, self-sufficient members of society. 
I’m coming back to my belief that Santorum is more likely to be Vice President than President.  (Again, if the Vice Presidential nominee comes out of the field of candidates, I believe it’ll be either Senator Santorum or Congresswoman Michelle Bachmann).  But I don’t think he gained any points tonight.
When asked what the highest tax rate people should be asked to pay Santorum said: My plan has two rates, 10% and 28% which was the highest rate under Ronald Reagan.
Debate Winners:  Newt Gingrich and Rick Perry
This debate was very interesting.  Mitt Romney was just ok, Santorum was just ok, Ron Paul was his usual crazy self, and Newt and Rick Perry were truly excellent.  I liked that the conservatives rose to the top.  We’ve got another debate on Thursday before the South Carolina primary on Saturday.  One statement though: This race isn’t over, yet.  Mitt Romney is not our nominee, yet.  Newt could still make a run, and if Perry can pull off an upset then he could make a run too.  Game on. 

*Rick Perry’s 20% Flat Tax provides more deductions and a higher standard deduction that Newt Gingrich’s 15% Flat Tax plan, so it actually would mean less taxes for the average American.