The evening begins with a good choral rendition of the National Anthem. This is a much better performance than some of the others I have heard when watching these events. Blitz introduces himself.
Santorum introduces himself and notes that his mother, 93, is attending the debate. Gingrich gives a shout-out to Jacksonville’s naval connections. Paul starts off with a nod to sound money and a foreign policy of “strength” that rejects being the policeman of the world.
The questions start with immigration. Santorum agrees with enforcement of immigration laws, and sides with Romney on the “self-deportation” question. He endorses border security, employer enforcement, and deportation, and then insists on the importance of legal immigration.
Blitz challenges Gingrich on his “Obama-level fantasy” comment. As usual, Gingrich wants a guest worker program run by credit card companies. He says that grandparents aren’t going to self-deport. Then again, that isn’t what most people mean by attrition through enforcement. Paul chips in with his now-standard line about re-directing resources from the Af-Pak border to U.S. borders.
Gingrich imagines a scenario of dragging old women from church altars as they seek sanctuary. But fortunately he’s “realistic”! He reiterates the “anti-immigrant” crack. Romney gets annoyed and invokes Rubio’s criticism. The crowd cheers. Gingrich asks Romney how he would describe harassing grandmothers. Romney is easily getting the best of this exchange. “Our problem is not 11 million grandmothers.” The crowd cheers again. Gingrich may want the crowds to keep quiet at this debate.
Romney and Gingrich don’t disagree about the importance of English. The next question comes in from Miami. The questioner must be a Santorum plant. She asks what they will do to counter the influence of China and Iran in Latin America. Ron Paul promotes free trade as the way to relate to Latin America. Paul doesn’t want to dictate what Latin American states can do or how they govern themselves. Paul endorses friendship and trade with Cuba.
Who would have guessed that Santorum disagrees? The required shout-out to Honduras follows. Santorum says that Obama sided against “the people of Honduras,” which is an oversimplification. He says that Obama sided with Chavez and Castro, which is deeply misleading. Santorum inevitably invokes the threat of Iran and Venezuela. Paul objects that “standing up” for other countries involves intervention and meddling, which is often the case.
Santorum isn’t having it. He wants economic and security relationships with the rest of Latin America. He thinks Latin America has been moving away from the U.S. because we “ignored” them, which tells me that he doesn’t understand why left-populists have done so well in the region in the last decade.
Now we’re back to the influence-peddling/Fannie Mae/Freddie Mac issue. Gingrich is shocked and amazed that Romney has owned Fannie Mae stock. Gingrich can’t possibly think that this is comparable to the work he was doing. This was a pretty weak response from Gingrich, and Romney is pointing this out at length. Paul gets in his easy money answer.
Santorum denounces the pettiness of the Gingrich-Romney feud. He makes a bid to be the high-minded, issues-oriented candidate.
Now Blitz asks about tax returns. Gingrich rejects it as a nonsense question. Gingrich tries to dismiss the “world of Swiss bank accounts” remark as something he would say in an interview but not at a debate. Romney then explains why some of his money has ended up in a Swiss account. Gingrich is on the verge of committing a Pawlenty-style political blunder. Gingrich whines that Romney applies a double standard.
Gingrich says he wants to shrink the government, which must be why he has consistently supported expanding the size of government for most of his career. Paul brings in repealing the 16th Amendment and getting rid of the welfare/warfare state. He pivots to a sound money appeal directed at the middle class. Paul makes a joke about age discrimination when asked about his medical record.
Our first NASA question! Romney is not interested in a permanent lunar colony. He does his best to pander to the space coast, but he can’t bring himself to make any specific pledges.
Gingrich complains about the inefficiency of NASA. He wants to create prizes for moon flights. Santorum stops halfway into his space program pander to remember that it is a massive waste of money. Paul doesn’t have any interest in going to the moon. Space technology is valuable for national defense purposes, but not “just for the fun of it.”
Gingrich’s wacky lunar statehood comment gets its own question. He invokes JFK’s pledge to put a man on the moon. His program would be 90% in the private sector. Six and seven launches a day! Gingrich is against national decline. Romney points out that private business would never go for these crackpot notions. Romney is running rings around him tonight. Romney: just say no to useless spending.
Gingrich pats himself on the back for his local issue knowledge. That doesn’t really address Romney’s complaint about his free-spending promises. Santorum hits Obama for ignoring fiscal problems in SOTU, and objects to new spending proposals.
Santorum goes after Romney for the similarities of Masscare and the ACA, and hits Gingrich for his support of the individual mandate. These are the most substantive criticisms of the night. He seems to have forgotten that he has no chance of winning the nomination.
Romney: don’t blame it all on me! There were a lot of other people in Massachusetts you can blame. Oh, and I’ll repeal the federal law. Santorum won’t let go: the health care issue is about “fundamental freedom.” Romney is reverting to his most annoying smarmy voice as he answers. Yes, Rick, there is a mandate in Massachusetts. Yes, the system in Massachusetts is failing. Of course, Santorum is effectively making the argument for a stronger mandate/higher fine. This debate exchange is being cut into a DNC ad as we speak.
Next question: which Hispanic leaders would the candidates choose for their cabinet? Santorum names Rubio. Gingrich name-drops Martinez and Ros-Lehtinen, and hints at Rubio as VP. Romney rattles off lots of names, including all of his Cuban-American endorsers. Paul wants his appointees to share his views, and he appeals to Hispanic antiwar sentiment.
Rod asks, “How in the world does Ron Paul know that Hispanics are less inclined to war than other people?” It’s not that weird of a statement. Surveys of opinion about the U.S. “minding its own business” have found that non-white minorities are far more likely to favor “minding our own business” than whites. Polling on the Iraq war would also confirm what Paul is saying. Unfortunately for Paul, most of the people he’s appealing to probably aren’t registered Republicans.
Now the Reagan round begins. Romney is doing his best to dodge the question about his lack of Reaganite qualifications. “I became more conservative, by the way, as I was governor.” That’s an understatement. Romney completely backed off from the Gingrich/Reagan attack. Gingrich is “vastly closer” to Reagan. Vastly. Romney trots out his usual lame justification for his Tsongas vote.
Santorum is dedicated to a bankrupt Cuba policy. The U.S. should “stand on the side” of the Cuban people by cutting them off from the largest market in the Western Hemisphere. Santorum: Obama is rewarding the “cancer” in Latin America! He’s completely delusional.
What would Paul say to Raul? “Why are you calling?” More seriously, he would want to know how to improve relations. The embargo hurts the population. “The Cold War is over. They’re not going to invade us.” Paul is making fun of Santorum’s hysteria in a very genial way right now.
Romney thinks Obama has “ignored” Latin America. Romney wants to keep pointless sanctions on Cuba (but no invasion!). Gingrich: why not imagine a Cuban spring?
A pointed question about Palestine from a Palestinian-American Republican (!). “We do exist.” Romney falls back on the usual talking points. Reflexive support for Israel is his entire policy: “not an inch of difference.” I don’t think the questioner is going to vote for Romney. Gingrich throws in his embassy-to-Jerusalem pander.
A Puerto Rico question? Okay. The questioner points out that the Puerto Rican governor was snubbed during the ethnic pandering section of the debate. Santorum makes up for the omission. On the question of statehood, Santorum seems to be avoiding an answer. He says he believes in self-determination, but doesn’t favor any position.
Influence of religious beliefs on decision-making? Paul demurs, and invokes the oath of office. Romney resorts to vague Declaration of Independence theism and universalism. Is Gingrich counting himself among the “mere mortals”? Santorum repeats his Declarationist argument.
Paul makes his closing statement. He emphasizes peace and civil liberties. Romney: dramatic, fundamental, extraordinary change in Washington! Gingrich wants some of his adjectives back. Romney pretends that he is an outsider. Gingrich now associates himself with 1994 and 1980. He wants to “unleash the American people.” Are the American people dogs? He managed to sneak an Alinsky reference in at the end, just when you thought he could go through an entire debate without mentioning him. Santorum: I’m not a sell-out like those guys! His main pitch: my industrial policy is better than Obama’s industrial policy.
Romney held off Gingrich, and Gingrich was flailing most of the night. Unless something strange happens in the next few days, Romney should hold his lead in Florida. Santorum may have gained a little, but nowhere near enough to challenge for second place. Paul did a decent job tonight, but Florida is not a good state for him and he’s already looking to the caucus events in February.