The eight Republican presidential candidates who took the stage on Thursday night all agreed that taxes should not be raised and Barack Obama should not be president. The event, sponsored by Fox News, The Washington Examiner and the Iowa Republican Party was held at Stephens Auditorium on the campus of Iowa State University in Ames.
Between the typical verbal jousting and disagreements that debates produce, the elevated animosity between Michele Bachmann and Tim Pawlenty was particularly evident. Rick Santorum gouged Ron Paul over Iran’s nuclear threat, and Newt Gingrich chastised the debate moderators for asking too many “gotcha” questions.
Republican candidates also participating in the debate included businessman and former Federal Reserve Chairman Herman Cain, former Utah Governor Jon Huntsman and former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney.
Texas Governor Rick Perry on Thursday announced his intentions to enter the GOP fray and is expected to make an official announcement on Saturday in South Carolina.
One of the issues that arose repeatedly was what type of experience would best serve the next president. Pawlenty and Huntsman cited often their executive experience as state governors. Cain and Romney talked about their experience as businessmen in the private sector. Gingrich, Paul and Santorum mentioned their accomplishments and experience in Congress. And Bachmann said it is most important to have a president “who stands firm on their convictions.”
In his opening statement, Fox News anchor and debate moderator Bret Baier cited a list of challenges facing the country and urged the participates to engage in a civil conversation.
Both Bachmann and Pawlenty pushed the envelope on civility as they went after each other on two separate occasions. Both times, Pawlenty said it was more important to have experience and a proven track record while Bachmann suggested it was more important that the next president stand firm and not negotiate on important issues, taking a direct shot at her fellow Minnesotan.
“It's an indisputable fact that, in Congress, her record of accomplishments and results is nonexistent.” Pawlenty said of Bachmann. “That's not going to be good enough for the president of the United States,” Pawlenty said of Bachmann.
Bachmann accused Pawlenty of being too much like Obama, saying, “You implemented cap and trade in our state and you praised the unconstitutional individual mandate and you called for requiring all people in our state to purchase health insurance that government would mandate. Third, you said the era of small government was over. That sounds a lot more like Barack Obama if you ask me.”
“During my time in the United States Congress I have fought all of these unconstitutional measures as well as Barack Obama and I led the fight against increasing the debt ceiling the last two months,” Bachmann continued.
Pawlenty shot back, saying, “I'm surprised Congresswoman Bachmann would say those things. Moreover, she's got a record of making false statements and that's another example, that list. She said that she's fighting for these things. She fought for less government spending, we got a lot more. She led the effort against Obamacare; we got Obamacare. She led the effort against TARP; we got TARP. She said she's got a titanium spine, it's not her spine we're worried about – it's her record of results. If that's your view of effective leadership with results, please stop because you're killing us.”
Later in the debate, Pawlenty and Bachmann tussled again over a bill that increased taxes on cigarettes in Minnesota. Bachmann voted for the bill as a member of the Minnesota legislature and Pawlenty signed the bill as governor.
In explaining her vote for a bill that increased taxes, Bachmann said that Pawlenty “put in the same bill a vote to increase the cigarette tax as well as a vote to take away protections from the unborn and I made a decision, I believe in the sanctity of human life and I believe you can get money wrong but you can't get life wrong and that's why I came down on that decision I made.”
Bachmann confused the situation because she later clarified that the bill she voted for increased, rather that took away, protections for the unborn. Nonetheless, she accused Pawlenty of not standing firm on his convictions.
“We need to have a president of the United States who stands firm on their convictions, this is what I have demonstrated every day that I have been in Congress, I have a consistent record of standing on my convictions. I didn't cut deals with special interests where you put a pro-life issue together with tax increase issues. That is fundamental. It is non-negotiable. And when we come to non-negotiable we must stand, and I stand,” Bachmann said.
The moderators had given so much time Bachmann and Pawlenty to argue that Santorum decided to call attention to it. As Bachmann asked for more time to answer Pawlenty, the crowd cheered as Santorum said, “Michele, there's some people over here that haven't had a chance to say a whole lot.”
Pawlenty also spared with Romney on the issue of health care. “Obamacare was patterned after Mitt's plan in Massachusetts, … for anyone to say they're not substantial similarities … it's just not credible,” Pawlenty said.
Romney answered by saying that there are some “big differences” between the Massachusetts health care reforms and those passed under President Obama. “And one is, I believe in the 10th Amendment to the Constitution, and that says powers not specifically granted to the federal government are reserved by the states and the people,” Romney said.
Romney said that states have the authority to mandate the purchase of health insurance, but the federal government does not. Bachmann disagreed, saying, “No, government is without authority to compel a citizen to purchase a product or service against their will.”
Paul, on the other hand, agreed with Romney saying that, though he disagrees with an individual mandate, the federal government doesn't have the authority to prevent states from “doing bad things.” States “do have that leeway under our Constitution,” Paul added.
Santorum challenged both Paul and Bachmann on their interpretation of the 10th Amendment.
“This is the 10th Amendment run amuck,” Santorum said, “Michele Bachmann says that she would go in and fight health care being imposed by the states, but she wouldn't go in and fight marriage being imposed by the states. That would be OK. We have Ron Paul saying, whatever the states want to do under the 10th Amendment that's fine, so if states want to pass polygamy that's fine, if the states want to impose sterilization that's fine. We are a nation that was built on a moral enterprise and states don't have the right to tramp over those because of the 10th Amendment.”
Santorum also criticized Paul for not wanting to use economic sanctions against Iran. “As author of the Iran Freedom Support Act, which [Paul] is criticizing, … Iran is a country that has been at war with us since 1979, Iran … has killed more men and women in uniform in Iraq and Afghanistan than the Iraqis and Afghans have; the Iranians are the existential threat to the state of Israel,” Santorum said.
“In 1953, we installed the Shah and the blowback came in 1979 it's been going on and on because we just plain don't mind our own business; that's our problem,” Paul countered.
Gingrich has experienced turmoil in his campaign with many of them quitting. When Chris Wallace, one of the questioners, asked about this, he replied, “I took seriously [moderator] Bret [Bair's] injunction to put aside the talking points, and I wish you would put aside the 'gotcha' questions,” to which the audience applauded.
“I would love to see the rest of tonight's debate asking us about what we would do to lead America, whose president has failed to lead, instead of playing Mickey Mouse games,” Gingrich added.
After one of the more surprising questions of the evening was introduced, the audience seemed a little shocked and booed when Byron York asked Bachmann, “As president, would you be submissive to your husband?”
“Thank you for that question Byron,” Bachmann said with a smile. “Marcus and I will be married for 33 years this September 10. I'm in love with him, I'm proud of him. He and I, what submission means to us, if that's what your question is, it means respect. I respect my husband. He's a wonderful, godly man, and a great father. He respects me as his wife. That's how we operate our marriage. We respect each other. We love each other.”
On gay marriage, Romney said that the issue should be decided at the federal level.
“The reason is people move from state to state, they have children, they go to different states, one state recognizes the marriage, the other does not, what is the right of that child? What kind of divorce proceeding potentially would there be in a state that did not recognize the marriage in the first place? Marriage is a status. It is not an activity that goes on within the walls of the state, and as a result, marriage status relationships should be consonant across the country. I believe we should have a federal marriage amendment to the Constitution that defines marriage as between a man and a woman because I believe the ideal place to raise a child is in a home with a mom and a dad.”
Huntsman, on the other hand, explained his support for civil unions, saying, “I think this nation can do a better job when it comes to equality and I think this nation can do a better job when it comes to reciprocal beneficiary rights and I believe that this is something that ought to be discussed among the various states … I support civil unions.”
“Why do we need a license to get married, why don't we just go to the church?” Paul asked. “And what other individuals do, why can't we permit them to do it, whatever they call it, that's their problem, not mine. Just so no one else forces their definition of marriage on you, that is what we have to prevent. So, I would say less government would be better. If you have to have regulations, let the state governments do it.”
Santorum was asked to defend his position that abortion should be illegal even when the pregnancy was caused by rape or incest.
“The Supreme Court of the United States, in a recent case, said that a man who committed rape could not be … subject to the death penalty, yet the child conceived as a result of that rape could be. That, to me, sounds like a country that does not have its morals correct. That child did nothing wrong. That child is an innocent victim. To be victimized twice would be a horrible thing. It is an innocent human life. It is genetically human from the moment of conception. It is a human life and we in America should be big enough to try to surround ourselves and help women in those terrible situations who have been traumatized already. To put them through another trauma of an abortion is too much to ask. I would absolutely stand and say that one violence is enough.”