The Republican presidential candidates stood firm on their desire to see less government interference in the marketplace during Wednesday night's CNBC debate in Michigan. The most memorable moments of the evening came when the audience booed questions about allegations of sexual impropriety by Herman Cain, and when Rick Perry could not remember the third department that he would eliminate from the federal government.
The news from earlier Wednesday that Italy was on the verge of bankruptcy and the resulting stock market plunge was the topic of the first question, which went to former Godfather's CEO Cain and former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney.
“So, to be clear, focus on the domestic economy, allow Italy to fail?” moderator Maria Bartiromo asked Cain.
“Focus on the domestic economy or we will fail,” Cain answered.
“Europe is capable of taking care of their own problems,” Romney answered. The United States does not need to bail out banks here that have invested in Italy, he added as the crowd cheered.
“Italy is too big to fail,” Jim Cramer, the loud-mouthed host of CNBC's “Mad Money” insisted. He wanted to know what the presidential candidates would do to help prop up the Italian economy and protect investors in Italian debt.
“You have to let it liquidate,” Texas Congressman Ron Paul said. “We took 40 years to build up this worldwide debt. We're in a debt crisis never seen before in our history. … If you prop it up, you'll do exactly what we did in the Depression – prolong the agony.”
Romney has been accused of shifting his positions for political expediency too often. “What can you say to Republicans to persuade them that things you say in the campaign are rooted in something deeper than the fact that you're running for office?” he was asked.
People who know him “understand that I'm a man of steadiness and constancy,” Romney said. “I don't think you're going to find somebody that has more of those attributes than I do. I've been married to the same woman for 25 … excuse me, I'll get in trouble … for 42 years. I've been in the same church my entire life. I worked at one company, Bain, for 25 years.
“Let me tell you this, if I'm president of the United States, I will be true to my family, to my faith, and to our country and I will never apologize for the United States of America.”
For the past two weeks, news of sexual harassment allegations against Cain have dominated the news about the Republican presidential race. The crowd booed moderator John Harwood when he asked questions about it.
“The American people deserve better than someone being tried in the court of public opinion based on unfounded accusations,” Cain said. “And I value my character and integrity more than anything else and for every one person that comes forward with a false accusation, there are thousands who would say 'none of that sort of activity ever came from Herman Cain.’”
Romney declined an opportunity to comment on the allegations. The crowd then cheered when Harwood said, “Let me switch to the economy.”
When Romney was asked if corporations exist to make profits or provide jobs, he answered that the two are not mutually exclusive. “Our Democratic friends think that profit is a bad thing. ... The right thing for America is to have profitable businesses that hire people. … What we have in Washington today is a president and an administration that doesn't like business ... they want jobs but don't like businesses.”
Former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich criticized the media, as he has done in previous debates, by saying that reporters do not report accurately on the economy.
“What is the media reporting inaccurately about the economy?” Bartiromo asked.
“What?” Gingrich said as he paused for the laughter from the audience. “I love humor disguised as a question. That's terrific. I have yet to hear a single reporter ask a single Occupy Wall Street person a single rational question about the economy that would lead to say, for example, who's going to pay for the park you're occupying if there's no businesses making a profit?”
Former Pennsylvania Senator Rick Santorum argued that Republicans need to do more to address the issue of income mobility for workers without a college degree. “That's a very important part that Republicans, unfortunately, are not talking about. We need to talk about income mobility. We need to talk about people at the bottom of the income scale being able to get necessary skills and rise so that they support themselves and their family,” Santorum said.
Minnesota Congresswoman Michele Bachmann decried the fact that 43 percent of Americans pay no federal income tax. “In my tax plan, you have everyone paying something, because everyone benefits by this magnificent country. So even if it means paying the price of two happy meals a year, like $10, everyone can afford to pay at least that.”
Texas Governor Perry built upon his reputation for flubbing his answers in debates when he couldn't remember the third department that he would cut from the federal budget.
“I will tell ya, there's three agencies of government when I get there that are gone – Commerce, Education, and the … uh, what's the third one there, let's see?”
“Oops,” Perry said after trying again to remember.
About 15 minutes later, when Perry was asked another question, he said, “By the way, that was the Department of Energy I was reaching for a moment ago.”