Looking at my notes from last night’s Republican debate in Orlando and the September 12 debate in Tampa, there are few differences. In both debates, every candidate had some good points and at least one joke that was well received.
The main difference was that Gary Johnson was on stage last night. “Who?” you might ask? Johnson is a former New Mexico governor and a self-proclaimed Republican libertarian. He entered the race very early, and then almost totally disappeared until last night. He has no hope of getting the nomination since his views are similar to better-known 11-term Texas Congressman Ron Paul. But Johnson did have the best line of the debate, despite borrowing it from Rush Limbaugh: “My next door neighbor’s two dogs have created more shovel-ready projects than this current administration.”
Immigration and foreign policy were topics in both recent debates, with no new information last night. Current Texas Gov. Rick Perry is the only candidate that does not want to build a fence to secure our southern border and he stumbled a bit last night on a question about the Middle East. Former Pennsylvania Senator Rick Santorum set himself apart from the others, saying he would leave some troops in Iraq and Afghanistan to ensure the mission succeeds.
The subject of taxes also came up in both debates. All the candidates have a plan, some more detailed than others. Since the US corporate tax rate is the highest in the world, any plan to lower that should be good for business growth. Former CEO of Godfather‘s Pizza, Herman Cain, proposes a “9-9-9 Plan”: 9% paid by business, 9% paid by individuals and a 9% national sales tax. While I don’t favor a national sales tax, I would like to see analysis of the expected financial results of Cain’s plan. At the last debate Mitt Romney (former governor of Massachusetts) said a national sales tax would help business, but hit the middle class the hardest.
Education was a new topic last evening, but the questioning brought no unique answers. All the candidates want to return some or all control of education to the states.
The topic of jobs and unemployment received greater emphasis last night than at the previous debate. Most candidates spoke about tax relief for American businesses. Former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich said unemployment compensation should be tied to job training programs, so unemployment payments are an investment in “human capital”. Gingrich said this would be similar to tying welfare payments to training in the welfare reform legislation signed by President Clinton in August 1996. Jon Huntsman (former governor of Utah) mentioned that solar and wind energy do not make economic sense yet, and that natural gas technology would make a good “bridge” between petroleum and green energy while creating many jobs.
Despite being third in most national polls, Ron Paul did not get much air time last night. And neither did three-term Minnesota Congresswoman Michele Bachmann, who has fallen in the polls since Gov. Perry entered the race.
My biggest complaint about all the debates so far is that so-called second-tier candidates do not get asked as many questions as the front-runners. At this stage, the top polling candidates may be on top only because of money or endorsements or ties to the states that have hosted debates or straw-polls. Last night FOX News had two questions where they went straight down the row of contenders and solicited an answer from each. I would like that to be done with all questions so I can see who has thought through each issue. These debates are the only chance we have to compare candidates issue for issue. I hope this will be considered for the next debates on October 11 (Bloomberg Television) and October 18 (CNN).