Excellent GOP presidential debate from South Carolina last evening! Unlike other debates with several moderators – some of whom seemed to have agendas to promote, CNN’s John King was the sole moderator and his questions generally included all four candidates. The exceptions were when King began the debate asking about the 14-year-old allegations in a new ABC interview with Newt Gingrich’s second ex-wife and when King did not initially allow responses by Ron Paul to two questions. It seemed the latter incidents were designed to save time, but ironically both questions were on topics (health care and abortion) with which Paul has professional experience as a medical doctor.
With Rick Perry suspending his campaign Thursday morning and endorsing Gingrich, only four candidates remain in the race for the Republican nomination. Fewer candidates in this second South Carolina debate meant more time for each man to answer. This debate allowed more time for rebuttals and no annoying bells or buzzers telling candidates their speaking time was over.
It was good to hear some answers of real substance. Especially informative were the candidates’ specific plans to improve the economy and deal with illegal immigration. While checking my facts, I was surprised that I had difficulty finding any mention of, let alone quotes from, the immigration answers. All four believe the US must stop illegal immigration and make legal immigration easier. It was the details, or lack of them, that said the most about the candidates. There was enough variation to make a difference to some voters.
* Gingrich had a very detailed plan, including community boards to consider residency (not citizenship) for individual illegals who have community ties after being in the US for decades. His plan sounds like it would work well, but it would be unlikely that as president Gingrich could get all the specific items through Congress. This plan shows Gingrich’s comprehensive approach to problems, which he would apply to other issues as well.
* Mitt Romney wants to build a border fence and provide time for illegals to get their affairs in order before going back to their country of origin to apply for a residency permit. All his points were good, but a few more details would be needed for a truly comprehensive plan.
* Rick Santorum spoke of all the laws an illegal immigrant might break – from crossing the border illegally to using a stolen Social Security number for employment. He gave few details of a plan to actually stem the flow of those crossing our borders illegally. Although I like Santorum’s position on many issues, I was disappointed he did not have much of a practical plan in this case.
* Paul said that border security and a more generous legal immigration policy will take additional resources. These could come from pulling troops from the Pakistan-Afghanistan border to take care of our border. At every opportunity he turns the discussion to bringing our troops back home, showing where his priorities lie.
The biggest differences of the evening probably showed up when they were asked when they would release their tax returns.
* Paul said Congressional disclosure forms show all the information necessary.
* Gingrich’s campaign released his 2010 forms as the debate was starting.
* Romney was somewhat evasive, but said he would release his 2011 return when it was prepared and filed, and maybe other years.
* Santorum said he prepares his own tax forms and could not release them until he gets home to access them on his computer.
There is another debate next week in Florida. Unless something unusual happens before then, it will probably look and sound much like tonight’s debate. Hopefully there will be more questions, on additional topics, that will allow a detailed look into the candidates’ platforms.