In GOP Field, Some Candidates Set Themselves Apart

Traffic was terrible here in Charleston for my commute home yesterday.  What normally takes between 45 minutes and an hour on an average weekday took twice that amount of time.  On the bright side, however, I had the chance to listen to Mark Levin discuss Monday night’s GOP debate.

Always struggling with a lack of time, I wasn’t sure whether or not I wanted to weigh in on the debate, which I listened to in the car by way of a CNN app for my iPhone as I carted my family back to the Lowcountry from an out-of-town wedding excursion.  First, other folks–such as the Washington Examiner‘s Michael Barone, in his piece from Monday night–do a fine job of summarizing the one-liners and overall themes put forth by the participants, and in terms of a play-by-play there isn’t much I can add. Second, I have serious misgivings with these debates, problems which mirror those that Levin articulated yesterday — too much control by the moderator, too many candidates, and not enough actual debate.  After all, this is a chance for the Republican Party to discern for the sake of nomination and standard-bearing going forward the candidate that fits the classic William F. Buckley standard: the most conservative candidate who can actually win.

Debate sharpens everyone.  And, while Congressman Ron Paul may have noted at the end of the debate that he was proud of how congenial everyone was, congeniality does little for the Republican Party in the context of a primary.  The left is not going to pull punches in the run-up to the general election, and so the GOP candidates should not, either.  There were missed chances for almost everyone last night, and I hope I don’t see those again.  We all know that none of these candidates are perfect, and unless these folks are actually challenged on those imperfections, every single one of them is going to sound the same, and we’re going to end up with the candidate who has the most name recognition and money winning the day.

What I look for in these debates is for someone to stand out, perhaps not on a macro level, but at the very least on one issue or two.  I’m not talking about one-liners, either.  What I mean is that, on any given answer, each of those seven candidates we saw on Monday have the same basic talking points–the possible exception being Ron Paul–and for me it’s nice to see who articulates those talking points the best, but it’s better to see someone buck the trend and come up with some talking points of their own.  On Monday night, there were three such instances that stood out for me.

The first instance was in the context of a discussion on military action in Libya, in connection with which a bipartisan group of lawmakers has just today filed suit, claiming that the war is illegal.  Michelle Bachmann’s answer on Libya was deemed “stellar” by’s Erick Erickson:

KING: Congresswoman Bachmann, should the president have supported and jointed more U.S. presence, but now a NATO operation? Was that the right thing to do? Is that in the vital national interest of the United States of America?

BACHMANN: No, I don’t believe so it is. That isn’t just my opinion. That was the opinion of our defense secretary, Gates, when he came before the United States Congress. He could not identify a vital national American interest in Libya.

Our policy in Libya is substantially flawed. It’s interesting. President Obama’s own people said that he was leading from behind. The United States doesn’t lead from behind. As commander in chief, I would not lead from behind.

We are the head. We are not the tail. The president was wrong. All we have to know is the president deferred leadership in Libya to France. That’s all we need to know. The president was not leading when it came to Libya.

First of all, we were not attacked. We were not threatened with attack. There was no vital national interest. I sit on the House Select Committee on Intelligence. We deal with the nation’s vital classified secrets.

We to this day don’t yet know who the rebel forces are that we’re helping. There are some reports that they may contain al Qaeda of North Africa. What possible vital American interests could we have to empower al Qaeda of North Africa and Libya? The president was absolutely wrong in his decision on Libya.

The president deferred leadership.  Even the president’s own defense secretary could not identify a vital national interest in Libya.  We don’t know who we’re helping. Bachmann presented the truth, she presented it strongly, she tied the entire thing together with the notion of American exceptionalism, and she did so as someone with authority to say what she said.

The second instance came following a question that echoed the theme of the Libya discussion, but on a grander scale.  “How do you reconcile being the world’s superpower,” the New Hampshire questioner asked, “and paying down our debt?”  While I’m not a big fan of former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum, his response (video HERE) was brilliant, and cut to the core of not only the question asked, but the overall shortcomings with regard to American foreign policy under Barack Obama as a whole.

What we’re dealing with is a failure of leadership on this administration’s part to actually put together a strategy where we can confront our enemies, and our enemies are asymmetric threats: terrorism. That means that they are not just positioned in the Middle East but around the world. That means we have to have the ability to be able to confront those threats that are around the world which means we need bases around the world.

So, number one, we do need that base and we do need to be able to be nimble and to attack where we’re attacked because it’s not just “a” threat. You don’t need to build a base in Germany for a threat from the Soviet Union. It’s a much broader threat. Number one. So we have to engage our allies and have our allies know that we have their back. The president has not done…he has done everything he can, whether it’s Israel or Honduras or whether it’s Columbia or whether it’s the Czechs, the Poles, he has turned his back on American allies and he has embraced our enemies.

Our enemies no longer respect us. Our friends no longer trust us. And we have a foreign policy that unfortunately now we’re probably going to need more of a presence, because we’ve created such a vacuum. Thus, all the contingency operations you’re seeing here as a result of America’s fecklessness in dealing with the threats that confront us.

Right on target, and extra points for the use of “fecklessness.”

Finally, though, my favorite line from the entire debate was perhaps the shortest one, and it came in the context of what should be the single-most important issue to be faced in advance of the upcoming presidential election: jobs.  When it comes to jobs, the entire field of Republican candidates has essentially the same formula, a formula espoused here at America’s Right time and time again — make America a destination for business and industry domestically and across the globe, and remove all governmental and other obstacles between economic doldrums and economic growth.

Predictably, between all of the candidates, we heard about cutting corporate and capital gains tax rates, about properly managing foreign trade issues, about the attraction of right-to-work states versus union-heavy states in the context of the NLRB vs. Boeing proceedings currently taking place in Washington state, and about ridding the small business economic engine of the burdens of ObamaCare.  Michelle Bachmann took things a bit further, however, and briefly touched upon not only something we have written about excessively at AR, but also something that none of the other candidates seemed to wish to address.  See her comments below, and note the emphasized statement:

CNN’s JOHN KING:  How about to help workers, Congressman, get ready for the new jobs in manufacturing?  Should the United States government, the federal government we say help in community colleges with their vocational training programs and things like that?

REP. BACHMANN:  Well, the United States federal government and the states have done numerous job training programs over the year with mixed results.  This is what we need to do to turn job creation around and bring manufacturing back to the United States:

What we need to do is today the United States has the second highest corporate tax rate in the world.  I’m a former federal tax lawyer.  I’ve seen the devastation.  We’ve got to bring that tax rate down substantially so that we’re among the lowest in the industrialized world.

Here’s the other thing.  Every time the liberals get into office, they pass an omnibus bill of big spending projects.  What we need to do is pass the mother of all repeal bills, but it’s the repeal bill that will get a job killing regulations.  And I would begin with the EPA, because there is no other agency like the EPA.  It should really be renamed the “Job-Killing Organization of America.”

Brilliant.  Truer words have never been spoken.   Bachmann is correct — the Environmental Protection Agency is used like few other government agencies … as a mechanism through which lawmakers can eschew the procedural troubles that can arise while actually making laws.  Time and time again the EPA has been used to achieve, extralegislatively, legislative goals that legislators were for some reason unable to legislate through the legislative process.

On December 8, 2009, for example, the EPA proclaimed that carbon dioxide–plant food–is a health hazard, thus paving the way for the Job-Killing Organization of America to regulate emissions from industry and power plants without the need for pesky legislative details, like the passage of a cap-and-trade bill.

Industry groups, according to USA Today, say that such extralegislative action by the EPA would “eventually drive up energy costs, lead to lost jobs and delays in project permits and construction.  In the immediate future, said Keith McCoy, vice president of the National Association of Manufacturers, we can expect “more uncertainty” that “could impact how companies make decisions.”

More recently, as I wrote about in EPA Continues Extra-Legislative Cap-And-Trade Push back in November 2010, the EPA did much of the same with regard to coal ash, regulation of which was solely under the umbrella of state agencies.  Regardless of the material regulated, however, the message is the same: firms seeking to establish or expand operations in the United States of America must first hurdle a government agency intent upon rationalizing growth-stifling policies under the guise of environmental conservation.

Bachmann impressed me, for sure.  Other than that, however, I’m keeping relatively mum with regard to the GOP field.  At least for now.  In the meantime, I hope that we see actual debate in the near future.  Sharper candidates will lead to more statements like those above, and will better prepare the eventual nominee for the general election.




  1. 2010, 2012 says:

    “too much control by the moderator, too many candidates, and not enough actual debate.” ….. sums it up nicely for me.

    debates also should be spread out over a week or minimum of 2 days.
    call me nuts but i also favor questions from at least four moderators from various media. and as far as CNN goes i personally think John King is the best they have to offer on any scale on any program medical research/science shows not with standing.

  2. Bob Upton says:

    Controlled debates are just that, “controlled”. For Republicans,they are mostly controlled by politically unfriendly moderators with even more unfriendly producers and networks. In the end we are left with tidbits and sound-bites of the candidate’s actual positions. The “winner” is determined, a la Miss USA, on the basis of appearance, congeniality and beauty of articulation. This is unsatisfactory.

    Maybe conservatives should try the teaching tact used by our founding fathers. We could gather questions and topics via the internet and provide a forum where candidates could formulate and articulate their positions in depth. This would allow us to get to know them better and it would provide incentive for them to say what they mean and mean what they say, on the record for all to see.

    We need leaders who can formulate better than they can articulate.

    We need leaders who can solve problems through responsible action instead of creating bigger ones with idealistic irresponsibility.

    We need leaders who lead from the front.

    We need leaders who inspire with character instead of questionable characters who aspire to lead.

  3. /Dee says:

    Each time I think I have a favorite GOP candidate in mind, Iread some negative thing about them that makes me question whether or not I want that person to be the GOP nominee. I think you’re right in that there are too many candidates and when the MSM starts writing how wonderful one of them is, I know that that is not the person I want. I don’t want the MSM to pick the GOP candidate. What do you think about Rick Perry? I would like to see Paul Ryan but he maybe able to do more good where he is. Once the field narrows down, I will take the debates seriously.

  4. Anonymous says:

    So far, it’s Bachmann for me.

Speak Your Mind