Tonight’s debate in Florida is Rudy Guiliani’s last stand is and, perhaps, almost as important for Mike Huckabee who has not been able to capitalize on his success in Iowa, in part because of position changes.
Without further ado, here are my notes from tonight’s MSNBC debate.
Romney: The compromise stimulus plan has some good points but I would make tax cuts permanent. Corporations need the incentive to buy capital equipment, which the plan provides, but I would do more. Companies need to create new jobs.
We have a housing crisis that has spread across the country and reversing the course of this is important. I support the plan, on the whole.
McCain: I will vote for the plan. I also want to make the Bush tax cuts permanent and I voted for them twice. If we don’t make them permanent we will experience a de facto tax increase.
Corporate income taxes need to be reduced. Only Japan pays higher corporate taxes than the U.S.
No pork barrel projects should be attached to the bill. We need to reduce taxes and spending in this country.
Guiliani: The bill does not go far enough. Corporate and capital gains taxes should be reduced. We are competing with the rest of the world: if we over spend, over regulate, and over litigate America will not be competitive at the international level.
How many jobs are we pushing out of the U.S.?
McCain: I am very well versed in economics. I was chairman of the commerce committe in the Senate. That’s why Jack Kemp, Phil Graham, and Marty Feldstein support me. The majority of economists in a recent survey felt I would manage the economy best. I’ll match my credentials against anyone running.
Huckabee: I left a surplus of $850M when I left office. I raised the income level at which residents paid taxes and lowered the marriage penalty.
One important question is whose economy will be stimulated, ours or the Chinese? That’s where the money will go in interest and in imports.
Updating the country’s infrastructure, e.g., a highway down the east coast, would do more to stimulate the economy than this plan?
Romney: I trust McCain and Guiliani in regard to tax cuts. Massachusetts had a $3B shortfall when I came into office. I balanced the budget 4 years in a row without raising taxes .
The Bush tax cuts should be made permanent and I’m glad John McCain has changed his mind on this issue.
It’s important that a president have an intimate understanding of the business world and how it works. I am the best candidate to do that.
McCain: Raising fees and taxes is the same same thing. Republicans lost an election because we failed voters in our promise to exercise fiscal restraint. I’m very proud of my record as a fiscal conservative.
Paul: The government should not stimulate the economy by meddling with interest rates or printing and spending money. Government should not appropriate and spend more money – that is why the dollar is crashing relative to other currencies.
We’re spending $1T per year overseas policing the world. But no one is suggesting we reduce that. I’d like to see massive tax cuts and much less in the way of regulations.
Guiliani: America is part of a global economy and we should understand who we are dealing with and what their motives are. But foreign countries investing in the U.S. is a good thing because it creates relationships that bind us together. Japanese investment in this country made our relationship stronger. We should be aggressive in investing in the global economy. We should be asking what we can sell overseas.
Running On or Away from the Republican Record
McCain: Democrats will raise taxes, increase spending, and pass more regulations if they are elected. Democrats have already said that. The president signed 2 years of pork-barrel budgets but I will veto every one of these spending bills. We will regain the confidence of the American people, restore fiscal responsibility, and balance the budget if I am elected.
Huckabee: I have to remind you that I wasn’t in Washington messing things up over the last 8 years. But this cannot be blamed on the president. Last year everyone here said that the economy was great. It is, at the top. But for the average American health and energy costs are up. Trickle-down economics are not working for them.
We need a president who understands the effect of economic policies on all facets of society.
Romney: Washington has made promises that they have not kept. Social security, ear marks, ethics, illegal immigration, and foreign oil dependence. Both parties have failed in this regard. When Republicans act like Democrats America loses. Entitlement costs must be reigned in.
A weakening dollar and excessive foreign investment signals a weakening economic foundation.
Guiliani: I turned around New York City from a similar situation by growing the economy and cutting taxes at the same time.
Paul: I’m the taxpayer’s best friend because I vote for low taxes and spending at all times. I am the only old-fashioned Republican candidate in the race.
McCain on Troops in Iraq: No military leader says that we cannot sustain our military effort in Iraq. We are succeeding in Iraq and leaving Iraq will result in loss of American lives and dollars. I’m proud to be the only one on the stage to have stuck with the war effort the entire way.
The military does not want to surrender like Senator Clinton does, they want to be allowed to win the war.
Romney on increasing the size of the military: We need to add 100K military personnel to the rolls. In Mass. we added more financial incentives and increased the number of new enrollees.
It is unthinkable that Democrats said that getting out of Iraq ASAP is more important than securing the country. We cannot leave the country to al Qaeda. Our success there is due to the military men and women, not due to the Democrats’ push for withdrawal.
Will you go to the country and say that the war in Iraq was a good idea?
McCain: Getting rid of Hussein was a good idea. The problem was not the invasion but the mishandling of the country after the invasion was complete.
We will, at the end of the day, have peace in the Middle East.
Guiliani: I was for it when 60% of Americans approved of the war, I am still for it now.
Paul: It was a very bad idea and wasn’t worth it. al Qaeda wasn’t there; they are now. This policy was put in place by the Clinton administration.
Huckabee: I, and the Democrats, supported the president in this war. The courage of the president needs to be recognized. We were united at that time and we all went into it. We should not let the polls dictate our actions. Just because we didn’t find weapons of mass destruction doesn’t mean they weren’t there.
Romney: I have and do supported it. The years that followed showed that we were undermanned and lacked planning. It is critical to ensure that Iraq is not a safe haven for our enemies to launch attacks on the U.S.
Romney to Guiliani: How do we ensure that China’s growth is not at America’s expense:
Guiliani: China is a great opportunity for America. Trade breeds relationships and reduces the likelihood of military conflict.
We need to view Chinese as potential customers, not threats. Their development can come from buying things from us if we sell ourselves and our ingenuity.
McCain to Huckabee: How do you answer those who say that the Fair Tax would take more from low income Americans?
Huckabee: The people want to do away with the IRS. We’re penalized for productivity and the Fair Tax stops that by encouraging people to work and get rewarded for it.
The poor come out best of all because all Americans untaxes the poor and elderly up to the poverty line. Everyone in the economy benefits, the poor most of all, and the underground economy would be eliminated.
The Fair Tax is a transparent tax as opposed to the system that we have now.
Follow-up: How does the Fair Tax benefit the 15% tax bracket?
Huckabee: The break-even point for the Fair Tax is 23% and the average American pays more than that, of which no all taxes are visible.
Paul: Would you get rid of or expose the dealings of the president’s advisory panel on economics?
McCain: I would like to see more visibility into the president’s economic planning. But I would rely on my SecTreas and people like Jack Kemp and Phil Gramm more than an advisory panel.
Huckabee to Romney: Do you support both the 2nd amendment and the Brady bill and what restrictions should be placed on weapon ownership?
Romney: I do support the 2nd amendment as an individual, not governmental right. But I would have signed an assault weapon ban, though I would not seek new legislation on this issue.
Guiliani to Romney: John McCain doesn’t support a catastrophic backup fund, I do. What is your position?
Romney: I support such a plan so that people in high risk areas can obtain insurance for their personal properties. This should not be implemented in terms of a national tax such that low risk states do not have to pay for coast areas, for example. But it should be an industry and government joint effort.
McCain’s Rebuttal: Environmental disasters are a terrible problem. Every American that is in jeopardy will be able to obtain insurance as the result of a joint federal, state, and industry
Moderator Question to Rudy Guiliani: Why are you against caps on greenhouse gasses?
Guiliani: Technology advances are the best way to combat greenhouse gasses. We need to increase investment in nuclear power and clean coal.
We need a project equivalent to putting a man on the moon to make us energy independent. Caps and negative incentives will not work; only supporting industry here in the U.S. will achieve the goal of reducing emissions.
McCain: I am not in favor of caps, I’m in favor of cap and trade.
We cannot pay $400B for foreign oil; we need to go back to nuclear power and reduce greenhouse gas emissions.
The challenge of reducing greenhouses gasses is worth taking on even if man-made global warming is proven false: we’ll give our children a cleaner world.
Moderator to Guiliani: Why has your approval rate gone from 58% to 29% positive and why have you not been placing well in the primaries?
Guiliani: We are lulling them into a false sense of security. We’re going to do well in Florida and the upcoming primaries.
Moderator to McCain: Your mom says Republicans will have to hold their nose to vote for you because of your maverick votes. How can you unite the party?
McCain: I can make America safer and restore the fundamental basis of our economy. Israel’s independence and the environment are not just important to a few; many Republicans are concerned with these things.
I have support among independents because I put my country first, above my party. I’m proud to be a conservative.
Romney: I can’t imagine Bill Clinton back in the White House and I don’t think the American people can either.
Hillary wants to raise taxes. Her health plan will cost $110B every year. She wants to get out of Iraq ASAP. She is exactly what is wrong with Washington. Washington is broken and I want to fix it.
We need to get back to the Ronald Reagan conservatism to win the election and restore America to health.
Moderator: How much money are you spending, of your own money, in Florida?
Romney: I’ll report that when required by law.
Moderator presses him.
Romney: I’ve made a substantial contribution, but not as much as Mayor Bloomberg or Steve Forbes, for example. I have raised more money than any other Republican. I owe no one; I’m running because I am concerned about the America my kids will inherit.
44% say that a Mormon would have a hard time uniting the country. Your response?
Romney: I don’t believe that Americans will elect their president based on what church he goes to. No religious test should be required for the secular office of president.
I believe in the Republican virtues of low taxes and limited regulation; Hillary Clinton believes in the opposite. She is so out of step with the American people it’s unbelievable.
Paul: I am still in favor of eliminating Social Security, not overnight. I would still take care of the elderly by cutting spending overseas. I would make sure the elderly’s benefits keep pace with inflation.
But I would get the young people out of the system because there is not going to be any money there for them. My program has a better chance of helping them than any other.
Moderator: What will you do to save Social Security?
Huckabee: The system is failing because we have a smaller wage pool as baby boomers retire. Social Security should be funded by the general fund as a result of implementing the Fair Tax.
The Fair Tax may be unlikely but Americans can do unlikely things. If it’s passed we can bring back the trillions of dollars that are parked off-shore and bring that money back into the system.
Romney: I would not raise taxes because it takes money away from people and slows down the economy.
Private accounts, different benchmarks, or changes in the retirement age should all be on the table to solve the problem. A bi-partisanship approach is needed to change the system for the 20-40 year olds.
Question: Why is your campaign airing an ad in Spanish given your emphasis on English?
Guiliani: America’s language is English and all Americans should speak it. Other languages are great for America, but only as a second language.
We will solve the immigration problem at the border and issue tamper-proof IDs to manage the legality of workers, etc.
Question: What is the difference between Cuban refugees and Mexican illegal immigrants?
Guiliani: The cold war relic was put in place because of Castro’s status as a long-standing dictator and a Communist; therefore there’s a presumption that they should be treated differently, because of the oppression of the people in Cuba.
Question: Is John McCain too old, as Chuck Norris suggested?
Huckabee: I didn’t disagree with Norris at the time – he was standing there! – but I do not think that Senator McCain lacks the vigor to be president. There may be other reasons but he has demonstrated the capacity to run for the office.
Personal Perception Issues and Responses
Guiliani on being mean-spirited, etc.: I’m called that because I didn’t do anything the NY Times said I should; if I did I wouldn’t be a conservative. I put people back to work and the Times wrote about how mean I was.
Romney on not being liked: I’m not going to Washington to make friends, I’m going there to make a difference. I’m proud of what I accomplished as governor. I came down on the side of life on every occasion. I fought against same-sex marriage and went to Washington to fight against it. I have a sound record in regard to the 2nd Amendment. I cut taxes many times.
McCain on his alleged temper: I don’t see my temper as an impediment. My many friends and colleagues wouldn’t support me if it was a problem, including people from across the aisle.
Off-topic, Rudy Guiliani is an American people who I respect now and will respect him after the election.
Huckabee on his faith making people queasy: My faith grounds me and gives me a solid core. But I would not use government to push my faith. If that gives some people a queasy feeling that’s their problem.
If a person hates me because of my faith I’m not sure that person understands what it is to be an America. Most Americans believe in God, as I do. If you don’t want that in a president you’ll have to pick someone else.
Paul on a 3rd party candidacy: My concern is that the other candidates will not stick to the Republican principles.
I have no intention of running as a 3rd party candidate. I’m a Republican.
But the Republican party has a problem because we are not acting like Republicans. We’ve doubled the size of the Dept. of Education. We used to stop wars like Korea and Vietnam, now we’re starting them.
Why should people who believe in the Constitution strictly be excluded from the Republican party? We should welcome them into the party.
I’m sitting here wondering if Tim Russert could be any more biased against Republicans than he obviously is. Consider that rhetorical.
Rudy Guiliani is now irrelevant. I’d guess that we’ll have seen the last of him by midnight on Super Tuesday. He was off-stride and uncomfortable all night, offering nothing to voters who are in the camps of other candidates.
Ron Paul scored some points with his ultra-conservative, isolationist positions. By declaring himself a loyal Republican he’s probably doomed himself to obscurity, at least in this race. But perhaps that will help him in his home district where he is facing a Republican challenger.
Of the big 3 I thought that Mitt Romney really performed well tonight, in part because Russert lobbed some easy ones over the plate for him, but also because he has come to play and isn’t going to quit. Pretty impressive, this time.
I don’t feel like John McCain matches his energy or ability, for that matter. But there is still the sense that Romney adopts the style of the moment rather than having principles.
John McCain tried to reach out to the Republican base of conservatives by pounding out the "cut taxes" drum and I think they will embrace him, whatever Rush says, because no one on this side of the fence can bear the thought of 8 more years of the Clintons.
As for my guy Mike Huckabee, he did not get as much face time as I would have liked. He made his points for the Fair Tax succinctly and accurately underscored Americans’ desire for a simple, fair, transparent tax structure. Huckabee also stood up for his faith with a quiet, gentle certainty that resonates with Christians and antagonizes non-believers, including allied fiscal conservatives.