No big gaffes, no memorable, “You’re no Jack Kennedy” moments. But, Monday’s Republican presidential debate gave viewers an introduction to the views of each of seven candidates hoping to challenge President Barack Obama next year. The big issue, not surprising, was the economy. The federal budget is $1.6 trillion in the red. Home prices are slumping again. Unemployment is up. Inflation is back with higher gas and food prices.
The challengers generally followed Ronald Reagan’s 11th Commandment — thou shalt not criticize a fellow Republican — and took aim at the Democratic president. The questions came from John King of CNN. As former Godfather Pizza CEO Herman Cain put it, “The thing we need to do is to get this economy boosted. This economy is stalled. It’s like a train on the tracks with no engine. And the administration has simply been putting all of this money in the caboose. We need an engine called the private sector. That means lower taxes, lower the capital gains tax rate to zero, suspend taxes on repatriated profits then make them permanent.”
Former Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty chimed in, “My plan involves a whole plan, not just cutting taxes. We’re proposing to cut taxes, reduce regulation, speed up this pace of government, and to make sure that we have a pro-growth agenda.
Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich reached to his past and cited Reagan’s plan of tax cuts and reductions in regulations, saying “The Reagan recovery, which I participated in passing, in seven years created for this current economy the equivalent of 25 million new jobs, raised federal revenue by $800 billion a year in terms of the current economy, and clearly it worked. It’s a historic fact.”
Former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney attacked the record deficits, “Well, what happens if we continue to spend time and time again, year and year again more money than we take in? What we say to America is: at some point, you hit a wall. At some point, people around the world say, ‘I’m not going to keep loaning money to America to pay these massive deficits because America can’t pay them back and the dollar is not worth anything anymore.’ In that circumstance, we saddled our future — the future of our kids in a way that is just unacceptable.”
Rep. Ron Paul of Texas, mindful of inflation, advocated the need for “sound money,” adding, “We got in the trouble because we had a financial bubble, and it’s caused by the Federal Reserve. If you don’t look at monetary policy, we will continue the trend of the last decade.” He called for “a strong currency, not a weak currency.” Rep. Paul also called for ending America’s foreign wars, among other things, “because we could save hundreds of billions of dollars.”
Rep. Michele Bachmann of Minnesota announced her candidacy during the debate and criticized President Obama’s attack on Libya as “substantially flawed.” Former Sen. Rick Santorum called for a bolder foreign policy.
The Republican field does seem, at the moment, to be a “battle of the blands” as candidates for the most part tread carefully in these early days of campaigning. But with others considering a run, such as Texas Gov. Rick Perry and former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani, and jobs and the economy as the foremost issue, it’s still anybody’s race.