Watching CNBC
Republicans in Dearborn.


Another night, another debate. On Tuesday, the Republicans talked economics in Dearborn. National Review Online gathered a group — virtually — to weigh in. Here’s what they thought.

Brian Darling
Republicans have a long way to go to regain the trust of the American people, but the debate showed some hopeful signs of change and reform. Herewith, some thumbnail observations…

Rudy Giuliani and Mitt Romney went after each other. That kind of feistiness will be needed in the general election.

Fred Thompson dared suggest reform of “third-rail” entitlement programs such as Social Security and Medicare. “We are spending money we do not have,” he said, calling the situation “unsustainable.” That’s straight talk. (Move over, John McCain.)

Ron Paul was great on monetary policy. He understands that manipulating the money supply hurts the middle class. (Too bad he’s running for commander-in-chief, not chairman of the Federal Reserve.)

Tom Tancredo brought every question back to the problem of illegal immigration. Some find it laughable, but he serves his country well by forcing the issue into every debate.

Duncan Hunter engaged in some healthy China bashing when he criticized giving Communist China “most favored nation” trading status.

Sam Brownback gets two thumbs up. One for categorically ruling out higher taxes. Another for his innovative idea to let people opt into a flat tax — it’s a great way to open the door to comprehensive tax reform.

Feistiness, “straight talk,” principled conservative positions and innovative ideas… if one candidate can roll them all together, he just might be able to pull his party out of a tailspin and into the White House in next year’s election.

– Brian Darling is director of U.S. Senate Relations at the Heritage Foundation.

John Hood
Let’s face it: few Republican primary voters, much less anyone else, are going to watch a Tuesday-afternoon debate broadcast on cable. If the Michigan face-off has any influence, it will come from the basic media narrative plus any memorable gaffes.

Evaluated on that basis, the honest thing to do is immediately to exclude any references to candidates other than Giuliani, Romney, and Thompson. I’m not trying to be mean, but it’s October. Only these three now have a shot at the nomination. They know it. Giuliani and Romney directed most of their fire at each other for good reason. Thompson was circumspect, trying not to doom his late-entry candidacy with a gaffe. Although his sobriety sometimes verged on somnolence, Thompson made no mistakes and drew little hostile fire.

Giuliani and Romney, on the other hand, scored some hits but also uttered some silly statements. Giuliani vociferously defended his constitutional challenge of the line-item veto, which not a good theme for a Republican presidential candidate (and it didn’t help when he complained about how much its use was going to cost the City of New York — I’m sure that thrilled the hearts of South Carolina conservatives). And Romney promised to consult his attorneys before striking Iran. Well, yes, hire good legal help, Mr. CEO, but what’s your opinion?

The media narrative was “Giuliani and Romney battle over taxes.” No big gaffes. No big change.

– John Hood is president of the John Locke Foundation.

Matt Kibbe
The best line of the debate came not from the presidential wannabes on stage in Michigan, but from Larry Kudlow in his post debate commentary. Kudlow says: “Republicans were created by God to cut spending and lower taxes.” Amen to that, but the Republican gospel according to the standing presidential field seems too cautious to fulfill their destinies.

I was hoping to hear more about freedom as the simple and true principle from which an entire economic agenda could spring. No such luck Tuesday night.

Overall the field seems committed to smaller government principles, with some exceptions: Mike Huckabee does seem to be cribbing from John Edwards’s class warfare playbook, and Duncan Hunter is potentially better than his tired, 1930′s era protectionist slogans.