If there was any theme linking the responses to the questions posed by Senator DeMint, Congressman King, and Professor George to five of the Republicans seeking their party’s nomination for president during today’s South Carolina debate, it was the need for America to return to its founding principles. Yes, there was substantive discussion of specific matters ranging from financial regulation to immigration. But again and again, most of the candidates articulated the principles — and subsequent policies — of constitutional conservation.
Politically this makes sense, because it helps to integrate American conservatism’s fiscal and social wings. But it also reflects many Americans’ consciousness that the last four years have seen an acceleration of a long drift away from the best of the American experiment. So whether it was different candidates quoting Jefferson at length, or Ron Paul and Robert George discussing the 14th Amendment’s finer details, evidence mounted that constitutional conservatism is going to be a major reference point for whoever ends up running against President Obama in 2012.
The second aspect of the debate worth underscoring is how issues once considered marginal to mainstream politics are becoming central. It’s no longer just Ron Paul talking about the need for sound money. The economic downturn and the failure of interventionist policies have turned the Fed and fiat money into live issues that no conservative candidate for office can ignore. Ben Bernanke — you’re on notice.
— Samuel Gregg is research director at the Acton Institute. He has authored several books including On Ordered Liberty, his prize-winning The Commercial Society, Wilhelm Röpke’s Political Economy, and his forthcoming Becoming Europe: Economic Decline, Culture, and America’s Future.
What an awful job CNN did of covering the GOP debate. Somebody at the network made the bizarre decision to cut away for advertisements with complete disregard for anything that might be happening on the stage.
The network interrupted candidates’ answers, frequently cutting them off or returning when the speaker was in the middle of a sentence. It was terrible. The implication of this format is that nothing the candidates might say really matters. So why televise the debate at all? It fell to national correspondent John King to cut in and announce that we were taking a break for ads. I’m guessing that if you didn’t come to loathe King when he moderated the New Hampshire debate in June, you do now.
The biggest contrast was between Michele Bachmann, preachy and intense, and Newt Gingrich, who was a dynamo. Bachmann had some annoying verbal tics — “United States” without an article, for example. She was good on economics but made a snafu on the Constitution: After going on and on about that sacred document, she was asked by Robert George of Princeton whether the Constitution would mean an individual mandate such as the one in Obamacare would be unconstitutional if enacted by a state, as opposed to the federal government. Bachmann said such a mandate would also be unconstitutional if enacted by a state. But she obviously didn’t know why. After fumbling, Bachmann said that the prohibition against such a mandate on a state level is “inherent.” “Where is it?” persisted George, who had been so nice and smiley up to now. Uh-oh. Bachmann tried to wiggle off the hook by saying she was sure George could “enlighten” her.
Newt, who came next, has been called the dead man walking of the campaign; this afternoon, he was the dead man strutting. His familiarity with various documents and historical figures contrasted with Bachmann’s tendency to sound unpolished, I thought.
If you were curious as to how Romney is holding up now that he is no longer the out-and-out frontrunner, the answer is: great. He got off some good lines and clearly was the best on issues of regulation and creating jobs: Our economic woes, Romney said, were caused by “Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac, Barney Frank, and Chris Dodd.”
I’m sure wild horses could not have dragged Rick Perry home to Texas and prevented him from making his debut this afternoon. Still, the governor is very lucky that wildfires did. With the constant interruptions, this was a devalued venue. He’ll do well to save his power for the Reagan debate, when he won’t face constant interruptions from John King and the Ally Bank advertisement.
— Charlotte Hays is a senior fellow at Independent Women’s Forum.