The GOP Roundtable Debate
Charlie Rose, but no rosy economic scenarios.



The GOP presidential contenders sat around Charlie Rose’s table Tuesday night in New Hampshire for a Bloomberg/Washington Post–sponsored debate and National Review Online has some expert analysis.

The Republican debaters showed up last night in New Hampshire to discuss the anemic U.S. economy. Mitt Romney was crisp and clear as he described his plan to oust Obamacare (“repeal and replace”), impose trade sanctions on China, and cut tax rates and spending to spur the economy. Herman Cain vigorously defended his “9-9-9” plan as a spur to liberty and economic growth, but in this debate he caught flak from the questioner (“It will reduce revenue”) and from Michele Bachmann and others, who said the new sales tax would give government a chance to expand. But Cain held firm: 9-9-9 would raise productivity, induce more risk-taking, and expand the tax base. Rick Perry focused on creating U. S. energy independence, but had few specifics, and often seemed tentative. He criticized the Solyndra debacle, but defended his Texas program to give aid to tech companies in the state.

The candidates did more jesting with each other than fussing (John Huntsman suggested 9-9-9 was a pizza price). Oddly the sum of their content was better than the parts — Gingrich ridiculed Obama’s press conferences, Bachmann talked about her 23 foster kids, Cain waxed eloquent on how working hard can help you live the American dream.

Romney and Cain will probably gain from the debate, and the rest of the pack will drop back.

Burton Folsom is professor of history at Hillsdale College and co-author (with Anita Folsom) of FDR Goes to War (Simon & Schuster), which was just released yesterday.

In a week in which two American economists from the non-Keynesian side of the ledger received the Nobel Prize for Economics, last night’s GOP debate gave us some insight into the depth and character of the various candidates’ free-market commitments and the different policy priorities which flow from the various forms of those commitments.

For the most part, the candidates focused upon the institutional background that either impedes or facilitates economic growth: the regulatory environment, tax levels, trade policy, monetary policy, etc. Listening to the responses was a salutary reminder of the gap between America’s free-market aspirations and rhetoric, and the rather different Eurosclerotic economic reality that has slowly enveloped America — and not just over the past three years, but over several decades.

The surprising omission was substantial discussion of the issue of welfare reform and the related question of America’s public debt. While Obamacare was continually criticized because of its costs, that’s only part of the picture. Substantive entitlement reform is indispensable if we want to significantly reduce the spending and deficits that threaten to suck the life out of America’s economy. Addressing this subject is of course very politically risky because far too many Americans are more attached to the welfare state than they care to admit. But if fiscal conservatives aren’t willing to tackle this issue, then who will?

— Samuel Gregg is research director at the Acton Institute. His several books include On Ordered Liberty, the prize-winning The Commercial Society, Wilhelm Röpke’s Political Economy, and the forthcoming Becoming Europe: Economic Decline, Culture, and America’s Future. 

I went into the debate thinking about Fred Barnes’s piece yesterday in the Wall Street Journal, in which he suggested that GOP debaters are at a disadvantage because control of the format is ceded to a class of folks Republicans loathe — i.e., the members of the press. Well, the news from Tuesday night is that GOP candidates are no longer afraid of the liberal media. Charlie Rose and Karen Tumulty were cleverly disguised as questioners, but in reality they were the other debating team.