Politics & Policy

Palmetto Scorecard

How the candidates did in the extended format.

South Carolina senator Jim DeMint, Iowa congressman Steve King, and Princeton’s Robert P. George questioned Republican presidential candidates Labor Day afternoon in a Saddleback-type Palmetto Freedom Forum, sponsored by the American Principles Project. Submitting to questions were Michele Bachmann, Herman Cain, Newt Gingrich, Ron Paul, and Mitt Romney — Rick Perry bowing out on account of wildfires in Texas. Some of those who watched comment.

Timothy Dalrymple

Call it a tale of three cities. 

In Detroit, warming up the Labor Day crowd for Pres. Barack Obama, Teamsters chieftain Jimmy Hoffa offered the president his “army” of union members for battle against the Tea Party in its “war on workers.” After Hoffa said, “Let’s take these son-of-a-bitches out,” the president took the podium and bravely told the crowd how “proud” he was of Hoffa and other union leaders. 

In Cincinnati, Vice President Joe Biden referred to the Tea Party movement as “barbarians” — only because he can’t call them “terrorists” when the cameras are running — who have “declared war on labor’s house.” The crowd roared in delight.

At roughly the same time, in Columbia, S.C., five of the candidates for the GOP nomination for president appeared at a forum hosted by the King of the Tea Party, Jim DeMint. It was the most thoughtful conversation amongst the candidates we’ve yet seen in this election season. Freed from the rigidity, verbal skirmishes, and 30-second time limits they faced in other debates, the candidates expounded their views with coherence and depth. Bachmann held forth passionately on the connection between American greatness and the United States Constitution, Cain and Gingrich spoke eloquently of tax and government reform, and Romney showed his mastery of economic matters when he was assessing the damage of the Community Reinvestment Act and Sarbanes-Oxley. While each of the candidates addressed the extraordinary costs of favor-trading between government and public-sector unions (as evidenced now in the near-collapse of the U.S. Postal Service), there was nothing like a “war on workers” in evidence.

Remind me again who the crazies are? And tell me again who’s promoting a “climate of hate”?

— Timothy Dalrymple blogs at Patheos.

Matthew J. Franck

Thanks to CNN’s inexcusable interruptions, I missed a little of Representative Bachmann’s appearance at the Palmetto Freedom Forum until I found the TownHall.com feed online. I would rate the candidates’ performances as follows, from most to least impressive:

1. Newt Gingrich reminded us that he is one of the smartest, most historically informed politicians of our times. His answers revealed a man who has thought deeply about both principles and policy. But 20 minutes of brilliance does not a campaign make. Will this performance give new life to a so-far-moribund candidacy?

2. Mitt Romney clearly understands the economy, and the intersection where the economy meets public policy. He’s informed and sophisticated. But he also doesn’t like confrontations, as revealed by his answer to Robert George’s question about enacting federal legislation protecting the right to life.

3. Michele Bachmann hit all the notes that are familiar to her many admirers. She’s clear and principled, and understands the limited constitutional powers of the federal government. She did not, however, give viewers reason to prefer her to the absent Rick Perry.

4. Herman Cain usefully reminded us that virtually any Republican candidate would be preferable to the incumbent in the White House. Barack Obama has set the bar very low, of course.

5. Ron Paul confirmed his status as the blowhard in the bar that you try to find the stool farthest from. His obsession with the Federal Reserve, his isolationism, and his loathsome insinuations about American responsibility for 9/11 vitiate any reasonable voter’s attraction to his purity on limited-government principles. And his answer to Robert George was particularly confused about the Constitution.

Bottom line: Four out of five candidates — all but Paul — helped themselves. And Senator DeMint, Representative King, and Professor George distinguished themselves and took journalists to school.

— Matthew J. Franck is director of the William E. and Carol G. Simon Center on Religion and the Constitution at the Witherspoon Institute in Princeton, N.J.


Samuel Gregg

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


Charlotte Hays

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.

Seth Leibsohn

CNN engaged in political and media malpractice by cutting to so many breaks and having John King speak over the candidates so often. The worst commercial break was in the midst of the Robby George–Mitt Romney exchange on abortion and the 14th Amendment: That was, perhaps, one of the most important questions people wanted to see Romney answer. That said, Mitt did himself immeasurable good by accepting this forum — he didn’t come off as flashy as the others, but commanding and substantive, and witty enough. “First of all, I’d have one.” Great line.

Seth Leibsohn is a fellow of the Claremont Institute and a principal with the consulting firm Leibsohn & Associates.


Kathryn Jean Lopez

The Labor Day Palmetto Freedom Forum, sponsored by the America’s Principles Project, was a breath of fresh air: Substantive questions, and an insistence that candidates show a real practical understanding of and competency on key principles. We should see more like them.

It, was, of course, a forum made for Newt Gingrich, and at times he seemed to be as comfortable as he might be back in front of a lecture hall at West Georgia College. For those skeptical about Mitt Romney, it was an opportunity for the former Massachusetts governor and businessman to show some command. And, yes, “look at all the data” was “such a Mitt answer.” It was a disappointment that Rick Perry wasn’t there. But we will see the Texas governor and the former Massachusetts governor square off, presumably, at the Reagan Library Wednesday night.

May there be fewer “American Idol or Dancing with the Stars?” questions, and more real conversations with candidates, such as this forum afforded.

— Kathryn Jean Lopez is editor-at-large of National Review Online.


Marvin Olasky

Questioner Robby George and historian Newt Gingrich won today’s debate.

Robby asked tough questions about religious freedom and none about pizza preferences. Referring to the Illinois madness, he asked whether the federal government should cut off funds to a state that discriminates against agencies that, on grounds of conscience, won’t place children with gay foster or adoptive couples. 

Robby also asked whether Congress should abide by Supreme Court decisions that violate the 14th Amendment’s guarantees of due process and equal protection, since Section Five of that amendment authorizes Congress to enforce those guarantees. All of the candidates responded in pro-family ways, but the nuances were significant. Michele Bachmann and Herman Cain agreed that the Supreme Court should be supreme among courts, but not among government branches. Ron Paul doesn’t want the 14th Amendment to override the Tenth, which empowers states. Mitt Romney supported protection for conscience in Illinois but fanned on the 14th Amendment question because it “would create a constitutional crisis” and “that’s not something I would precipitate.” 

The tragedy of Newt Gingrich was apparent once again. He showed again that he has the best-stocked mind of all the candidates. He eloquently quoted concerns of the Founders about Supreme Court oligarchy and spoke of the need to defend the Constitution against untrustworthy judges. Too bad Newt hasn’t dealt openly with his past and convinced his former colleagues that he is trustworthy. 

— Marvin Olasky is the editor-in-chief of WORLD.

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