For the first time fire shot out of the eyes of Tim Pawlenty in a GOP presidential debate. Okay, not really, but at least he got animated. A total of nine GOP presidential candidates debated in Ames Iowa last night to debate a range of topics. These topics ranged from the economy, to the debt ceiling fight and its creation, social issues and individual candidates records. The old GOP adage of not attacking each other personally was tested at this debate held true. Instead, fellow Minnesotans Michelle Bachmann, a sitting Congressman, and former Governor Tim Pawlenty debated his record. Ron Paul and Rick Santorum debated the role of government in marriage. Romney and Pawlenty sparred over his Romneycare. But amid these debates schisms could be seen among individual candidates that related to individual GOP voters.
Exhibit A would be Ron Paul and his views on, well, just about everything. Paul maintains the most libertarian viewpoint of all the GOP candidates and it showed. He stood up for moving to the gold standard and sound monetary policy. He advocated we get the heck out of Afghanistan and Iraq, letting Iran develop nuclear weapons and stop being the policer of the world. Finally Paul advocated for the government to get out of marriage. I was waiting for the legalize marijuana argument by the way. Just about every other candidate on the stage, even Santorum (a well-known social conservative) took a more measured approach.
Paul’s views though show the schisms that riddle the GOP on a whole range of policy issues. Yes, most conservatives and Republicans stand for smaller government and a strong military. They want a vibrant and growing economy as well as a stable Middle East. But how they would get there differs greatly among the GOP faithful. Paul’s views are the most recognizable and generally most people lump all the GOP candidates, minus Paul, into the right-wing category. Ron Paul gets a category all to himself according to liberal blogs.
Exhibit B, staying with the exhibit mindset, would be the differences among the GOP candidates including Paul on Foreign Policy. Paul is currently the only Republican who advocates we leave Iraq and Afghanistan now, as well as letting Iran get the nuke, but the other candidates differ in how they would deal with the issue. Herman Cain on Afghanistan said he would “Listen to the advice of his generals.” Pawlenty wanted a drawdown of troops complete in 2012. Romney and Bachmann echoed these sentiments. For the most part Gingrich and Santorum echoed the same sentiments but said they understood the issue from the late 70s and 80s. The one widespread agreement the GOP had on Foreign Policy was that Obama had failed to lead. Shocker I know.
Exhibit C would be the debate over marriage and the role of the 10th Amendment. Santorum represents a well-known and sizeable chunk of the GOP electorate that wants the federal government to mandate marriage policy. For the most part other candidates agreed although they differed over technicalities on whether they would campaign for or against civil unions. Huntsman next to Paul was the next most accepting of civil unions. Paul’s views on the 10th Amendment are also supported by many among the GOP. They believe states rights should be protected and that marriage is under that umbrella. It is interesting to note not one candidate, even Paul, advocated for government of any kind to get completely out of marriage. Though it was funny to see him and Santorum get into it over polygamy.
Exhibit D showcased a debate on Healthcare Reform and how far the government could go to mandate peoples’ behavior. Center-stage was Romneycare vs. Obamacare. On the surface the laws are similar. Mandate people to buy health insurance who can afford it or pay a fine. No surprise considering he was on the defensive on the issue, but Romney, while advocating for repeal of Obamacare, said his plan was different because it was a states issue. But even Romney admitted by his defense the state, whether the federal government or a state, had the right to force you to buy a product. No other candidate agreed though at one time it was pointed out Pawlenty had advocated for it in Minnesota.
Romney’s views represent a more moderate wing of the party who are with the GOP for fiscal reasons. But even they have been turning away in droves to a philosophy such as this with a prime example of its failure in Obamacare. And that is before it is even implemented.
The debates on these issues reveal the differences between the candidates but also the division with the GOP faithful. Military hawks, social conservatives, fiscal conservatives, social moderates, libertarians and yes even a few liberals fit into the GOP fold. They all have views represented in some way by the candidates on that stage. And if they make it to Ames on Saturday they can best choose the candidate they feel represents their views.
The GOP faithful should be relieved. This field is perfectly adequate to fit their ideological needs and beat the president. Military hawks have candidates like Romney, Pawlenty and Santorum. Social conservatives have Bachmann and Santorum. Establishment voters have Gingrich and Romney to go to. And libertarian, foreign policy minimalists have Paul. And voters simply fed up with politicians have Cain to turn to. This field represents the views of the GOP voter, in all its glories, contradictions and beliefs. And, as expected, when Governor Rick Perry of Texas announces on Saturday even views not mentioned here could see the light of day.