As I was driving down 31st Street at about 6:30 a.m. this Sunday, a rainbow seemed to be beaming out of the roof of the Kum ‘N Go Convenience Store at 31st and University — just down the street from Drake University where the debate is to be staged. Despite the rainbow, the rain continued to pour. Reporters arriving to cover the debate were caught in the deluge. If you’re watching the debate at home in half an hour, if the candidates have dark splotches on their suits, it may have been the rain.
As I drove closer to the venue this morning, I passed a group of Ron Paul supporters standing across the street from the Drake campus, waving their signs. It was impossible to count the group through the pouring rain, but they could be heard inside my car above the din of the drumming rain.
The GM of WOI-TV is speaking with folks assembled in the auditorium where the debate is to be staged, advising them to stay seated for the next couple of hours. Drake University president David Maxwell gives a brief introduction, followed by a greeting from debate moderator George Stephanopoulos, who shall hereafter be noted as "GS" in this post. David Yepsen of the Des Moines Register is now entering the hall. He’s going to ask questions of the candidates as well.
I’m sitting in the vestibule of the campus building in which the reporters covering the event are stationed. The mult-box which provides me (and other radio and TV reporters) audio is set up on a small table, with a small television monitor with a screen the size of my hand sitting on the table as well. I have unfolded my laptop and set up my work area on the remainder of what could be referred to as "the kid’s table" in the style of many a Thanksgiving or Christmas dinner when the kids were relegated to the kitchen while the adults sat around the dining room table.
A few print reporters are standing just outside, getting a final nicotine hit before the debate starts. And now, two minutes before airtime, the sun comes out. My notes on the debate follow. If you want to cut to the chase, here’s the Radio Iowa story.
The debate opens quickly. They’re playing a "robo-call" that Brownback’s campaign is leaving on the answering machines of Iowa Republicans — an attack on Romney’s credibility on the abortion issue.
GS: Senator Brownback, do you stand by that attack?
Brownback: "I certainly do. One word that describes that ad and it’s truthful….I am pro-life. I think this is a core issue for our party."
GS to Romney: is the "ad" true?
Romney: "Virtually nothing in that ad is true. The word I’d use would be desperate or perhaps negative."
GS to Romney: what is untrue?
Romney: "I’m prolife. That’s the truth…"
GS to Romney: but are any specifics in that ad true?
Romney: "The best way you can learn about someone is not by asking about their opponent, but ask them: what do you believe and what’s you view and I’m pro-life…the ad is just completely wrong."
Brownback: "You can go up on YouTube and see the governor himself…."
Romney: "The definitive source…"
Both are talking. Now, Romney wins the battle for airtime: "Look, I was pro-choice. I am pro-life and I’m tired of a person…." Brownback and Romney are still battling for airtime.
GS gives floor to Romney: "You can go back…I never said I was pro-choice but my position was effecitvely pro-choice…I changed my position…when I faced an issue of life or death…I came down on the side of life…and I get tired of people who get holier than thou because they’ve been pro-life longer than I have."
GS plays clip of Romney talking about Giuliani being pro-choice and pro-gay marriage.
GS — what is it you fear?
Romney: says nice things about Giuliani….I’d rather let him speak for his positions than me speak for them…I’m not going to try to elaborate on his position."
GS turns to Giuliani.
Giuliani: declares support for second amendment…"I clearly believe that marriage should be between a man and a woman although I did support domestic partnerships and still do….put our emphasis on reducing abortions and increasing the number of adoptions." (says govt shouldn’t make decision)
GS to Thompson…asks how big a problem would be to have GOP nominee in conflict with Catholic Church.
Thompson: ‘I think it’s a problem….with party-faithful…anybody that’s not prolife is going to have problems….I think you’ve got to look beyond one issue." (he brings up health care)
Thompson: "This debate should be about the main issues" instead of trying to pit one candidate against another.
GS to McCain: Giuliani is considered strongest candidate on national security and abortion should be de-emphasized?
McCain: "No, I think the respect and commitment to the rights of the unborn…has a lot to do with national security because it says very much what kind of a country we are…but I also firmly believe that the challenge of the 21st century is the struggle against radical Islamic extremism."
GS goes to video of Grinnell woman asking the candidates what their strategy would be for ending the war in Iraq.
Paul: "Just come home."
Paul: "We went in there illegally. We did not declare war. It’s lasting way too long…We’re losing this one. We shouldn’t be there. We ought to just come home."
Applause and some boos.
Paul: "It’s in our national self-interest and our national security." talks about long deployments, status of military. "This war is not going well because the foreign policy is defective."
Applause, some boos.
Hunter: "I was here when we stood up to the Russians….and we finally brought that wall down….I watched the Democrat debate, I watched them say just bring them home and it was a race to see who could stampede for the exit quickest."..(Marines have turned situation around)
Hunter: "Not a single D candidate paused in their rush to the exit to say to our Marines, ‘good job.’"
GS to Huckabee: is there a middle ground?
Huckabee: "Certainly…the middle ground is that we win this war and we do it with honor….put some pressure…on the Saudis. Look, we’ve made them rich…the money that has been used against us in terrorism has largely come from the middle east." (insist on Mid-East countries to take more responsibility; end dependence on foreign oil)
Tancredo’s complaining he hasn’t talked yet.
Brownback jumps in: "There’s another piece to this….military performing very well but the political situation continues to deteriorate on the ground in Iraq….missing element is political resolve on the ground….three state solution…"
GS to McCain about benchmarks for Iraqi govt.
McCain: "They are making progress and we are winning on the ground….I’m disappointed, of course, that the Maliki govt hasn’t done what they’re supposed to do…." (warns of genocide if US leaves) The American people understand the consequence of failure."
GS to Giuliani – is there any difference between you & McCain?
Giulaini: makes case he’s been making that D candidates don’t say words "islamic terrorism" — "That’s taking political correctness to extremes. You do not achieve peace through weakness and appeasement….We should seek a victory in Iraq."
GS to Romney: are you all in the same place on Iraq?
Romney: "I think we’re pretty much in the same place. It is critical for us to win this war in iraq….We’re making progress…I had to laugh at what I saw Barack Obama do. I mean, in one week he went from saying he was going to sit down for tea with our enemies, but then he’s going to bomb our allies. He’s gone from Jane Fonda to Dr. Strangelove in one week."
Laughter and applause.
Romney: "I want to make one other point." He’s now talking about his recent call for a "surge of support" for the troops and their families.
Tancredo: "There are other people here in the room, George." Tancredo’s not been called on yet.
GS: "I’m looking at you right now." asking about Iraq.
Tancredo: "There are a number of things with regards to Iraq that we have found some common ground on…can we win the military battle on the ground? Yes we can…(bemoans rules of engagement for soldiers)….We have to do something about the fact that there is no political or economic solution being developed by the iraqis…Iraq has got to take control of Iraq.
Thomspon: "Thank you very much," he begins (I think they were applauding Tancredo’s answer.) Thompson talks about his plan for Iraq…"They can’t even decide in parliament in iraq whether they’re going to take a month or six weeks off." he argues for an 18-state solution and splitting oil revenues among Iraqis.
Paul: derides neo-conservatives. "There were no WMDs…there’s no reason to go to war against these third world nations….the same individuals who predict these disastrous things to happen if we leave Iraq are the same ones that said if we go in it will just be duck soup and be over in three months…."
Romney interjects: "Has he forgotten about 9/11?"
The crowd is applauding — Mr. Paul’s remarks because Romney was talking under Paul’s answer.
Paul: talking about his military service in Vietnam and current US relations with Vietnam. "We can achieve much more in peace than we can ever achieve in these unconstitutional wars."
GS to McCain
McCain: giving his answer on Iraq that you’ve heard….war mismanaged but things are turning around. "i’m going to be judged by history, not by public opinion polls, and I believe that we can and must prevail and we’ve got the strategy and the general that can do it."
GS — moving on to domestic issues.
Yepsen: Grassley helped fashion compromise to cover more poor children and pay for it by raising the cig tax. Bush threatens veto.
Huckabee: "I think I’d like to side with the people of America who really are looking for a lot better action than they are getting out of their president or congress….(talks about system focusing on sickness rather than preventing sickness)…"
Thompson: "Health care is one of my major, dominant fields….We’ve got a sickness, illness and disease society….less than 10 percent of the money keeping you out of the hospital…I think it’s dumb" (suggests unifying health care forms would save $137 billion, and that would provide all the money for uninsured)
Tancredo: "It’s not the responsibility of the federal government to provide womb to tomb health care for Americans." Likes health savings accounts, reimporting prescription drugs — doesn’t like illegal aliens getting charity care in US hospitals.
GS goes back to Thompson, Huckabee — getting both to say they oppose Grassley’s compromise. The others in congress and the senate voted against it.
Romney: "Look, it’s critical to insure more people in this country….guess who pays? everybody else…We have to have our citizens insured…what you have to do is what we did in Mass…Not with a government take-over…with a free market-based system."
Giuliani: critiques the bill…."I know the D get all upset when you say this, but they’re taking us toward socialized medicine….that would be a terrible thing to do." (increase amt of people with private insurance through incentives, tax credits)
Hunter: "Let’s get back to freedom….you can’t buy health insurance across state lines."
Yepsen: how do we pay for health care without raising taxes?
Brownback: "You’ve got a fundamental decision to make here….do you think the solution…is one that we should have more government…involved?…clearly, you need more market-forces in health care."
Brownback: "You’ve got the Democrats marching step-by-step to a more socialized medicine approach."
Yepsen allows as how Grassley may not endorse any of these folks because they dissed his plan.
GS moves to Obama’s statement about Pakistan and Osama….plays the sound bite
Giuliani: "I believe that is an option that would remain open. I think the senator didn’t express it the right way. I think the senator, if he could say it over again, would say that we would encourage (Pakistan’s pres) to do it."
GS seeks clarification, based on RG comments on Charlie Rose show.
Giuliani: "I didn’t say we’d go in. I said I wouldn’t take the option off the table….I said I would keep that option open…."
GS reads the quote.
Giuliani: "I would take that option if I thought there was no other way….to be able to capture bin Laden. I think Pakistan has not been taking the steps they should be taking."
Romney: "I think Barack Obama is confused as to who are our friends and who are our enemies. In his first year he wants to meet with…our enemies. Those are the world’s worst tyrants, then he says he wants to go in and unilaterally bomb a nation that is our friend."
GS: If Afghan’s pres won’t go after bin Laden, and he’s in our sights, what do you do?
Romney: "We keep our options quiet." (makes point to win war on jihad US has to help moderate muslims reject extremists)
GS interprets answers.
Hunter: "Barack Obama didn’t understand there are now 100,000 Pakistani troops that have been moved to the border….the last thing you do….when you have a country that is cooperating, you don’t tell them that somehow you’re going to move unilaterally against them."
GS plays bite from Bush’s second inaugural address: "seek and support the growth of democratic movements…with ultimate goal of ending tyranny in our world." GS cites recent free elections.
Huckabee: "I don’t think it’s the job of the US to export our form of government. It’s the job of the US to protect our citizens…to make us free and us safe…I don’t think we can force people to accept our way of life, our way of government….we’ll have the sort of freedom internally…rather than spending billions propping up some government we don’t even like."
Paul: "Our responsibility is to spread democracy here and make sure that we have it….(Bush was just continuing Woodrow Wilson doctrine of making world safe for democracy)…There’s nothing wrong with spreading our values around the world, but it is wrong to spread it by force….Theatening Pakistan and threatening Iran makes no sense whatsoever."
Giuliani: "Democracy is not immediately going to elections…it requires the rule of law. It requires stability….Democracy’s only a theory if you’re living in an unstable situation."
GS — did we push for elections quickly?
Giuliani: "Maybe….make sure you’ve developed the bedrocks of democracy…(cites crime turn-around in NYC when he became mayor)…First you have to have a certain quality of life that allows you to be comfortable…then elections start to mean something in the full picture of what a democracy is."
McCain: "We failed to appreciate that elections do not mean democracy, that it is rule of law. Rule of law, btw, is starting to take hold in Iraq…which will then allow true democracy. It’s naive to say that we’ll never use nuclear weapons. It’s naive to say that we’re going to attack Pakistan without thinking it through." (last two sentences deal with Obama)
Romney: "Democracy is not defined by a vote….as Tony Blair said, ours should be a campaign of values…there’s no question in this country, we need to reach out not just with our military might….
GS — did Bush fail…
Romney: "I’m not a carbon copy of President Bush and there are things that I would do that would be done differently." (talks about Lebanon) "We’d love it if we could just all come home and not worry about the rest of the world, as Ron Paul says, but the problem is they attacked us on 9/11."
GS to Tancredo — you said you would threaten to bomb mecca and medina. State Dept called that reprehensible and crazy.
Tancredo: "Yea, the State Dept. Boy, when they start complaining about things I have to say, I feel a lot better."
Tancredo: "My task is as POTUS is to do one thing: to protect and defend this country….Anybody that would suggest (take nuclear option off the table) isn’t fit to be POTUS."
Thompson: "I sincerely believe that bombing religious artifacts and religious sites would do nothing but unify one billion muslims against us."
Tancredo: "After we’ve been hit."
Thompson: "I would like to say…we are fighting a holy war. It’s a jihad."
Brownback: "Words of a president matter…."
Yepsen asks about Minnesota bridge collapse, and whether it’s time to raise gas taxes.
Huckabee: gives answer similar to what he said Friday on this subject.
Giuliani: "The way to do it is to reduce taxes and raise more money."
Giuliani: "I ran a city with 759 bridges….the most used in the world…I was able to acquire more money…to fix those bridges by lowering taxes." (hits Edwards’ tax plan) "There is a liberal, Democratic assumption that if you raise taxes you raise money…very often is a big mistake."
Romney: biggest way to get more tax receipts — grow economy. "The best way to grow our economy is to keep our taxes down." (Talks about 500 bridges in MA that were structrually deficient, deciding to shift money from new construction to maintenance). "We instead said: fix it, first. We have to reorient how we spend our money."
McCain: gives answer he gave in Ankeny Saturday (but not as forcefully as he did in Ankeny)
Going to commercial break.
A video question from Sean Kennedy of Virginia (is this the guy who worked for Gore? And is Brian Kennedy’s brother? Nope. Afterwards, Brian Kennedy — who is working for Romney — said he clutched his heart when he heard the name, thinking it might be his bro.)
Oh, the question is about Dick Cheney’s role in the Bush Administration. What would you have your VP do, candidates?
McCain: "having been considered for that post several times, I’ve thought a lot about it The VP really has only two duties…(vote in the senate and inquire daily as to the president’s health).
Crowd laughs, as do GS & Yepsen.
McCain goes on, and when pressed about whether he’d have a Cheney-like VP: "Look, I would be very careful that everybody understood that there’s only one president."
Thompson: defends Cheney "gets criticized for a lot of things that he doesn’t do."
Thompson: "Dick Cheney’s an honorable individual and I think the POTUS depends a great deal on him."
Giuliani: doesn’t diss Cheney. Talks about needing to be able to step into POTUS shoes immediately.
GS presses Giuliani:
Giuliani: "I’m real clear on the fact that George Bush is the POTUS…and he can use Dick Cheney as he sees fit."
Romney: "Let the president decide…it’s been very popular for people…to be critical of president and vice president….and I know they have made mistakes, but they have kept us safe."
Brownback: says President Bush has "over-relied" on Dick Cheney, went so far as to suggest Cheney had "taken over" that job.
Paul: "Most people…behind the scenes…think the vice president is more powerful than the president."
Hunter: talks about his service in Vietnam and his son’s two tours in Iraq and one tour in Afghanistan. "I would not share the role of commander in chief with a vice president."
GS asks about tax policy….the fair tax — eliminating all taxes and repalce it with a 23 percent sales tax.
Applause from crowd after GS explains it.
Huckabee: "I absolutely support the fair tax….more Americans fear an audit of the IRS more than they do getting mugged…it ends the underground economy…no more illegals, no more gamblers, prostitutes, pimps and dope dealers will be able to escape the tax code."
Romney: "It’s good, but it’s not good." laughs.
Huckabee: "It’s actually better than that."
Romney: talks about the allure of getting rid of the IRS…"completely throwing out our tax system and coming up with a new one is something we have to do very carefully"….Romney suggests the home construction industry might collapse because sales taxes might be assessed on new home sales, but not existing home sales. "My view is get rid of the tax on savings."
Giuliani: "Elminate the death tax….tells his respirator joke about death tax going from zero in 2010 to 55 percent in 2011.
Giuliani: "The most sensible thing to do is simplify the tax code." suggests flat and fair tax ideas would have been good "at the very beginning" when tax code was written, but they’d be too much of a change/shock to the economy. "It would be too complex to get there." Also says IRS would still exist to administer the sales tax.
McCain: "I believe that we’ve got to simplify the tax code." discusses the alternate minimum tax. Suggests he’d call on Alan Greenspan to head a tax reform commission, then congress would either accept or reject the whole package — just like the base closure commission report.
Tancredo: a co-sponsor of the fair tax..suggests Romney "doesn’t understand" it and should read a book explaining it.
Romney: "Read it."
Tancredo: "Well, then you should know how it works, but the most important reason to move….is because an income tax is designed to manipulate behavior….that’s too much power for the federal government."
Brownback: discusses his optional flat tax idea (his proposal’s been out there for a few months) "It will create economic growth."
GS to email question from an Idaho man, asking the candidates to admit to a defining mistake of their life.
Hunter: "contemplating running as a Democrat my first time"
Paul: "I don’t speak forcefully enough in the cause of the Constitution"
Huckabee: not taking good care of my personal health
Romney: "When I first ran for office, being deeply opposed to abortion, but saying I’d support the current law which was…effectively a pro-choice position. That was just wrong."
Giuliani: made a joke of it "To have a description of my mistakes in 30 seconds?" Crowd and other candidates erupted in laughter.
GS: "Defining mistake. Just one defining mistake."
Giuliani: "George, your father is a priest. I’ll explain it to your father, not to you, OK?"
GS: "Fair enough."
McCain: steered back to serious, talks about deciding to stay in combat in Vietnam "I thought about that a lot in the intervening five years in prison"; he also talked about the mistake he made going to a meeting with a campaign contributor who was appearing before govt regulators
Brownback: not telling my wife and kids I love ‘em enough, too focused on self
Thompson: doesn’t think he was supportive enough of his mother, mother-in-law, wife and daughter who had breast cancer and he says that’s why he’s vowed to end breast cancer deaths by 2015.
Tancredo: "I have no doubt what the greatest mistake in my life has been and that is that it took me probably 30 years before I realized that Jesus Christ is my personal savior."
GS — one more round of Q&A — showing Bush in 1999 making the promise to bring dignity and respect back to the Oval Office. What would you all restore to the Oval Office?
Tancredo: hope in US as an ideal
Brownback: family values, justice to overturn Roe v Wade
McCain: gives closing remarks, talks about his service, struggle against radical islamic extremism
Giuliani: restore hope, optimism
Romney: gives closing remarks — strong military, strong economy, strong families
Huckabee: Clintonesque — he’d work every day for the ordinary Americans who are the "real boss" of him
Paul: restore openness to govt
Hunter: restore economic patriotism.