Conservative Policy Strong, Optimistic in Debate

In yesterday’s Republican debate, every candidate but Rep. Ron Paul (Tex.) offered a dose of optimism for success in Iraq. The nine candidates took critical jabs at Democrat counterparts — especially Sen. Barack Obama for his recent comments on foreign policy — and distanced themselves from President Bush. The tone of the event, held at Drake University in Des Moines, Iowa, was more informal than previous debates — which have been compared to a game show-like format.

Many conservative blogs that covered the debate live handed first place to frontrunner Gov. Mitt Romney (at 26%, according to an ABC/Washington Post poll) but it was Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee who exceeded expectations again, and — again — left many of us wondering why his candidacy isn’t gaining ground in the polls. Huckabee, tied for fourth place with John McCain, spoke well on everything from reforming the tax system to reducing oil dependence.

"I don’t think it’s the job of the United States to export our form of government. It’s the job of the United States to protect our citizens, to secure our own borders, which we have failed to do for over 20 years,” Huckabee said. “It’s the job of our government to make us free and safe, and to create an enviable kind of government…”

The Iraq war bears the face of President Bush but this debate proved that GOP hopefuls won’t condemn the  recent troop surge — as the Democrats have — before it’s given a chance to work.

ABC’s George Stephanopoulos tried hard to get the candidates to handcuff themselves to President  Bush, but they wouldn’t bite.

On healthcare, he asked, “Do you side with Bush or Congress?”  No one took the bait.

“I side with people of America,” said Huckabee, who called the healthcare system “upside down” and proposed that the system couldn’t be fixed until America puts it’s focus on “wellness and prevention” instead of sickness.

Rudy Giuliani led criticism of Democrats by noting that, “In four democratic debates, not a single Democrat said the words ‘Islamic terrorism’…now that is taking political correctness to extremes.” He referred to “liberal Democrat” policies negatively, attempting to distance himself from the left he is known for on social issues.

“You do not achieve peace through weakness,” he continued, referring to the now-famous New York Times article by Brookings Institution writers Michael O’Hanlon and Kenneth Pollack published last week that — uncharacteristically for the Times – spoke about  progress in Iraq.

On military strategy in Iraq, government spending on earmarks and abortion, Sen. John McCain (Ariz.) said he would "veto every single bill [pork barrel earmarks bill] that comes across my desk."

“We do now have a strategy that is succeeding, a military whose morale is up,” said McCain. “I believe we can and must prevail and we have the strategy and the general that can do it.”  His pitfalls on supporting unconstitutional immigration policies and campaign finance limits, however, make a victory for him nearly impossible.

Aside from Huckabee’s strong performance, of the second-tier candidates Rep. Duncan Hunter (Calif.) gave a superb showing.  He  reminded the audience that “not a single Democrat candidate paused in their rush for the exit to say to our marines — good job.” Hunter, whose son is currently deployed in Iraq, consistently maintains strong war policy and said, “My task is to do one thing — protect and defend this country.”

Candidates were hesitant to criticize one another on the stage but Stephanopoulos opened the debate by showing a video from Sam Brownback’s (Kan.) campaign which criticized Mitt Romney’s flip-flopped abortion stance. Though Romney stumbled to re-justify his well-known switch from pro-choice to pro-life, Brownback appeared weak for trying to ride on the failures of another instead standing on the strength of his own views.

Rep. Ron Paul, low in the polls, but high in applause rating, remained defined by his “just come home” solution to Iraq. Some  Republicans favor Paul for his limited government views but his foreign policy ideas have alienated those who support the surge. In an editorial meeting last week, Paul told HUMAN EVENTS he would prefer to use our national defense resources for securing the borders.

National independence infiltrated the debate as well. “If we can feed ourselves, if we can fuel ourselves, if we can manufacture the weapons to defend ourselves…we are free people,” Huckabee said.

The candidates appeared in agreement with Giuliani when he said, “reduce taxes and raise more money” instead of raising taxes. Huckabee agreed, saying it’s not “necessarily that we ought to raise a tax to fix what we need to fix.”

Rep. Tom Tancredo (Co.) failed to make a significant impression, though he was able to raise his defining issue — immigration — when speaking on healthcare. “It’s not the responsibility of the federal government to provide womb to tomb healthcare for America,” he said. “Not only that, but the illegal aliens in this country that are taking a large part of our healthcare dollars…”

In two weeks, the Democrats will debate on ABC.  The question, after the Sunday Republican encounter, is if the Democrats can compete with ideas against these Republicans.  So far, all the Dems have been able to do is bash President Bush.  Can they actually compete against candidates who aren’t George W. Bush?