Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-MN), Gov. Mitt Romney, and Rep. Ron Paul (R-Tx) were among the participants in the Palmetto Freedom Forum on Labor Day. The Freedom Forum was hosted by South Carolina Senator Jim DeMint, a Tea Party favorite, Rep. Steve King (R-IA) and Princeton professor Robert George.
Texas Gov. Rick Perry was absent from the event because he had to tend to wildfires in Texas. Former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich and Georgia businessman Herman Cain also participated in the event, and an analysis of their performances can be read here.
This was not the setting for quick soundbites, but a forum that was intended to dissect, analyze, and fully flesh-out the ideas and beliefs of each candidate. Each candidate was asked a series of serious questions while alone on the stage, so there was no back and forth that would occur in a debate. A stump speech or a rallying-cry for activists would have been out of place and ineffective.
The location of the forum was notable because South Carolina has had such an impact on the Republican primary in recent history. Since 1980, every candidate that has won in South Carolina has gone on to win the Republican nomination.
Here is what Bachmann, Paul, and Romney discussed.
Bachmann led off the event, and gave a poised performance that sometimes lacked detail and polish. After her introductory statements, she was asked, like all the other candidates were afterward, to explain her belief in the founding principles of the United States.
Bachmann staked out a very Jeffersonian, strict-constructionist versus loose-constructionist position relative to the Constitution, explained why and when she believes America veered off course, and highlighted two leaders who exemplify the battle over its meaning. In fact she frequently quoted Jefferson in regard to her overall governmental philosophy.
First, Bachmann quoted Calvin Coolidge, who said, “To live under the Constitution was the greatest privilege accorded to the human race.” Then she quoted Franklin Roosevelt, who said, “The United States Constitution has proved itself the most marvelously elastic compilation of the rules of government ever written.”
Criticizing Roosevelt and the philosophy of the Democratic Party since his time, Bachmann said, “This is a wildly divergent view of the Constitution.”
Bachmann continued to make a Jeffersonian, limited-government argument with the rest of her answers. Citing the usurpation of the authority of congress, Bachmann said she would abandon the practice of appointing Czars, who don’t require congressional approval. She also said she would protect individual rights in regard to educating children and government workers by eliminating the Department of Education and would support right-to-work laws both at the state and federal level.
Finally, she went after the Supreme Court, attacking the power of judicial review and the Roe v. Wade decision that cited privacy under the “due process clause” to make any restriction of abortion illegal.
She referenced Jefferson again, saying, “Thomas Jefferson understood that of the three branches of government the most important was the United States Congress”
Although sticking to the orthodoxy of her constituents, Bachmann did not produce a lot of give and take with the panelists, producing a number of short answers without a lot of detailed policy analysis. She did however give strong and bold statements regarding both her fiscal and social conservative principles.
Paul did not back off one bit from his libertarian and strict views regarding the Constitution. He made several references to the founding fathers and of his philosophy about the role of government in the lives of individuals.
When Paul was asked by Sen. Jim DeMint to list the areas he would like the federal government to get out of, Paul quickly and unhesitatingly stated, “Well, that’s a difficult question because that’s a long list. I would rather give you me the list of one of the things we should keep. That would be a short list.”
While most conservatives have consistently agreed with Paul on many domestic issues concerning the size of government, there has been a deep division between his foreign policy views and that of the mainstream of the Republican Party. His performance and reaction from the audience shows perhaps a bit of a shift from the Bush era.
“We should all be out of all those international organizations, we should defend this country …
But it would mean bringing our troops home,” Paul said to much applause and loud cheers.
If representative of the state at large, this was a significant shift in South Carolina, which is regarded as a state that is generally supportive of aggressive military action in foreign policy.
Paul stood on his standard limited government platform and continued to argue for the same causes that he has been championing for over twenty years. His ideas may be resonating now even more than in his last presidential run because he has been proved right in several notable areas regarding the collapse of the housing market as well as the ineffectiveness and waste of the Federal Reserve using loose monetary policy to try to jump-start the economy.
Romney continued to speak and act like an establishment candidate focusing on his business-like approach to government. He delved mostly into policy matters, carefully breaking down the specific elements of policies he would like to see changed. His statements included far fewer references to the Constitution and the deep philosophical divide between the two parties.
Many recent policies supported by President Obama and Democrats were picked out and attacked.
First, he went after the Dodd-Frank financial regulatory bill, saying that it “created such uncertainty that the bankers, instead of making leans and encouraging the economy pulled back.”
When asked if the large financial, home-mortgage institutions Freddie Mac and Fannie Mae should be privatized, he went on at length about why he thought the institutions failed, stating that “we have to rethink about how we’re going to support a growing housing industry.”
Romney was also asked about and explained his problems with both the Housing Reinvestment Act and the Sarbanes-Oxley Act that was passed in 2002.
These were two bills that had bipartisan support, but Romney believes that they both have flaws that can be fixed. He didn’t assign all of the blame to the Democrat Party and took a balanced approach saying of the Housing Reinvestment Act, “That was a disaster from the get-go. Look, I understand — and by the way, this is not just Democrats.”
The last question that Romney received was about the health care plan that he enacted while serving as the Governor of Massachusetts. Former presidential candidate Tim Pawlenty, who recently dropped out of the race after a third-place showing in the Ames Straw Poll, once referred to Romney’s plan as “ObamneyCare.” The plan has been seen as a weakness for Romney because of its resemblance to ObamaCare, but he has remained steadfast in his insistence that his plan was both good for the state of Massachusetts and won’t hurt him in the general election.
Romney even went as far as to say that his health care plan will actually be a great “asset” for him if he debated Obama in a general election, and he said that Obama should have called him to discuss with him what worked and did not work in his health care plan.
Of Obama’s health care plan, Romney said it was “unconstitutional” and that “it’s bad law.”