Former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee held another one of his Huckabee Forums on Saturday night and former House Speaker Newt Gingrich again showed his mastery of policy. Former Pennsylvania Senator Rick Santorum again showed his gritty, blue collar appeal, touting his economic plan targeted to revive manufacturing that the Wall Street Journal called “supply side economics for the working man.”
But it was former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, criticized for being cold and distant, who won the night because the forum brought out a side of him that he has had trouble showing throughout the campaign season. Romney was empathetic and connected like he has not been able to before. In fairness, Romney received emotional questions that the other candidates did not receive, but, nonetheless, his interaction with the panelists revealed the person many say Romney is in private or when the cameras are not on him.
The forum was held in Ohio and panelists included Charlie Gasparino, of FOX Business, and Elaine Chao, former Labor Secretary under President George W. Bush, in addition to panelists from Ohio.
When one panelist described how his son came back from Iraq with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), Romney movingly spoke about how the country’s Veterans Affairs system has to be better and how his son has worked at VA hospitals as part of his medical residency training. Romney interacted with the panelist as if no cameras were in the room and showed a sense of humanity in this instance that could not be faked.
Another panelist spoke movingly about how his son passed away in Iraq and asked Romney what he would do for those who have come back after serving. Romney movingly showed his compassion and empathy.
Romney said his son’s sacrifice was “no greater sacrifice for no greater country” and said it was something
He then said he would not cut the military budget, saying “we have an obligation to repair their lives.”
“One of the places I’m not willing to cut back is our military budget,” Romney said. “I do not want to see us reduce our number of ships or aircraft or our number of active-duty military personnel … I certainly do not want to see us reduce our commitment to caring for those who need our care.”
At the end of the program, Huckabee, who has been no fan of Romney in the past, noted how real Romney was in this moment. It is worth noting that the other candidates did not get these questions and were not afforded the chance to show a similar level of humanity.
Gingrich again detailed how he would increase the supply of gas — he detailed how natural gas prices were low — to lower the price, talked about how liberals want to punish people with higher taxes and regulations while “classic conservatism rewarded people” with incentives, and he would act like a classical conservative if elected President. He discussed how he wanted to retrain those getting unemployment benefits for new jobs and noted that in North Dakota there are about 16,000 jobs available in the oil industry but the state still has a 3.5% unemployment rate because those who are unemployed in the state do not have the training to get those jobs, which are therefore going to people who are coming in from out of state.
“Bad government can lead to pain,” Gingrich said. “We need very profound change in Washington … we need a campaign that defines for America what a full employment economy is like.”
Gingrich also quoted Proverbs and noted that “without vision, people perish” and laid out his vision to jumpstart the country’s economy.
Gingrich framed a potential general election matchup against Obama in simple terms. Gingrich said Obama and Energy Secretary Steven Chu, a person Gingrich has said needed to be fired despite noting that he has done his job of helping Obama allow gas prices to go up to force Americans into more environmentally friendly vehicles, would be or $9 gas prices while Gingrich would be for $2 gas prices.
Santorum spoke of his manufacturing plan, discussed how he grew up in a steel town that was being decimated and how government should not be bailing out certain sectors of the economy while allowing others to die. Santorum mentioned he did his own taxes and said he would fight immediately for tax simplification.
“It is important to be in a place to see the economic devastation caused by a … changing economy,” Santorum said, noting that a lot of people feel like they are “paddling alone.”
Santorum’s economic message showed why he is resonating in the rust-belt regions such as Michigan and Ohio, where blue collar working class voters determine the primary and the general election.
But the exchange that described the state of the Obama economy was when former Labor Sec. Elaine Chao asked Romney about the many recent cases in which local governments closed down lemonade stands. Chow asked Romney if he would allow his grandsons to risk opening up lemonade stands even if they faced being shut down by local government.
Chao asked, “If your grandkids wanted to open a lemonade stand, would you make sure they followed all the regulatory rules or just take the risk and buy them the lemonade powder?”
Romney simply said, “Kids ought to be able to open up lemonade stands. You got to be able to have freedom in this country.”
Romney then spoke about the extraordinay number of bureaucrats in Washington and said, “get them out of there.”