Another Republican presidential debate this week, another forceful performance by Mitt Romney. The subject was the economy, jobs and finance — Romney’s strong suits — and he made the most of it, having more to say on those subjects and saying it more cogently than the other seven candidates.
When the rescue of major banks in 2008 and its aftermath was discussed, Romney took the lead. He explained why the $700 billion bailout was necessary to save the economy and the currency. Later, he insisted the massive regulations in the Dodd-Frank bill, passed last year, would crush small and community banks and dry up their ability to lend. On both issues, his opponents for the GOP nomination deferred to him.
In the debate at Dartmouth College in New Hampshire, Gov. Rick Perry of Texas was not a commanding presence, but he dealt with issues more than adequately. Perry dwelled on energy and why it should be developed aggressively, which made sense in this debate. He also defended his record as governor better than in earlier debates. Perry’s recovery, after three poor debates, probably staved off a further dip in polls.
For the first time, businessman Herman Cain’s 9-9-9 tax reform plan drew criticism. Rep. Michele Bachmann, for one, said the creation of a 9 percent national sales tax would likely be raised again and again.
“Once you open a new revenue stream, you’re never going to get rid of it,” she said.
Cain said his “bold” plan did what the others have failed to propose: replacing rather than tinkering with the tax code.
As for Rep. Ron Paul, he said what he was expected to say: get rid of the Federal Reserve. When Cain cited Alan Greenspan as his favorite Fed chairman of past decades, Paul declared Greenspan a “disaster” and said the only chairman he could even tolerate was Paul Volcker in the early Reagan years.
Rick Santorum had a strong finishing kick. He said that a significant cause of the current economic downturn was the collapse of the American family. Fewer Americans now advance into the middle class than Europeans do. And while the poverty rate in two-parent families is 5 percent, it is 30 percent where only a single parent lives in the home.
Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman was again the odd man out. His attempts at humor were lame, except when he disputed Santorum’s claim that Pennsylvania is the “gas capital” of the country.
“Washington is the gas capital of the country,” Huntsman said.
The debate lacked a sharp back-and-forth between Romney and Perry. But in a campaign dominated by nationally televised debates, the candidates won’t have a long wait for another try. The eighth debate will be held in Las Vegas on Tuesday.
Fred Barnes is executive editor of The Weekly Standard, where this article appeared.