A few novelties in the latest Republican presidential debate
--In a sign of obtuseness or evasiveness (or both), Rick Perry ignored a question worthy of an ingenious high school debater: If he considers Bain Capital’s takeovers “vulture capitalism,” how can he be against government regulation of business? Instead of engaging the question, he dusted off his mantra about job creation in Texas. At least Newt Gingrich would have tried to square the circle.
--Mitt Romney’s attack on "super PACs" showed a misunderstanding of campaign finance laws and of the Supreme Court decision liberals love to hate: Citizens United. Romney said he pined for a day when campaigns regained control of the message, making super PACs unnecessary. If campaigns want to drown out super PAC ads, they can do so now by spending to their hearts’ content (as long as they reject federal funding). There is also the option, which Romney and Gingrich sparred over, of explicitly denouncing bogus ads aired on your behalf. Finally, under Citizens United and the 1st Amendment, campaigns couldn’t tell independent groups to shut up any more than they could silence newspaper editorial boards.
--By now it’s no surprise that Romney is willing to throw red meat to conservatives. But his insistence that felons who committed violent crimes should be forbidden to vote even after their release was even more cynical than his righter-than-the-right position on illegal immigration. Especially on Martin Luther King Jr. Day, given the disproportionate targeting of African Americans in the criminal justice system (a phenomenon addressed by Ron Paul in an unusually lucid interval).
--Amid the posturing there was a serious and substantive discussion about whether Gingrich’s hobby horse of Chile-style private retirement accounts could be introduced anytime soon given budget deficits. Not for the only time tonight, Rick Santorum was an unexpected voice of reason.
--Refusing to recant his now-famous proposal that schoolchildren from impoverished families earn money doing janitorial work at schools, Gingrich softened it by adding that children could work in the school library, pointing to his daughter’s childhood labors and offering a tribute to a boy doughnut entrepreneur. A little nuance goes a long way, Newt.
-- Michael McGough
Photo: Republican presidential candidates (L-R) Rick Perry, Rick Santorum, Mitt Romney, Newt Gingrich and Ron Paul pose for photos before participating in a debate at the Myrtle Beach Convention Center on January 16 in South Carolina. Credit: Joe Raedle/Getty Images