Republican presidential candidates from left, Texas Gov. Rick Perry, former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, Rep. Ron Paul, R-Texas, Rep. Michele Bachmann, R-Minn., prepare for a Republican presidential debate in Sioux City, Iowa, Thursday, Dec. 15, 2011. (AP Photo/Eric Gay)
At the final GOP presidential debate before the Iowa caucus, Rick Perry made the first try at a direct appeal to social conservatives with his hope to be the “Tim Tebow of the Iowa caucuses.” While the Fox News debate started with an economic focus, we did get answers from the candidates on social issues, the judiciary, and an important foreign policy issue for social conservatives, Iran.
Let’s start with the judiciary questions of the debate that began with Newt Gingrich’s uprising against a “judicial dictatorship” which includes a policy to abolish the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals, because of the court’s overturned that declared “under God” in the Pledge of Allegiance unconstitutional, and other courts. While the idea is certainly appealing to social conservatives, we cannot forget that all federal judges – from the district courts to the Supreme Court – are nominated by an elected President and confirmed by an elected Senate. At the ACLJ, we preach that elections have consequences. The judges and justices we have in federal courts are a direct result of the leaders we elect. And is there a social conservative in the country who would disagree with Governor Romney saying that his favorite Supreme Court Justices are Roberts, Alito, Scalia, and Thomas?
When the debate turns to the Iranian nuclear threat, Ron Paul showed exactly why he cannot garner more support from social conservatives. Michele Bachmann expressed what most of believe when she said that Paul’s Iranian policy is the, “most dangerous plan for the United States.” This difference is why Ron Paul will never be the Republican nominee for president. While Romney may not win over a majority of social conservatives with his Iranian policy, his line that President Obama’s “pretty please” foreign policy is disastrous connected with conservatives.
Finally, the debate turned to social issues. Mitt Romney often comes under assault on these issues. I asked this question on Twitter and I’ll stick with it here: Why will the pro-life movement welcome former Planned Parenthood staff to the cause but question sincerity of Mitt Romney? Rick Santorum took a swipe at Romney on a same-sex marriage ruling by the Massachusetts Supreme Court, accusing Romney of not doing enough during his remaining year in office to fight back against the ruling? Yet, as Romney pointed out, he worked on an amendment to the state’s constitution defining marriage as between a man and a woman and testified to Congress in support of a federal marriage amendment.
Now, I was expecting Newt Gingrich to get hit at the debate Thursday night but not over his views on abortion. Bachmann pointed out that Gingrich said he would campaign for Republicans who weren’t just soft on life but actually supportive of partial-birth abortion. While Gingrich countered that he was simply stating that he didn’t want to purge Republican members of Congress for their views on abortion, the mood has certainly changed among voters—we saw that in 2010 when moderates were challenged and defeated in primaries across the country. Social conservatives want a leader who would campaign against Republicans who support partial-birth abortion.
Analysis: Mitt Romney had a strong night and has been climbing up in the polls in the last few days as Gingrich falls. Michele Bachmann was solid; keep an eye out for a better than expected turnout for her next month in Iowa. If Rick Perry performed like this in his first few debates, we’d be talking about a very different nomination battle. Ron Paul will keep his supporters but isolates a lot of Republican voters with his outside the mainstream, and what I consider disturbing, foreign policy proposals. If Gingrich falters and Mitt Romney has a late surge in Iowa following the attacks on Gingrich and no single other candidates benefits from a decline in Gingrich support, Romney could be the surprise winner and secure the nomination quickly.
Line of the night goes to Mitt Romney: “Our president thinks America is in decline. It is, if he’s president. It’s not if I’m president. This is going to be an American century.”