By THOMAS BEAUMONT, Associated Press
Attacked as a lifelong Washington insider, newly minted Republican front-runner Newt Gingrich parried criticism from Mitt Romney in campaign debate Saturday night, telling the former Massachusetts governor, "The only reason you didn't become a career politician is because you lost to Teddy Kennedy in 1994."
Gingrich also defended against attacks from Texas Rep. Ron Paul and Minnesota Rep. Michele Bachmann in the first debate since he soared to the lead in polls nationally and in Iowa. Caucuses on Jan. 3 in this state will kick off the competition for Republican National Convention delegates who will pick an opponent to President Barack Obama.
Under questioning from Paul, Gingrich said he had never lobbied for Freddie Mac, a quasi-government agency that paid him at least $1.6 million to provide strategic advice. Paul shot back, "It's the taxpayers' money, though. We were bailing them out."
The tone was respectful, at least in the early moments of the debate, the stakes ever higher as six rivals met on a stage in the Iowa capital city. The debate was the 12th since the long campaign began, and the first since Herman Cain's candidacy imploded after allegations of sexual harassment and an extra-marital affair.
The six contenders split down the middle on legislation making its way toward a year-end vote in Congress to extend a Social Security payroll tax into 2012.
Romney, Gingrich and Paul said they favored it. Bachmann, Texas Gov., Rick Perry and former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum said they opposed the measure.
Whatever the impact of their differences on the presidential race, the internal disagreement could well portend difficulties for legislation that Obama has proposed and Republican leaders in Congress view as essential if the party is to avoid being tagged for raising taxes.
For Gingrich, the debate brought new standing _ a center position onstage that comes with being a leader in the polls _ as well as the challenge of fielding criticism from his rivals.
Paul has been airing television commercials in Iowa attacking the former House speaker, and Romney's campaign has become increasingly critical of him, bolstered by a multimillion-dollar television ad campaign that is financed by allies.
Bachmann criticized Gingrich for first supporting a requirement for individuals to purchase health insurance in 1993. She folded Romney into her attack, saying he had pushed successfully for a state health care law as Massachusetts governor that contained an individual mandate.
In rebuttal, Gingrich said the mandate he supported was a conservative alternative to President Bill Clinton's national health care plan.
"It's now clear the individual mandate is unconstitutional," he said.
The problem with Mitt Romney's ,000 wager is that it reinforces a stereotype that hasn't been helping him. At a focus group earlier this month in Fairfax County, Va., sponsored by the Annenberg Public Policy Center, moderator Peter Hart asked the assembled Republican primary voters to imagine what would happen if Romney were the "sixth person in line at an airport counter and there were only one ticket left on the plane."
The participants had one consistent answer:
"He'd buy the airline." "He'd pay double for the ticket." "He could buy himself to the front of the line." "Mitt Romney would ... pay it off or find a way to pay it off or find a solution so that he would be the one going to the front of the line. I'm not concerned about the guy in front of me, I'm going to find another way." "He'd pay his way to the top." "He'd pay off whoever got the ticket."
Romney's opponents want that impression to live on, and his ,000 bet plays right into their hands.
-- Mark Blumenthal
|@ howardfineman : bottom line: Newt didn't explode. Mitt workmanlike. Paul was Paul. Bachmann, Santorum helped themselves. Perry not weird. No news=Newt.|
To close things out, everyone had to mention something that he or she had learned from the other candidates.
Rick Santorum said that as a "young man," he had listened to tapes of Newt Gingrich and learned a lot. (Did you imagine that he listened to tapes of the Replacements?) "Sticking by [those] conservative principles," he said, "has served me well." Santorum told the audience that he was thus the "consistent conservative."
Rick Perry made another soft play to the Paul supporters: "Congressman Paul got me really intrigued about the Federal Reserve. ... He's the guy on the stage that got me the most interested in a subject I've found interesting."
Mitt Romney praised the way Ron Paul "ignites enthusiasm." Then he went on to praise "principles of leadership" in general and sort of tipped a hat to Perry for talking about this.
Newt Gingrich praised Iowa Gov. Terry Branstad as his "role model," for getting into, out of and back into politics. He praised Perry for "getting him engaged on the 10th Amendment" and Santorum for his "consistency on Iran."
Paul told Perry in turn that he appreciated his support: "I've learned that if you're consistent in your beliefs, people will eventually come your way."
And Michele Bachmann said that Herman Cain's ability to say "9-9-9 plan" over and over again was a key factor in the "9-9-9 plan" being discussed. Or something! Cain was "plain-spoken," she said, and so she has a "win-win-win" plan. Which is actually more vague than Cain, not "more plain."
No one was willing to admit having learned anything from Romney during this campaign.
-- Jason Linkins
Mitt Romney's ,000 bet may end up being his equivalent of George H.W. Bush's grocery scanner gaffe.
The Jon Huntsman campaign has already announced it has bought the website www.10kbet.com. A campaign official confirmed the purchase to The Huffington Post.
And the Democratic National Committee shot out a press release entitled, "Here’s What the Average American Family Can Buy with ,000."The list from the DNC:
- ,000 Is More Than Four Months Pay For Most Americans (Median Income Was ,197 in 2010) [Census.gov, accessed 12/10/11]
- ,000 Is More Than The Average Public In-State Four-Year College Tuition (,244) [CollegeBoard, accessed 12/10/11]
- ,000 Is Almost Three Times What The Average Family Spends On Groceries In A Year (24) [BLS.gov, accessed 12/10/11]
- ,000 Would Cover More Than A Year's Worth Of Mortgage Payments For The Typical American Home Purchased Today (,376) [National Association of Realtors, 10/6/11]
-- Jon Ward
Newt Gingrich's contention that there is no such thing as a Palestinian is a common talking point among West Bank settlers and right-wing parties in Israel. They note that after the United Nations partition of Palestine into two states, one Jewish and one Arab, Arab states attacked Israel. When the fighting ended, the areas that Palestinians today want for their state were controlled by Jordan (West Bank) and Egypt (Gaza).
By denying that there is such a people as "Palestinians," conservative Israelis and their allies like Gingrich delegitimize the national aspirations of the Arabs who live in the areas that today make up the state of Israel.
That said, Gingrich's contention -- supported by Michele Bachmann and other candidates -- that Palestinian textbooks and leaders teach hatred of Israel is not entirely off base. Not that Palestinians are the first to argue that one nation's freedom fighter is another nation's terrorist. The Irgun, a Jewish paramilitary group that fought the British before the Israeli state was declared, were branded as terrorists in their time.
-- Andrea Stone
Well, we've seen a wager made tonight on the debate stage, so why not keep breaking new ground in debate politesse? Rick Perry jumped on an opportunity to make the case that the states should be in the business of setting the rules for health care provision. In the middle of the answer, he went fishing for support from a fellow governor in the audience, Iowa's Terry Branstad.
PERRY: Terry ... I'm sure you've got some programs in your state --
BRANSTAD: Healthiest state in the nation!
Branstad, by the way, has not yet endorsed a 2012 presidential candidate.
-- Jason Linkins
|@ howardfineman : The "poor" question is insipid. Bobby Kennedy felt the plight of the dispossessed in his bones, and he was to the manor born.|
A question from the Internet asked the candidates to discuss a time in their life when they had it rough financially. A pretty good question in the context of the casual ,000 bet that Mitt Romney made on this stage.
Rick Perry said, "Luxury wasn't really in my lexicon." He talked about growing up poor, without running water. But "I've never had a time in my life ... where I didn't have everything I needed," he said, thoughtfully.
Romney said, "I didn't grow up poor ... but I grew up with a dad who was poor." He said that his father taught him important lessons about those who are less fortunate.
Ron Paul said, "Although I was raised in a family that was very poor, I didn't know it." He went on to defame monetary policy: "The elimination of the middle class ... it's going to get a lot worse."
Rick Santorum said he grew up in a "modest home" and had "all his basic needs met." Then he pivoted to talking about how having a "mother and a father" was a paramount luxury and warned that the family is breaking down. He edged up to some of that anti-LGBT rhetoric he's known for, without actually indulging in it.
Michele Bachmann said, "We're still coupon clippers today, we still go to consignment shops."
And Newt Gingrich touted his middle-class upbringing. "Fairly frugal, but you didn't feel desperate." Today, he makes movies and books, and this gives him "small business" experience.
-- Jason Linkins
Mitt Romney and Newt Gingrich went back and forth over Gingrich's comment that the Palestinians are an "invented people." Toward the end of the exchange, Romney attempted to use the issue to paint Gingrich as someone who, as president, would shoot from the hip and whose lack of discipline would cause problems for the U.S. abroad and hurt the nation's foreign diplomacy.
"If I'm president of the United States, I will exercise sobriety, care, stability, and make sure that in a setting like this, anything I say that can affect a place with rockets going in, with people dying, I don't do anything that will harm that process," Romney said of Israel.
"And therefore before I made a statement of that nature, I'd get on the phone to my friend Bibi Netanyahu and say, 'Would it help if I said this? What would you like me to do? Let's work together because we're partners. I'm not a bomb-thrower, rhetorically or literally," Romney said.
Gingrich, who could be seen winking to someone in the audience as Romney talked, turned the contrast around and used it to his own advantage, and in the process effectively called Romney "timid."
"I think sometimes that it's helpful to have a president of the United States who has the courage to tell the truth," Gingrich said, arguing that then-President Ronald Reagan went around his national security advisers to call the Soviet Union an "evil empire" and "overruled" the State Department to utter his famous "Tear down this wall" line.
"Reagan believed the power of truth, restated to the world, reframed the world," Gingrich said. "I'm a Reaganite. I'm proud to be a Reaganite. I will tell the truth, even if it's at the risk of causing some confusion, sometimes with the timid."
-- Jon Ward
Newt Gingrich's controversial comment Friday that the Palestinians are an "invented" people drew criticism from the other candidates.
Ron Paul responded that Gingrich's remark was an example of how the U.S. gets into "so many messes" abroad. He added, "We cannot continue to get into issues like this."
Gingrich was asked about chief Palestinian negotiator Saab Erekat's sharp criticism that Newt's statement will be "the ammunitions and weapons of the bin Ladens and the extremists for a long, long time."
"How will he know the difference?" Gingrich replied. He stood firmly by his comment, adding that he had spoken as a historian.
Mitt Romney criticized Gingrich too, saying, "We're not going to throw incendiary words into a place that is a boiling pot."
After the Ottoman Empire collapsed in the wake of World War I, the lands of modern-day Israel and Palestine was known as the British Mandate or simply Palestine. Muslims, Christians and Jews who lived there were all referred to as Palestinians.
-- Luke Johnson
|@ THR : .@THR Women In Entertainment Honoree Jane Fonda on the Republican Debates: 'They All Scare Me Frankly' (Video) http://t.co/gGvQi4uL|
No names were mentioned when the candidates were asked whether voters should consider marital fidelity in making their choice for president. But it was no accident that Newt Gingrich looked a bit uncomfortable as each of his opponents took a turn at answering.
Rick Perry said he "made a vow to my wife and a vow to God" and that was "even stronger than a handshake in Texas." When ABC's George Stephanopolous asked if infidelity made a politician more likely to break faith with the voters, Perry responded, "If you will cheat on your wife, cheat on your spouse, why not cheat on your business partner?"
Rick Santorum said that marital infidelities are "not a disqualifier" but are "certainly a factor" and that in electing a leader, "trust is everything."
Michele Bachmann, in a Newt-onian flourish, cited the Federalist Papers, saying that what is needed in a president is not wealth, education or position. "It is what is the measure of the man, or, in this case, woman. Will they keep their word? Will they be a man or woman of integrity? That's what they cared about. ... Who are you really? What's your core?" she said.
Then it was Gingrich's turn. "Well, first of all, it's a real issue," he conceded, noting that voters "have to have a feeling this is a person they can trust. ... People have to render judgment."
"I've said I made mistakes," he added as the TV cameras showed his third wife, Callista. He then suggested that given that he is now a 68-year-old grandfather, it might be time to move on. "I'm delighted at the way people have been willing to look at who I am," said Gingrich.
-- Andrea Stone
|@ howardfineman : Michelle trumps them: she worked on a kibbutz! Santorum: you have to speak the truth but u have to do it with prudence. good point|
|@ howardfineman : Mitt and Newt compete over who knows Bibi better. Wait?? Bibi worked for the Boston Consulting Group??|
|@ howardfineman : Newt is the super Zionist, Romney hangs back just a bit... Mitt says Newt knows he made a mistake. Newt shakes his head.|
|@ howardfineman : well that was an anti-climax -- good for Newt. "I am a 68 year old grandfather" works. Plus ABC helped by showing Callista most of the time.|
|@ howardfineman : Newt's rivals are testifying to about 150 years worth of one-marriage lives. Only Newt is different. This is a big moment for Newt.|
Jonah Goldberg of the National Review tweeted that "Romney promises that his butler will 'personally deliver' ,000 check if he loses," which was quickly retweeted by RedState's Erick Erickson.
Jonathan Martin, who covers the GOP race for Politico, also pounced. "Who among us doesn't wager K at a time?" he tweeted.
-- Ryan Grim
"The ,000 bet Romney offered to make to Perry represents three months pay for most Americans. (Median wage: K in 2010)."
Mitt Romney attacked Rick Perry over the HPV vaccine in response to Perry's charge that he and Newt Gingrich supported individual mandates for health insurance. "You mandated the HPV vaccine," said Romney. "I wanted to give people health insurance."
Perry signed a 2007 executive order requiring the HPV vaccine for young girls, which Michele Bachmann blasted in September.
"You were for individual mandates, my friend," responded Perry.
"You raised that before and you're wrong, Rick," replied Romney. He offered to bet Perry ,000 on the issue. Perry replied that he was not into bets.
-- Luke Johnson
After Mitt Romney made fun of some of Newt Gingrich's more outlandish policy ideas, dredging up his proposal to place a permanent lunar colony on the moon, the former speaker of the House hit back, arguing the only reason Romney wasn't a career politician was because he couldn't win an election.
"The only reason you didn't become a career politician is because you lost to Teddy Kennedy in '94," Gingrich said to audience boos.
Gingrich's opponents have sought to label him as an establishmentarian, arguing he's been inside the Washington beltway too long. If his time in Washington taught him anything, it's how to spin a supposed weakness in his favor.
Romney sought to defend himself by highlighting the value of his business prowess.
"I spent my life in the private sector," Romney said. "Losing to Teddy Kennedy was the best thing I could have done for preparing me for the job I'm seeking, because it put me back in the private sector. I worked in the private sector. I learned lessons there. However we don't need people who are lifetime Washington people. ... We need people from outside Washington, outside K Street."
-- Lucia Graves
Mitt Romney was pressed by ABC's George Stephanopoulos to name areas where he and Newt Gingrich disagreed, and the first thing he mentioned was something intended to make Gingrich sound a bit loopy.
"Places where we disagree? Let's see. We can start with his idea to have a lunar colony that would mine minerals from the moon. I'm not in favor of spending that kind of money to do that," Romney said, as the audience laughed.
Romney also mentioned Gingrich's comments about child labor laws and his position on the capital gains tax, but the moon comment stood out.
It's something that New York Times columnist David Brooks mentioned in a column this week, and Romney jumped on it. He also mentioned it in an editorial board interview with the Des Moines Register.
But Gingrich did not back off his idea.
"I'm proud of trying to find things that give young people a reason to study math and science and technology and telling them that some day in their lifetime they could dream of going to the moon, they could dream of going to Mars. I grew up in a generation where the space program was real, where it was important," Gingrich said. "Frankly it is tragic that NASA has been so bureaucratized. ... Iowa State's a perfect example. Iowa State's doing brilliant things, attracting brilliant students. I want to give them places to go and things to do, and I'll happily defend the idea that America should be in space and should be there in an aggressive entrepreneurial way."
-- Jon Ward
Mitt Romney is tired of hearing about the change made to his book that touts CommonWealth Care as a "model for the nation." But Rick Perry keeps bringing it up. So Romney proposed a ,000 wager -- perhaps unprecedented in presidential debates, although we'll wait for Gingrich to provide the historical background.
Sadly, Perry didn't want to take the bet, so we never got to learn what the terms were exactly. Instead, Romney quoted from the chapter in which he said that every state should have the opportunity to make its own health care plan.
My colleague Ryan Grim quips: "How many people have you met who casually make ,000 bets?" It's pretty "1 percent," if you ask me.
-- Jason Linkins
Newt Gingrich made a fortune lobbying, without ever registering as a lobbyist. Tonight, he finally admitted that he did make some money lobbying when he said that "most of the money I made" did not come from lobbying.
Politico's Ben Smith has laid out why Gingrich didn't necessarily have to register, even if he lobbied a bit.
Gingrich has acknowledged that he was paid more than million by Fannie Mae to act as a "historian."
-- Ryan Grim
She names it Newt/Romney: "Newt/Romney was for Obamacare in principle, Newt/Romney was for cap and trade, and Newt/Romney are with President Obama in favor of the payroll tax extension."
Gingrich responds, "A lot of what you say just isn't true. Period.
Bachmann says that he's wrong. Gingrich backed the individual mandate as recently as this year and Romney's health care team was "sent" to Washington to create Obamacare, she says.
Romney: "I know Newt Gingrich, and Newt Gingrich is a friend of mine, but he and I are not clones.
-- Jason Linkins
Michele Bachmann said she is 55 years old and has been in the private sector for 50 years. Not clear what job she was doing at the beginning, but fair to assume Gingrich would have no problem with that sort of child labor.
-- Andrea Stone
Ron Paul makes his own case, contra Mitt and Newt. The key line: "I don't think anyone can compete with me in terms of consistency."
-- Jason Linkins
Herman Cain is out of the race but Rep. Michele Bachmann noted the former contender's "9-9-9" tax plan in introducing her own trinitarian plan.
Asked by moderator Diane Sawyer for a "distinguishing idea" to create jobs and reduce unemployment, Bachmann said for what appears to be the first time that she has a "win, win, win" plan. The WWW, though, appeared to be a combination of rehashed previous ideas about abolishing the federal tax code, cutting government bureaucracy and allowing domestic oil drilling.
Bachman wouldn't be the first politician who wants to "win" against a troubled economy. In 1974, amid spiraling inflation, President Gerald Ford unveiled "Whip Inflation Now."
Alan Greenspan later wrote that he thought at the time the idea was "unbelievably stupid."
-- Andrea Stone
Rep. Michele Bachmann called the one-year payroll tax cut "detrimental to the economy." She argued that "temporary gimmicks are not permanent solutions," noting that she did not vote for the tax cut in 2010. She added that it "blew a hole in the Social Security trust fund."
Bachmann also warned about the soundness of the general treasury. "The only thing that comes out is moths and feathers," she said.
-- Luke Johnson