If electability had been the question for primary candidates in 1980, Ronald Reagan would have never become president, Newt Gingrich said Thursday, answering challenges about whether he could be embraced by the electorate in the race to beat President Obama in 2012.
Clearly, Reagan ended up convincing primary voters that he had the right policies, and he went on to beat Jimmy Carter by a larger margin than Franklin Delano Roosevelt beat Herbert Hoover in 1932, Gingrich, a longtime history professor, said during the Fox News Republican presidential primary debate in Sioux City, Iowa.
As the candidates make their final pitch in a group forum before the first voters go to the polls in three weeks, the GOP candidates have already made their policy cases. Now, it’s a question of whether they can win, and if they do, whether they have the skills to be the leader of the free world.
Gingrich’s performance is being closely watched as he surges to the top of the pack in the field — and faces questions about whether he is conservative enough for the GOP base.
He says yes — and points to a 90 percent conservative voting record while a member of Congress, including four years as speaker of the House. But opponent Rick Santorum hit back, saying he faced a “conservative revolution” from within his own ranks while he was speaker.
Gingrich’s opponents also say they have the right stuff to defeat Obama. Mitt Romney, the former Massachusetts governor and venture capitalist, said when it comes to debating the president over getting business and the economy to succeed, Romney will point to Obama’s record as a CEO of sorts.
“How did you do when you were running General Motors,” Romney said he would ask Obama, pointing to the president’s decision to close dealerships and factories in order to keep the automaker from going into bankruptcy.
“Not every business succeeds. … In the real world, some things don’t make it,” he said.
“We have a president who, again, doesn’t understand how the economy works,” said Romney, adding that Obama has tried to pick winners in the energy sector.
The other candidates also offered their credentials for defeating Obama. Texas Rep. Ron Paul pointing to his penchant to defend civil liberties and not wanting the U.S. to be the policeman of the world.
“I don’t want to police individual activities or lifestyle, and I don’t want to run the economy,” Paul said.
Texas Gov. Rick Perry said he’s the Tim Tebow of the political world. As the Denver Broncos quarterback defies the odds, his record in job creation has also blown past expectations.
Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman, insisting that he, in fact, was a steadier conservative than any of the others on stage, but one who won’t “contort himself into a pretzel” to meet definitions, simply said, “We’re getting screwed as Americans.”
In the free-wheeling and rapid debate, the candidates talked debt, leadership style and what they described as the president’s shortcomings.
They also hit on a topic that is dear to Iowans — a judiciary system that’s responsive to Americans.
The discussion came about after former Bush Attorneys General Michael Mukasey and Alberto Gonzales criticized a 28-page plan by Gingrich to reform the judiciary, including proposals to require judges to explain themselves to Congress as well as possibly get booted for bad decisions.
Called “dangerous,” “ridiculous,” and “outrageous” by the attorneys general, Gingrich asked whether they questioned Thomas Jefferson’s decision to abolish 18 of 35 federal judges, and defending it by asking Jefferson’s question: “Is the Supreme Court supreme? That is absurd, that would be an oligarchy.” Gingrich also said the Bush officials were “behaving exactly like law schools” but Americans can’t let them “over-dictate to the rest of us.”
Gingrich found support for his arguments from Romney and Minnesota Rep. Michele Bachmann
“Where it needs to end is under the Constitution of the United States,” Bachmann said of judicial interpretation and the courts’ predilection toward making activist decisions.
But Bachmann also blamed Congress and the president for having “failed to take their authority.” She said that Iowans in particular have demonstrated how to make judicial oversight work since they recalled three judges who ruled to allow same-sex marriage in the state against voter will.
“If we give to the courts the right to make law, then the people will have lost their representation. They need hold to their representation, That’s why I commend Iowans, because they chose not to retain three judges decided that marriage would be in their likeness,” she said.
On foreign policy, Bachmann sparred with Paul’s laissez-faire approach to Iran, saying that she has “never heard a more dangerous answer” than Paul, who rejected a U.N. agency’s report that Iran had returned to pursuing nuclear weapons after the program was declared dead in 2007.
As for foreign policy closer to home, Perry and Santorum agreed they’d ask their attorney general to resign if he didn’t know about Operation Fast and Furious, the botched gun-running program under the Obama administration that resulted in guns reaching Mexican drug cartels.