Candidates cashing in, staying mum on 2012
“Get the troops out of Afghanistan and end that war that hasn’t helped us and hasn't helped anyone in the Middle East,” said Congressman Ron Paul (R-TX).
Candidates also criticized President Barack Obama on everything from healthcare to his foreign policy.
“The president of the United States sided with the mullahs instead of the demonstrators [in Iran],” said Rick Santorum, a former Senator from Pennsylvania.
But surprisingly few big names took the stage—Mitt Romney, Sarah Palin, Michelle Bachman, Mike Huckabee and even Donald Trump skipped the first debate. This time last election cycle, during the first primary debate in May 2007, the stage was a crowded place as 10 Republican candidates competed for their party’s nomination in 2008.
Cain was a focus group favorite, according to FOX polls. He is the former CEO of Godfather’s Pizza and a political outsider.
“What we have as a problem is too much government telling the businesses what to do. Government doesn't create jobs. Businesses create jobs. We need to get government out of the way,” said Cain.
While there were few contenders, there was no lack of harsh words to describe Obama’s three years as commander in chief and his multilateral approach.
“Now he has his hands tied by the United Nations and has subordinated our decision making and options to that pathetic organization in many respects,” criticized Pawlenty. “I would never put the United States in that untenable position.If the president says Gaddafi must go, he must go.”
Like everything in American politics, waiting to declare also comes down to money, according to analysts.
Paul Ryan of the Campaign Legal Center said that because of campaign finance laws that cap donations to presidential campaigns at $2,500, some candidates prefer to rake in money through political action committees (PACs) for as long as possible before officially declaring.
“We see today the obvious charade of candidates who are candidates for the Republican Party saying they're not candidates, delaying declaring their candidacy, for the same reason we've seen both republicans and democrats doing it for decades, which is precisely to avoid contribution limits. They want to raise and spend money outside those contribution limits,” Ryan said.
Although he’s often dismissed by the mainstream media, libertarian Congressman Ron Paul is no underdog fundraising-wise. In one day alone his LibertyPAC raked in $1 million—combined with another $2 million raised by the Campaign for Liberty.
All of the candidates at the South Carolina said President Obama is beatable, even though many have criticized the GOP’s slow start.
“President Obama is not unbeatable because one right decision doth not an good president make,” Cain said.
Blogger Reihan Salam from the National Review Online’s “The Agenda” explained that the mere fact the debate was held so early in the campaign process kept many possible candidates away.
“There is lots of uncertainly in the air,” he said, regarding the number of possible candidates which has failed to officially declare their intentions
Columnist Tim Cavanaugh from Reason Magazine said the debate mattered, even though some candidates did not show up. The debate was important for interested Republican voters looking to hear issues discussed by candidates.
“There are some of us that will not forget this,” he said. “That the first time that we ever hear drug legalization openly discussed by two different candidates, the first time we ending the warfare state discussed by two different candidates, the first time we heard ending the Federal Reserve and drawing down the troops from Afghanistan and Iraq was at a Republican debate.”
Reihan added that the Republicans have changed, and this debate demonstrated that based on the topics discussed – including troop withdraws from Afghanistan and drug legalizations.
“The question is whether or not another Republican contender, a more mainstream contender one might say, is going to embrace those views as well,” said Reihan.
The debate featured libertarian leaning Republicans and allowed them to voice their views, which is not as frequent among mainstream Republican conversations, explained Cavanaugh.
While these topics are important, and do resonate with some voters, Reihan argues they may not equate to primary victories.
“You’d hope that they’d help tug the debate in a different direction,” commented Reihan. “I don’t think it’s very likely that Gary Johnson or Ron Paul will ultimately win the nomination.”