The GOP Debate in Iowa: Where They Disagreed

While the pointed sparring between Minnesotans Michele Bachmann and former Governor Tim Pawlenty drew the most headlines after the GOP debate, there's was just one of many disagreements among the eight Republican candidates on stage in Ames, Iowa. 

Debt Ceiling

Rep. Michele Bachmann’s chief argument of the night was that her opposition to raising the debt ceiling deal has proven by the markets to be the appropriate stand.

“What we saw last week is the markets unfortunately agreed with me. Because the markets saw what happened in Washington when Obama got a $2.4 trillion check. And one thing you learned is you can't fool the markets,” Bachmann said, drawing a conclusion that was widely disputed by debate factcheckers.

Former Massachusetts Governor Romney dodged the question about whether he would have vetoed the debt ceiling deal if he’d been president.

“Look, I’m not going to eat Barack Obama’s dog food, all right?” he said, offering up the most memorable metaphor of the night. “What he served up was not what I would have done if I’d had been president of the United States.”

Trying to get a word in edgewise, former Pennsylvania Senator Rick Santorum dismissed the debt ceiling opposition as theatrics. While noting that necessity of a balanced budget, he said, "of course we have to raise the debt ceiling at some point."

 Gay Marriage, Civil Unions and the States

Romney said that while it’s preferable to have legislators, rather than judges, legalize gay marriage at the state level, he said it really shouldn’t start at the states. “I believe the issue of marriage should be decided at the federal level.”

“People move from state to state,” he said. “Marriage is a status. It’s not an activity that goes on between the walls of a state.

“I believe we should have a federal amendment of the constitution that defines marriage as a relationship between a man and a woman, because I believe the ideal place to raise is a child is in a home with a mom and a dad.”

Former Utah Governor Jon Huntsman was very clear that he supports civil unions, and that it’s appropriate for these definitions and decisions to be made at the state level.  

“I believe in traditional marriage first and foremost,” he said, “but I also believe in civil unions, because I this nation can do a better job when it comes equality

And I believe this is something that ought to be discussed among the various states,” he said. “This is ought to be an issue that takes place at the local level of government. That’s  where these decisions ought to be made.”

Health Care Mandates 

Pawlenty passed on an opportunity to criticize frontrunner Mitt Romney about health care in a previous debate. This time around, he went straight at it. “ObamaCare was patterned after Mitt’s plan in Massachusetts,” he said. “That’s why I called it Obamneycare, and I think that’s a fair label.”

Romney laughed off this attack, noting he liked Pawlenty’s earlier answer better. But then he tried to draw a distinction between the health insurance mandate at the state level versus the federal level. “We put together a plan that was right for Massachusetts. The president took the power of the people and the states away from them and put in place a one-size-fits-all plan.

Military Intervention

“It’s time we quit this,” Ron Paul said in one of the many times he called for reduced military spending. “It’s time — it’s trillions of dollars we’re spending on these wars.” He also questioned the effectiveness of sanctions against Iran.

“It’s time we quit this,” Paul said. “It’s time — it’s trillions of dollars we’re spending on these wars.”

"Iran is not Iceland, Ron," he said. "Iran is a country that has been at war with us since 1979.”

“You’ve heard the war propaganda that is liable to lead us into the sixth war, and I worry about that position," Paul answered in a sharp retort. 

What Leadership Means

For Romney, it means having experience outside the political realm. He pointed out that out of the eight on stage, only he and former Godfather’s Pizza CEO had business experience.

“I led against increasing the debt ceiling in the last two months,” Rep. Michele Bachmann said, nothing that other candidates disappeared from the debate. Here, she is referring to her rhetorical leadership in the debate, as opposed to negotiations between the House leadership and the White House.

Pawlenty argued that opposition only matters if gets you results, and pushed back on Bachmann's no-compromise objections by arguing that everything she’s opposed has come to pass under Obama.

“She has done wonderful things in her life, absolutely wonderful things, but it is an undisputable fact that in Congress her record of accomplishment and results is nonexistent,” Pawlenty said. Later, he ticked off policies she’s opposed, including the comprehensive health care legislation and the bank bailout, that later became law. “If that’s your view of effective leadership with results, please stop, because you’re killing us.”

After noting that he sympathized with Michele Bachmann’s calls to stand firm and avoid compromise, Santorum said what’s really necessary is “leadership, not showmanship.”

“You need to stand firm on these things,” he said. “But you can’t say you give me everything I want or I’ll vote no.”

And as all the under candidates took care to establish as much distance as possible between themselves and President Obama, Jon Huntsman defined leadership a little differently. Though he was largely subdued during his debut debate performance, he was clear that he’s proud to have worked under President Obama as his ambassador to China because it was an opportunity to serve his country.

“The presidential election is 15 months away. We are in a crisis now,” former House Speaker Newt Gingrich said as he called again for lawmakers to return to Washington from their August recess in his closing remarks. “This summer start saving American families from the pain they’re in."