Opinion: The Questions We Should be Asking the GOP Candidates

Friday, November 25, 2011 - 09:00 AM

Republican presidential candidates on stage during a debate in Las Vegas, NV, on October 18th, 2011. (Getty)

We are now recovering from gazillionth GOP presidential debate, and there is no end in sight. The ratings show that people are enjoying watching the contenders slug it out, but they can obscure the questions the candidates should be getting grilled about.

Ron Paul wants to eliminate five federal departments. Which ones are they and how will that affect you and me?

When Newt Gingrich wants to cut the EPA does he not care that there is arsenic in Iowa water supplies and all kinds of cancer-producing toxic material that needs to be identified and mitigated across the country? Is that what voters really want?

Mitt Romney has not been scrutinized enough for what he did while running Bain. He made the mergers profitable by slashing jobs, borrowing until the companies were bloated corpses, drained out the revenue to its investors, made a ton of money, and then killed the company. Is that what Americans want from their business leaders or their politicians?

Newt Gingrich is still idling near the top but the media has not reminded voters of the Gingrich definition of "family values." For the unitiated: Gingrich cheated on his first wife Jackie Battley with a staffer named Marianne Ginther. After marrying Ginther, he cheated on her with a staff member Callista Bisek, more than 20 years his junior, to whom he is now married.

As for Herman Cain, can we really elect a president who thinks he can run the most complex political system in the world like a pizza chain? There are the small problems of a Constitution, Congress and the Supreme Court, none of which pizza chains have. And a President needs to at least be able to tell our foreign policy areas of engagement apart -  illustrated by his disastrous interview about Libya with the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel.

It's almost not worth talking about Michelle Bachmann, who has sunk to the bottom, Rick Santorum, and Jon Huntsman, who will again be part of next Obama administration if Obama gets reelected. 

Texas Gov. Rick Perry's "oops!" moment, when he failed to remember the third federal agency he wants to cut, was an insightful exception because it revealed a lot about the cavalier way in which the candidates want to slash federal agencies. As someone asked me, "When he slashes Commerce does Perry also want to slash NOAA and it's hurricane forecasting center?"

All in all, we need a lot more answers - and frankly - a lot more questions for each of these candidates, ones the debates just aren't digging up.

Steffen Schmidt is professor of political science at Iowa State University, blogs for the Des Moines Register and WNYC “It’s a Free Country,” and is chief political correspondent for


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Comments [7]

Jack Jackson from Central New Jersey

Can you ever ask the right question when the Party to which all of the candidates belong have found a way to carve out a position on each side of the argument?

1995 - Fiscal conservancy is paramount and we MUST bring the budget into surplus.
2001 - Take a tax cut and 2 wars on borrowed money.

1998 - Out of wedlock sexual relations by the President are an impeachable offense.
2012 - It's alright to nominate a serial adulterer to the White House as long has he is competent.

The one consistency that has marked the GOP in my lifetime - I was born in 1956 - is that the rich should get to keep what they earn and the poor should go out and earn more if they want to be rich. Nevermind that the rich reaped ALL of the benefits in growth in GDP since 1968. Minimum wage earners in 1968 commanded more goods and services with their wages ($3.2k/yr) than the median household ($49k/yr) does today.

Nov. 30 2011 11:03 AM

ASK THEM THEIR POSITION ON SENATE BILL 1867! PAUL IS THE ONLY CANDIDATE TO SPEAK OUT AGAINST IT. According to the ACLU it was co-authored by Democrat Carl Levin and Republican John McCain, written in secret and approved by committee without a single hearing! The bill would authorize the indefinite detention of American citizens anywhere in the world, including within U.S. jurisdiction (i.e., in the community where you live). The bill is being included as part of the National Defense Reauthorization Act.

Senate Republicans support the bill and enough Democrats support it to give it a great chance of passing. This provision does have opponents. President Obama has threatened to veto the bill. An amendment called the Udall Amendment has been offered by Democratic Sen. Mark Udall that would delete the dangerous provision.

Nov. 28 2011 01:30 PM
Tim M from MO

You missed the most important question.....

What will happen to this country if we do not reduce our spending?!

Once you ask that, you see that only one candidate, Ron Paul, actually has a spending cut plan.

The others are playing a game of smoke and mirrors.

Nov. 26 2011 10:42 AM

The primary problem in any political interview or debate isn't the question(s) to be asked. There's no dearth of them. Almost any 'talking head' can come up with an acceptable short list on a moment's notice.

The problem lies elsewhere. Its roots can be found in politician's skills in changing the subject, the desire of a show's producers to provide acceptable [read: profitable,] entertainment and the unwillingness of hosts or moderators to set their egos aside and get the dog walked.

No, the problem isn't the selection of questions. Rather, it's the simple fact that a question is not asked over and over and over again until a meaningful answer is obtained. Too often a question elicits a shift in topic toward memorized talking points, simplistic phrases or a collection of buzz words. Too rarely is a responder pressed until the question is answered in detail.

It becomes show biz -- a mile wide and an inch deep. It may bring pleasure to a show's sponsors, but it's at the expense of informational content. The winners are the politicians, producers, sponsors and hosts.

The loser? I thought you would never ask. It's the concept of an informed public, of course.

Nov. 26 2011 07:08 AM
rob from It's a Mad Mad Mad world we live in today...

It is so sad that this is the type of journalism we have in America today. I can raddle off the departments Paul would cut, and also name what functions would be transfered over to other departments. 1)fed Dept. of Ed to return back to the states via block grants 2) Dept of Energy, Nuclear oversight to be transfered over to the DoD with provided funding...You know what Steffen Schmidt, why don't you do some investigative journalism and find out for yourself you lazy incompitent fool! Start at Pauls campaign site

Nov. 26 2011 04:24 AM

Ron Paul has said that critical functions of the departments being eliminated will be brought into other departments. He has mentioned a number of such items in interviews. I can only specifically recall him talking about student financial aid and national parks right now.

Nov. 26 2011 12:52 AM

I'm not sure if you're aware, but Ron Paul has been VERY specific in the five departments he wants to cut and has talked extensively about the ideology behind them:

1. Education
2. Energy
3. HUD
4. Commerce
5. Interior

The cutting of $1 trillion through his "Plan to Restore America" MINUTELY details discretionary spending, mandatory spending, miscellaneous savings and revenues. This plan is available from:

Included is agency budget comparisons until the year 2016 (the end of his first term in office), and accompanying charts and graphs.

That Ron Paul had not specified the departments he would cut was the sole "black mark" against him in this article, and that you NOW know this not to be the case, is there anything you take issue with Dr. Paul? To be sure, it could not rank with the sort of cronyism mentioned of the other Republican candidates above!

Nov. 25 2011 12:55 PM

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