January 26, 2012: CNN / Republican Party of Florida Republican Presidential Debate Transcript

Republican Candidates Debate in Jacksonville, Florida January 26, 2012

PARTICIPANTS:
Former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich (GA);
Representative Ron Paul (TX);
Former Governor Mitt Romney (MA); and
Former Senator Rick Santorum (PA)MODERATOR:
Wolf Blitzer (CNN)

BLITZER: Candidates, please take your podiums while I tell you more about how this debate will work tonight.

I’ll be the moderator. And as I mentioned, our partners from the Republican Party of Florida and the Hispanic Leadership Network will also ask questions. I’ll follow up and try to guide the discussion.

Candidates, I’ll try to make sure each of you gets your fair share of questions. You’ll have one minute to answer, 30 seconds for follow ups and rebuttals. And I’ll certainly make sure you get time to respond if you’re singled out for criticism.

Now let’s have the candidates introduce themselves to Florida voters.

Please keep it short. Here is an example: I’m Wolf Blitzer and I’m thrilled to be here on the campus of the University of North Florida in Jacksonville.

Senator Santorum, let’s begin with you.

SANTORUM: I’m Rick Santorum, and I’m thrilled to be here on the campus of North Florida. [laughter] [applause]

And I’m especially thrilled because I’m here with a North Florida resident who lives right down the beach from Jacksonville, my mom, who is 93 years old, who is with me here tonight. [applause]

I better just stop right there.

GINGRICH: I’m Newt Gingrich, from the neighboring state of Georgia. I’m delighted to be in Jacksonville, which will be the site of the next nuclear aircraft carrier battle group. [applause]

ROMNEY: I’m Mitt Romney, and I’m pleased to be here with my wife and my oldest son Tagg Romney. We’re the parents of five sons, five daughters-in-law, 16 grandkids. And it’s great to be back in Jacksonville.

Thank you. [applause]

PAUL: I’m Ron Paul. I’m a congressman from Texas, 12 terms.

I am the champion of a sound monetary system, a gold standard, as it is under the Constitution, and a foreign policy based on strength which rejects the notion that we should be the policemen of the world and that we should be a nation builder. [applause]

BLITZER: All right. Let’s start with a question from the audience.

AUDIENCE MEMBER: Hello.

Can you tell me what specific actions you’ll take to address the costly consequences of illegal immigration while preserving the rights of those who seek to immigrate legally?

BLITZER: All right.

Senator Santorum, let’s take that question. But also, in the course of that question, express your opinion on what we heard from Governor Romney, that self-deportation, or illegal immigrants leaving the country voluntarily, is a possible solution.

SANTORUM: Well, the possible solution is — I actually agree with Governor Romney. The bottom line is that we need to enforce the laws in this country.

We are a country of laws. People come to this country. My grandfather came to this country because he wanted to come to a country that respected him. And a country that respects you is a country that lives by the laws that they have. And the first act when they come to this country, is to disobey a law, it’s not a particularly welcome way to enter this country. What I’ve said is from the very beginning, that we — we have to have a country that not only do you respect the law when you come here, but you respect the law when you stay here.

And people who have come to this country illegally have broken the law repeatedly. If you’re here, unless you’re here on a trust fund, you’ve been working illegally. You’ve probably stolen someone’s Social Security number, illegally. And so it’s not just one thing that you’ve done wrong, you’ve done a lot of things wrong. And as a result of that, I believe that people should no — should not be able to stay here.

And so I think we need to enforce the law at the border, secure the border. Secondly, we need to have employer enforcement, which means E-verify and then we need to have not only employers sanctioned, but we have to have people who are found who are working here illegally, they need to be deported. That is again the principle of having a rule of law and living by it. I am very much in favor of immigration. I’m not someone — my dad came to this country and I’m someone who believes that — that we need immigration. We are not replacing ourselves.

We have — we need not only immigration for — to keep our population going, but we need immigration because immigrants bring a vitality and a love of this country that is — infuses this country with — with great energy. And so, I support legal immigration, but we need to enforce the law and in fact, if you don’t create an opportunity for people to work, they will leave because they can’t afford to stay here.

BLITZER: Speaker Gingrich, you’ve suggested that self- deportation as advocated by Governor Romney is in your words, “An Obama level fantasy.” Why?

GINGRICH: Well look, I think that first of all, you should control the border, which I have pledged to do by January 1, 2014. You should fix legal immigration in terms of visas so people can come and go easily — more easily than doing it illegally. You should also make deportation easier so when you deport people who shouldn’t be here. The 13 gang members, for example. It should be very quick and very clear.

You should have a guest worker program, probably run by American Express, Visa or MasterCard so they minimize fraud, which the federal government won’t do. And you should have much stronger employer penalties at that point because you can validate it. I actually agree that self-deportation will occur if you’re single. If you’ve only been here a short time. And there are millions of people who faced with that, would go back home, file for a guest worker program and might or might not come back.

The one group I singled out, were people who have been here a very long time who are married, who may well have children and grandchildren. And I would just suggest that grandmothers or grandfathers aren’t likely to self-deport. And then you’ve got a question. I — I offered a proposal, a citizen panel to review whether or not somebody who had been here a very long time, who had family and who had an American family willing to sponsor them, should be allowed to get residency, but not citizenship so that they would be able to stay within the law, but would not have any chance of becoming a citizen, unless they went back home. I don’t think grandmothers and grandfathers will self-deport.

BLITZER: Governor Romney, the few times and I think it was only once, that they experimented with self-deportation, only a handful of individuals voluntarily left. What makes you think that — that program could work?

ROMNEY: Well, you’ve just heard the last two speakers also indicate that they support the concept of self-deportation. It’s very simply this, which is for those who come into the country legally, they would be given an identification card that points out they’re able to work here and then you have an E-verify system that’s effective and efficient so that employers can determine who is legally here and if employers hire someone without a card, or without checking to see if it’s been counterfeited, then those employers would be severely sanctioned.

If you do that, people who have come here illegally won’t be able to find work. And over time, those people would tend to leave the country, or self-deport. I don’t think anyone is interested in going around and rounding up people around the country and deporting 11 million Americans — or, excuse me 11 million illegal immigrants into America. Now, let’s look at — and — and I know people said, but isn’t that unfair to those 11 million that are here and have lived their lives here and perhaps raised children here? But I think it’s important to remember, that there are three groups of people that are of concern to us.

One are those that have come here illegally, 11 million. The second is the group of people who are brought over by coyotes and who are in many cases abused by virtue of coming into this country illegally. And the third, are the four to five million people who are waiting at home in their own nations trying to get here legally. They have family members here asking them to come here. Grandparents and uncles and aunts. Those are the people we have a responsibility for. And the second group as well, those that are abused. We — we’re concerned about them.

Let’s focus our attention on how to make legal immigration work and stop illegal immigration.

BLITZER: All right. Governor Paul — sorry, excuse me, Congressman Paul you’re from Texas. The state with the longest border with Mexico. Is this a viable option, what we just heard?

PAUL: Well, I’d talk about it, but I don’t see it as being very practical. I think it’s a much bigger problem.

You can’t deal with immigration without dealing with the economy. The weaker the economy, the more resentment there is when illegals come in. If you have a healthy, vibrant economy, it’s not a problem; we’re usually looking for workers.

Even under today’s circumstances, a lot of businesses are looking for workers and they don’t have them. They’re not as well-trained here.

But also, the way we’re handling our borders is actually hurting our economy because the businesspeople — you know, visitors have a hard time coming in. I mean, we don’t have a well-managed border. So I think we need more resources and I think most of the other candidates would agree we need more resources. But where are the resources going to come from?

I have a suggestion. I think we spend way too much time worrying about the border between Afghanistan and Pakistan. Use some of those resources on our own border. [applause]

BLITZER: Speaker Gingrich, you had an ad, but you pulled it this week, in which you described Governor Romney as the most anti- immigrant candidate. Why did you do that?

GINGRICH: Why did we describe him that way?

Because, in the original conversations about deportation, the position I took, which he attacked pretty ferociously, was that grandmothers and grandfathers aren’t going to be successfully deported. We’re not — we as a nation are not going to walk into some family — and by the way, they’re going to end up in a church, which will declare them a sanctuary. We’re not going to walk in there and grab a grandmother out and then kick them out.

We’re not going — and I think you have to be realistic in your indignation. I want to control the border. I want English to be the official language of government. I want us to have a lot of changes. [applause]

I am prepared to be very tough and very bold, but I’m also prepared to be realistic, because I’ve actually had to pass legislation in Washington and I don’t believe an unrealistic promise is going to get through, but I do believe, if there’s some level of humanity for people who have been here a long time, we can pass legislation that will decisively reduce illegality, decisively control the border and will once again mean the people who are in America are here legally.

BLITZER: I just want to make sure I understand. Is he still the most anti-immigrant candidate?

GINGRICH: I think, of the four of us, yes.

BLITZER: Go ahead, Governor.

ROMNEY: That’s simply unexcusable. That’s inexcusable. And, actually, Senator Marco Rubio came to my defense and said that ad was inexcusable and inflammatory and inappropriate.

Mr. Speaker, I’m not anti-immigrant. My father was born in Mexico. My wife’s father was born in Wales. They came to this country. The idea that I’m anti-immigrant is repulsive.

Don’t use a term like that. You can say we disagree on certain policies, but to say that enforcing the U.S. law to protect our borders, to welcome people here legally, to expand legal immigration, as I have proved, that that’s somehow anti anti-immigrant is simply the kind of over-the-top rhetoric that has characterized American politics too long.

And I’m glad that Marco Rubio called you out on it. I’m glad you withdrew it. I think you should apologize for it, and I think you should recognize that having differences of opinions on issues does not justify labeling people with highly charged epithets.

GINGRICH: I’ll tell you what…[applause]

I’ll give you an opportunity to self-describe. You tell me what language you would use to describe somebody who thinks that deporting a grandmother or a grandfather from their family — just tell me the language. I’m perfectly happy for you to explain what language you’d use.

ROMNEY: Mr. Speaker, I think I described following the law as it exists in this country, which is to say, I’m not going around and rounding people up and deporting them.

What I said was, people who come here legally get a work permit. People who do not come here legally do not get a work permit. Those who don’t get work will tend, over time, to self-deport.

I’m not going to go find grandmothers and take them out of their homes and deport them. Those are your words, not my words. And to use that rhetoric suggests to people that somehow, if you’re not willing to keep people here who violated the law, that you’re anti- immigrant. Nothing could be further from the truth.

I am pro-immigrant. I want people to come to America with skill and vitality and vibrance. I want them to come legally. There are grandmothers that live on the other side of the border that are waiting to come here legally. I want them to come here, too, not just those that are already here. [applause]

GINGRICH: Well, so we have gone — we’ve gone from your Washington attack when I first proposed this and you said it was outrageous; it would be a magnet to you’re accepting the fact that, you know, a family is going to take care of their grandmother or their grandfather.

The idea that you are going to push them out in some form by simply saying they can’t go get a job — I think the grandmother is still going to be here. All I want to do is to allow the grandmother to be here legally with some rights to have residency but not citizenship, so that he or she can finish their life with dignity within the law. [applause]

ROMNEY: You know, our problem is not 11 million grandmothers. Our problem is — all right. [applause]

Our problem is 11 million people getting jobs that many Americans, legal immigrants, would like to have. It’s school kids in schools that districts are having a hard time paying for. It’s people getting free health care because we are required under the law to provide that health care.

And the real concern is the people who want to come here legally. Let’s let legal immigrants come here. Let’s stop illegal immigration. [applause]

BLITZER: The rhetoric on immigration, Governor, has been intense, as you well know, as all four of you know, and anyone who watches television knows. You had an ad running saying that Speaker Gingrich called Spanish “the language of the ghetto.”

What do you mean by that?

ROMNEY: I haven’t seen the ad, so I’m sorry. I don’t get to see all the TV ads. Did he say that?

BLITZER: Did you say that?

GINGRICH: No. What I said was, we want everybody to learn English because we don’t — and I didn’t use the word “Spanish.” We do not want anyone trapped in a situation where they cannot get a commercial job, they cannot rise, and virtually every parent of every ethnic group — and by the way, they are 94 languages spoken at the Miami-Dade College — 94 languages. And that’s why I think English should be the official language of government, and that’s why I think every young American should learn English.

And my point was, no one should be trapped in a linguistics situation where they can’t go out and get a job and they can’t go out and work. So I would say as much as Governor Romney doesn’t particularly like my use of language, I found his use of language and his deliberate distortion equally offensive. [applause]

ROMNEY: I’d like — I doubt that’s my ad, but we’ll take a look and find out. There are a bunch of ads out there that are being organized by other people.

But I think our position on English in our schools and in our nation is the same, which I believe English should be the official language of the United States, as it is. I also believe that in our schools, we should teach kids in English.

So, when I was governor, I fought for — actually, before I was governor, I fought for, during my election and thereafter, a program to have English immersion in our schools so our kids could learn in English. I think we agree on this, which is, you know what? Kids in this country should learn English so they can have all the jobs and all the opportunity of people who are here.

BLITZER: I want to bring Congressman Paul and Senator Santorum into this. But let’s take this question from Miami.

CNN en Espanol’s Juan Carlos Lopez has a guest there.

LOPEZ: Hola, Wolf.

We’re at the viewing party for the Hispanic Leadership Network, and it really is a party. They are holding their yearly conference, a meeting of Hispanic Republican leaders. And I’m joined by Raquel Rodriguez. She’s an attorney in Miami. She practices business and international law, and she has a question for the candidates.

RODRIGUEZ: Yes, good evening.

The U.S. has been largely away in its foreign and trade policy with Latin America. In the meantime, Iran and China have been increasing their influence over an involvement in Latin America through the leftist and left-leaning governments.

What would each of you do as president to more deeply engage in Latin America and, importantly, to support the governments and the political parties that support democracy and free markets?

BLITZER: Congressman Paul?

PAUL: Well, I think free trade is the answer. Free trade is an answer to a lot of conflicts around the world, so I’m always promoting free trade. And you might add Cuba, too. I think we would be a lot better off with Cuba, trading with Cuba. [applause]

So, I think the more you can do to promote this free trade, the better off we’ll be. But as far as us having an obligation, a military or a financial obligation to go down and dictate to them what government they should have, I don’t like that idea.

I would work with the people and encourage free trade, and try to set a standard here where countries in Central America or South America or any place in the world would want to emulate us and set the standards that we have. Unfortunately, sometimes we slip up on our standards and we go around the world and we try to force ourselves on others.

I don’t think the nations in South America and Central America necessarily want us to come down there and dictate which government they should have. And yet, I believe with friendship and trade, you can have a lot of influence, and I strongly believe that it’s time we have friendship and trade with Cuba. [applause]

BLITZER: Senator Santorum, are you with Congressman Paul?

SANTORUM: No, I’m not with Congressman Paul and I’m not with Barack Obama on this issue.

Our policy in Central and South America under this administration has been abysmal. The way we have treated, in particular, countries like Honduras, Honduras, which stood up for the rule of law, which threw out a would-be dictator who was using the Chavez playbook from Venezuela in order to try to run for re-election in Honduras, and the United States government, instead of standing behind the — the people in the parliament, the people in the Supreme Court, who tried to enforce the constitution of Honduras — instead of siding with them, the Democrats, President Obama sided with two other people in South America — excuse me — Central America and South America. Chavez and Castro and Obama sided against the people of Honduras.

This is a consistent policy of siding with the leftists, siding with the Marxists, siding with those who don’t support democracy, not standing up for our friends in Colombia, not standing up for our friends who want to engage and support America, who want to be great trading partners and great allies for our country, to be able to form that kind of bond that is so essential in our own hemisphere.

The European Union understood how important it was for diverse people to be able to come together in an economic unit. We only — not only have to come together as an economic unit, but the threat of terrorism, the threat of Iran now in Venezuela and in other places, and Cuba and in Nicaragua, the threat of radical Islam growing in that region — is it important for — it’s absolutely important for us to have a president who understands that threat and understands the solution is closer ties. I will visit that area of the world, repeatedly, to solidify those ties when I become president.

BLITZER: Let me let Congressman Paul…[applause]… quickly respond. [applause]

PAUL: The — the senator mentioned standing up for some of these nations, but he doesn’t define it, but standing up for nations like this usually means that we impose ourselves, go and pick the dictators, undermine certain governments, also sending them a lot of money.

It doesn’t work. Most of the time, this backfires. They resent us. We can achieve what he wants in a much different way than us using the bully attitude that you will do it our way. This is the…[applause]

This is not a benefit to us. And besides, where do you get the troops and where are you going to get the money? Because you’re talking about force. And I — I know of a much better way than using force to get along with people.

SANTORUM: I don’t know where…[applause]

I don’t know what answer Congressman Paul was listening to. He obviously wasn’t listening to my answer. [applause]

What I talked about is building strong economic relationships, strong national security relationships. No one’s talking about force. Nobody’s talking about going into Cuba or going into Venezuela. It’s talking about the other countries in the region, which are being influenced greatly by those countries, that are tending and moving toward those militant socialists, instead of the United States.

Why? Because we’ve ignored them. You’ve got a president of the United States that held a Colombian free trade agreement — Colombia, who’s out there on the front lines, working with us against the narco- terrorists, standing up to Chavez in South America. And what did we do?

For political — domestic political purposes, the president of the United States sided with organized labor and the environmental groups and held Colombia hanging out to dry for three years. We cannot do that to our friends in South America. [applause]

BLITZER: All right, we’re going to — we’re going to come back to this. [applause]

We’re going to come back to Cuba, as well. But stand by for that.

We did double-check, just now, Governor, that ad that we talked about, where I quoted you as saying that Speaker Gingrich called Spanish “the language of the ghetto” — we just double-checked. It was one of your ads. It’s running here in Florida in — on the radio. And at the end you say, “I’m Mitt Romney and I approved this ad.”

So it is — it is here. [booing]

ROMNEY: Let me ask — let me ask a question.

Let me ask the speaker a question. Did you say what the ad says or not? I don’t know.

GINGRICH: It’s taken totally out of context.

ROMNEY: Oh, OK, he said it.

GINGRICH: I did not — no. I did not say it about Spanish. I said, in general, about all languages. We are better for children to learn English in general, period. [applause]

ROMNEY: Let’s take a look at what he said. [applause]

BLITZER: All right. We have a very important subject, housing. Not only here in Florida, foreclosures really, really bad, but all over the country. And a lot of people are wondering if the federal government contributed to the housing collapse in recent years.

We got a question that came in to us and — let me put it up there and I’ll read it to you. “How would you phase out Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac? Does the private mortgage industry need additional regulation?” — that from William Schmidt.

Let me start with Governor Romney.

ROMNEY: Well, I think you know that Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac were a big part of why we have the housing crisis in the nation that we have. And we’ve had this discussion before.

Speaker Gingrich was hired by Freddie Mac to promote them, to — to influence other people throughout Washington, encouraging them to — not to dismantle these two entities. I think that was an enormous mistake. I think, instead, we should have had a whistle-blower and not horn-tooter.

He should have stood up and said, look, these things are a disaster; this is a crisis. He should have been anxiously telling the American people that these entities were causing a housing bubble that would cause a collapse that we’ve seen here in Florida and around the country. And are they a problem today? Absolutely. They’re offering mortgages, again to people who can’t possibly repay them. We’re creating another housing bubble, which will hurt the American people.

The right course for our — for our housing industry is to get people back to work so they can buy homes again. We have 9.9 percent unemployment in Florida. It’s unthinkable, 18 percent real unemployment here. Get people back to work. We’ll get people into homes. Get the foreclosures out of the system. Let people get into homes, rent properties if necessary and get America’s housing industry growing again.

BLITZER: Speaker Gingrich?

GINGRICH: Let me start by saying, Florida is one of the two or three most hard hit states on foreclosures. How many of you know somebody who has had a house foreclosed? Just raise your hand. Raise your hand. [applause]

Okay. The governor has cheerfully — the governor has cheerfully attacking me inaccurately and he knows it. The contracts we released from Freddie Mac said I would do no consulting, wrote in, no — I mean no lobbying, none. But this is a more interesting story. We began digging in after Monday night because frankly I’d had about enough of this. We discovered to our shock, Governor Romney owns shares of both Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac. Governor Romney made a million dollars off of selling some of that. Governor Romney owns share — has an investment in Goldman Sachs, which is today foreclosing on Floridians.

So maybe Governor Romney in the spirit of openness should tell us how much money he’s made off of how many households that have been foreclosed by his investments? And let’s be clear about that. [applause]

ROMNEY: First of all, my investments are not made by me. My investments for the last 10 years have been in a blind trust, managed by a trustee. Secondly, the investments that they’ve made, we’ve learned about this as we made our financial disclosure, have been in mutual funds and bonds. I don’t own stock in either Fannie Mae or Freddie Mac. There are bonds that the investor has held through mutual funds. And Mr. Speaker, I know that sounds like an enormous revelation, but have you checked your own investments? You also have investments through mutual funds that also invest in Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac. [applause]

Let me — let me — I’ve got more time. Let me — let me — let me just — let me just continue. There’s a big difference between buying like U.S. savings bonds and getting a return. That’s a — that’s not taking money out of the United States, that’s loaning money to the United States. And what my trustee did, is he loaned money to Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac and — and they got paid interest of course, just like if you buy U.S. savings bonds. But what the speaker did, was to work as a spokesman to promote Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac. To protect them from those people that wanted to take them down.

He got paid $1.6 million to do that. He said his first contract indicated there would be no lobbying. But his second contract didn’t have that prescription taken out of it. And so you have to ask yourself why is that? What he was doing was clearly promoting Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, in this case Freddie Mac to the tune of $1.6 million. That is one of the reasons we’re in the trouble we’re in.

BLITZER: Go ahead.

GINGRICH: Well, first of all, you’ll notice that the governor wasn’t aware of the ad he was running. He’s not aware of the investments that were being made in his name.

ROMNEY: Of course, I can’t it’s a blind trust.

[crosstalk]

GINGRICH: …compare my investments with his is like comparing a tiny mouse with a giant elephant. The fact — the fact is…[applause]…that there is a very substantial question. You didn’t give any instructions to — to say, gee, let’s not do this or let’s not do that? You’re very quick to draw the widest possible exaggeration. The fact is, the only time I ever spoke to the Congress about this issue was in July of 2008. The New York Times reported it. I told the Republicans in the House, vote no. Do not give them any money. They need to be reformed. And in answer to the question earlier, I would break each of them up into five or six separate units.

And over a five year period, I would wean them from all federal sponsorship because we need to get away from this gigantic systems.

BLITZER: Let me bring Congressman Paul, then Senator Santorum. [applause]

A follow up question to you both specifically. It seems they both acknowledge they both made money from Fannie and Freddie. Should they return that money?

PAUL: That — that subject really doesn’t interest me a whole lot. [applause]

But the question does. The — the question is, what are we going to do about Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac. It should have been auctioned off right after the crash came. It would have been cleansed by now. [applause]

It should have been sold. [applause]

But maybe it’s my physician background, but I think an ounce of prevention is what we ought to talk about so we can quit doing this. But we know how the bubble came about. It was excessive credit, interest rates held too low, too long, the Federal Reserve responsible for that.

Community Reinvestment Act, which is Affirmative Action telling banks they have to make these risky loans. And at the same time, there was a line of credit which allowed Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac to, you know, make more money. And it was — it was assumed that they would always be protected.

Now, you can’t argue. I’ve talked a long time about cutting off that credit from the Fed. I was trying to prevent this stuff. [applause]

Also, I opposed the Community Reinvestment Act, as well as I had legislation in 10 years before the bust came to remove that line of credit to the Treasury.

BLITZER: Senator Santorum?

SANTORUM: Well, I would just say, in answer to the question, that as I mentioned last debate, in 2006, I went out and authored a letter with 24 other senators asking for major reform of Freddie and Fannie, warning of a meltdown and a bubble in the housing market. I stood out, I stood tall, and tried to get a reform, and we couldn’t do it. The reform we’d need is to gradually decrease the amount of mortgage that can be financed by Freddie — or underwritten by Freddie and Fannie over time, keep reducing that until we get rid of Fannie and Freddie.

The bigger issue here is, these two gentlemen, who are out distracting from the most important issues we have been playing petty personal politics, can we set aside that Newt was a member of Congress and used the skills that he developed as a member of Congress to go out and advise companies — and that’s not the worst thing in the world — and that Mitt Romney is a wealthy guy because worked hard and he’s going out and working hard? And you guys should that alone and focus on the issues. [applause]

BLITZER: We’re going to take a quick break, but we have a lot more to discuss. Coming up, the debate questions go to space, the final frontier.

Stay with us.

[commercial break]

BLITZER: We’re continuing the debate here in Jacksonville, Florida.

Let’s get to the issue of transparency, because voters out there, they want to know as much about you four gentlemen as possible before they vote.

Tax returns — let me bring this to Speaker Gingrich.

Earlier this week, you said Governor Romney, after he released his taxes, you said that you were satisfied with the level of transparency of his personal finances when it comes to this. And I just want to reiterate and ask you, are you satisfied right now with the level of transparency as far as his personal finances?

GINGRICH: Wolf, you and I have a great relationship, it goes back a long way. I’m with him. This is a nonsense question. [applause]

Look, how about if the four of us agree for the rest of the evening, we’ll actually talk about issues that relate to governing America?

BLITZER: But, Mr. Speaker, you made an issue of this, this week, when you said that, “He lives in a world of Swiss bank and Cayman Island bank accounts.” I didn’t say that. You did.

GINGRICH: I did. And I’m perfectly happy to say that on an interview on some TV show. But this is a national debate, where you have a chance to get the four of us to talk about a whole range of issues.

BLITZER: But if you make a serious accusation against Governor Romney like that, you need to explain that.

GINGRICH: I simply suggested — [booing]

You want to try again? I mean —

ROMNEY: Wouldn’t it be nice if people didn’t make accusations somewhere else that they weren’t willing to defend here? [applause]

GINGRICH: OK. All right.

Given that standard, Mitt, I did say I thought it was unusual. And I don’t know of any American president who has had a Swiss bank account. I’d be glad for you to explain that sort of thing.

ROMNEY: OK. I will. I will. I’ll say it again.

I have a trustee that manages my investments in a blind trust. That was so that I would avoid any conflicts of interest. That trustee indicated last week, when he was asked about this, he said that he wanted to diversify the investments that I had. And for awhile he had money in a Swiss account, reported in the U.S., full taxes paid on it, U.S. taxes.

There’s nothing wrong with that. And I know that there may be some who try to make a deal of that, as you have publicly. But look, I think it’s important for people to make sure that we don’t castigate individuals who have been successful and try and, by innuendo, suggest there’s something wrong with being successful and having investments and having a return on those investments.

Speaker, you’ve indicated that somehow I don’t earn that money. I have earned the money that I have. I didn’t inherit it.

I take risks. I make investments. Those investments lead to jobs being created in America.

I’m proud of being successful. I’m proud of being in the free enterprise system that creates jobs for other people. I’m not going to run from that.

I’m proud of the taxes I pay. My taxes, plus my charitable contributions, this year, 2011, will be about 40 percent.

So, look, let’s put behind this idea of attacking me because of my investments or my money, and let’s get Republicans to say, you know what? What you’ve accomplished in your life shouldn’t be seen as a detriment, it should be seen as an asset to help America. [applause]

BLITZER: Mr. Speaker, I’m ready to move on, if you are.

GINGRICH: What?

BLITZER: I said I’m ready to move on to the next subject if you are.

GINGRICH: I’m happy to. I’m happy to simply say, you know, it would be nice if you had the same standard for other people that you would like applied to you and didn’t enter into personal attacks about personal activities about which you are factually wrong. So I would be glad to have a truce with you, but it’s a two-way truce. [booing] [applause]

ROMNEY: I’m happy on any occasion to describe the things that I believe with regards to the Speaker’s background. We’ll probably get a chance to do that as time goes on.

BLITZER: Mr. Speaker, explain why you think the money that he made over these many years, recent years, under your tax — hold on. Mr. Speaker, under your tax plan — we’re talking about taxes right now. This is substance. Under your proposed tax plan, he would pay zero taxes. Explain that.

GINGRICH: Well, it would depend on whether the particular kind of payments he made were counted under that plan as capital gains or whether they were counted as regular income. But even as regular income, he would pay about the same. And I’ve said this.

This is where I’m the opposite of Obama. I believe we need to have somebody who fights for hardworking taxpayers.

My interest is in reducing everybody’s tax here to 15 percent, not trying to raise his to the Obama level. So I proposed an alternative flat tax — [applause]

You know, I have proposed an alternative flat tax that people could fill out where you could either keep the current system — this is what they do in Hong Kong — keep the current system with all of its deductions and all its paperwork, or you’d have a single page — I earned this amount, I have this number of dependents, here is 15 percent. My goal is to shrink the government to fit the revenue, not to raise the revenue to catch up with the government.

And I’d be happy…[applause]

Let me just say, I’d — I would be happy to have the Mitt Romney flat tax for every American to pay at that rate, and I haven’t complained about the rate he pays.

BLITZER: Senator Santorum, most of the polls, almost all of the polls, want the wealthiest Americans to pay more in taxes in order to balance the budget. Why are they wrong, in your opinion?

SANTORUM: Because we need to have as much money funneling through this economy as possible. And the people who make those investments are people who have resources and wealth, and we want them to deploy that wealth in the most productive way possible.

And when you increase tax rates and you make things much more expensive to do — in other words, the rate of return is not as profitable, then they tend to do things like investing in — in nontaxable instruments and other things that don’t employ people.

And so what I believe is we need to reduce taxes. I don’t — look, I’m honest. I don’t reduce the higher — top rate as much as these other folks do. I take the Reagan approach. Ronald Reagan had a 28 percent top rate. If it was good enough for Ronald Reagan, it’s good enough for me. And that’s what we put the top rate as. [applause]

And — and we have a bottom rate of 10 percent. I believe in a differential. I don’t believe in a flat tax. I believe in a simplified tax code with five deductions and — and focus on simplify, creating two rates.

I disagree with Newt also on this. I don’t believe in a zero capital gains tax rate. I don’t think you need to get to zero to make sure that there’s an efficient deployment of capital and investment.

I think, if you get to zero, then, in fact, guys like Mitt Romney, who, again, I give him — I wish I made as much money as Mitt Romney, but…[applause]

But — you know, but he wouldn’t probably pay much at all in taxes. And I think that, as long as the tax is not one that deters a proper investment to be able to deploy capital and to get jobs created, then lower rates are better than zero when it comes to the issue of capital gains.

BLITZER: Are you with Ronald Reagan as far as the tax rates, as Senator Santorum has suggested, Congressman Paul?

PAUL: No, he taxed too much. My goal is to get rid of the 16th amendment. And the only way you can do that…[applause]

The only way you can do that is not run a welfare system and a warfare system in policing the world.

But I do want to address this subject about taxing the rich. That is not a solution. But I understand and really empathize with the people who talk about the 99 percent and the 1 percent.

Because there’s a characteristic about what happens when you destroy a currency. There is a transfer of wealth from the middle class to the wealthy. And this has been going on for 40 years. So the middle class is shrinking. They are getting poorer and they’re losing their jobs and they’re losing their houses. But Wall Street isn’t getting poorer. And they are the ones who are getting the bailout.

So we have to address the bailout and the system that favors a certain group over another group. If you don’t have sound money and if you have a welfare state, no matter whether the welfare state is designed to help the poor, you know, the welfare system helps the wealthy.

And there has been this transfer of wealth. So, if we could stop all of these transfers to the wealthy class, but the solution isn’t to tax the wealthy. If you give an honest product and customers buy that product, you deserve to keep that money and earn that money. But there’s a big difference between those who earn money and those who rip us off through the government and the monetary system. [applause]

BLITZER: Congressman Paul, you’re a physician. You’re 76 years old. You would be the oldest president of the United States if you were elected. Are you prepared to release your medical records so voters out there know what your health is? [laughter]

PAUL: Oh, obviously, because it’s about one page, if even that long. But…[laughter]

But I’m willing to…[applause]

I’m willing to challenge any of these gentlemen up here to a 25- mile bike ride any time of the day in the heat of Texas. [applause]

And, you know — you know, that subject has come up and sometimes in fun but sometimes not in fun. But, you know, there are laws against age discrimination, so if you push this too much, you better be careful. [applause]

BLITZER: I raise the question because you remember, four years ago, the same question came up with John McCain and he released his records, finally. I remember our own Dr. Sanjay Gupta spent hours reviewing those records.

So let me go down and ask all of you. Are you ready to release your medical records?

ROMNEY: Happy to do so.

GINGRICH: I’m happy to. And I also want to attest I’m confident that Dr. Paul is quite ready to serve if he’s elected. Watching him campaign, he’s in great shape. [laughter] [applause]

BLITZER: All right, we have another question from the audience. I’ll look forward to seeing your medical records. [laughter]

Go ahead.

Let’s take a question right now. Please introduce yourself, as well.

QUESTION: Good evening. My name is Matthew Bathel. My question is, what would your plan be for the future of manned space flight and the future of NASA?

BLITZER: All right, let me go to Governor Romney on this one. An important issue, especially here in Florida where a lot of people have lost their jobs as a result of the decline of the space program. Yesterday Speaker Gingrich outlined a — a pretty long plan on what to do about it and he said that by the end of his second term, if he were elected president, there would be a permanent base on the moon. Good idea?

ROMNEY: That’s an enormous expense. And right now I want to be spending money here. Of course the space coast has been badly hurt and I believe in a very vibrant and strong space program. To define the mission for our space program, I’d like to bring in the — the top professors that relate to space areas and physics, the top people from industry. Because I want to make sure what we’re doing in space translates into commercial products. I want to bring in our top military experts on space needs.

And — and finally of course, the — the people from — the administration if I had an administration. I’d like to come together and talk about different options and the cost. I’d like corporate America as well as the defense network and others that could come together in a — in a part — in, if you will, a partnership basis to create a plan that will keep our space program thriving and growing. I — I believe in a manned space program. I’d like to see whether they believe in the same thing.

I’m not — I’m not looking for a — a colony on the moon. I think the cost of that would be in the hundreds of billions, if not trillions. I’d rather be rebuilding housing here in the U.S.

BLITZER: We have a question. I want to speaker to weigh in as well. [applause]

This question is related from — we got it from Twitter. Speaker Gingrich, how do you plan to create a base on the moon while keeping taxes down in eight years? [laughter]

GINGRICH: I think, look it’s a great question. You start with the question, do you really believe NASA in it’s current form is the most effective way of leveraging investment in space? We now have a bureaucracy sitting there, which has managed to mismanage the program so well that in fact we have no lift vehicle. So you almost have to wonder, what does the Washington office of NASA do? Does it sit around and think space? [laughter]

Does it contemplate that some day we could have a rocket? My point in the speech I made yesterday, which is on CSPAN and I’d love to have all of you look at it. It’s based on having looked at space issues since the late 1950’s when missiles and rockets was a separate magazine. And working with NASA and others. I believe by the use of prizes, by the use of incentives, by opening up the space port so that it’s available on a ready basis for commercial fight, by using commonsense for example the Atlas-V could easily be fixed into a man capable vehicle so you didn’t have to rely on — on a Russian launch or a Chinese launch.

There are many things you can do to leverage accelerating the development of space. Lindbergh flew to Paris for a $25,000.00 prize. If we had a handful of serious prizes, you’d see an extraordinary number of people out there trying to get to the moon first in order to have billed (ph) that. And I’d like to have an American on the moon before the Chinese get there.

BLITZER: Senator Santorum? [applause]

SANTORUM: I — I believe America’s a frontier nation and obviously the frontier that — that we’re talking about is — is the next one, which is space. And that we need to inspire. One of the big problems we have in our country today is that young people are not getting involved in math and science and not dreaming big dreams. So NASA or the space program where space is important, NASA is one component that — our — our space defense is another area. I think both of — both of which are very, very important. I agree that we need to bring good minds in the private sector much more involved in NASA than the government bureaucracy that we have. But let’s just be honest, we run a $1.2 trillion deficit right now. We’re — we’re borrowing 40-cents of every dollar. And to go out there and promise new programs and big ideas, that’s a great thing to maybe get votes, but it’s not a responsible thing when you have to go out and say that we have to start cutting programs, not talking about how to — how to — how to grow them.

We’re going to cut programs. We’re going to spend — under my administration, we’re going to spend less money every year — every year. Year, to year, to year the federal government amount of spending will go down for four years until we get a balanced budget. And you can’t do that by — by — by grand schemes. Whether it’s the space program or frankly whether it’s the Speaker’s Social Security program, which will create a brand-new Social Security entitlement. Those are things that sound good and maybe make big promises to people, but we’ve got to be responsible in the way we allocate our resources.

BLITZER: We’re going to get to that in a moment, but…[applause]

Congressman Paul, Texas, the space program very important there as well. Where do you stand on this?

PAUL: Well, I don’t think we should go to the moon. I think we maybe should send some politicians up there. [applause]

But I went — I went into the Air Force in 1962 and studied aerospace medicine. Actually had a daydream about maybe becoming the first physician to go into space. That — that didn’t occur, but I see space — the amount of money we spend on space, the only part that I would vote for is for national defense purposes. Not to explore the moon and go to Mars. I think that’s fantastic. That’s — I love those ideas. But I also don’t like the idea of building government business partnerships. If we had a healthy economy and had more Bill Gateses and more Warren Buffetts, the money would be there. It should be privatized, and the people who work in the industry, if you had that, there would be jobs in aerospace.

And I just think that we don’t need a bigger, a newer program, when you think of the people — I mean, health care or something else deserves a lot more priority than going to the moon. So, I would be very reluctant, but space technology should be followed up to some degree for national defense purposes, but not just for the fun of it and, you know, for — you know, for scientific —

BLITZER: We’re going to leave this subject, but before we do, I want Speaker Gingrich to clarify what you said yesterday in that major speech you delivered on space. You said that you would support a lunar colony or a lunar base, and that if 13,000 Americans were living there, they would be able to apply for U.S. statehood from the moon.

GINGRICH: I was meeting Rick’s desire for grandiose ideas. But —

BLITZER: That’s a pretty grandiose idea.

GINGRICH: But let me make just two points about this.

It is really important to go back and look at what John F. Kennedy said in May of 1961 when he said, “We will go to the moon in this decade.” No American had orbited the Earth. The technology didn’t exist.

And a generation of young people went into science and engineering and technology, and they were tremendously excited. And they had a future.

I actually agree with Dr. Paul. The program I envision would probably end up being 90 percent private sector, but it would be based on a desire to change the government rules and change the government regulations, to get NASA out of the business of trying to run rockets, and to create a system where it’s easy for private sector people to be engaged.

I want to see us move from one launch occasionally to six or seven launches a day because so many private enterprises walk up and say, we’re prepared to go do it. But I’ll tell you, I do not want to be the country that having gotten to the moon first, turned around and said, it doesn’t really matter, let the Chinese dominate space, what do we care? I think that is a path of national decline, and I am for America being a great country, not a country in decline. [applause]

BLITZER: We’re going to move on, but go ahead, Governor Romney.

ROMNEY: I spent 25 years in business. If I had a business executive come to me and say they wanted to spend a few hundred billion dollars to put a colony on the moon, I’d say, “You’re fired.”

The idea that corporate America wants to go off to the moon and build a colony there, it may be a big idea, but it’s not a good idea. And we have seen in politics — we’ve seen politicians — and Newt, you’ve been part of this — go from state to state and promise exactly what that state wants to hear. The Speaker comes here to Florida, wants to spend untold amount of money having a colony on the moon. I know it’s very exciting on the Space Coast.

In South Carolina, it was a new interstate highway, and dredging the port in Charleston. In New Hampshire, it was burying a power line coming in from Canada and building a new VHA hospital in New Hampshire so that people don’t have to go to Boston.

Look, this idea of going state to state and promising what people want to hear, promising billions, hundreds of billions of dollars to make people happy, that’s what got us into the trouble we’re in now. We’ve got to say no to this kind of spending. [applause]

GINGRICH: I want to make two points.

First, I thought we were a country where one of the purposes of candidates going around was to actually learn about the states they campaigned in and actually be responsive to the needs of the states they campaign in. For example, the port of Jacksonville is going to have to be expanded because the Panama Canal is being widened, and I think that’s useful thing for a president to know. I think it’s important for presidents to know about local things.

Second — and at the other end of the state, the Everglades Restoration Project has to be completed, and it’s the federal government which has failed.

But, second, in response to what Rick said, when we balanced the budget with the 1997 Balanced Budget Act, and ultimately had four consecutive balanced budgets, we doubled the size of the National Institutes of Health because we set priorities. It is possible to do the right things in the right order to make this a bigger, richer, more exciting country.

You don’t just have to be cheap everywhere. You can actually have priorities to get things done. [applause]

BLITZER: All right. We’re going to move on.

But go ahead, Ron Paul.

PAUL: I want to make a quick comment, because Newt’s mentioned this quite a few times about balancing the budget for four times. I went back and looked at the record.

The budget was — the national debt during those four years actually went up about a trillion dollars. What he’s talking about is, he doesn’t count the money he takes out of Social Security.

So, Reagan nor you had a truly balanced budget because the national debt goes up, and that’s what we pay the interest on. So I think you’ve stretched that a little bit more than you should have. [applause]

BLITZER: Go ahead and respond. And then Senator Santorum.

GINGRICH: No, I…

BLITZER: You want to respond to Congressman Paul?

GINGRICH: No, I would just say — I would just say, under the system that was used, we were $405 billion [inaudible]…[booing]

I agree with Ron — but let me finish. I actually agree with you, and I propose that we take Social Security off budget so no president can ever again get threaten, as Obama did in August, that he would not send the check out, and you could set Social Security back up as a free-standing trust fund. It does have enough money and you could in fact pay the checks without regard to politics in Washington.

BLITZER: Go ahead, quickly. [applause]

SANTORUM: Well, look, we just listened to the president of the United States the other night completely ignore the biggest problem facing this country when it comes to our financial health. We’ve been downgraded as a — as a — as a country and the president of the United States completely ignored any of the heavy work, the hard work in being honest with the American public about what we have to do to get our fiscal house in order.

And I think that’s the point I would make here. Going around and promising a whole bunch of new ideas and new projects and big ideas — that was fine. And maybe we need it; we can do that. I supported the doubling of the National Institutes of Health. But we didn’t have a $1.2 trillion deficit. We didn’t — we weren’t at over — we are now going to reach $16 trillion, which is more than our whole GDP. We were not in that situation 20, 15 years ago.

We are in a different world. We need leaders who are going to be honest with the people of this country, of the problems we have, and have bold solutions to make that happen. I’ll do that.

BLITZER: Let’s continue on this subject. [applause]

But let’s take a question from the audience.

Go ahead. Stand up and please introduce yourself.

QUESTION: My name is Lynn Frazier and I live here in Jacksonville. And for the Republican presidential candidates, my question is, I’m currently unemployed and I found myself unemployed for the first time in 10 years and unable to afford health care benefits.

What type of hope can you promise me and others in my position? [applause]

BLITZER: Let’s ask Congressman Paul.

PAUL: Well, it’s a tragedy because this is a consequence of the government being involved in medicine since 1965.

When I was growing up, we didn’t have a whole lot, but my dad had a small insurance, but medical care costs weren’t that much. And you should have an opportunity — medical care insurance should be given to you as an individual, so if you’re employed or not employed, you have — you just take care of that and you keep it up. When you lose a job, sometimes you lose your insurance.

But the cost is so high. When you pump money into something, like housing, cost — prices go up. If you pump money into education, the cost of education goes up. When the government gets involved in medicine, you don’t get better care; you get — cost goes up and it distorts the economy and leads to a crisis.

But your medical care should go with you. You should get total deduction on it. It would be so much less expensive. It doesn’t solve every single problem, but you’re — you’re suffering from the consequence of way too much government and the cost going up because government has inflated the cost and we have a government-created recession, and that is a consequence of the business cycle.

BLITZER: Speaker — Speaker Gingrich, what should Lynn do? [applause]

GINGRICH: Well, look, the first — she actually put her finger on two different problems. The largest challenge of this country is to get the economy growing so she can have a job so it’s easy for her to have insurance.

We — we need — and the president did nothing about this the other night. In fact, his proposal on taxes would make the economy worse.

We need to have a program which would start with, frankly, repealing Obamacare, repealing Dodd-Frank, repealing Sarbanes-Oxley. [applause]

And we need to give her a chance at a job.

Second, we need real health reform, not the Obama style, but we need health reform that allows her to buy in. And Dr. Paul is right. She ought to get the same tax break whether she buys personally or whether she buys through a economy.

She should also be able to buy into an association so that she’s buying with lots of other people so it’s not single insurance, which is the most expensive kind.

But you combine those two, reforming the insurance system and getting the economy growing again so people are back at work, you cure an awful lot of America’s problems with those two steps, and you put her back in a position where she’s in charge of her life; she’s not dependent on Barack Obama to take care of her. [applause]

BLITZER: That plan work for you, Governor?

ROMNEY: Actually, what both these gentlemen said is pretty much spot-on. And I’d — and I’ll add a couple of things.

One, I want to underscore something both of them said, and that is, right now in America, if you have insurance, you most likely got it through your employer. And the reason is, your employer gets a deduction for you when they buy the insurance for you.

That means that, if you change jobs, you’ve got to get a new insurance company, most likely. And if you become unemployed, you lose your insurance.

That doesn’t make sense. And if an individual wants to own their own insurance, they’re not part of a big group, and so as a result they get a very high rate.

What we should do is allow individuals to own their own insurance and have the same tax treatment as companies get. You do that and people like this young woman would be able to own her insurance. The rates would be substantial lower for her buying it individually than if she had to buy it individually today.

Secondly, getting people to work. This president has failed the American people.

He got up there and gave a speech last night. It was like Groundhog Day all over again. He said the same things and the same results we’re seeing today. People are not working. [applause]

And we know what it takes to put people back to work. He said some of those things last night — lowering corporate taxes, lowering regulations, opening up all of the above in energy, cracking down on China. He just doesn’t do any of those things, and if I’m president, I will do those things and I’ll get you back to work.

Thank you. [applause]

SANTORUM: All three of these folks sound great and I agree with them. I would just add that health savings account, which I introduced 20 years ago with John Kasich, is really the fundamental reform of getting consumers back involved in the health care system.

The problem with the answers from Congressman Gingrich and Governor Romney is that, well, they didn’t always say what they’re saying. Governor Romney was the author of Romneycare, which is a top- down government-run health care system which, read an article today, has 15 different items directly in common with Obamacare, everything from the increase in the Medicaid program, not just that government is going to mandate you buy something that’s a condition of breathing, mandate that you buy an insurance policy, something that Governor Romney agreed to at the state level, something Congressman Gingrich for 20 years advocated, that the federal government can force each and every person to enter into a private contract. Something that everyone now, at least up on this stage, says is radically unconstitutional, Congressman Gingrich supported for 20 years.

Governor Romney supported it in the state, a state that is a — pretty much a model for what Obamacare is going to look like — the highest health care costs in the country, 27 percent above the average, average waiting time — 94 percent of the people in Massachusetts are now insured, but there was just a survey that came out and said one in four don’t get the care they need because of the high cost. So, you have a card, you’re covered, but you can’t get care.

This is the top-down model that both of these gentlemen say they’re now against, but they’ve been for, and it does not provide the contrast we need with Barack Obama if we’re going to take on that most important issue. We cannot give the issue of health care away in this election. It is too foundational for us to win this election.

BLITZER: A quick rebuttal from Speaker Gingrich and then Governor Romney. [applause]

GINGRICH: Well, in my case, I think Rick is lumping us together rather more than is accurate.

If you go to healthtransformation.net, I founded the Center for Health Transformation. I wrote a book in 2002 called “Saving Lives and Saving Money.” It calls for you and your doctor and your pharmacist and your hospital have a relationship. I believe in something like patient power.

I didn’t advocate federal mandates. I talked about it at a state level, finding a way — which included an escape clause that people didn’t have to buy it — finding a way to try to have people have insurance, particularly for wealthy people who are simply free-riding on local hospitals. But the fact is, it was a personal system, dramatically different than either Romneycare or the version Rick just discussed.

BLITZER: Governor Romney?

ROMNEY: The system that we put in place in our state was something we worked out with the labor community, the health care community, business, and the citizens of the nation. We came together, it was voted by a 200-person legislature. Only two voted no.

Our system has a lot of flaws, a lot of things I’d do differently. It has a lot of benefits. The people of the state like it by about three to one.

We consider it very different than Obamacare. If I were president, day one I will take action to repeal Obamacare. It’s bad medicine. It’s bad economy. I’ll repeal it. [applause]

And I believe the people — I believe the people of each state should be able to craft programs that they feel are best for their people. I think ours is working pretty well. If I were governor, it would work a heck of a lot better.

BLITZER: All right.

And very quickly, go ahead.

SANTORUM: What Governor Romney just said is that government-run top-down medicine is working pretty well in Massachusetts and he supports it. Now, think about what that means —

ROMNEY: That’s not what I said.

SANTORUM: — going up against Barack Obama, who you are going to claim, well, top-down government-run medicine on the federal level doesn’t work and we should repeal it. And he’s going to say, wait a minute, Governor. You just said that top-down government-run medicine in Massachusetts works well.

Folks, we can’t give this issue away in this election. It is about fundamental freedom. Whether the United States government or even a state government — you have Amendment 1 here offered by Scott Pleitgen, who, by the way, endorsed me today, and it’s going to be on your ballot as to whether there should be a government mandate here in Florida.

According to Governor Romney, that’s OK. If the state does it, that’s OK. If the state wants to enforce it, that’s OK. Those are not the clear contrasts we need if we’re going to defeat Barack Obama and a —

BLITZER: Let’s go to Miami. [applause]

[crosstalk]

BLITZER: Very quickly.

ROMNEY: Rick, I make enough mistakes in what I say, not for you to add more mistakes to what I say. I didn’t say I’m in favor of top- down government-run health care, 92 percent of the people in my state had insurance before our plan went in place. And nothing changes for them. They own the same private insurance they had before.

And for the 8 percent of people who didn’t have insurance, we said to them, if you can afford insurance, buy it yourself, any one of the plans out there, you can choose any plan. There’s no government plan.

And if you don’t want to buy insurance, then you have to help pay for the cost of the state picking up your bill, because under federal law if someone doesn’t have insurance, then we have to care for them in the hospitals, give them free care. So we said, no more, no more free riders. We are insisting on personal responsibility.

Either get the insurance or help pay for your care. And that was the conclusion that we reached.

SANTORUM: Does everybody in Massachusetts have a requirement to buy health care?

ROMNEY: Everyone has a requirement to either buy it or pay the state for the cost of providing them free care. Because the idea of people getting something for free when they could afford to care for themselves is something that we decided in our state was not a good idea.

SANTORUM: So, in Massachusetts…[applause]

Just so I understand this, in Massachusetts, everybody is mandated as a condition of breathing in Massachusetts, to buy health insurance, and if you don’t, and if you don’t, you have to pay a fine.

What has happened in Massachusetts is that people are now paying the fine because health insurance is so expensive. And you have a pre-existing condition clause in yours, just like Barack Obama.

So what is happening in Massachusetts, the people that Governor Romney said he wanted to go after, the people that were free-riding, free ridership has gone up five-fold in Massachusetts. Five times the rate it was before. Why? Because…

ROMNEY: That’s total, complete…

SANTORUM: I’ll be happy to give you the study. Five times the rate it has gone up. Why? Because people are ready to pay a cheaper fine and then be able to sign up to insurance, which are now guaranteed under “Romney-care,” than pay high cost insurance, which is what has happened as a result of “Romney-care.”

ROMNEY: First of all, it’s not worth getting angry about. Secondly, the…[applause]

Secondly, 98 percent of the people have insurance. And so the idea that more people are free-riding the system is simply impossible. Half of those people got insurance on their own. Others got help in buying the insurance.

Look, I know you don’t like the plan that we had. I don’t like the Obama plan. His plan cuts Medicare by $500 billion. We didn’t, of course, touch anything like that. He raises taxes by $500 billion. We didn’t do that.

He wasn’t interested in the 8 percent of the people that were uninsured. He was concerned about the 100 percent of the people of the country. “Obama-care” takes over health care for the American people.

If I’m president of the United States, I will stop it. And in debating Barack Obama, I will be able to show that I have passion and concern for the people in this country that need health care, like this young woman who asked the question.

But I will be able to point out that what he did was wrong. It was bad medicine, it’s bad for the economy, and I will repeal it. [applause]

BLITZER: Let’s move on, let’s move on.

SANTORUM: Wolf, what Governor Romney said is just factually incorrect. Your mandate is no different than Barack Obama’s mandate. It is the same mandate. He takes over… [applause]

BLITZER: All right. All right.

SANTORUM: You take over 100 percent, just like he takes over 100 percent, requires the mandate. The same fines that you put in place in Massachusetts are fines that he puts in place in the federal level. Same programs.

BLITZER: Congressman Paul, who is right?

PAUL: I think they’re all wrong. [laughter] [applause]

I think this — this is a typical result of when you get government involved, because all you are arguing about is which form of government you want. They have way too much confidence in government sorting this out.

So, I would say there’s a much better way. And that is allow the people to make their decisions and not get the government involved. You know, it has only been…[applause]

When I started medicine, there was no Medicare or Medicaid. And nobody was out in the streets without it. Now, now people are suffering, all the complaints going on. So the government isn’t our solution.

So, I’m not too happy with this type of debate, trying to blame one versus the other, so, but — most likely we’re going to continue to have this problem unless we straighten out the economy. And that means…

BLITZER: I’ll give you 30 seconds, Mr. Speaker.

PAUL: … cut the spending. And they talk about these new programs and all, but how many of the other candidates are willing to cut anything? I’m willing to cut $1 trillion out of the first year. [applause]

BLITZER: All right.

GINGRICH: Well, I just want to say that I actually think if you look at what Ron Paul’s background is as a doctor, and you look at medicine in the early ’60s, and you look at how communities solved problems, it was a fundamentally more flexible and less expensive system.

And there’s a lot to be said for rethinking from the ground up, the entire approach to health care.

BLITZER: Let’s go to Miami. We have another question. [applause]

CNN Espanol’s Juan Carlos Lopez is standing by. Go ahead?

LOPEZ: Yes, Wolf, our question now comes from Jennifer Coryn she is a — the Executive Director of the Hispanic Leadership Network, our cosponsor and she is the spouse of a Marine Corps Gunnery Sargent and I believe, Jennifer, your question has to do with the future?

QUESTION: Yes. Thank you very much and good evening. We have many qualified, Hispanic leaders. Which of our Hispanic leaders would you consider to serve in your cabinet?

BLITZER: Senator Santorum?

SANTORUM:: Well, I mean I hate to throw one to Florida, but obviously your Senator Marco Rubio is a pretty impressive guy. [applause]

BLITZER: Speaker Gingrich?

GINGRICH: I think that there are a number, and I think for example of — of when you think cabinet, I think for example of Susana Martinez, the governor of New Mexico. You know, at the cabinet level I think of somebody like Ileana Ros-Lehtinen. I actually thought about Marco Rubio on a slightly more dignified and central role, then being in the cabinet, but that’s another conversation. [applause]

BLITZER: Governor?

ROMNEY: We — we are blessed — we’re blessed to have an enormous number of highly qualified Hispanic-Americans in the Republican Party and leadership right now. Brian Sandoval, the governor of — of Nevada. You mentioned Susana Martinez in New Mexico. I — both of the Diaz-Belart brothers, one retired from Congress, the other currently there. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, Mel Martinez is back in the private sector. Who knows, he could be pulled back. Of course, Senator Marco Rubio a — a terrific Hispanic- American. I — I’m sure I’m missing many, many others, but we have a — a remarkable — Carlos Gutierrez, formerly secretary of Commerce.

These individuals can for membership in our — in our cabinet, I believe. And — and potentially as the — as the speaker indicates, other positions as well.

PAUL: I — I — I don’t have one particular name that I’m going to bring up, but my litmus test would be to get individuals, Hispanic or otherwise to understand monetary policy and understand the system. But also the Hispanic community is especially attuned to the foreign policy of non-intervention. They — they are more opposed to war than other communities, so I would think there’s plenty in the Hispanic community that could give me good advice and an understanding of why a non-intervention foreign policy is very attractive to the Hispanic people.

BLITZER: All right, gentleman stand by. Much more to discuss. I want to take a short break. We have many more topics to include — including this, we’ll get into this a little bit, what would your wife — why would your wife make the best first lady. I’ll ask these four candidates. Stay with us. [applause]

[commercial break]

BLITZER: I’m Wolf Blitzer.

We’re here in Jacksonville for CNN’s Florida Republican presidential debate. Many of you are watching online, commenting on Twitter, Facebook, at CNN.com. We have many more questions for the candidates, including one that hits close to home.

Stand by to find out why each man on this stage thinks his wife would be the best first lady.

[commercial break]

BLITZER: Want to get right back to the rest of the debate, but first, on a lighter subject, I want to ask each of these gentlemen why they think their wife would make a great first lady.

Congressman Paul?

PAUL: Well, she’s been my wife for 54 years. And we’re going to have an anniversary on February 1st.

BLITZER: Congratulations.

PAUL: So — but she’s the mother of five of our children, and she’s a grandmother of 18 grandchildren, does an excellent job. And she’s also the author of a very famous cookbook, “The Ron Paul Cookbook.”

BLITZER: Governor?

ROMNEY: I’ve got to take a little bit more time, a little more seriousness.

My — nothing wrong with what you said — I’m sorry.

My wife is also a mom, as I pointed out early on, but in some respects, she is a real champion and a fighter. She was diagnosed in 1998 with Multiple Sclerosis, and more recently with breast cancer. She has battled both successfully. And as first lady, she will be able to reach out to people who are also struggling and suffering and will be someone who shows compassion and care.

And she’s also had a passion all of her adult life on helping people in troubled situations, young women in particular, understand the importance of getting married before they have babies and encouraging people to create families to raise kids in. [applause]

GINGRICH: Let me say, first of all, having gotten to know them, I think all three of the wives represented here would be terrific first ladies. Callista and I have gotten to know all three of them, and we think they’d be fabulous people. So I would rather just to talk about why I like Callista, and why I’d like her to be first lady, but she’s not necessarily in any way better. These are wonderful people, and they would be wonderful first ladies.

But Callista brings a couple of things. One is a tremendous artistic focus. She’s done a video in music education, why it really matters. She’s a pianist by background, plays the French horn in a community band, sings in the choir of the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception. She really cares about the arts and would bring a really strong feeling for music education and for art, and why it matters to people as part of their education.

She’s also very patriotic about American exceptionalism. She’s had a best-selling “New York Times” book, children’s book, and has really reached out to young people to get them to understand America.

And she’s helped produce and host seven movies now, so she would bring an entire, I think, artistic flavor.

But — and I, obviously, would be thrilled to be able to hang out with her at the White House. So it would be good.

BLITZER: And I suspect you would be.

Unfortunately, Senator Santorum, your wife is not here tonight.

SANTORUM: Yeah, she’s not. She’s — she’s doing what she does incredibly well, which is to be a mother to our seven children. And she is — she’s my hero. She’s someone who has been, you know, well- educated. She was a neo-natal intensive care nurse for nine years at one of the most advanced nurseries in the — in the country.

She went on to, because she saw all these ethical challenges there, so she went on and got a law degree so she could — she could deal with those in the — in the legal world.

And then when she got married, she gave that up; she walked away and walked into something that she felt called to do, which was to be a mom and to be a wife.

And we’ve — we’ve had eight children. We are blessed to be raising seven. We’ve been through a lot together, losing a child, having a child with a disability that we have now, our little Bella.

And the — the amount of love for these special kids is just palpable in her.

She wrote a book about our son that we lost called “Letters to Gabriel,” about that ordeal that we went through. That book, that little book has saved countless — I don’t — we know of at least hundreds of lives that were saved because people read that book and realized that the child they we’re carrying had the dignity to be love and nurtured irrespective of what malady may have — may have befallen that baby in the womb. And so many children were born and are alive today because of that book.

She’s also written a book on manners. That’s something that I — I — we have seven children, so we know that kids are not born good. And…[laughter]… and so manners is very important in our house. And she wrote a storybook because there were all sorts of how-to books on manners but there was no storybook, teaching manners through, well, how Christ taught us, through stories. And — and that’s what she did. And that book has hopefully somewhat civilized some children around this country. [laughter]

BLITZER: Very nice.

All right, let’s get back to the debate — the debate now. [applause]

Governor Romney, you criticized Speaker Gingrich for not being as close to Ronald Reagan as he says he was. When you ran for the Senate, you said you were, quote, “You weren’t trying to return to Reagan-Bush.”

So the question is, do you think you can claim the Reagan mantle more than Speaker Gingrich?

ROMNEY: Oh, of course not. No, I — I was — at the time Ronald Reagan was — was president, I was just getting started. I went through school, came out of school, got my first job, worked my way up in a consulting company, and then, after awhile, started a business of my own. I was looking at politics from afar and learning as time went on.

I didn’t get involved in politics early in my life. I instead spent my time building a business. And then later, as my business had been successful and we’d been involved in some turnaround situations, some businesses in trouble that we were able to help — not all worked out as we’d hoped, but a number did — I got asked to go off and help get the Salt Lake City Olympics in 2002 on track and put aside my business and went — went to Utah. And it was perhaps the greatest professional experience of my life, going there and spending three years helping getting those games on track.

I — I happen to believe the Olympics is one of the great showcases of the — of the human spirit that exists in the media world. And it was very successful. And then — and then, after that, I was asked by some friends to come back and run for governor, did that. And that’s when I became terribly politically involved.

And in that involvement, I learned a lot of lessons. Being governor taught me a lot of things. I became more conservative, by the way, as I was governor, and found the importance of lowering taxes, making it easier for businesses to grow, the importance of driving schools to be the best in the country. Those are the things I did.

And so I’m not suggesting — the speaker was a congressman at the time Ronald Reagan was president, so he — he, of course, was closer to the Ronald Reagan era than I.

BLITZER: Mr. Speaker, you’ve heard the criticism lately that you weren’t necessarily as close to the president as you suggest?

GINGRICH: Well, it’s increasingly interesting to watch the Romney attack machine coordinate things. And all of a sudden, today, there are like four different articles by four different people that randomly show up.

The fact is, I’m thrilled that Michael Reagan has endorsed me and will be campaigning with me here in Florida. I remember very fondly, in 1995, when we were at the Goldwater Institute and Nancy Reagan said, you know, “Barry gave Ronnie the torch, and now Ronny’s passing the torch to Newt and his team in Congress. So I think it’s reasonable to say, and I think the governor said it fairly, I am vastly closer to Reagan. In that period the governor was an independent business person. In ’92 he was donating to the Democrats for Congress and voted for Paul Tsongas in the Democratic primary. In ’94 running against Teddy Kennedy, he said flatly, I don’t want to go back to the Reagan-Bush era, I was an independent.

So there’s a pretty wide gap. Now, he’s more mature. He’s more conservative, I accept that. I think it’s a good thing. But those of us who were in the trenches fighting in the ’80’s, it would be nice to be recognized for what we actually did and not to have orchestrated attacks to try to distort the history of that period.

BLITZER: Governor Romney, you can respond please. [applause]

ROMNEY: Just a — just a short clarification. I — I’ve never voted for a Democrat when there was a Republican on the ballot. And — and in my state of Massachusetts, you could register as an independent and go vote in which — either primary happens to be very interesting. And any chance I got to vote against Bill Clinton or Ted Kennedy, I took. And so I — I’m…[applause]…I have voted — I have always voted for a Republican any time there was a Republican on the ballot. With regards to the Speaker’s involvement in the Reagan years, he can speak for himself. The Reagan Diaries and the other histories that were written at that time can lay that out as well. I — I — I think, I think what he said speaks for itself and I’m proud of the things I was able to accomplish.

BLITZER: Let’s take another question from the audience. Go ahead. Please stand up and give us your name?

QUESTION: Hi, my name is George Miatus, I live here in Jacksonville and when I was 3-years-old I was very blessed that my parents brought me here from Cuba. They brought me here so that I could be raised in freedom and in liberty. President Obama has recently announced that he is liberalizing trade and travel policies. What would be your position as president toward the island of Cuba?

BLITZER: Senator Santorum?

SANTORUM: I would oppose it. I’ve been 100 percent in support of the Cuban people and their right to have a free Cuba and the United States should stand on the side of the Cuban people against these despots who are not just reigning terror, continuing reign of terror in Cuba. But now have their — their — their puppet, Chavez in — in Venezuela and Noriega and Morales and it keeps — it keeps like a cancer growing. So the idea that a president of the United States would take the heart of the cancer that is in Central and South America, and begin to reward behavior that has spread this cancer because of our dilly-dallying and our inattentiveness to the problems in Central and South America.

Now, we’re going to reward the secret police. We’re going to [inaudible] president of Venezuela as they are in Cuba. We’re going to reward this type of thuggery, this type of Marxism in our region. We’re going to reward a country that is now working with these other countries to harbor and bring in Iran and the terrorist — the Jihadist’s who want to set up missile sites and to set up training camps. And so we’re going to reward this behavior by opening up and liberalizing. This is the exact wrong message at the exact wrong time.

BLITZER: Congressman Paul…[applause]…you said the U.S. should talk to everyone. Imagine you’re in the Oval Office, you speak to Raul Castro. What would you say to him?

PAUL: Well, I’d ask him what he called about, you know? [laughter]

What was the purpose of his call? No, I would ask him what can — what can we do to improve relations? Because I wouldn’t see them as likely to attack us. When I was drafted in October of ’62, that was a different world. I mean there were nuclear weapons in Cuba. That was a different story. But — but today to — not to talk to them and take the call and see what you can work out, helps — helps Castro. It hurts the people, the dissidents, the people who want to overthrow him have always had to be, you know, nationalistic and unified behind the leader.

So as well intended as these sanctions are, they almost inevitably backfire and they help the dictators and hurt the people. [applause]

So it’s time to change. The Cold — the Cold War — the Cold War is over. They’re not going to invade us and I just think that a better relationship and trade relationship, so many people — I think — I’ve noticed already since I’ve been talking about this issue the last four of five years, I think the people have changed their mind. It’s very — the American people are getting much more open. Not nearly as frightened. And people — I don’t think they see a Jihadist under the bed every night…[laughter]…and we have to worry about that. I think there’s — I — I worry about overreaction, over concern and lack of ability to talk to them when they call you.

BLITZER: I want both of you to weigh in, Governor Romney first?

ROMNEY: Two — two major flaws with President Obama’s foreign policy.

[crosstalk]

BLITZER: Well what about Ron Paul’s policy?

ROMNEY: Well, I’m talking about President Obama right now. We can get back to Ron Paul in a moment. [applause]

First of all, I think the president has largely ignored Latin America, Cuba in particular, Venezuela, and other nations. I think we have to change that dramatically.

I think we have to have economic initiatives to build trade throughout Latin America, particularly with Colombia and Panama, now part of free trade agreements. I want more of that throughout Latin America. But that’s the first flaw, ignoring Latin America.

And number two is reaching out with accommodations to some of the world’s worst actors, whether it was Putin in Russia, giving him what he wanted, or Castro, saying we’re going to let you have remittances coming from the U.S. to fund your future, or relaxed trade restrictions. Throughout the world, with Ahmadinejad opening an open hand, tyrants look for weakness to take advantage. That’s the wrong course.

The right course for Cuba is to continue to honor Helms-Burton. And if I’m president of the United States, I will use every resource we have, short of invasion and military action, Congressman Paul. I’ll use every resource we can to make sure that when Fidel Castro finally leaves this planet, that we are able to help the people of Cuba enjoy freedom.

They want it. It’s a God-given right. And it is our responsibility to help share the gift of freedom with people throughout the world that are seeking it. [applause]

BLITZER: Are you open — Mr. Speaker, are you open to improving relations with Cuba?

GINGRICH: Well, let me start with where the governor correctly pointed out. I was very proud as Speaker to be able to make sure that the Helms-Burton Act passed, and I’m delighted that Congressman Dan Burton is here tonight and is campaigning with me, because it was a very important step towards isolating the Castro regime.

I think it’s amazing that Barack Obama is worried about an Arab Spring, he’s worried about Tunisia, he’s worried about Libya, he’s worried about Egypt, he’s worried about Syria, and he cannot bring himself to look south and imagine a Cuban Spring. And I would argue that we should have, as a stated explicit policy, that we want to facilitate the transition from the dictatorship to freedom. We want to bring together every non-military asset we have, exactly as President Reagan and Prime Minister Thatcher and Pope John Paul II did in Poland and in Eastern Europe.

They broke up the Soviet empire without a general war by using a wide range of things, one of which is just psychological, saying to the next generation of people in Cuba, the dictatorship is not going to survive. You need to bet to moving to freedom in order to have prosperity in Cuba, and we will help you get to that freedom. [applause]

BLITZER: Let’s take another question from the audience.

Please give us your name and tell us where you are from.

UNKNOWN: Abraham Hassel from Jacksonville, Florida.

How would a Republican administration help bring peace to Palestine and Israel when most candidates barely recognize the existence of Palestine or its people? As a Palestinian-American Republican, I’m here to tell you we do exist.

BLITZER: All right. Let’s ask Governor Romney, first of all.

What would you say to Abraham?

ROMNEY: Well, the reason that there’s not peace between the Palestinians and Israel is because there is — in the leadership of the Palestinian people are Hamas and others who think like Hamas, who have as their intent the elimination of Israel. And whether it’s in school books that teach how to kill Jews, or whether it’s in the political discourse that is spoken either from Fatah or from Hamas, there is a belief that the Jewish people do not have a right to have a Jewish state.

There are some people who say, should we have a two-state solution? And the Israelis would be happy to have a two-state solution. It’s the Palestinians who don’t want a two-state solution. They want to eliminate the state of Israel.

And I believe America must say — and the best way to have peace in the Middle East is not for us to vacillate and to appease, but is to say, we stand with our friend Israel. We are committed to a Jewish state in Israel. We will not have an inch of difference between ourselves and our ally, Israel.

This president went before the United Nations and castigated Israel for building settlements. He said nothing about thousands of rockets being rained in on Israel from the Gaza Strip. This president threw — [applause]

I think he threw Israel under the bus with regards to defining the ’67 borders as a starting point of negotiations. I think he disrespected Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

I think he has time and time again shown distance from Israel, and that has created, in my view, a greater sense of aggression on the part of the Palestinians. I will stand with our friend, Israel.

BLITZER: Thank you, Governor. [applause]

Speaker Gingrich, you got into a little hot water when you said the Palestinians were an invented people.

GINGRICH: It was technically an invention of the late 1970s, and it was clearly so. Prior to that, they were Arabs. Many of them were either Syrian, Lebanese, or Egyptian, or Jordanian.

There are a couple of simple things here. There were 11 rockets fired into Israel in November. Now, imagine in Duvall County that 11 rockets hit from your neighbor. How many of you would be for a peace process and how many of you would say, you know, that looks like an act of war.

You have leadership unequivocally, and Governor Romney is exactly right, the leadership of Hamas says, not a single Jew will remain. We aren’t having a peace negotiation then. This is war by another form.

My goal for the Palestinian people would be to live in peace, to live in prosperity, to have the dignity of a state, to have freedom. and they can achieve it any morning they are prepared to say Israel has a right to exist, we give up the right to return, and we recognize that we’re going to live side-by-side, now let’s work together to create mutual prosperity.

And you could in five years dramatically improve the quality of life of every Palestinian. But the political leadership would never tolerate that. And that’s why we’re in a continuous state of war where Obama undermines the Israelis.

On the first day that I’m president, if I do become president, I will sign an executive order directing the State Department to move the embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem to send the signal we’re with Israel. [applause]

BLITZER: Let’s go to Miami. Let’s take another question from Miami. Juan Carlos, go ahead?

LOPEZ: Thank you, Wolf. I’m joined now by Elizabeth Cuevas-Neunder. She is the CEO and founder of the Puerto Rican Chamber of Commerce in Florida. She is based out of Tampa.

And I’m pretty sure, Elizabeth, your question has to do with the beautiful island of Puerto Rico.

CUEVAS-NEUNDER: [speaking in Spanish]. Good evening. [speaking in Spanish]. I am bilingual, proud of it. My question to the candidates, we have 4 million Puerto Ricans in the United States, voters, 3.8 in Puerto Rico.

We have been treated as second class citizen and just now our governor’s name was not mentioned as a V.P. possibility, a great governor. My question to you is, where do you stand for Puerto Rico to become a state? And secondly, how do you — where do you stand on domestic trade between Florida and Puerto Rico, between Tampa Bay and Ponce ports which have been neglected? Thank you.

BLITZER: All right. Senator Santorum, let’s throw that question to you. The question about, do you support Puerto Rico potentially as the 51st state?

SANTORUM: Well, first, I will give a shout-out to Governor Luis Fortuno, who is a good friend of mine, and someone — I know him and his family, we have known each other for many years, we actually used to go to church together.

And so I spoke to Luis this week. And I’ve been to Puerto Rico many times. And actually, when I was a United States senator, we did a lot of work with Puerto Rico. Because of my relationship with many friends down there, I was made aware of problems, for example, in the Medicaid program.

We went down and we actually passed things to help with reimbursement rates, which were deplorably low in Puerto Rico. We also worked on hurricane relief and a whole lost of other things as a result of my relationship with many Puerto Ricans in Pennsylvania, and developed those relationships on the island.

I believe that — I believe in self-determination. That, you know, the Puerto Rican people should have the opportunity to be able to be able to speak on this. I have supported that. I don’t take a position one way or the other on statehood, commonwealth, independence, that’s for the people of Puerto Rico to decide.

But I also supported a lot of things to help the Puerto Rican economy. Puerto Ricans are United States citizens, and the poverty, the unemployment rates simply are — are simply not something that we as Americans should allow to occur in our country.

And we need to make sure that there are pro-growth, supply side economics to make sure that Puerto Rico can be successful as an economy on that island, and I believe they can. And under my administration, that’s something that I would work towards.

BLITZER: I’ll take that as a maybe. Statehood, not statehood.

SANTORUM: No, I take no position on that. That’s — I would — I’ve supported, you know, the opportunity for them to make that decision.

BLITZER: Let’s take another question from the audience here. Go ahead, please. What is your name?

SUZANNE BASS: Suzanne Bass, I’m an attorney in Jacksonville. Welcome to the great city of Jacksonville.

My question, how would your religious beliefs, if you’re elected, impact the decisions that you make in the office of the presidency?

BLITZER: Congressman Paul?

PAUL: Well, my religious beliefs wouldn’t affect it. My religious beliefs affect my character in the way I treat people and the way I live. The only thing it would affect…[applause]

The only thing that would affect me in the way I operate as a president or a congressman is my oath of office and my promises that I’ve made to the people.

BLITZER: Governor?

ROMNEY: Ron Paul makes very good point. I concur with that. I would also seek the guidance of — of providence in making critical decisions.

And of course, ours is a nation which is based upon Judeo- Christian values and ethics. Our law is based upon those values and ethics. And in some cases, our law doesn’t encompass — encompass all of the issues that we face around the world.

The conviction that the founders, when they wrote the Declaration of Independence, were writing a document that was not just temporary and not just for one small locale but really something which described the relationship between God and man — that’s something which I think a president would carry in his heart.

So when they said, for instance, that the creator had “endowed us with certain unalienable rights, among them life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness,” I would seek to assure that those principles and values remain in America and that we help share them with other people in the world, not by conquering them, but by helping them through our trade, through our various forms of soft power, to help bring people the joy and — and — and opportunity that exists in this great land.

BLITZER: Mr. Speaker? [applause]

GINGRICH: I would say that there are three ways in which religion would affect me.

The first is, I agree with Governor Romney. I think anyone who is president is faced with decisions so enormous that they should go to God. They should seek guidance. Because these are decisions beyond the ability of mere mortals to truly decide without some sense of what it is we should be doing.

I would say, second, that we have a real obligation to recognize that, if you’re truly faithful, it’s not just an hour on Sundays or Saturdays or Fridays. It’s in fact something that should suffuse your life, to be a part of who you are. And in that sense, it is inextricably tied in with how you behave.

But I would say, third, one of the reasons I am running is there has been an increasingly aggressive war against religion and in particular against Christianity in this country, largely by…[applause]… largely by a secular elite and the academic news media and judicial areas. And I frankly believe it’s important to have some leadership that stands up and says, enough; we are truly guaranteed the right of religious freedom, not religious suppression by the state. [applause]

BLITZER: Senator?

SANTORUM: Faith is a very, very important part of my life, but it’s a very, very important part of this country. The foundational documents of our country — everybody talks about the Constitution, very, very important. But the Constitution is the “how” of America. It’s the operator’s manual.

The “why” of America, who we are as a people, is in the Declaration of Independence, “We hold these truths to be self-evident that all men are created equal and endowed by their creator with certain unalienable rights.”

The Constitution is there to do one thing: protect God-given rights. That’s what makes America different than every other country in the world. No other country in the world has its rights — rights based in God-given rights, not government-given rights.

And so when you say, well, faith has nothing to do with it, faith has everything to do with it. If rights come…[applause]

If our president believes that rights come to us from the state, everything government gives you, it can take away. The role of the government is to protect rights that cannot be taken away.

And so the answer to that question is, I believe in faith and reason and approaching the problems of this country but understand where those rights come from, who we are as Americans and the foundational principles by which we have changed the world.

BLITZER: Thank you, Senator. [applause]

We have one more break to take, but we have a lot more to discuss. Don’t go too far away. Coming up, the final debate question before Florida votes. [applause]

[commercial break]

BLITZER: All right. We’re in the last few minutes of the last question to these four presidential candidates before the Florida primary on Tuesday in this debate format. Here is the question, and it involves the president of the United States. I want you to tell voters who are watching or are here on this campus right now why you are the one person on this stage that is most likely to beat Barack Obama.

Congressman?

PAUL: Well, you know, so far, we have some pretty good evidence that I’ll do quite well and have a better chance than the rest to beat him, because if you do a national poll, I do very, very well against Obama. But one of the reasons is, is that the freedom message in the Constitution is very appealing to everybody in all political beliefs because it includes free markets, which conservatives endorse, but it also protects civil liberties, the way people run their lives.

If it is a God-given life, and it’s your life, you should have the right to run your life as you so choose as long as you don’t harm other people. This means a lot more tolerance that some would like to give. So that brings people in who are concerned about civil liberties, and all of a sudden, my position undermines Obama completely and totally because the foreign policy is different.

He promises to end the wars, but the wars expand. A constitutional foreign policy will end the wars. And if you want somebody to talk about peace and prosperity, it has to be somebody who understands money and a foreign policy and free markets. [applause]

BLITZER: Governor Romney, why are you the one person on this stage most likely to beat President Obama?

ROMNEY: The people of America recognize that this is a critical time. This is not just an average election.

This is a time where we’re going to decide whether America will remain the great hope of the 21st century, whether this will be an American century, or, instead, whether we’ll continue to go down a path to become more and more like Europe, a social welfare state. That’s where we’re headed.

Our economy is becoming weaker. The foundation of our future economy is being eroded. Government has become too large. We’re headed in a very dangerous direction.

I believe to get America back on track, we’re going to have to have dramatic, fundamental, extraordinary change in Washington to be able to allow our private sector to once again reemerge competitively, to scale back the size of government and to maintain our strength abroad in our military capacities.

I believe that, to change Washington in such a dramatic way, you cannot do it by people who have been there their entire careers.

I believe, if you just elect the same people to change chairs in Washington, not much happen. I think, if you want to change Washington, you’re going to have to bring someone in who has been on the outside.

I have lived in the private sector. I know how it works. I’ve competed with businesses around the world. I know how to win.

I know what it takes to keep America strong. I know how to work in government. I’ve had experience for — four years, rather, working as the governor of Massachusetts.

I will use the experience of my life to get America right. And I will be able to convince the American people that someone with my experience is very different than Barack Obama. And that experience is how I’ll beat him. [applause]

BLITZER: Mr. Speaker…[applause]… why are you the one person on this stage most likely to beat President Obama?

GINGRICH: You know, I have participated in the two largest Republican sweeps in modern time, 1980, in the Reagan campaign, and 1994, with the Contract with America, which had the largest one-party increase in American history, 9 million extra votes.

I believe that what we need this fall is a big-choice election that goes to the heart of who we are. I’m running more than anything for my two grandchildren, Maggie and Robert. I’d like them to be able to look back 50 years from now and say that what we did, what we the American people did, the choice we made in 2012 to unleash the American people, to rebuild our country based on the core values, to pose for the American people a simple choice: Do you want freedom and independence and a paycheck and a job, or do you want dependence and big government and food stamps and a lack of future?

And I believe, if we have a big election with truly historic big choices, that we can defeat Barack Obama by a huge margin. But it won’t be by running just as a Republican. It will be an American campaign open to every American who prefers a paycheck to food stamps, who prefers the Declaration of Independence to Saul Alinsky and who prefers a strong national security to trying to appease our enemies. [applause]

BLITZER: Senator? [applause]

I’ll repeat the question for you. Why do you think you’re the best, most qualified person on this stage to beat President Obama?

SANTORUM: I agree with the previous two speakers that this is a big election. This is an election about fundamental freedom. It’s about who America is going to be. Are we a country that’s going to be built great from the bottom up, as our founders intended, or from the top down?

I just think I’m a lot better than the previous two speakers to be able to make that case to the American people. I’m not for a top- down government-run health care system. I wasn’t for the Wall Street bailouts like these two gentlemen were.

Governor Romney talks about the private sector and how he’s going to bring private sector. When the private sector was in trouble, he voted for government to come in and take over the private sector and be able to — and to bail them out.

Cap-and-trade — both of them bought into the global warming hoax, bought into the cap-and-trade, top-down control of our energy and manufacturing sector.

If you look at President Obama’s speech the other night, what did he lead with? He lead with manufacturing. He led with manufacturing why? Because the base of his party, the ones that are always the ones — not the base — the swing vote in his party, the ones that Ronald Reagan was able to get — we call them Reagan Democrats up in Pennsylvania. Those are the blue-collar working people of America who know that this president has left them behind. He has a plan for them, and it’s more dependency, not work, not opportunity.

So he went out and tried to make a play for manufacturing. That’s been the center point of my campaign. The center point of my campaign is to be able to win the industrial heartland, get those Reagan Democrats back, talking about manufacturing, talking about building that ladder of success all the way down so people can climb all the way up.

That’s why I’m the best person to be able to go out and win the states that are necessary to win this presidency and govern with the mandate that Newt just talked about.

BLITZER: Thank you, Senator. [applause]

And thank you to the four presidential candidates. [applause]

I also want to thank our partners in this debate, the Republican Party of Florida, the Hispanic Leadership Network. Thank you very much to them. [applause]

We’d also like to thank our hosts here on the campus of the University of North Florida in Jacksonville.

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January 23, 2012: MSNBC / NBC News / National Journal / Tampa Bay Times / Florida Council of 100 Republican Presidential Debate Transcript

Republican Candidates Debate in Tampa, Florida January 23, 2012

PARTICIPANTS:
Former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich (GA);
Representative Ron Paul (TX);
Former Governor Mitt Romney (MA); and
Former Senator Rick Santorum (PA)

MODERATOR:
Brian Williams (NBC News)

WILLIAMS: As for topics, it’s a wide-open evening, so let’s begin.

First of all, since we last gathered, three of you on stage have enjoyed victories, an unprecedented moment in the modern era, three separate candidates, three separate victories. Congratulations to you. In all three contests, the voters made it clear to pollsters and elsewhere that electability was a crucial element to them, a crucial argument this year.

And so, speaker Gingrich, on electability to begin with, your rival, your opponent on this stage, Governor Romney, was out today calling you erratic, a failed leader, and warning that your nomination for this party could perhaps result in what he called an “October surprise a day.” So given the fact that he went after you today on this topic of electability, your response tonight, Mr. Speaker?

GINGRICH: Well, in 1980, when Ronald Reagan started the year about 30 points behind Jimmy Carter and when the Republican establishment described his economic ideas as “voodoo economics,” Reagan just cheerfully went out and won the debate, won the nomination, and won the general election carrying more states than Herbert Hoover carried — than Roosevelt carried against Herbert Hoover. I would suggest that a solid conservative who believes in economic growth through lower taxes and less regulation, who believes in an American energy program, who believes in a strong national defense, and who has the courage to stand up to the Washington establishment, may make the Washington establishment uncomfortable, but is also exactly the kind of bold, tough leader the American people want, they’re not sending somebody to Washington to manage the decay. They’re sending somebody to Washington to change it, and that requires somebody who’s prepared to be controversial when necessary.

WILLIAMS: And about your problems, your departure from the speakership in the ’90s, what’s the case you make to the American people and voters in Republican primary contests about how you’ve changed, Mr. Speaker?

GINGRICH: Well, first of all, the case I make is that, when I was speaker, we had four consecutive balanced budgets, the only time in your lifetime, Brian, that we’ve had four consecutive balanced budgets. Most people think that’s good.

We were down to 4.2 percent unemployment; 11 million new jobs were created. Most people think that’s good. We reformed welfare. And two out of three people went to work or went to school. People think that’s good.

I left the speakership after the 1998 election because I took responsibility for the fact that our results weren’t as good as they should be. I think that’s what a leader should do. I took responsibility, and I didn’t want to stay around, as Nancy Pelosi has. I wanted to get out and do other things. I founded four small businesses. And I’m very comfortable that my four years as speaker, working with a Democratic president, achieved the kind of conservative values that most Republicans want to have in a president.

WILLIAMS: Governor Romney, for his part, the speaker said about you that were dancing on eggs during this campaign, a good salesman with a weak product. And even Chris Christie, one of the most popular politicians in this country, speaking on your behalf, said this weekend your challenge is “going to be how to connect with people.”

Same question to you about electability.

ROMNEY: Well, I think this is going to come down to a question of leadership. I think as you choose the president of the United States, you’re looking for a person who can lead this country in a very critical time, lead the free world, and the free world has to lead the entire world.

I think it’s about leadership, and the Speaker was given an opportunity to be the leader of our party in 1994. And at the end of four years, he had to resign in disgrace.

Now, in the 1970s, he came to Washington. I went to work in my first job in the 1970s at the bottom level of a consulting firm. In the 1990s, he had to resign in disgrace from this job as Speaker.

I had the opportunity to go off and run the Olympic winter games. In the 15 years after he left the speakership, the Speaker has been working as an influence peddler in Washington. And during those 15 years, I helped turn around the Olympics, helped begin a very successful turnaround in the state of Massachusetts.

The Speaker — when I was fighting against cap and trade, the Speaker was sitting down with Nancy Pelosi on a sofa encouraging it. When I was fighting to say that the Paul Ryan plan to solve Medicare was bold and right, he was saying that it was right wing social engineering.

So we have very different perspectives on leadership, and the kind of leadership that our conservative movement needs not just to get elected, but to get the country right.

WILLIAMS: Mr. Speaker?

GINGRICH: Well, look, I’m not going to spend the evening trying to chase Governor Romney’s misinformation. We’ll have a site at Newt.org by tomorrow morning. We’ll list everything — he just said at least four things that are false. I don’t want to waste the time on them. I think the American public deserve a discussion about how to beat Barack Obama, the American public deserves a discussion of what we would do about the economy. And I just think this is the worst kind of trivial politics.

I mean, he said at least four things that were false. We have an ad in which both John McCain and Mike Huckabee in 2007 and 2008 explain how much they think Governor Romney can’t tell the truth.

I just suggest people look at them. Don’t listen to me, don’t believe me. Just look at the ad with Mike Huckabee and Senator McCain and you will understand exactly what you just saw.

WILLIAMS: Governor Romney, to your electability, let’s talk about the southern base of the GOP. Among those who describe themselves as very conservative, only one in five have gone your way.

How is that going to bode well for the longer campaign?

ROMNEY: Had a great record, as you know, in New Hampshire. The New Hampshire voters overwhelmingly supported me. Actually, among Republicans in New Hampshire, I got the biggest support that we have seen among Republicans, even including Ronald Reagan, that far back. So I’m pleased I will be able to connect well with our Republican base.

But let’s go back to what the Speaker mentioned with regards to leadership, and that is — I mean, we don’t have to take my word for the facts. They’re accurate. I will point out that they are accurate. But the truth is that the members of his own team, his congressional team, after his four years of leadership, they moved to replace him. They also took a vote, and 88 percent of Republicans voted to reprimand the Speaker, and he did resign in disgrace after that.

This was the first time in American history that a Speaker of the House has resigned from the House. And so that was the judgment rendered by his own people as to his leadership.

Look, don’t forget at the end of the Speaker’s term as Speaker, his approval rating was down to 18 percent. We suffered historic losses after his four years in office.

And I’ll make this other point, which is we just learned today that his contract with Freddie Mac was provided by the lobbyists at Freddie Mac. I don’t think we can possibly retake the White House if the person who’s leading our party is the person who was working for the chief lobbyist of Freddie Mac. Freddie Mac was paying Speaker Gingrich $1,600,000 at the same time Freddie Mac was costing the people of Florida millions upon millions of dollars.

WILLIAMS: Do you realize last week, Governor, you said that — you complained that too much of your time on stage lately has been spent on negativity vis-a-vis the other candidates? You pledged to spend your time going after the incumbent president, yet here we are again.

ROMNEY: I’ll tell you why, which is I learned something from that last contest in South Carolina, and that was I had incoming from all directions, was overwhelmed with a lot of attacks. And I’m not going to sit back and get attacked day in and day out without returning fire.

I would like not to have the kind of attacks that came against me. There were two ads run by Speaker Gingrich. Outside fact- checking groups said these ads were false, and yet they continue to run them, and one by his campaign, and one by a PAC, in his benefit. And I know he can’t control that, but those ads were pretty heavy on me. So I’m going to point out things I think people need to know.

It was Republicans who replaced him in the House, voted to reprimand him. And it was the head lobbyist of Freddie Mac with whom he had a contract at a time when Floridians were suffering as a result in part of Freddie Mac.

WILLIAMS: Mr. Speaker, 30 seconds before I move on.

GINGRICH: Now, wait a second. I mean, he just went on and on and on, making a whole series of allegations. First of all, he may have been a good financier; he’s a terrible historian.

The fact is, the vote on the Ethics Committee was in January of 1997. I asked the Republicans to vote yes because we had to get it behind us. The Democrats had filed 84 ethics charges for a simple reason: We had taken control of the House after 40 years, and they were very bitter.

And the fact is, on every single ethics charge of substance that was dismissed in the end, the only thing we did wrong is we had one lawyer written by letters — I mean, written one letter, and the one letter was in error. I didn’t pay a fine. I paid the cost of going through the process of determining it was wrong.

I left two years later, and, frankly, we were right to get it behind us because the tax cut that led to economic growth, the four balanced budgets all came after that vote. So you have all this stuff just jumbled up. Apparently your consultants aren’t very good historians. What you ought to do is stop and look at the facts.

And the fact is, we won the House for the third time in 1998, but the margin wasn’t big enough. So I am the only speaker up to that point since the 1920s who had led the Republican Party to three consecutive victories. By the way, in 2006 when you chaired the Governors Association, we lost governorships. And in the four years that you were governor, we lost seats in the Massachusetts legislature. So I think as a party builder, the 20 years I spent building the House Republican Party stands pretty good as an example of leadership.

WILLIAMS: Senator Santorum, you have labeled this choice as being between an erratic and a moderate. You come in here tonight with one victory in Iowa. Where is your path to the top here?

SANTORUM: Well, I think if you’ve learned anything about this election, that any type of prediction is going to be wrong. The idea that this was a two-person race has been an idea that has been in fashion now for eight months, and it’s been wrong about eight times.

And so we’re looking at this race trying to paint a positive vision for our country. You ask my path to victory. My path to victory is to tell the people of Florida and tell the people of this country of someone who’s here that presents a very clear contrast with the president of the United States, someone that will make him the issue in this race, not the Republican candidate, someone who has a track record of being a strong conservative, someone who has a vision, a bold vision to reach out to the voters that I reached out and was successful in getting when I ran for the Senate in Pennsylvania twice, a state we haven’t won for the presidency since 1988. I won it twice, once in a year where George Bush lost the state by five and I won it by six.

How did I do it? I had plans out there that included everybody, plans like I have today, talking about manufacturing, talking about things that – – that are touchstones with the Reagan Democrats that provided that 49- state win.

We talked about faith. We talked about family. We talked about jobs. We talked about limited government. And that message was one that connected in a state — well, just like Florida, that’s one of those key states that we’re going to win. And that sets me apart, really, from anybody else on this stage as someone who’s been victorious with a strong, principled conservative message.

WILLIAMS: And yet, Senator, you are former Senator Santorum, having lost your home state by 18 points.

SANTORUM: Yeah, well, if I was the only guy that lost an election that year in Pennsylvania, that would be maybe a big statement, but our gubernatorial candidate lost by more than I did. We lost five congressional seats. And it was an historic loss in our statehouse. It was a meltdown year. We lost 23 out of 33 senators.

And probably unlike a lot of other candidates, when you’re running in an election year that you know you’re running against a headwind, a lot of folks crouch down, they get out of the way of the wind and try to sneak in. I stood tall, stood for what I believed in, talked about issues like the threat of Iran on the horizon, talked about the need to reform Social Security and Medicare, talked about the issues that, well, now we’re all talking about today, as I did at a time when nobody wanted to hear that message.

I also was running with a president who was sitting at about 35 percent favorable, and I was standing by him and trying to reform Social Security, and trying to fight the war and win the war in Iraq, and I stand by that.

And one of the things I figured out when I was running in that tough election year, there’s one thing worse than losing an election, and that’s not standing for the principles that you hold.

WILLIAMS:Congressman Paul, there is no denying you have an enthusiastic base support — base of support. We could hear them outside tonight. Yet there was that recent interview, you were asked if while campaigning you envision yourself in the Oval Office, and you said, “Not really, but I think it’s a possibility.”

So that begs the question about your path and when you will give an honest answer about perhaps your third-party plans going forward. Are you in this regardless of the outcome to your right here on this stage?

PAUL: Well, unlike others, maybe they sit around and daydream about being in the White House. I just don’t sit around daydreaming about it, but I’m in a race, I’m in a good race.

You talk about electability. Why don’t we take on the first three states and take everybody 30 years and under? I’m doing pretty darned well. I’m winning that vote.

But what about if you compare my name to Obama? I do quite well, if not better, than the rest.

So, to say that there has only been three races, and talk about not being electable, I think is a bit of a stretch. As a matter of fact, the delegates haven’t even been appointed in Iowa yet. I mean, quite frankly, we have a pretty good chance of getting a good sum of those because of the organization.

We only had a straw vote. I mean, this argument on who won, it was a straw vote. I mean, the delegates is what counts.

But I do want to address the earlier discussion that you had about 1997. I had been out of Congress for 12 years, and I went back in ’96 and arrived there in ’97. It was chaotic, let me tell you.

It was a mess, and it was a mess for 12 years. And Newt had a big job on his hands, but he really had to attack the conservatives. He did it boldly.

And quite frankly, I think the reason — he didn’t not run for Speaker, you know, two years later. He didn’t have the votes. That was what the problem was. So this idea that he voluntarily reneged and he was going to punish himself because we didn’t do well in the election, that’s just not the way it was.

WILLIAMS: Let me come at it this way. If Newt Gingrich emerges from the GOP primary process as the nominee of the party, do you go your own way?

PAUL: Well, I have done a lot of that in my lifetime.

WILLIAMS: I should be more specific. Will you run as a third- party candidate?

PAUL: I have no plans to do that, no intention. And when I have been pressed on it, and they asked me why, and I said, I don’t want to. But I haven’t been an absolutist. When I left Congress, I didn’t have plans on going back, but I did after 12 years. I went back to medicine. So, no, I don’t have any plans to do that. No.

WILLIAMS: Would you support a Newt Gingrich as nominee of the GOP?

PAUL: Well, he keeps hinting about attacking the Fed, and he talks about gold. Now if I could just change him on foreign policy, we might be able to talk business. [laughter]

WILLIAMS: Speaker Gingrich, are you willing to adjust to pick up an endorsement from Texas?

GINGRICH: Well, I got one on Friday from Governor Perry, which I liked a lot as a starting point. So I like endorsements from Texas.

And Congressman Paul is right. There’s an area — I think what he has said about the Federal Reserve and what he has said about the importance of monetary policy, the proposal I’ve issued for a gold commission, which hearkens back to something that he and Jesse Helms helped develop, on which he served on in 1981, and the fact that we have people of the caliber of Lew Lehrman and Jim Grant, who have agreed they would chair such a commission, I think they’re areas we can work on.

There are places we disagree very deeply. Iran is a good example. But there are places — you know, you build a coalition by trying to find ways you can work together, and frankly we could work together a lot more than either one of us could work with Barack Obama.

WILLIAMS: Governor Romney, a question you know is coming because of what you have set in motion for tomorrow when you release one year’s tax returns and your estimates for 2011. We know it’s not a matter of producing them. You said during the McCain vetting process you turned over 23 years which you had at the ready because, to quote you, you’re something of a packrat.

So, prior to tomorrow, can you tell us tonight what’s in there that’s going to get people talking? What’s in there that’s going to be controversial? What’s in there that you may find yourself defending?

ROMNEY: No surprises, Brian. The most extensive disclosure that I made was the financial disclosure requirements under the law. We each had to do that, and I laid out what my assets are and where they are, and people have been looking at that. It’s very similar to what it was four years ago. And so my income tax will show that that’s where the profits and rewards came.

The real question is not so much my taxes, but the taxes of the American people. The real question people are going to ask is, who’s going to help the American people at a time when folks are having real tough times?

And that’s why I put forward a plan to eliminate the tax on savings for middle income Americans. Anyone making under $200,000 a year, I would eliminate the tax on interest, dividends and capital gains. People need help to be able to save their money.

I’ll also bring the corporate tax rate down to 25 percent as quickly as possible and then begin a process of reshaping the entire tax code. It’s far too complex, it’s far too intrusive, it’s far too great.

ROMNEY: I would like to lower the rates, broaden the base, akin to what we saw in the Bowles-Simpson plan, which, by the way, the president commissioned and then simply brushed aside. We need to go back to that, get our rates down, and get a pro-growth tax policy in this country.

WILLIAMS: So, across this country tomorrow, when people learn the details of the tax return you release — and, of course, you’ll be under pressure to release more years after that — nothing will stick out, nothing will emerge that will be talked about by this time tomorrow night?

ROMNEY: Oh, I’m sure people will talk about it. I mean, you’ll see my income, how much taxes I’ve paid, how much I’ve paid to charity. You’ll see how complicated taxes can be. But — but I pay all the taxes that are legally required and not a dollar more.

I don’t think you want someone as the candidate for president who pays more taxes than he owes. So I’ll — I’ll point out that that’s the case.

And will there will discussion? Sure. Will it be an article? Yeah. But is it entirely legal and fair? Absolutely. I’m proud of the fact that I pay a lot of taxes.

And the fact is, there are a lot of people in this country that pay a lot of taxes. I’d like to see our tax rate come down and focus on growing the country, getting people back to work. That’s our problem in this country right now. We’ve got a lot of people out of work. Let’s let them start paying taxes because they got jobs again.

WILLIAMS: Speaker Gingrich, what will satisfy you?

GINGRICH: Well, first of all, he said the other day when he indicated he was going to release it, that was the right thing to do. It’s actually a tradition his father started in 1967. I think it’s the right thing to do.

The biggest thing I think will be — and I think you indicated the other day that you pay something like a 15 percent marginal rate. My position is not to attack him for paying a 15 percent marginal rate. I have in my tax proposal an alternative flat tax on the Hong Kong model, where you get to choose what you want, and our rate’s 15 percent. So I’m prepared to describe my 15 percent flat tax as the Mitt Romney flat tax. I’d like to bring everybody else down to Mitt’s rate, not try to bring him up to some other rate. WILLIAMS: And — yes, Governor? [crosstalk]

ROMNEY: Mr. Speaker, is the tax on capital gains also 15 percent or is it zero?

GINGRICH: Zero.

ROMNEY: Well, under that — under that plan, I’d have paid no taxes in the last two years.

GINGRICH: Well, if that — and if you created enough jobs doing that — it was Alan Greenspan who first said the best rate, if you want to create jobs for capital gains, is zero. My number-one goal is to create a maximum number of jobs to put the American people back to work. It’s a straightforward argument.

WILLIAMS: And, Governor, how about your father’s model of 12 years’ worth of returns?

ROMNEY: You know, I agree with my dad on a lot of things, but we also disagree. And — and going out with 12 years of returns is not something I’m going to do. I’m putting out two years, which is more than anyone else on this stage. I think it’ll satisfy the interests of the American people to see that I pay my taxes, where I give my charitable contributions to, and I think that’s the right number.

WILLIAMS: More broadly, Governor, just an aside, have you been surprised at the degree to which your wealth has become an issue? You spoke rather forcefully in South Carolina over the weekend on Saturday night about this, about the degree to which you’ve had to defend, as you put it, your success in business.

ROMNEY: Yeah, I knew that was going to come from the Obama team. I understood that. We see that on the left. I was surprised to see people in the Republican Party pick up the weapons of the left and start using them to attack free enterprise. I think those weapons will be used against us. I think it’s very unfortunate.

I will not apologize for having been successful. I did not inherit what my wife and I have, nor did she. What we have — what — what I was able to build, I built the old-fashioned way, by earning it, by working hard. And I was proud of the fact that we helped create businesses that grew, that employed people.

And these are not just high-end financial jobs. We helped start Staples, for instance. It employs 90,000 people. These are middle- income people. There are entry-level jobs, too. I’m proud of the fact that we helped people around the country, Bright Horizons children centers, the Sports Authority, Steel Dynamics, a new steel company. These employ people, middle-income people.

And the nature of America is individuals pursuing their dreams don’t make everyone else poorer; they help make us all better off. And so I’m not going to apologize for success or apologize for free enterprise. I believe free enterprise is one of the things that — that we have to reinvigorate in this country if we want to get people working again.

WILLIAMS: Senator Santorum, Governor Romney has said — and he said again tonight — he expected these attacks from the other side. He’s been taking fire as he would from the Democrats from the group on this stage. That means you. That includes you.

ROMNEY: I didn’t mean to include…

SANTORUM: No, I have — I have not. I have not fired at Governor Romney on — on — on his — his work at Bain Capital. In fact, I’ve been maybe unique in that regard that I haven’t.

I believe in capitalism. I believe in free markets. I believe Governor Romney can go out and — and earn whatever he can. And hopefully he creates jobs by earning that money and investing in companies.

My only question with Governor Romney is that, you know, to be a great defender of capitalism and talk about the importance of — of capitalism and free markets, and in the case of Bain, constructive capitalism and destructive capitalism.

My question to Governor Romney and to Speaker Gingrich, if you believe in capitalism that much, then why did you support the bailout of Wall Street, where you had an opportunity to allow destructive capitalism to work, to allow a failure of a — of a system that needed to fail because people did things that in capitalism pay — you pay a price?

And we should have allowed those financial institutions to go through the bankruptcy process, and we would have had resulted not what we are seeing here in Florida with this lengthy recession/depression of the housing market. You would have seen the effects of what Governor Romney advocated for and advocates today at Bain Capital, which is allowing companies that do not do their job, cannot be competitive, make mistakes, to fail and pay the price, instead of having government come in and prop them up.

WILLIAMS: And Speaker Gingrich, just tonight, two hours ago, in fact, you released your ’06 contract with Freddie Mac. We alluded to this earlier.

Your company was paid $25,000 a month, $300,000 for the year. But it didn’t provide a further explanation of services for Freddie Mac.

Why one year’s worth? Governor Romney today used the expression “work product.” He wants to see your work product, and the word “lobbying” has been thrown around, and you strongly disagree with that.

GINGRICH: Well, first of all, if you read the contract — and we can go back and check the other years. We had to work through the process of getting an approval because it was a confidentiality agreement.

But if you read the contract which we have posted, and the Center for Health Transformation had to get permission to post, it says very clearly supposed to do consulting work. The governor did consulting work for years. I have never suggested his consulting work was lobbying.

So let me start right there. There is no place in the contract that provides for lobbying. I have never done any lobbying.

Congressman J.C. Watts, who for seven years was the head of the Freddie Mac Watch Committee, said flatly he has never been approached by me. The fact is that Congressman Rick Lazio, who is chairman of the Housing Subcommittee, said he has never been approached by me. And the only report in the newspaper was “The New York Times” in July of 2008, which said I told the House Republicans they should vote no, not give Freddie Mac any money, because it needed to be reformed. So there’s no — [crosstalk]

WILLIAMS: So you never peddled influence, as he described tonight?

GINGRICH: What?

WILLIAMS: You never peddled influence, as Governor Romney accused you of tonight?

GINGRICH: You know, there is a point in the process where it gets unnecessarily personal and nasty. And that’s sad.

The fact is I have had a very long career of trying to represent the people of Georgia and, as Speaker, the people of the United States. I think it’s pretty clear to say that I have never, ever gone and done any lobbying.

In fact, we brought in an expert on lobbying law and trained all of our staff. And that expert is prepared to testify that he was brought in to say here is the bright line between what you can do as a citizen and what you do as a lobbyist. And we consistently, for 12 years, running four small businesses, stayed away from lobbying, precisely because I thought this kind of defamatory and factually false charge would be made.

ROMNEY: Well, Mr. Speaker, you were — on this stage, at a prior debate, you said you were paid $300,000 by Freddie Mac for an historian — as an historian. They don’t pay people $25,000 a month for six years as historians. That adds up to about $1.6 million.

They weren’t hiring you as an historian. And this contract proves that you were not an historian. You were a consultant.

GINGRICH: I was a consultant.

ROMNEY: It doesn’t say that you provided historical experience, it said that you were as a consultant. And you were hired by the chief lobbyist of Freddie Mac, not the CEO, not the head of public affairs. By the chief lobbyist at Freddie Mac.

You also spoke publicly in favor of these GSEs, these government- sponsored entities, at a very time when Freddie Mac was getting America in a position where we would have had a massive housing collapse. You could have spoken out aggressively. You could have spoken out in a way to say these guys are wrong, this needs to end. But instead, you were being paid by them. You were making over $1 million at the same time people in Florida were being hurt by millions of dollars.

GINGRICH: Well, this is a good example. As a businessman, you know that the gross revenue of Bain wasn’t your personal income.

We had a company. The company had three offices. The company was being paid. My share annually was about $35,000 a year. And the fact is I offered strategic advice, largely based on my knowledge of history, including the history of Washington.

Government-sponsored enterprises include, for example, telephone cooperatives, rural electric cooperatives, federal credit unions. There are many different kinds of government-sponsored enterprises, and many of them have done very good things. And in the early years, before some people, particularly Jim Johnson and other Democrats, began to change the model you could make a pretty good argument that in the early years, those housing institutions were responsible for a lot of people getting a lot of good housing.

ROMNEY: There’s no question about that, but we’re talking about one. We’re talking about Freddie Mac.

GINGRICH: Right.

ROMNEY: And that one did a lot of bad for a lot of people. And you were working there making over $1 million for your entities — [crosstalk]

GINGRICH: For the entities. As long as we agree, for the entities.

ROMNEY: Owned by you. I don’t know whether 100 percent owned by you, but I presume. Owned by you, over $1.6 million. And you said it was $300,000. It was $1.6 million. That’s a difference.

GINGRICH: So, Mitt, what — Mitt, what’s the gross revenue of Bain in the years you were associated with it? What’s the gross revenue?

ROMNEY: Very — very substantial. But I think it’s irrelevant compared to the fact…

GINGRICH: No.

ROMNEY: … that you were working for Freddie Mac.

GINGRICH: Wait a second. Wait a second. Very substantial.

ROMNEY: You were working for Freddie…[crosstalk]

GINGRICH: Did Bain ever do any work with any company which did any work with the government, like Medicare…

ROMNEY: We didn’t — we didn’t do — we didn’t…

GINGRICH: … Medicaid?

ROMNEY: We didn’t do any work with the government. I didn’t have an office on K Street. I wasn’t a lobbyist. I didn’t — had never worked — I’ve never worked in Washington. You were working…

GINGRICH: So — so…

ROMNEY: We have congressmen who also say that you came and lobbied them in favor…

GINGRICH: I didn’t lobby them.

ROMNEY: You have congressmen who say…[crosstalk]

ROMNEY: … that you came and lobbied them with regards to Medicare Part D, at the same time…

GINGRICH: Now, wait. Whoa, whoa.

ROMNEY: … your center was taking in contributions…

GINGRICH: You just jumped a long way over here, friend.

ROMNEY: Well, another — another area of influence-peddling.

GINGRICH: No, not — now, let me be very clear, because I understand your technique, which you used on McCain, you used on Huckabee, you’ve used consistently, OK? It’s unfortunate, and it’s not going to work very well, because the American people see through it.

I have always publicly favored a stronger Medicare program. I wrote a book in 2002 called “Saving Lives and Saving Money.” I publicly favored Medicare Part D for a practical reason, and that reason is simple. The U.S. government was not prepared to give people anything — insulin, for example — but they would pay for kidney dialysis. They weren’t prepared to give people Lipitor, but they’d pay for open-heart surgery. That is a terrible way to run Medicare.

I am proud of the fact — and I’ll say this in Florida — I’m proud of the fact that I publicly, openly advocated Medicare Part D. It has saved lives. It’s run on a free enterprise model. It also included health savings accounts and it include Medicare alternatives, which gave people choices.

And I did it publicly, and it is not correct, Mitt — I’m just saying this flatly, because you’ve been walking around this state saying things that are untrue — it is not correct to describe public citizenship, having public advocacy as lobbying. Every citizen has the right to do that.

ROMNEY: They sure do.

GINGRICH: And what I did on behalf of Medicare…

ROMNEY: They sure do.

GINGRICH: … I did out in the open, publicly, and that is my right as a citizen.

WILLIAMS: Gentlemen…

ROMNEY: Here’s why it’s a problem, Mr. Speaker. Here’s why it’s a problem. And that is, if you’re getting paid by health companies, if your entities are getting paid by health companies that could benefit from a piece of legislation, and you then meet with Republican congressmen and encourage them to support that legislation, you can call it whatever you’d like. I call it influence-peddling.

It is not right. It is not right. You have a conflict. You are — you are being paid by companies at the same time you’re encouraging people to pass legislation which is in their favor.

WILLIAMS: Governor…

ROMNEY: This is — you spent now 15 years in Washington on K Street. And — and this is a real problem, if we’re going to nominate someone who not only had a record of — of great distress as the speaker, but that has worked for 15 years lobbying.

WILLIAMS: Gentlemen, we’ve let this go because of the state of the race, and a certain amount of this conversation, I guess, had to happen. We — this also has to happen. We have to go to a break. We’ll come back. We’ll talk about foreclosure. We’ll talk about foreign policy. We’ll welcome in the other two gentlemen to this conversation when we continue from Tampa. [applause]

[commercial break]

WILLIAMS: Welcome back to what has already become an interesting night in Tampa, Florida. Gentlemen, welcome back to you.

And, Senator Santorum, let’s begin this segment with you. Since we’ve been nibbling around the edges of the foreclosure crisis, since, what, 40 percent of homeowners in this state are underwater, 53 percent of the homes in Tampa, Florida, are worth less today than before this crisis. Was it too easy? Did vehicles of the U.S. government make it too easy to own a home in America?

SANTORUM: Well, the answer, unfortunately, is yes to that. And there were several of us in the United States Senate back in 2005 and 2006 who saw this on the horizon, who saw the problem with Freddie and Fannie, and tried to move forth with a bill — I was on the Banking Committee. We voted a bill out of committee to try to solve this problem, to constrain Fannie and Freddie, and there were a lot of people out there fighting that, including Harry Reid and his minions on the other side of the aisle.

I sent — I signed a letter, along with 24 other senators, that said, we either do something now, stop the filibuster of this bill, Harry Reid, Barack Obama, Joe Biden, all of whom were in the Senate at the time. They were filibustering this bill to allow reform of Fannie and Freddie. And we said, if this doesn’t happen, if we don’t constrain these two behemoths from continuing to underwrite this subprime mortgage problem, then we’re going to have a collapse. Unfortunately, that proved — proved to be true.

The problem now is, what are you going to do about it? And what I’ve said is that, as you heard me say before, let capitalism work. Allow these — allow these banks to — to realize their losses. And create an opportunity for folks who have houses to realize their losses and at least help them out.

That’s why I proposed in my tax plan — and I talk about five areas where I allow deductions — well, one of them would be, be able to deduct losses from the sale of your home. Right now, you can’t do that. You have to pay gains, depending on the amount, but you can’t deduct the losses.

This is something I think is important temporarily to put in place to allow people the freedom to be able to go out and get out from underneath these houses that they’re holding onto and at least get some relief from the federal government for doing so.

WILLIAMS: Congressman Paul, should that be any role for the government? Are those folks owed anything for being under?

PAUL: Well, the government owes them a free market and a sound monetary system, but they didn’t give it to them. They gave them a mess. They gave them a financial system that literally created this problem.

And it was compounded — first, the line of credit to the — to the Federal Reserve, it was excessive. Everybody now admits in Washington interest rates were kept too low, too long.

But not only that, in addition to that, it was an insult to injury, because they kept interest rates especially low with Freddie Mac and Fannie Mae, and there was a line of credit there, and it was a guarantee. As a matter of fact, I had introduced legislation 10 years before the bubble burst to eliminate that line of credit. But then the Community Reinvestment Act added more fuel to it, you know, forcing banks to make loans that are risky loans.

So the whole bubble was easily seen. The consequences were anticipated. It was all government manufactured. But the question is, is what do you do after you come upon a mess that the government and the politicians created?

The best thing you can do is get out of the way, because you want the prices to come down so that people will start buying them again, but politicians can’t allow that to happen. Our policies in Washington still has been to try to stimulate houses and keep — keep prices up.

But this whole thing about how we get involved in this low interest rate to stimulate the economy, almost everybody in Washington now in almost all spectrums of the economic sphere do not believe in wage and price controls, but they believe in controlling interest rates. That’s one-half of the whole economy, and here we have a bunch of guys getting in a room in secret, deciding what interest rates should be, and they create this mess. So, yes, we need to get out of the way, but instead the debt has to be liquidated.

The mortgage derivatives was a monster. A lot of people made a lot of money on that. But guess what? The Federal Reserve, to the tune of trillions and trillions of dollars, as well as TARP funds, were used to bail out the people that made all this money.

Guess what happened to the bad debt? It should have been wiped off the book. They should have gone bankrupt. It was dumped on the taxpayers, and the taxpayers still have it. And as long as you maintain that debt on the books, you’re not going to have growth.

This is why Japan hasn’t recovered. We’re in four years now, and it’s going to continue until we understand who creates the business cycle, how it happens, and what you have to do to get out of it.

WILLIAMS: Gentlemen, 30 seconds, please, on this, starting with Governor Romney.

To help these homeowners or not?

ROMNEY: To help them? Of course we help them.

Pam Mati here in Florida is cracking down on people who are committing fraud, number one. Number two, you have to get government out of the mess. Government has created the mess.

Number three, you’re going to have to help people see if they can’t get more flexibility from their banks. Right now, with Dodd- Frank, we made it harder for banks to renegotiate mortgages to help people get out.

And finally, you’ve got to get the economy going again with people having jobs. With Florida with 9.9 percent unemployment, and with 18 percent real unemployment in this state, and underemployment, you’re not going to get housing recovered unless you get jobs created again.

WILLIAMS: Speaker?

GINGRICH: Well, I think, first of all, if you could repeal Dodd- Frank tomorrow morning, you would see the economy start to improve overnight. I mean, people don’t realize this bill is — a little bit of what Congressman Paul said.

The fact is Dodd-Frank has led the biggest banks to get bigger. It is crushing independent banks. It has an anti-housing bias. Federal regulators are slowing down and making it harder to make loans for housing, and it is crippling small business borrowing.

All those things are a function of a bill passed by the Democrats called Dodd-Frank. If they would repeal it tomorrow morning, you would have a better housing market the next day.

WILLIAMS: Do you really think the financial system is overregulated? That’s the second mention of Dodd-Frank tonight.

GINGRICH: I really think that when — yes, of course it’s overregulated. When you put that much power in the Treasury under Geithner, you know, it’s an invitation to corruption.

When you have a bias in the bill which makes the big banks get bigger, exactly the opposite of what a rational policy would be, it’s a bad bill. When you have regulators walk in small local banks and say, do not loan money on housing, it’s a bad idea.

WILLIAMS: Governor Romney, was it overregulated prior to the collapse?

ROMNEY: It was poorly regulated. Markets have to have regulation to work. You can’t have everybody open a bank in their garage. You have to have regulation, but it’s got to be up to date.

And they didn’t have capital requirements put in place for the different classes of assets banks had. They also didn’t have regulation properly put in place for mortgage lenders. Derivatives weren’t being regulated.

You need to have regulation that’s up to date. They had old regulation, burdensome. Then they passed Dodd-Frank, which the Speaker is absolutely right. It has made it almost impossible for community banks.

I was with the head of one of the big banks in New York. He said they have hundreds of lawyers working on Dodd-Frank to implement it.

Community banks don’t have hundreds of lawyers. It’s just killing the residential home market and it’s got to be replaced.

WILLIAMS: Governor Romney, let me ask you this. There was a lot of talk in the last presidential campaign about that 3:00 a.m. phone call. Let’s say President Romney gets that phone call, and it is to say that Fidel Castro has died. And there are credible people in the Pentagon who predict upwards of half a million Cubans may take that as a cue to come to the United States.

What do you do?

ROMNEY: Well, first of all, you thank heavens that Fidel Castro has returned to his maker and will be sent to another land. [applause]

Now, number two, you work very aggressively with the new leadership in Cuba to try and move them towards a more open degree than they have had in the past.

We just had, with Wilman Villar, his life was just lost in a hunger strike fighting for democracy. This president has taken a very dangerous course with regards to Cuba saying we’re going to relax relations, we’re going to open up travel to Cuba.

This is the wrong time for that, with this kind of heroics going on. We want to stand with the people of Cuba that want freedom. We want to move that effort forward not by giving in and saying we lost, but by saying we will fight for democracy.

WILLIAMS: Mr. Speaker, as a practical matter, along the Florida coast, though, you know the policy, so called wet foot/dry foot. What do you do if folks start arriving in the United States?

GINGRICH: Well, Brian, first of all, I guess the only thing I would suggest is I don’t think that Fidel is going to meet his maker. I think he’s going to go to the other place.

Second, I would suggest to you the policy of the United States should be aggressively to overthrow the regime and to do everything we can to support those Cubans who want freedom. You know, Obama is very infatuated with an Arab Spring. He doesn’t seem to be able to look 90 miles south of the United States to have a Cuban Spring.

So I would try to put in place a very aggressive policy of reaching out to every single Cuban who would like to be free, helping network them together, reaching out to the younger generation inside the dictatorship, and indicating they don’t have a future as a dictatorship because a Gingrich presidency will not tolerate four more years of this dictatorship.

WILLIAMS: Overt and covert, are you talking about engaging the U.S. military?

GINGRICH: No, I’m talking about using every asset available to the United States, including appropriate covert operations, to maximize the distance, what Ronald Reagan, Pope John Paul II, and Margaret Thatcher did to the Soviet empire, bring together every asset we have to minimize the survival of the dictatorship and to maximize the chance for freedom in Cuba.

WILLIAMS: Congressman?

PAUL: I — I have a little bit of work to do yet on him on foreign policy. [laughter] [applause]

No, I would do pretty much the opposite. I don’t like the isolationism of not talking to people. I was drafted in 1962 at the height of the Cold War when the missiles were in Cuba. And the Cold War’s over.

And I think we propped up Castro for 40-some years because we put on these sanctions, and this — only used us as a scapegoat. He could always say, anything wrong, it’s the United States’ fault.

But I think it’s time — time to quit this isolation business of not talking to people. We talked to the Soviets. We talk to the Chinese. And we opened up trade, and we’re not killing each other now. We fought with the Vietnamese for a long time. We finally gave up, started talking to them, now we trade with them. I don’t know why — why the Cuban people should be so intimidating.

I — I don’t know where you get this assumption that all of a sudden all the Cubans would come up here. I would probably think they were going to celebrate and they’re going to have a lot more freedom if we would only open up our doors and say, we want to talk to you, and trade with you, and come visit. Sometimes they can’t even send packages down there.

I — I think we’re living in the dark ages when we can’t even talk to the Cuban people. I think it’s not 1962 anymore. And we don’t have to use force and intimidation and overthrow of a — in governments. I just don’t think that’s going to work.

WILLIAMS: Senator Santorum, an admittedly…[applause]…cynical question. If there was a strong lobby of Chinese dissidents living in a state as politically important of — as Florida, do you think we’d have a trade policy with China that looks more like the trade policy with Cuba?

SANTORUM: Not if they were not 90 miles off our shore. This is an important doctrine of the United States to make sure that our hemisphere and those who are close to us are — are folks that we can and should deal with.

And right now, we have and have had for 50 years a dictatorship in Cuba. We’ve had sanctions on them. They should continue. They should continue until the Castros are dead, and then we should make it very clear that if you want mountains of aid, if you want normal relationships, if you want to improve your economy, if you want to have the opportunity for freedom, that the United States stands ready now to embrace you now that you’ve gotten rid of these tyrants who — who have controlled you for these 50-plus years. That’s why the sanctions have to stay in place, because we need to have a — a very solid offer to come forward and help the Cuban people.

And you’re right, Ron. It’s not 1962. They’re now with the Cubans and the Venezuelans, the Nicaraguans. There is a growing network of folks now working with the jihadists, the Iranians, who are very, very excited about the opportunity to having platforms 90 miles off our coast, just like the Soviets were, very anxious to have platforms 90 miles off our coast, or in Venezuela, or in Nicaragua, and other places they could come across the southern border.

This is a serious threat. It’s a threat that I’ve been talking about for about six or seven years. And it’s one that’s not going to go away until we — we confront the threat and hopefully are able to convince the Cuban people that, through what Newt and others have suggested, to — to change their government at the appropriate time. WILLIAMS: Governor — Governor Romney, last night, the Abe Lincoln, U.S. aircraft carrier and a couple other attendant U.S. Navy vessels passed through the Strait of Hormuz into the Persian Gulf. If Iran was able to fulfill, carry out that threat to shut down the strait, would you consider that an act of war? What would you do about it as president?

ROMNEY: Of — of course it’s an act of war. It is appropriate and — and essential for our military, for our Navy to — to maintain open seas. We have control of the commons, of space, air, and the seas. Our Navy has the capacity to do that — or did in the past.

Under this president and under prior presidents, we keep on shrinking our Navy. Our Navy is now smaller than any time since 1917. And — and — and the president is building roughly nine ships a year. We ought to raise that to 15 ships a year, not because we want to go to war with anyone, but because we don’t want anyone to take the — the — the hazard of going against us. We want them to see that we’re so strong they couldn’t possibly defeat us.

So we ought to have an aircraft carrier in the gulf, an aircraft carrier, and, of course, the task force with it in the Mediterranean. We want to show Iran, any action of that nature will be considered an act of war, an act of terror and — and America is going to be keep those sea lanes open.

WILLIAMS: So, Speaker Gingrich if you accept that bedrock definition that it is an act of war, how do you gauge the appetite on the part of the American people after the better part of a decade of warfare, fighting dual wars overseas for something like that?

GINGRICH: The American people have no interest in going to war anywhere. We had no interest in going to war with the Japanese when they bombed Pearl Harbor. We had no interest in going to Afghanistan when Jihadist’s destroyed the World Trade Center. The fact is, we’ve historically been a country that would like peace, we’d like stability. But we also have a historic commitment to — to freedom of the sea. And I would say that the most dangerous thing, which by the way, Barack Obama just did, the — the Iranians are practicing closing the Straits of Hormuz, actively taunting us, so he cancels a military exercise with the Israelis so as not to be provocative?

Now, dictatorships respond to strength, they don’t respond to weakness and I think there’s a very grave danger that the Iranians think that in fact this president is so weak, they could close the Straits of Hormuz and not suffer substantial consequences.

WILLIAMS: Governor Romney, how do you end a war in Afghanistan without talking to the Taliban?

ROMNEY: By beating them. By standing behind our troops and making sure that — that we have transitioned to the Afghan military, a capacity for them to be successful in holding off the Taliban. Our — our mission there, is to be able to turn Afghanistan and it’s sovereignty over to a military of Afghan descent — Afghan people that can defend their sovereignty. And that is something which we can accomplish in the next couple of years.

This president, however, has done — made — made it very difficult for our troops to be able to be successful in that mission by, number one, announcing a withdrawal date for our troops, number two drawing down our surge troops faster than the time the commanders on the ground was necessary. You don’t draw them down during the middle of the fighting season. And finally, by not overseeing elections in Afghanistan to assure that the — the selection of their president was seen by the people as being legitimate. And he has failed in — in executing a policy in Afghanistan that would optimize our prospects of success. [crosstalk]

WILLIAMS: Go ahead. I was just going to ask, any appetite on this stage to negotiate with the Taliban? Congressman?

PAUL: No, but I wanted to get involved in the discussion.

WILLIAMS: No, go ahead?

PAUL: Because the question was, you know, would you go to war? And Mitt said he would — he would go to war. But you have to think about the preliminary act that might cause them to want to close the Straits of Hormuz, and that’s the blockade. We’re blockading them. Can you imagine what we would do if somebody blockaded the Gulf of Mexico? That would be an act of war. So the act of war has already been committed and this is a retaliation.

But besides, there’s no interest whatsoever for Iran to close the Straits of Hormuz. I mean they need it as much as we do. I mean so you have to put that into perspective. But this whole idea that — that it’s – – we — we have to go to war because we’ve already committed an act by blockading the country and I — I don’t see — I — I — and — and I think Newt is right. I think he’s wrong about World War II, I think the people were ready because we did it properly. We declared it and we won it quickly.

But, not the people are not ready. We don’t have any money. We have too many wars. We — the people want to come home and they certainly don’t want a hot war in Iran right now and I — I think that would be the most foolish thing in the world to do right now is take on Iran.

WILLIAMS: Right now for us another break. I’ll welcome two colleagues out here to the stage when we continue from Tampa right after this.

[commercial break]

WILLIAMS: And welcome back to Tampa.

I am happy to welcome two fellow journalists to this stage. Happy to be joined now by our partners in this debate. In fact, “The Tampa Bay Times” and “National Journal.”

Adam Smith is the longtime political editor at “The Tampa Bay Times,” covering national, state and local politics for more than a decade, one of the very best in the trade. And besides, a lot of people just thought a GOP debate should have Adam Smith present.

Beth Reinhard is a political correspondent for “National Journal.” She is a Florida native, was a veteran political reporter at “The Miami Herald” for 11 years.

But one piece of business, Senator Santorum, I had to go to a break. I didn’t get you in on what we’ll call the Iran round, because you’ve talked about this a lot. Specifically, as a last resort, as you said, taking out Iran’s nuclear program.

The problem with that, so many in the military tell you, is the target list. Where do you limit it — the air strikes that some estimate would begin at 30 to 60 days sustained, taking out air defenses, all of that familiar language the American people have just been through for a decade?

SANTORUM: Well, the contrast for that is, what happens if Iran gets a nuclear weapon and the entire world changes? Iran is not just another country, or a little, small country, as President Obama said classically during the campaign. Obama’s Iran policy has been a colossal failure.

It’s been a failure because he’s not been true to the American public about the threat that Iran poses to the world. Not just to Israel, but to the world and to the United States.

The bottom line is the theocracy that runs Iran is the equivalent of having al Qaeda in charge of a country with huge oil reserves, gas reserves, and a nuclear weapon. That is something that no president could possibly allow to have happen under any circumstances.

And when you asked the question, Brian, are we at — is this is an act of war? Well, let’s look at the acts of war that Iran — they are — they are holding hostages, they are attacking our troops, their IEDs, the improvised explosive devices, that are killing our troops in Afghanistan, and killed them in Iraq, and maimed so many were produced, and people were trained and funded in Iran specifically to kill American troops.

You look at the ships that have been attacked by Iran, embassies were attacked by Iran. A — Iran has plotted to kill the Saudi ambassador here in this country. It is a long list of attacks of — of warlike behavior on the part of this regime. And to believe that if they have a nuclear weapon they’re somehow going to become into the community of nations is a reckless act on the part of a president. It would be reckless not to do something to stop them from getting this nuclear weapon.

WILLIAMS: Senator, thank you. And to interests of local state politics, Beth Reinhard will take over the questioning.

REINHARD: Senator Santorum, here in Florida, BP is still airing apologetic appeals on television, but there are proposals to expand offshore oil drilling. The state’s most optimistic estimates say more drilling would create 5,000 jobs, but an oil spill would threaten Florida’s tourism industry, which employs nearly 1 million people. Is that worth the risk?

SANTORUM: What threatens the tourist industry in Florida, as we’ve seen, is a very bad economy, and a very bad economy that became a bad economy why? Because of a huge spike in oil prices in the summer of 2008. So energy is absolutely key to keep all of our country healthy, specifically Florida, which is a destination place. This is a — this is a place that relies upon people being able to travel and afford to be able to travel to come down here, relies upon an economy being strong.

I was at a manufacturer in Sarasota County today and was talking about them as a manufacturer and that, you know, the — the importance of manufacturing jobs, yes, even here in the state of Florida, and the price of energy for them to be able to be competitive.

It is absolutely essential that we have as much domestic supply of oil, that we build the Keystone pipeline, that we create the jobs that — that that would create, and provide oil from domestic sources. Pipelines that run on the floor of the sea or pipelines that come through America are the safest way to transport oil. It is tankers that are causing — that cause much more problems. Pipelines are the safe way. Building those rigs, piping that oil into — into — into our shore is the best way to create a good economy for the state of Florida.

REINHARD: All of you favor making English the official language of the United States, which could mean that ballots and other government documents would not be available in Spanish. But, Speaker Gingrich, you’re sending out press releases in Spanish; Governor Romney, you’re advertising in Spanish. Why is it OK for you to court voters in Spanish, but not OK for the government to serve them in Spanish?

Speaker Gingrich?

GINGRICH: Well, first of all, you immediately jump down to a very important language, but not the only language. The challenge of the United States is simple. There are 86 languages in Miami Dade College, 86. There are over 200 languages spoken in Chicago.

Now, how do you unify the country? What — what is the common bond that enables people to be both citizens and to rise commercially and have a better life and a greater opportunity?

I think campaigning, historically, you’ve always been willing to go to people on their terms in their culture, whether it’s Greek Independence Day or something you did for the Irish on St. Patrick’s Day. And I’m perfectly happy to be on Radio Mambi, and I’m perfectly happy to have a lot of support in the Hispanic community.

But as a country to unify ourselves in a future in which there may well be 300 or 400 languages spoken in the United States, I think it is essential to have a central language that we expect people to learn and to be able to communicate with each other in.

REINHARD: So to be clear, you would only have ballots in English?

GINGRICH: I would have ballots in English. And I think you could have programs where virtually everybody would be able to read the ballots.

REINHARD: Governor Romney, can you take that question?

ROMNEY: I think Speaker Gingrich is right with regards to what he’s described. I’d note that in my state we had a tradition of teaching people in the language of their birth, and so we had in our school systems people being taught in a whole range of languages. And we had to have teachers that could teach in Cambodian, in Vietnamese, and other languages. And our kids were being taught in foreign languages in our own schools. And we found at the end of their education experience they couldn’t all speak English well. It made absolutely no sense.

And so we campaigned for English immersion in our schools and said kids coming in will have a transition period. Then we’re going to teach them in English.

ROMNEY: Look, English is the language of this nation. People need to learn English to be able to be successful, to get great jobs. We don’t want to have people limited in their capacity to achieve the American dream because they don’t speak English. And so encouraging people through every means possible to learn the language of America is a good idea.

Recognize at the same time we want people coming here from other cultures that speak other languages. That strengthens America. It’s a great thing. But having them learn English is also a great thing for them and for their kids.

REINHARD: Congressman Paul?

PAUL: Yes, my answer is similar, but a little bit different, because at the national level, obviously we have to have one language. I mean, we can’t have multiple languages. So, for legal reasons, we would have one language.

But our system really gives us a way to be more generous, because if Florida wanted to have some ballots in Spanish, I certainly wouldn’t support a federal law that would prohibit Florida from accommodating a city election or a local election or a state election. I think that’s the magnificence of our system, where you can solve some of these problems without dictating one answer for all states. But nationally, we should have one language.

REINHARD: Speaker Gingrich, I want to move on to a slightly different topic, the Dream Act, which, as you know, would provide a pathway to citizenship for children who have been brought to the U.S. illegally if they attend college or enroll in the military.

Now, Governor Romney and Senator Santorum have both said they would veto this legislation. Would you do the same?

GINGRICH: No. I would work to get a signable version which would be the military component. I think any young person living in the United States who happened to have been brought here by their parents when they were young should have the same opportunity to join the American military and earn citizenship which they would have had from back home.

We have a clear provision that if you live in a foreign country, and you are prepared to join the American military, you can, in fact, earn the right to citizenship by serving the United States and taking real risk on behalf of the United States. That part of the Dream Act I would support. I would not support the part that simply says everybody who goes to college is automatically waived for having broken the law.

WILLIAMS: The questioning continues.

ROMNEY: I just doubt that’s the same position that I have, and that is that I would not sign the Dream Act as it currently exists, but I would sign the Dream Act if it were focused on military service.

WILLIAMS: Thank you, Governor.

Questioning continues with Adam Smith.

SMITH: Let’s stay on immigration for a second.

Governor Romney, there is one thing I’m confused about. You say you don’t want to go and round up people and deport them, but you also say that they would have to go back to their home countries and then apply for citizenship. So, if you don’t deport them, how do you send them home?

ROMNEY: Well, the answer is self-deportation, which is people decide they can do better by going home because they can’t find work here because they don’t have legal documentation to allow them to work here. And so we’re not going to round people up.

The way that we have in this society is to say, look, people who have come here legally would, under my plan, be given a transition period and the opportunity during that transition period to work here, but when that transition period was over, they would no longer have the documentation to allow them to work in this country. At that point, they can decide whether to remain or whether to return home and to apply for legal residency in the United States, get in line with everybody else. And I know people think but that’s not fair to those that have come here illegally.

SMITH: Isn’t that what we have now? If somebody doesn’t feel they have the opportunity in America, they can go back any time they want to.

ROMNEY: Yes, we’d have a card that indicates who’s here illegally. And if people are not able to have a card, and have through an E-Verify system determine that they are here illegally, then they’re going to find they can’t get work here. And if people don’t get work here, they’re going to self-deport to a place where they can get work.

Ultimately, with this transition period in place, we would then allow people to get in line at home and to come back to this country after they have reached the front of the line. But I just don’t think it’s fair to the people who have loved ones waiting in line legally to come to America and say, guess what? We’re going to encourage a wave of illegal immigration by giving amnesty of some kind to those who have come here illegally.

SMITH: Senator Santorum, is self-deportation. Is that a valid concept?

SANTORUM: Well, it’s happening now. I mean, people are going back now because they can’t find jobs because of the lack of employment opportunities.

The bottom line is, is that if you do enforce the law and say that people who are here illegally, who are doing illegal acts — and that is working, which you’re not allowed to do — and if you’re working, probably you’ve stolen someone’s Social Security number, which you are not allowed to do — and that’s another law that is broken — that we should enforce the law. It’s not someone who has come here illegally in the first place and they’ve only broken the law once. They continually break the law in this country, and I don’t think that’s not something that should be rewarded.

My father came to this country, my grandfather came to this country. He left my dad behind for five years. My dad was without a dad for almost the first five years of his life.

And there are millions of stories across America of people making sacrifices because America was worth it to do it the right way. You come to this country and the first thing you do is to respect our laws. If you want to be an American, you respect the laws of America, and you do so continually while you’re here.

We reward that kind of behavior. We don’t reward behavior where you don’t respect our laws in your initial act and then you continually break the laws in order to stay here.

SMITH: Speaker Gingrich, in Iowa you were a big supporter of ethanol subsidies. Here in Florida, sugar is a very important industry, and it’s subsidized, as well, with import restrictions, quotas. There’s a conservative movement to do away with these programs. In the case of sugar, critics say it — it adds billions of dollars to — to consumers’ grocery bills every year. What would you do about that?

GINGRICH: Well, I pretty enthusiastically early in my career kept trying to figure out how to get away from the sugar subsidy. And I found out one of — one of the fascinating things about America, which was that cane sugar hides behind beet sugar. And there are just too many beet sugar districts in the United States. It’s an amazing side story about how interest groups operate.

In an ideal world, you would have an open market. And that’s — I think that would be a better future and, frankly, one where cane sugar would still make a lot of money. But it’s very hard to imagine how you’re going to get there. I spent a lot of time trying to reform agriculture when I was speaker. And I would say it was one of the two or three hardest things to try to do because the — the capacity of the agricultural groups to defend themselves is pretty amazing.

SMITH: Governor Romney, you’re going some campaign support from sugar growers. It’s a very influential group in this state. What’s your view on the sugar subsidies?

ROMNEY: Yeah, my view is, we ought to get rid of subsidies and let markets work properly. But let’s step back for a second, talk about what’s really going on in Florida right now. And you know, you both know what’s going on here.

I spent time this morning with — with eight different individuals, listening to them talk about their circumstances. There are a lot of people in Florida that are hurting. You got a lot of homes underwater. This president came into office saying he’d turn this economy around, and everything he has done has made it harder for the people of Florida.

We have 25 million Americans out of work. We have, in Florida, 9.9 percent unemployed. We have 18 percent of our people in this state that are underemployed. Home values, 40 percent are underwater.

This president has failed miserably the people of Florida. His plans for NASA, he has no plans for NASA. The space coast is — is struggling. This president has failed the people of Florida. We have to have a president who understands how to get an economy going again. He does not. He plays 90 rounds of golf when you have 25 million people out of work. He says gasoline prices doubled during his presidency. He says don’t build a Keystone pipeline.

We have $15 trillion of debt. We’re headed to a — to a Greece- type collapse, and he adds another trillion on top for Obamacare and for his stimulus plan that didn’t create private-sector jobs. This president has failed. And this economy needs a president who understands this economy.

SMITH: Congressman Paul, Florida’s Everglades provide one in three Floridians with their drinking water. It affects thousands of jobs. Right now, there’s a — there’s a joint federal-state program to save what’s left of the Everglades. Would you commit to continuing that federal financing of the Everglades preservation?

PAUL: Sure. I — I don’t see any reason to go after that. I would still look into the details on whether that could be a state issue or not.

But with all the wars going on, and the economy is in shambles, as it is, and the unemployment, to — to worry about dealing with that program, we could do it in a theoretical sense. But I would see no reason to, you know, complicate things. But I wouldn’t have any desire to interfere with that.

WILLIAMS: At this point, we’ll take another break. We’ll return from Tampa with this line of questioning right after this. [applause]

[commercial break]

WILLIAMS: We are back from Tampa tonight. As the conversation continues, once again the questioning continues.

Adam Smith of “The Tampa Bay Times.”

SMITH: Thank you.

Senator Santorum, in 2005, Florida was in the middle of a huge national debate over Terri Schiavo, whether her feeding tube should be removed after the courts had ruled that she had been in a vegetative state for years. You were at the center, at the front of advocating congressional intervention to keep her alive. You even came down here, came to her bedside after a fund-raiser.

Why should the government have more say in medical decisions like that than a spouse?

SANTORUM: Well, number one, I didn’t come to her bedside, but I did come down to Tampa. I was scheduled to come down anyway for that event, and it so happened that this situation was going on.

I did not call for congressional intervention. I called for a judicial hearing by an impartial judge at the federal level to review a case in which you had parents and a spouse on different sides of the issue.

And these were constituents of mine. The parents happen to live in Pennsylvania, and they came to me and made a very strong case that they would like to see some other pair of eyes, judicial eyes, look at it. And I agreed to advocate for those constituents because I believe that we should give respect and dignity for all human life, irrespective of their condition.

And if there was someone there that wanted to provide and take care of them, and they were willing to do so, I wanted to make sure that the judicial proceedings worked properly. And that’s what I did, and I would do it again. [applause]

SMITH: Do not resuscitate directives, do you think they’re immoral?

SANTORUM: No, I don’t believe they’re immoral. I mean, I think that’s a decision that people should be able to make, and I have supported legislation in the past for them to make it.

SMITH: Speaker Gingrich, in that case the courts had ruled repeatedly. How does that square, the Terri Schiavo, action with your understanding of the Constitution and separation of powers?

GINGRICH: Well, look, I think that we go to extraordinary lengths, for example, for people who are on murderers row. They have extraordinary rights of appeal.

And you have here somebody who was in a coma, who had, on the one hand, her husband saying let her die and her parents saying let her live. Now, it strikes me that having a bias in favor of life, and at least going to a federal hearing, which would be automatic if it was a criminal on death row, that it’s not too much to say in some circumstances your rights as an American citizen ought to be respected. And there ought to be at least a judicial review of whether or not in that circumstance you should be allowed to die, which has nothing to do with whether or not you as a citizen have a right to have your own end-of-life prescription which is totally appropriate for you to do as a matter of your values in consultation with your doctor.

SMITH: Congressman Paul, you’re a doctor. What was your view of the Terri Schiavo case?

PAUL: I find it so unfortunate, so unusual, too. That situation doesn’t come up very often. It should teach us all a lesson to have living wills or a good conversation with a spouse. I would want my spouse to make the decision. And — but it’s better to have a living will.

But I don’t like going up the ladder. You know, we go to the federal courts, and the Congress, and on up. Yes, difficult decisions. Will it be perfect for everybody? No. But I would have preferred to see the decision made at the state level.

But I’ve been involved in medicine with things similar, but not quite as difficult as this. But usually, we deferred to the family. And it wasn’t made a big issue like this was. This was way out of proportion to what happens more routinely.

But I think it should urge us all to try to plan for this and make sure either that one individual that’s closest to you makes the decision or you sign a living will. And this would have solved the whole problem.

WILLIAMS: Beth?

REINHARD: Governor Romney, this is the state that put the first men on the moon. America right now has no way to put people into space except to hitch a ride with the Russians. Meanwhile, the Chinese are ramping up their space program. At a time when you all want to shrink federal spending, should space exploration be a priority?

Governor Romney?

ROMNEY: It should certainly be a priority. What we have right now is a president who does not have a vision or a mission for NASA. And as a result of that, there are people on the space coast that are suffering. And Florida itself is — is suffering as a result.

So what’s the right way forward? Well, I happen to believe our space program is important not only for science, but also for commercial development and for military development. And I believe the right mission for — for NASA should be determined by a president together with a collection of people from those different areas, from NASA, from the Air Force space program, from our leading universities, and from commercial enterprises, bring them together, discuss a wide range of options for NASA, and then — and then have NASA not just funded by the federal government, but also by commercial enterprises. Have some of the research done in our universities.

Let’s have a collaborative effort with business, with — with government, with a military, as well as with our educational institutions. Have a mission, once again excite our young people about the potential of space and the commercial potential will pay for itself down the road.

This is a great opportunity. Florida has technology. The people here on the space coast have technology and vision and passion that America needs. And with a president that is actually willing to create a mission and a vision for — for NASA and for space, we can continue to lead the world.

REINHARD: Speaker Gingrich, would you put more tax dollars into the space race and commit to putting an American on Mars, instead of relying on the private sector?

GINGRICH: Well, the two are not incompatible. For example, most of the great breakthroughs in aviation in the ’20s and ’30s were as a result of prizes. Lindbergh flew to Paris for a $25,000 prize. I would like to see vastly more of the money spent encouraging the private sector into very aggressive experimentation. And I’d like a leaner NASA.

I don’t think building a bigger bureaucracy and having a greater number of people sit in rooms and talk gets you there. But if we had a series of goals that we were prepared to offer prizes for, there’s every reason to believe you have a lot of folks in this country and around the world who would put up an amazing amount of money and would make the space coast literally hum with activity because they’d be drawn to achieve these prizes.

Going back to the moon permanently, getting to Mars as rapidly as possible, building a series of space stations and developing commercial space, there are a whole series of things you can do that could be dynamic that are more than just better government bureaucracy. They’re fundamentally leapfrogging into a world where you’re incentivizing people who are visionaries and people in the private sector to invest very large amounts of money in finding very romantic and exciting futures.

REINHARD: Speaker Gingrich, I have another question for you on another topic. You’ve talked about the millions of jobs created by the Reagan tax cuts. If tax cuts create jobs, why didn’t the Bush tax cuts work?

GINGRICH: Well, the Bush tax cuts, I think in a period of great difficulty, with the attack of 9/11, actually stopped us from going into a much deeper slump. I think we would have been in much, much worse shape, and I think most economists agree, that in 2002 and ’03 and ’04 we’d have been in much worse shape without the Bush tax cuts.

But — but you have to also look at the regulatory burden. The reason I called for repealing Dodd-Frank and for repealing Obamacare and for repealing Sarbanes-Oxley is you now have these huge layers of paperwork and government intervention and bureaucratic micromanagement that are crippling the American system and are making it much harder for us to create the kind of jobs we’d want.

In North Dakota today, we have a boom in oil development, unemployment is down to 3.2 percent. They have had seven straight tax cuts at the state level because the oil was on private land.

If that oil had been on public land, the environmentalists and Barack Obama would have stopped its development, and North Dakota would be mired in 8 percent or 9 percent unemployment. So, get the regulations out of the way, get the tax incentives right, and you can get back to creating an amazing number of jobs very fast.

WILLIAMS: To my fellow questioners, our panelists tonight, my thanks.

So ends this section of our conversation. The final bit of our debate from Tampa tonight coming up after this last break.

[commercial break]

WILLIAMS: Welcome back to Tampa for this final section of our conversation tonight. We’re back down to the five of us here on stage. I thought we’d talk a little bit more big picture.

This has been called, in addition to this unprecedented primary contest the GOP is in the midst of, a battle for the soul of the Republican Party. Governor Romney, the question is, about that soul, what have you done to further the cause of conservativism as a Republican leader?

ROMNEY: Well, number one, I’ve raised a family. And I’ve — I’ve — with my wife, we’ve raised five wonderful sons, and we have 16 wonderful grandkids.

Number two, I’ve worked in the private sector. The idea that somehow everything important for conservativism or for America happens in government is simply wrong. I’ve been in the private sector. I worked in one business that was in trouble and helped turn it around. Another I started. And as part of that, we were able to create thousands and thousands of jobs.

And then I took an opportunity to become governor of a state that was slightly Democrat. About 85 percent of my legislature was Democrat. And I worked very hard to promote a conservative agenda. We cut taxes 19 times. We balanced the budget every year, put in place a rainy day fund of over $2 billion by the time I left. We were also successful in having English immersion in our schools, driving our schools to be number one in the nation.

That kind of conservative model in a state like Massachusetts was a model in many respects that other states could look at and say, “OK, conservative principles work.” We were able to reach across the aisle to fight for conservative principles, and now I’m taking that to a presidential campaign, wrote a book about those principles that lay out why I believe they’re right for America.

WILLIAMS: Mr. Speaker, you’ve been talking a lot about conservative principles in this campaign so far. Is that enough for you? Is that good enough?

GINGRICH: Look, I don’t want to spend my time commenting on Mitt. I’d like to just tell you that I started — I went to a Goldwater organizing session in 1964. I met with Ronald Reagan for the first time in 1974. I worked with Jack Kemp and Art Laffer and others to develop supply- side economics in the late ’70s. I helped Governor Reagan become President Reagan. I helped pass the Reagan economic program when I worked with the National Security Council on issues involving the collapse of the Soviet empire.

I then came back, organized a group called GOPAC, spent 16 years building a majority in the House for the first time since 1954, the first re-elected majority since 1928, developed the Conservative Opportunity Society, talked about big ideas, big solutions.

So I think it’s fair to say I’ve spent most of my lifetime trying to develop a conservative movement across this country that relates directly to what we have to do. And I think only a genuine conservative who’s in a position to debate Obama and to show how wide the gap is between Obama’s policies and conservativism can, in fact, win, because he’s going to spend a billion dollars trying to smear whoever the nominee is. And we’d better be prepared to beat him in the debate and prove exactly how wrong his values are and how wrong his practices are.

WILLIAMS: Which, Senator Santorum, gets us back to electability, the gap between the Republican Party and the president. Some of the newspaper headlines about this gathering we were going to have tonight, in Florida, Romney seeks to link Gingrich to foreclosure crisis. And here’s a second one: The verdict is in, Mitt Romney’s Bain Capital problem is real.

What’s the net effect of all this, of the tax release tomorrow, of Freddie — the Freddie Mac release tonight on your party, say your candidacy, as you try to go forward?

SANTORUM: Well, I would say that there are more fundamental issues than that, where there’s a gap and a problem with two of the gentlemen who are up here with me. And one is on the biggest issue that they — we have to deal with in this election, that’s — that’s crushing the economy, will crush it even further and crush freedom, and that’s Obamacare.

Governor Romney’s plan in Massachusetts was the basis for Obamacare. Speaker Gingrich for 20 years supported a federal individual mandate, something that Pam Bondi is now going to the Supreme Court saying is unconstitutional. Speaker Gingrich, for 20 years, up until last year supported an individual mandate, which is at the core of Obamacare.

If you look at cap-and-trade, Governor Romney was very proud to say that he was the first state in the country as governor to sign a cap on CO- 2 emissions, the first state in the country to put a cap believing in — in global warming and criticized Republicans for not believing in it, as did, by the way, Speaker Gingrich, who was for a cap-and-trade program with incentives, business incentives, but was for the rubric of cap-and-trade, not specifically the cap-and-trade bill that was out there.

Again, huge, huge differences between my position and where President Obama is, but not so on two major issues. You go down and you look at the Wall Street bailouts, I said before, here’s one where you had folks who preach conservativism, private sector, and when push came to shove, they got pushed. They didn’t stand tall for the conservative principles that they argued that they were for. And as a result, we ended up with this bailout that has injected government into business like it had never been done before.

SANTORUM: They rejected conservativism when it was hard to stand. It’s going to be hard to stand whoever this president is going to be elected. It’s going to be tough. There is going to be a mountain of problems. It’s going to be easy to be able to bail out and compromise your principles.

We have gentlemen here on the three issues that got the Tea Party started, that are the base of the conservative movement now in the Republican Party. And there is no difference between President Obama and these two gentlemen. And that’s why this election in Florida is so critical, that we have someone that actually can create a contrast between the president and the conservative point of view.

WILLIAMS: Congressmen Paul, are the two men in the middle insufficiently conservative for you?

PAUL: Well, I think the problem is, is nobody has defined what being conservative means.

WILLIAMS: Go ahead.

PAUL: And I think that is our problem.

Conservative means we have a smaller government and more liberty. And yet, if you ask, what have we done? I think we have lost our way.

Our rhetoric is still pretty good, but when we get in charge, we expand the government. You talk about Dodd-Frank, but we gave Sarbanes- Oxley. We gave debts as well, you know, when we’re in charge.

So, if it means limited government, you have to ask the basic question, what should the role of government be? The founders asked that question, had a revolution and wrote a Constitution. And they said the role of government ought to be to protect liberty.

It’s not to run a welfare state and not to be the policemen of the world. And so if you’re a conservative, how can you be conservative and cut food stamps, but you won’t cut spending overseas? There is not a nickel or a penny that anybody will cut on the conservative side, overseas spending. And we don’t have the money.

They are willing to start more wars. So, I say, if you’re conservative, you want small government across the board, especially in personal liberty. What’s wrong with having the government out of our personal lives? So, this is what — we have to decide what conservative means, what limited government means.

And I have a simple suggestion. We have a pretty good guide, and if we follow the Constitution, government would be very small and we would all be devoted conservatives.

WILLIAMS: Governor Romney, again tonight, so called Romneycare and so-called Obamacare have been positioned very closely side by side by your opponent, the senator. And again, you have been called insufficiently conservative.

ROMNEY: You know, I have a record. You can look at my record. I just described what I had accomplished in Massachusetts. It’s a conservative record.

Also, the fun of running against Ted Kennedy. What a great thrill that was. I didn’t beat him, but he had to take a mortgage out on his house to make sure that he could defeat me. I believe that the policies he put in place had hurt America and helped create a permanent underclass in this country.

My health care plan, by the way, is one that under our Constitution we’re allowed to have. The people in our state chose a plan which I think is working for our state.

At the time we crafted it, I was asked time and again, “Is this something that you would have the federal government do?” I said absolutely not.

I do not support a federal mandate. I do not support a federal one- size-fits-all plan. I believe in the Constitution. That’s why the attorney general here is saying absolutely not.

You can’t impose Obamacare on the states. What I will do if I’m president, I will repeal Obamacare and return to the states the authority and the rights the states have to craft their own programs to care for their own poor.

WILLIAMS: Speaker Gingrich, I know none of you believe in polls, but as we came in here tonight, of the numbers in the known world, your numbers were on the rise. What scares you about the presidency if you made it to the job you want?

GINGRICH: I actually agree with what Rick Santorum said. I believe that whoever the next president is, if we’re going to get America back on the right track, is going to face enormous, difficult problems, some of which have been accurately diagnosed by Dr. Paul.

And the fact is that we have tremendous institutional biases against doing the right thing and against getting things done. And we have huge interest groups who would rather preside over the wreckage than lose their favored position by helping the country.

So I always tell audiences I never ask anyone to be for me. Because if they are for me, they vote yes and go home and say, I sure hope Newt does it. I ask people to be with me, because I think this will be a very hard, very difficult journey. And I find it a very humbling and a very sobering thought that one would have to try to get America back on the right track despite all of our elites and all of our entrenched bureaucracies.

WILLIAMS: Governor Romney, you talk about restoring America’s greatness. Given that, in your view when was America last great?

ROMNEY: America still is great, but we have a lot of people suffering. We have people that are underemployed that shouldn’t be, unemployed that shouldn’t be. Home values continue to go down. We have the median income in this country has declined 10 percent in the last four years.

We’re still a great nation, but a great nation doesn’t have so many people suffering. And I’m running in part because I have experience in how the economy works. And I want to use that experience to get people working again, to get our economy working again.

And the idea to get our economy working is not to have the government play a more intrusive role in how our economy works, but instead to do the seven things that always get an economy going: get taxes competitive, regulation as modest as possible and modernized, get ourselves energy independent, open up trade with other nations and crack down on cheaters, make sure we don’t have crony capitalism — that’s what we have going on right now — build human capital through education, and also finally balance the budget.

People will not invest in an economy and create new jobs if they think we’re going to hit a Greece-like wall. I will do those seven things and get America working again.

WILLIAMS: I want to thank all of our candidates and our hosts, of course, here at the University of South Florida. We are obligated at this point to say, “Go Bulls.” [applause]

January 19, 2012: CNN  /  Southern Republican Leadership Conference Republican Presidential Debate Transcript

Republican Candidates Debate in Charleston, South Carolina January 19, 2012

PARTICIPANTS:
Former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich (GA);
Representative Ron Paul (TX);
Former Governor Mitt Romney (MA); and
Former Senator Rick Santorum (PA)MODERATOR:
John King (CNN)

KING: From the North Charleston Coliseum, this is the Southern Republican Presidential Debate. Tonight, the four remaining Republican candidates are with us with their ultimate goal now in sight.

Welcome this evening. I’m John King. This is the final debate before the South Carolina presidential primary. That’s on Saturday. Republican leaders from here in South Carolina, 13 other southern states in this audience tonight, along with members of the Tea Party Patriots.

Some of our audience members will get a chance to directly question the candidates. You can also take part in this debate by sending us your questions online. On Twitter, make sure to include the hash tag #CNNdebate. On Facebook, at Facebook.com/CNNpolitics. And of course as always, on CNNPolitics.com.

It’s time now to meet the 2012 Republican presidential contenders. Joining us on stage first, the Texas congressman, Ron Paul. [applause]

The former speaker of the House, Newt Gingrich. [applause]

The former Massachusetts governor, Mitt Romney. [applause]

And the former senator from Pennsylvania, Rick Santorum. [applause]

Ladies and gentlemen, the Republican presidential candidates. [applause]

Now, just before we came on the air tonight we recited the Pledge of Allegiance. Now please rise for our national anthem.

We’re blessed tonight to have it performed by military cadets from The Citadel right here in Charleston, South Carolina.

[singing of the National Anthem]

KING: That was fabulous. Absolutely fabulous.

I want to ask the candidates to get comfortable at their podiums, have our audience take their seats, while I tell you a bit about how tonight’s debate will work.

I’ll ask questions, as will some members of our audience tonight. I’ll follow up and guide the discussion.

Candidates, I promise you, we’re going to try to make sure each of you gets your fair share of the time and the questions. You’ll have one minute to answer and 30 seconds for follow-ups and rebuttals. And I’ll make sure you get time to respond if you are singled out for criticism.

Now let’s have the candidates introduce themselves. We’re going to ask them to keep it short. And here’s an example. I’m John King from CNN. I’m rooting for the Patriots this weekend, and I’m honored to be your moderator this evening.

Senator Santorum, let’s begin with you.

SANTORUM: I’m Rick Santorum, and I want to thank the people of the Lowcountry for their hospitality to my wife Karen and our seven children.

And I also want to thank the people of Iowa for a little delayed but most welcome victory there. Thank you to the people of Iowa. [applause]

ROMNEY: I’m Mitt Romney. It’s good to be back in South Carolina. I see many good friends here.

It’s also great to be here with my wife and some of my kids. I’m married now 42 years. I have five sons, five daughters-in-law, 16 grandkids, and they’re the joy of my life.

Thank you. [applause]

KING: Mr. Speaker.

GINGRICH: I’m Newt Gingrich. I want to thank the people of South Carolina for being so hospitable. As a Georgian, it feels good to be back at home in the South, and I look forward to this evening. [applause]

KING: Congressman Paul.

PAUL: Thank you very much. It’s great to be here tonight.

I’m a congressman from Texas. I’ve been elected for 12 times. And also, I practiced OB/GYN for a 30-year period. I’ve also served five years in the military, and I’m the only U.S. veteran on this stage tonight. [applause]

KING: You’ve met the candidates. It’s time now to begin the debate, an event that has quite a dramatically different feel than just a few hours ago.

Just this morning, as Senator Santorum just noted, we learned he, not Governor Romney, won the Iowa caucuses. There were five podiums on the stage when the sun came up. Four now because of Governor Rick Perry’s decision to drop out.

And just as Speaker Gingrich surged into contention here in South Carolina, a direct fresh character attack on the Speaker.

And Mr. Speaker, I want to start with that this evening.

As you know, your ex-wife gave an interview to ABC News and another interview with “The Washington Post.” And this story has now gone viral on the Internet.

In it, she says that you came to her in 1999, at a time when you were having an affair. She says you asked her, sir, to enter into an open marriage.

Would you like to take some time to respond to that?

GINGRICH: No, but I will. [applause]

I think the destructive, vicious, negative nature of much of the news media makes it harder to govern this country, harder to attract decent people to run for public office. And I am appalled that you would begin a presidential debate on a topic like that. [applause]

KING: Is that all you want to say, sir?

GINGRICH: Let me finish.

KING: Please.

GINGRICH: Every person in here knows personal pain. Every person in here has had someone close to them go through painful things. To take an ex-wife and make it two days before the primary a significant question for a presidential campaign is as close to despicable as anything I can imagine. [applause]

My — my two daughters — my two daughters wrote the head of ABC and made the point that it was wrong, that they should pull it, and I am frankly astounded that CNN would take trash like that and use it to open a presidential debate. [applause]

KING: As you noted, Mr. Speaker, this story did not come from our network. As you also know, it is a subject of conversation on the campaign. I’m not — I get your point. I take your point.

GINGRICH: John — John, it was repeated by your network. You chose to start the debate with it. Don’t try to blame somebody else. You and your staff chose to start this debate with it. [applause]

Let me be quite clear. Let me be quite clear. The story is false. Every personal friend I have who knew us in that period said the story was false. We offered several of them to ABC to prove it was false. They weren’t interested because they would like to attack any Republican. They’re attacking the governor. They’re attacking me. I’m sure they’ll presently get around to Senator Santorum and Congressman Paul.

I am tired of the elite media protecting Barack Obama by attacking Republicans. [applause]

KING: As I noted — as I noted at the beginning, we have four podiums on this stage tonight, not five. And when he exited the race this morning, Governor Perry quickly and forcefully endorsed Speaker Gingrich. And in that remark, he said that, “No, Mr. Gingrich is not a perfect man.” Senator Santorum, he said “none of us are.” And he said he believes in his Christian faith that guides him to the value of redemption.

Speaker Gingrich doesn’t believe this is an issue. Governor Perry says this is not an issue. I just want to start with you, sir, and go down. Do you believe it is?

SANTORUM: I’ve answered this question repeatedly throughout the course of this campaign. I am a Christian, too. And I thank God for forgiveness. But, you know, these — these are issues of our lives and what we did in our lives. They are issues of character for people to consider. But the bottom line is those are — those are things for everyone in this audience to look at. And they’re going to look at me, look at what I’ve done in my private life and personal life, unfortunately.

And what I say is that this country is a very forgiving country. This country understands that we are all fallen and I’m very hopeful that we will be judged by that standard and not by a higher one on the ultimate day.

KING: Governor Romney? [applause]

ROMNEY: John, let’s get on to the real issues is all I’ve got to say.

KING: Congressman? [applause]

PAUL: I think too often all of us are on the receiving ends of attacks from the media. It’s very disturbing because sometimes they’re not based on facts and we suffer the consequences. You know, sometimes it reminds me of this idea of getting corporations out of running campaigns. But what about the corporations that run the media? I mean, they’re always…[applause]

And I think our responsibility, since sorting facts and fiction, the people have to sort this out. But I think setting standards are very important and I’m very proud that my wife of 54 years is with me tonight. [applause]

KING: All right. As I said at the top of the debate — as I said at the top of the debate, we’ll take some questions from the audience. We’ve reached out to people online. We’ve also reached out to a number of votes, some who wish they could be here tonight, but can’t be here tonight.

I want to turn to a question from one of those voters. Her name is Jane Gallagher. She’s from here in South Carolina. As all of you know, and as everyone in this audience in South Carolina knows, we’re in a state with 9.9 percent unemployment. And Jane asked this question: List three or more specific programs that will put American people back to work?

Congressman Paul, I want to begin with you. Do you believe we need specific federal programs to put the American people back to work?

PAUL: Well, most of the things the federal government could do to get us back to work is get out of the way. I’d like to…[applause]

I’d like to see the federal government have a sound currency. That creates a healthy economy. [applause]

I — I would like to see massive reduction of regulations. I would like to see income tax reduced to near zero as possible. And that is what we have to do. We have to get the government out of the way. We have to recognize why we have unemployment. And it comes because we have a deeply flawed financial system that causes financial bubbles. The bubbles burst and you have the unemployment.

Now, the most important thing to get over that hump that was created artificially by bad economic policies is to allow the correction to occur. You have to get rid of the excessive debt and you have to get rid of the malinvestment.

And you don’t do that by buying the debt off the people who were benefiting from it. So we, the people, shouldn’t be stuck with these debts on these mortgage derivatives and all. We need to get that behind us, which means the government shouldn’t be doing any bailouts.

So most of the things to improve the environment is getting the government out of the way and enforce contract laws and enforce bankruptcy laws. [applause]

KING: Mr. Speaker, come in on that point, as you address what you would like to do but also specifically the question, do we need federal programs?

GINGRICH: Well, there are three things that can be done at a specifically South Carolina level. There’s one easy thing to do at a national level, and that’s repeal the Dodd-Frank bill, which is killing small business, killing small banks. [applause]

That would help overnight. [applause]

But three specifics. One, there’s $29 billion-plus of natural gas offshore. In Louisiana, jobs for that kind of production are $80,000 a year. That would help us become energy independent from the Middle East. Part of the royalties of the natural gas could be used then to modernize the Port of Charleston and the Port of Georgetown.

Charleston has to be modernized to meet the largest ships that will come through the Panama Canal in 2014. One out of every five jobs in South Carolina is dependent on the Port of Charleston.

The third thing you could do, frankly, is fundamentally, radically overhaul the — the Corps of Engineers. The Corps of Engineers today takes eight years to study — not to complete — to study doing the port. We won the entire second World War in three years and eight months. [applause]

KING: A subset of the jobs conversation among the candidates in this state over the past week, Mr. Speaker, has been from you and from the now-departed Governor Perry, pretty sharp criticism of Governor Romney’s tenure as the CEO of Bain Capital.

I want you to be specific. What do you think he did wrong that makes you question his ability as a president to create jobs?

GINGRICH: I think there are specific cases — Georgetown Steel would be a case here, and a company in Gaffney, South Carolina — specific cases where Bain Capital’s model, which was to take over a company and dramatically leverage it, leave it with a great deal of debt, made it less likely to survive.

I think the governor ought to explain — because it started because he cited his experience as a key part of his preparation for being president. And so I think the underlying model of that kind of investment, which is very different from venture capital, ought to be explained, and those cases ought to be looked at.

KING: Well, Governor Romney, let me give you a chance. Explain.

ROMNEY: Well, I hope I get a chance to talk about the topic you began with. We’ll come back to the — the direct attack from Speaker Gingrich in a moment. [applause]

So let’s go back and talk about first what you do to get the economy going. And of course we’ve spoken time and again about our tax code that’s out of alignment with other nations. We’ve spoken about the fact that regulation is overwhelming us, that we need to take care of our energy resources and become energy secure. We have to open up markets. And we have to crack down on China when they cheat.

But I’d like to talk about something else that President Obama has been doing. He’s been practicing crony capitalism. And if you want to get America going again…[applause]… you’ve got to stop the spread of crony capitalism. He gives General Motors to the UAW. He takes $500 million and sticks it into Solyndra. He — he stacks the labor stooges on the NLRB so they can say no to Boeing and take care of their friends in the labor movement. [applause]

You go across the country with regards to energy because he has to bow to the most extreme members of the environmental movement. He turns down the Keystone Pipeline, which would bring energy and jobs to America. [booing] [applause]

This — this president is the biggest impediment to job growth in this country. And we have to replace Barack Obama to get America working again. [applause]

KING: So — so let’s go — let’s go back. I’m glad you had that opportunity. I do want to go back, see if we can clear this up.

Now, the questions about Bain, many have been about the number. You have said 120,000 jobs that you can tie back to decisions you made at Bain Capital. I want you to take your time, sir, and do the math. Do the math and how you get to 100,000 or 120,000 jobs?

ROMNEY: I’ll do the math, but let me tell you, I know we’re going to get attacked from the left, from Barack Obama, on capitalism. I know that people are going to say, oh, you should only practice it this way or that way and think they know better than the private market.

My view is capitalism works. Free enterprise works. And I…[applause]… and I find it — I find it, kind of, strange, on a stage like this with Republicans, having to describe how private equity and venture capital work and how they’re successful and how they create jobs. [applause]

But let me tell you the answer. We started a number of businesses. Four in particular created 120,000 jobs as of today. We started them years ago. They’ve grown well beyond the time I was there, to 120,000 people that have employed by those enterprises.

There are others we’ve been with, some of which have lost jobs. People have evaluated that since — well, since I ran four years ago, when I ran for governor. And those that have been documented to lost jobs lost about 10,000 jobs.

So 120,000 less 10,000 means that we created something over 100,000 jobs. And there’s some, by the way, that were businesses we acquired that grew and became more successful like Domino’s Pizza and a company called Duane Reade and others.

I’m very proud of the fact that throughout my career, I have worked to try and build enterprises, hopefully to return money to investors. There’s nothing wrong with profit, by the way. That profit — [applause]

That profit went to pension funds, to charities. It went to a wide array of institutions. A lot of people benefited from that. And by the way, as enterprises become more profitable, they can hire more people.

I’m someone who believes in free enterprise. I think Adam Smith was right. And I’m going to stand and defend capitalism across this country, throughout this campaign. I know we’re going to get hit hard from President Obama, but we’re going to stuff it down his throat and point out it is capitalism and freedom that makes America strong. [applause]

KING: Senator Santorum, join the conversation, specifically to the initial question from Jane. What should the federal government be doing? And do you believe in specific programs? And I also want to ask you if you share the Speaker’s concern about Governor Romney’s tenure at Bain.

SANTORUM: Well, on the first question, I believe in capitalism, too. I believe in capitalism for everybody. Not necessarily high finance, but capitalism that works for the working men and women of this country who are out there paddling alone in America right now, who have an unemployment rate 2.5 times those who are college educated and feel that no party cares about them. Because you have the Democratic Party, and Barack Obama, and all he wants to do is make them more dependent, give them more food stamps, give them more Medicaid.

I was talking to a state official the other day in Iowa that told me that the state of Iowa is being fined because they’re not signing up enough people on to the Medicaid program. This is what the answer is for the economic squalor that Barack Obama has visited on working men and women in this country, and it’s creating more government programs and getting them more dependent on those programs.

We need a party that just doesn’t talk about high finance and cutting corporate taxes or cutting the top tax rates. We need to talk about how we’re going to put men and women in this country, who built this country, back to work in this country in the manufacturing sector of our economy. [applause]

And there’s one candidate that has done that. I have done that. I’ve done that throughout the course of this campaign.

I talked about who we’re going to target and make sure that we can be competitive. I was in Boeing today and I was up at BMW yesterday. South Carolina can compete with anybody in this world in manufacturing. [applause]

We just need to give them the opportunity to compete. And we are 20 percent more costly than our top nine trading partners, and that’s excluding labor costs.

That’s why I said we need to cut the corporate tax and manufacturing down to zero. We need to give manufacturers a leg up so they can compete for the jobs, half of which went from 21 percent of this country in manufacturing, down to nine percent. And we left the dreams of working men and women on the sideline.

We need to show that we’re the party, we’re the movement that’s going to get those Reagan Democrats, those conservative Democrats, all throughout the states that we need to win to win this election, to sign up with us, and we’ll put them back to work. [applause]

KING: Let’s stay on the economy and let’s stay on the South Carolina experience all you gentlemen have had.

As you know, and as this audience reflects, this is a state incredibly proud of its military tradition and incredibly proud of its veterans. Many of those veterans who have served post-9/11, served honorably in Iraq and Afghanistan, are coming back to a terrible economy. Right now, the unemployment rate for post-9/11 veterans aged 18 to 24 is at 22 percent.

Congressman Paul, to you first, sir. Should the federal government be specifically targeting that part, our veterans coming back, saying the unemployment rate is so high among that sub group, that the federal government should offer tax incentives to employers or take other steps to help them to incentivize the economy to help them get jobs?

PAUL: To some degree, but you really want to make the environment — the economy healthy for everybody and not designate special places. But to help them out to come back is probably necessary on some occasions now.

But we have to think about how serious our problems are here, because we face something much, much greater. After World War II, we had 10 million came home all at once. But what did we do then? There were some of the liberals back then that said, oh, we have to have more work programs and do this and that. And they thought they would have to do everything conceivable for those 10 million. They never got around to it because they came home so quickly.

And you know what the government did? They cut the budget by 60 percent.

They cut taxes by 30 percent. By that time, the debt had been liquidated. And everybody went back to work again, you didn’t need any special programs.

So…[applause]

But the one thing, talking about concern about the — the military and the veterans, I’m very proud that, you know, I get twice as many donations from the military, active military people, then all the rest put together. [applause]

So I am very concerned about them. I think where the real problem is, is we can create a healthy economic environment if we did the right things. Where the veterans really deserve help, both as a physician and as a congressman, is the people who come back and aren’t doing well health-wise. They need a lot more help.

We have an epidemic now of suicide of our military coming back. So they need a lot of medical help. And I think they come up shortchanged. They come up shortchanged after Vietnam war, Persian Gulf war, and even now. They don’t get care from the Veterans Administration. [applause]

KING: I think we all agree there’s a generational challenge for the country with the brain injuries and the other injuries and the suicide, as you mentioned.

I want to stay on the economy for a minute, though. Senator Santorum, you started to shake your head. Again, specifically, it’s a role of government question. Should the government be stepping in and saying we need to help this subgroup in the economy that’s hurting, the veterans?

SANTORUM: Well, obviously, we have — we have and should continue to have veterans preferences. People who went out and served this country should have — should have preferences when it comes to job positions when they come back to work in this economy. [applause]

My dad and mom worked for the Veterans Administration. I grew up on a V.A. grounds, lived in an apartment in those — on those V.A. grounds for the first 18 years of my life.

And I saw the — the impact of the Vietnam war on — on those veterans who came back. And they came back very damaged, not just — not just with — with physical wounds, but a lot of psychological ones. And that’s, I’m sure, a very big part of the high unemployment rate that we’re dealing with.

And we need to be much, much more aggressive. We have the president of the United States who said he is going to cut veterans benefits, cut our military, at a time when these folks are four, five, six, seven tours, coming back, in and out of jobs, sacrificing everything for this country. And the president of the United States can’t cut one penny out of the social welfare system and he wants to cut a trillion dollars out of our military and hit our veterans and that’s disgusting. [applause]

KING: So, Governor, Governor, and then Mr. Speaker, Senator Santorum passionately makes the case. It also is a time, as all of you know, of very tough budget decisions the next president’s going to have to make, setting priorities.

How do you do it? How — what specifically do you do to help the veterans?

ROMNEY: Well, let’s distinguish between what gets done at the federal level and what gets done at the state level.

In our state we found a way to help our — our veterans by saying, “Look, if you’re going to come back, particularly if you’re in the National Guard, we’ll pay for your education, college degree, both the fees and tuition. We give you a full ride.”

And we also had a plan that said, “If you come back and you’ve been out of work for a year or more, we’re going to put like a bonus on your back, which if anyone hires you, that bonus goes to them to pay for your training.”

So we can encourage that to occur. But let’s do it at the state level. Let’s not have the federal government continue to extend its — its tentacles into everything that goes on in this country. Let’s take the…[applause]

Let’s take the — let’s take the money that — that we use to help people who have real needs and instead of having it all administered by the federal government, that thinks they know how to do everything, let’s take that money, bundle up South Carolina’s fair share and every other state’s fair share, send it to them and say, “You care for your people in the way you feel best.” Let’s do that at the state level.

And I agree with what — what Senator Santorum said with regards to our military budget. Right now for the president to be cutting $350,000 from our military budget, planning to cut another $650,000 — $650 billion, excuse me, $350 billion, another $650 billion, a trillion dollars, his secretary of defense says that represents a doomsday scenario.

We’ve got an aging Navy. We’ve got an aging Air Force. They’re planning on cutting our number of active duty personnel. They can’t possibly keep up with the needs of our veterans.

It is absolutely wrong to balance our budget on the backs of our military. We need a strong military, so strong no one in the world would ever think of testing it. [applause]

KING: Mr. Speaker, please come in. We’re going to have — we’ll have some conversations about commander in chief. You have the floor now. Specifically veterans who need jobs.

GINGRICH: Let me just say two things about Congressman Paul’s history.

The U.S. government did two dramatic things after World War II. They created a G.I. Bill, which enabled literally millions of returning veterans to go to college for the very first time. My father, who was in the Second World War, went to college on a G.I. Bill. So there was an enormous expansion of opportunity that enabled them to integrate into a new, emerging society.

GINGRICH: The second thing they did is they dramatically cut taxes and the economy took off and grew dramatically and it absorbed the workforce.

So I would say we ought to both have a transition process for veterans to enable them to have a real advantage at getting a job when they come home, and we ought to have a very aggressive economic program of regulatory cuts and tax cuts and American energy so that the entire population is absorbed by getting back to about 4 percent unemployment, in which case virtually every veteran would have a very good job at the end of the transition period.

KING: Let’s turn to our audience now. [applause]

Let’s turn now and take a question from down in our audience tonight. Go ahead, sir.

QUESTION: My name is Sonny Cohen. I’m from Sevier County, Tennessee. My question to any of the candidates is: Do any of you sincerely believe that Obamacare can either be repealed or reversed in its entirety?

KING: Let me go first to Governor Romney on that one.

Governor, you had said you would do it on day one with an executive order that would free the states up to opt out, waivers essentially to get out of that program. I know your friend, the South Carolina governor might like to have that option.

Help me understand as you do that how would it play out? And what happens to those, someone with a preexisting condition for example, who now has coverage under the president’s health care plan, or a young American, 22, 23, 24, who because of the changes in the law, can now stay a few extra years on their parents’ health care? What happens to them when you sign that executive order?

ROMNEY: Well, first of all, the executive order is a beginning process. It’s one thing, but it doesn’t completely eliminate Obamacare. It’s one thing I want to get done to make sure that states could take action to pull out of Obamacare.

But number two, we have to go after a complete repeal and that’s going to have to happen…[applause]… that — that’s going to have to happen with a House and a Senate, hopefully that are Republican. If we don’t have a Republican majority, I think we’re going to be able to convince some Democrats that when the American people stand up loud and clear and say, “We do not want Obamacare; we do not want the higher taxes; we do not want a $500 billion cut in Medicare to pay for Obamacare,” I think you’re going to see the American people stand with our president and say, “Let’s get rid of Obamacare.”

But we’ll replace it, and I’ve laid out what I’ll replace it with. First, it’s a bill that does care for people that have preexisting conditions. If they’ve got a preexisting condition and they’ve been previously insured, they won’t be denied insurance going forward.

Secondly, I’d allow people to own their own insurance, rather than just be able to get it from their employer. I want people to be able to take their insurance with them if they go from job to job.

So — so we’ll make it work in the way that’s designed to have health care act like a market, a consumer market, as opposed to have it run like Amtrak and the post office. That’s what’s at risk…[applause]… at stake here. Do we — we — we go back to this. Ours is the party of free enterprise, freedom, markets, consumer choice. Theirs is the party of government knowledge, government — government domination, where Barack Obama believes that he knows better for the American people what’s best for them. He’s wrong. We’re right. That’s why we’re going to win. [applause]

KING: Mr. Speaker, you heard the skepticism. This is a southern Republican voter, but he’s skeptical. He knows how Washington works. He’s watched Washington work. He’s asking it be reversed in its entirety.

You — you were the speaker of the House. You understand how this works. How — how can it be repealed in this current political environment?

GINGRICH: Well, let me say first of all, if you’ve watched Washington and you’re not skeptical, you haven’t learned anything. [laughter]

I mean, this — this system is a total mess right now.

Second, can you get it repealed in total? Sure. You have to elect a House, a Senate and a president committed to that. It has to be major part of the fall campaign. And I think that, frankly, on our side with any of us, it’s going to be a major part of the fall campaign.

The American people are frightened of bureaucratic centralized medicine. They deeply distrust Washington and the pressure will be to repeal it. And a lot of what Governor Romney has said I think is actually a pretty good, sound step for part of the replacement.

I would always repeal all of it because I so deeply distrust the congressional staffs that I would not want them to be able to pick and choose which things they cut.

But let me make one observation. He raised a good example. Why is President Obama for young people being allowed to stay on their parents’ insurance until 26? Because he can’t get any jobs for them to go out and buy their own insurance. [applause]

I mean I have — I have an offer — I have an offer to the parents of America: Elect us and your kids will be able to move out because they’ll have work. [applause]

KING: Senator Santorum, you heard Governor Romney and you heard Speaker Gingrich. Do you trust them if one of them is the Republican party’s nominee and potentially the next president of the United States to repeal this?

SANTORUM: The biggest — the biggest thing we have to do is elect a president. I think Newt’s right. The problem is that two of the people up here would be very difficult to elect on, I think, the most important issue that this country is dealing with right now, which is the robbing of our freedom because of Obamacare.

Governor Romney tells a very nice story about what his plan is now. It wasn’t his plan when he was in a position to do a plan. When he was governor of Massachusetts, he put forth Romneycare, which was not a bottom-up free market system. It was a government-run health care system that was the basis of Obamacare, and it has been an abject failure. And he has stood by it. He’s stood by the fact that it’s $8 billion more expensive…[applause]… than under the current law. He stood by the fact that Massachusetts has the highest health insurance premiums of any state in the country. It is 27 percent more expensive than the average state in the country.

Doctors — if you’re in the Massachusetts health care system, over 50 percent of the doctors now are not seeing new patients — primary care doctors are not seeing new patients. Those who do get to see a patient are waiting 44 days on average for the care. It is an abject disaster. He’s standing by it. And he’s going to have to run against a president — he’s going to have to run against a president who’s going to say, well, look, look at what you did for Massachusetts, and you’re the one criticizing me for what I’ve done? I used your model for it. And then…[applause]… then we have Speaker Gingrich, who has been — who has been for an individual mandate, not back when the time that just was — Heritage was floating around in the ’90s, but as late as comments since 2008, just a few years ago.

He stood up and said that you should have an individual mandate or post $150,000 bond. How many $150,000 bond holders do we have here who can post a bond for their health insurance?

These are two folks who don’t present the clear contrast that I do, who was the author of health savings accounts, which is the primary basis of every single conservative reform of health care. [applause]

I was the author of it back in 1991 and ’92, 20 years ago. I’ve been fighting for health reform, private sector, bottom up, the way America works best, for 20 years, while these two guys were playing [inaudible] with the left. [applause]

KING: I want to bring Congressman Paul — bring you into the discussion in just a moment. But Senator Santorum directly challenged the governor and then the speaker. Governor, you first.

ROMNEY: Well, so much of what the senator said was wrong. Let me mention a few of the things. First of all, the system and my state is not a government-run system. Ninety-two percent of the people had their own insurance before the system was put in place and nothing changed for them. They still had the same private insurance. And the 8 percent of the uninsured, they brought private insurance, not government insurance.

And the people in the state still favor the plan 3-1. And it certainly doesn’t work perfectly. Massachusetts, by the way, had the highest insurance costs before the plan was put in place and after. But fortunately, the rate of growth has slowed down a little less than the overall nation.

And one of the things I was proud of is that individuals who wanted to buy their own insurance saw their rates — when they were not part of a big group — saw their rates drop by some 40 percent with our plan.

Is it perfect? Absolutely not. But I do believe that having been there, having been in the front lines, showing that I have compassion for people that don’t have insurance but that the Obama plan is a 2,700-page massive tax increase, Medicare-cutting monster. I know how to cut it. I’ll eliminate it. I will repeal it. And I’ll return to the — I’ll return the power to the states, where the power for caring for the uninsured ought to reside constitutionally. Thank you. [applause]

KING: Senator Santorum, he says your facts are wrong.

SANTORUM: Well, they’re simply not wrong. The fact is that, yes, you’re right, Governor Romney. Ninety-two percent of people did have health insurance in — in Massachusetts. But that wasn’t private-sector health insurance. A lot of those people were, as you know, on Medicare and Medicaid. So they’re already on government insurance, and you just expanded.

In fact, over half the people that came on the rolls since you put Romneycare into effect are fully subsidized by the state of Massachusetts. And a lot of those are on the Medicaid program.

So the idea that you have created this marketplace in — with this government-run health care system, where you have very prescriptive programs about reimbursements rates. You have very prescriptive programs just like what President Obama is trying to put in place here.

You’re arguing for a plan; you’re defending a plan that is top-down. It is not a free-market health care system. It is not bottom-up. It is prescriptive and government. It was the basis for Obamacare. [applause]

And you do not draw a distinction that’s going to be effective for us just because it was the state level, not the federal level. [applause]

KING: If you want, Governor, quickly?

ROMNEY: Sure, absolutely. First of all, as you probably know, Medicaid is not a state program.

SANTORUM: Of course it is. It’s a state and federal program.

ROMNEY: Medicaid is as demanded by the federal government and it is — it’s a mandate by the federal government and it’s shared 50/50, state and federal.

The people of Massachusetts who are on Medicaid — I would like to end that program at the federal level, take the Medicaid dollars and return them to the states and allow states to craft their own plans. That would make the plan we had in Massachusetts a heck of a lot better.

My view is get the federal government out of Medicaid, get it out of health care. Return it to the states. And if you want to go be governor of Massachusetts, fine. But I want to be president and let states take responsibility for their own plans. [applause]

KING: Mr. Speaker — it may seem like a while ago, Mr. Speaker, but Senator Santorum made the point, in his view, you don’t have credibility on this issue.

GINGRICH: No, what he said, which I found mildly amazing, was that he thought I would have a hard time debating Barack Obama over health care. Now, in fact, I — as Republican whip, I led the charge against Hillarycare in the House. As Speaker of the House, I helped preside over the conference which wrote into law his idea on health savings accounts. So I was delighted to help him get it to be a law.

And the fact is, I helped found the Center for Health Transformation. I wrote a book called “Saving Lives and Saving Money” in 2002. You can go to healthtransformation.net and you’ll see hundreds of ideas, none of which resemble Barack Obama’s programs.

So I’d be quite happy to have a three-hour Lincoln/Douglas style debate with Barack Obama. I’d let him use a teleprompter. I’ll just rely on knowledge. We’ll do fine. [applause]

KING: Senator, I want to bring Congressman Paul in. You’re shaking your head. Quickly.

SANTORUM: The core of Obamacare is an individual mandate. It is what is being litigated in the Supreme Court right now. It is government, top-down, telling every business, every American what kind of health care you will have. That is the problem with Obamacare at the core of it, and the Speaker supported it repeatedly for a 10-year period.

So when he goes and says, I can, you know, run rings around President Obama in a Lincoln/Douglas debate, you can’t run rings around the fact, Newt, that you supported the primary, core basis of what President Obama’s put in place.

GINGRICH: Look, just one —

KING: Quickly, Mr. Speaker. The congressman’s getting lonely down here. Let’s go.

GINGRICH: Just one brief comment. Of course you can. I can say, you know, I was wrong and I figured it out. You were wrong and you didn’t. [applause]

SANTORUM: Newt, you held that position for over 10 years. And, you know, it’s not going to be the most attractive thing to go out there and say it took me 10 or 12 years to figure out I was wrong when guys like Rick Santorum knew it was wrong from the beginning. [applause]

KING: Congressman Paul, you have the floor. Do you trust these men to repeal Obamacare?

PAUL: Thank you. [applause]

I thought you were — I thought maybe you were prejudiced against doctors and a doctor that practiced medicine in the military or something.

No, I want to address the question. The gentleman asked whether he thinks we can repeal Obamacare.

Theoretically, we can. The likelihood isn’t all that good.

We can diminish some of the effect, but I’m more concerned about a bigger picture of what’s happening. And that is, government involvement in medicine.

I had the privilege of practicing medicine in the early ’60s before we had any government. It worked rather well and there was nobody out in the street suffering with no medical care.

But Medicare and Medicaid came in and it just expanded. But even when we had the chance to cut back on it, when we had a Republican Congress and a Republican president, we gave them prescription drug programs. Senator Santorum supported it. You know, that’s expanding the government. [applause]

So — and most of them are bankrupt. Prescription drugs, they’re not going to be financed. Medicare’s not financed. Medicaid’s in trouble. But nobody talks about where the money’s going to come from.

Now, even in my budget proposal, which is very, very tough, because I’m going to cut $1 trillion the first year, but I try to really — [applause]

Even though these programs should have never started but a lot of people depend on it, I want to try to protect the people who are dependent on medical care.

Now, where does the money come? My suggestion is, look at some of the overseas spending that we don’t need to be doing. [applause]

We have troops in Korea since the Korean War, in Japan since World War II, in Germany since — those are subsidies to these countries. And we keep fighting these wars that don’t need to be fought. They’re undeclared. They never end.

Newt pointed out that World War II was won in less than four years. Afghanistan, we’re there for 10 years. Nobody says where’s the money coming from?

We could work our way out of here and take care of these people with these medical needs. But we can’t do it with the current philosophy of the government taking care of everybody forever on medical care, cradle to grave, and being the policeman of the world.

We will get rid of all this government program, unfortunately because we’re going bankrupt and you’re going to have runaway inflation, and our checks are going to bounce. And that’s going to be a lot worse problem than we’re facing tonight. [applause]

KING: All right.

Going to ask our candidates to stand by, our audience as well. We have a couple breaks tonight. We’re going to take one of them now.

One candidate on this stage suggested this week that two candidates should get out of the race. One of them listened. We’ll get the reaction from the other coming up.

And also coming up, this is just in. While we’ve been on the air having this debate, Speaker Gingrich has released his tax returns. He’s put them online. We’ll ask him what’s in them when we come back. [applause]

[commercial break]

[applause]

KING: Back in Charleston, South Carolina, and our Southern Republican Presidential Debate. Let’s get back to questioning the four gentlemen who would like to be the Republican nominee for president and the next president of the United States.

Part of the political conversation during the crackling campaign in this great state this week, Senator Santorum, Speaker Gingrich said he thought it would be preferable for the conservative movement if one candidate, in his view, had a direct campaign against Governor Romney. He suggested — said it was up to you — but he suggested perhaps Governor Perry and Senator Santorum should get out of the race.

In suggesting that, he said this: You don’t have, quote, “any of the knowledge for how to do something on this scale.”

What do you say to that?

SANTORUM: Grandiosity has never been a problem with Newt Gingrich. He — he handles it very, very well. [applause]

And that’s really one of the issues here, folks. I mean, a month ago, he was saying that, “Oh, I’m — it’s inevitable that I’m going to win the election. And it’s I’m destined to do it.”

I don’t want a nominee that I have to worry about going out and looking at the paper the next day and figuring out what is he — worrying about what he’s going to say next.

And that’s — that’s what I think we’re seeing here. [applause]

For him to suggest that — that someone who was tied for first and eventually won the Iowa caucuses and finished with twice as many votes as he did and finished ahead of him in New Hampshire, in spite of the fact that he spent an enormous amount more money in both those places, plus had the most important endorsement in the state, the Manchester Union Leader, and I was 10 points behind him a week before the election, and then finished ahead of him.

So I was 2-0 coming into South Carolina, and I should get out of the race?

These are — there are not — there are not cogent thoughts. I mean, and — and let’s just be honest. [laughter] [applause]

I mean, Newt’s — Newt’s a friend. I love him. But at times, you’ve just got, you know, sort of that, you know, worrisome moment that something’s going to pop. And we can’t afford that in a nominee.

We need someone — I’m not the most flamboyant, and I don’t get the biggest applause lines here. But I’m steady. I’m solid. I’m not going to go out and do things that you’re going to worry about. I’m going to be out there. I’m going to make Barack Obama the issue in this campaign. [applause]

KING: Mr. Speaker, take some time to respond.

As you do so, what exactly did you mean, “doesn’t have any of the knowledge for how to do something on this scale”?

GINGRICH: Well, it’s a very simple question. How big a scale of change do we want in Washington? I started working with Governor Reagan in 1974. I helped with Jack Kemp and others the development of supply-side economics in the late ’70s.

I participated in the ’80s in an enormous project of economic growth and, with President Reagan’s leadership, the American people created 16 million jobs. With President Reagan’s leadership, the Soviet Union disappeared.

I came back — I spent 16 years on a grandiose project called creating a Republican majority in the House — 16 years. And most of the Republican leaders in the House thought it was a joke. Even the night before the election, they thought it was a joke.

And we created the first majority. We then worked for two solid years, reformed welfare. Two out of three people went back to work or went to school. We ultimately became the first re-elected Republican majority since 1928.

We then went on to cut taxes for the first time in 16 years, the largest capital gains tax cut in American history. In the four years I was speaker, the American people created 11 million new jobs. We balanced the budget for four consecutive years.

You’re right. I think grandiose thoughts. This is a grandiose country of big people doing big things. And we need leadership prepared to take on big projects. [applause]

KING: Quickly? [applause]

SANTORUM: I will give Newt Gingrich his due on grandiose ideas and grandiose projects. I will not give him his — his — his due on executing those projects, which is exactly what the president of the United States is supposed to do.

Four years into his speakership, he was thrown out by the conservatives. It was a coup against him in three. I served with him. I was there. I knew what the problems were going on in the House of Representatives when Newt Gingrich was leading this — leading there. It was an idea a minute, no discipline, no ability to be able to pull things together.

I understand your taking credit for the 1994 election, and you did have a lot of plans. As you know, I worked with you on those, and we had meetings early in the morning on many — many a week. And so we worked together on that.

But you also have to admit that this freshman congressman who wasn’t supposed to win a race came and did something you never did, which is blew the lid off the biggest scandal to hit the Congress in 50 years. You knew about it for 10 or 15 years because you told me you knew about it. And you did nothing because you didn’t have the courage to stand up to your own leadership, the Democratic speaker of the House, take to the floor of the Senate, demand the releasing of the checks that were being kited by members of Congress, risk your political career, risk your promotion within the ranks and do what was right for America. And that had more or as much to do with the 1994 win as any plan that you put together. [applause]

KING: Mr. Speaker, respond. [applause]

GINGRICH: You know, campaigns are interesting experiences for all of us. And each of us writes a selective history that fits our interest.

As a freshman in 1979, I moved to expel a member who was a convicted felon, for the first time since 1917, against the wishes of our leadership. In the page scandal in the 1980s, I moved and threatened to expel them unless they were punished much more severely, against the wishes of the leadership. In the late 1980s, I initiated charges against the speaker of the House, Jim Wright, at rather considerable risk for a back-bench member. In 1990, I opposed the president of the United States of my own party when he tried to raise taxes. I said I actually thought he meant “Read my lips,” and I led the fight against raising taxes, against the wishes of my party’s leadership.

I think, long before Rick came to Congress, I was busy being a rebel, creating the Conservative Opportunity Society, developing a plan to win a majority in the Congress. And if you talk to anybody who worked at the Congressional Campaign Committee from December of 1978 on, for 16 years, I worked to help create the Republican Party nationally to become a majority. I worked to create GOPAC to train a majority. Those are just historic facts, even if they’re inconvenient for Rick’s campaign. [applause]

KING: Governor Romney, you’re raising your hand to come in the conversation. I want to let you in on the conversation, but also, as I do, you put an ad on the air paid by your campaign, not one of the super PAC ads, calling the Spea, ker an unreliable leader. Why?

ROMNEY: Well, let me go back and address first what you just heard.

What you’ve listened to, in my view, and the Speaker’s rendition of history going back to 1978 and his involvement in Washington, is, in my view, a perfe, , ct, example of why we need to send to Washington someone who has not lived in Washington, but someone who’s lived in the real streets of America, working in the private sector, who’s led a business, who started a business, who helped lead the Olympics, who helped lead a state. We need to have someone outside Washington go to Washington.

If we want people who spent their life and their career, most of their career, in Washington, we have three people on the stage — well, I take that back. We’ve got a doctor down here who spent most of his time in the surgical suite — well not surgery, in the birthing suite. [applause]

But I think America has to make a choice as to whether we’re going to send people who spent their life in Washington go represent our country or, instead, whether we’re going to lead — have someone who goes who’s been a leader in the private sector and knows how the economy works at the grassroots level.

Now, you asked me an entirely different question.

GINGRICH: It beats me. I don’t know.

Where are we at, John? [laughter]

ROMNEY: Let me tell you, one of the things I find amusing is listening to how much credit is taken in Washington for what goes on, on Main Street.

I mean, Mr. Speaker, it was — you talk about all the things you did with Ronald Reagan and the Reagan revolution and the jobs created during the Reagan years and so forth. I mean, I looked at the Reagan diary. You’re mentioned once in Ronald Reagan’s diary.

And in the diary, he says you had an idea in a meeting of young congressmen, and it wasn’t a very good idea and he dismissed it. That’s the entire mention.

I mean, he mentions George Bush 100 times. He even mentions my dad once.

So there’s a sense that Washington is pulling the strings in America. But you know what? The free people of America, pursuing their dreams and taking risk and going to school and working hard, those are the people that make America strong, not Washington. [applause]

KING: Quickly respond, Mr. Speaker.

GINGRICH: This is probably a fundamental difference in our background and our experience.

Under Jimmy Carter, we had the wrong laws, the law regulations, the wrong leadership, and we killed jobs, we had inflation, we went to 10.8 percent unemployment. Under Ronald Reagan, we had the right jobs, the right laws, the right regulators, the right leadership. We created 16 million new jobs.

We then had two consecutive tax increases, one by a Republican, one by a Democrat. The economy stagnated. When I became Speaker, we went back to the Ronald Reagan playbook: lower taxes, less regulation, more American energy, and 11 million jobs showed up.

Now, I do think government can kill jobs, and I do think government can create the environment where entrepreneurs create jobs. And the truth is, you did very well under the rules that we created to make it easier for entrepreneurs to go out and do things. You’d have been much poorer if Jimmy Carter had remained president.

ROMNEY: Let me just —

KING: Go ahead, quickly.

ROMNEY: Let me just tell you, Mr. Speaker, you were Speaker four years.

GINGRICH: Right.

ROMNEY: I was in business 25 years.

GINGRICH: Right.

ROMNEY: So you’re not going to get credit for my 25 years, number one.

Number two, I don’t recall — I don’t recall a single day saying, oh, thanks heavens Washington is there for me. Thank heavens. I said, please get out of my way, let me start a business and put Americans to work. [applause]

KING: All right. Let me get out of the way for a second and go back out to our audience and take a question from an audience member.

Sir.

JOHN MARCOUX, RETIRED STOCK TRADER: John Marcoux from the great city of Charleston. [applause]

MARCOUX: Gentlemen, when will you release your tax returns specifically?

GINGRICH: An hour ago. [laughter]

KING: Mr. Speaker posted his online an hour ago. We know that.

Congressman Paul — we’ll come down the line. Congressman Paul, I want to start with you.

We reached out to your campaign this week, and they said you would not release your tax returns. Why?

PAUL: Well, I hadn’t thought it through. I don’t have an intention of doing it, but for a different reason. I’d probably be embarrassed to put my financial statement up against their income. And I don’t want to be embarrassed because I don’t have a greater income. [applause]

Now, I mean, it may come to that, but right now, I have no intention of doing that.

I think with our financial statements, congressional financial statements, I think you know more about me than I know about myself. That’s how my wife found out so much about what we were doing, you know, from my financial statements.

No, we don’t need — I don’t think people need that because nobody’s challenging me, because I have no conflict of interest. And I don’t even talk to lobbyists and I don’t take that kind of money. So there’s no conflicts. [applause]

KING: Governor Romney, when will we see yours?

ROMNEY: When my taxes are complete for this year, and I know that if I’m the nominee, the president’s going to want to insist that I show what my income was this last year and so forth. When they’re completed this year in April, I’ll release my returns in April and probably for other years as well.

I know that’s what’s going to come. Every time the Democrats are out there trying their very best to — to try and attack people because they’ve been successful. And — and I have been successful. But let me tell you, the — the challenge in America is not people who’ve been successful. The challenge in America, and President Obama doesn’t want to talk about this, is you’ve got a president who’s played 90 rounds of golf while there are 25 million Americans out of work, and — and you’ve got…[applause]… and while the price of gasoline has doubled, he said “no” to the Keystone pipeline. And while we’ve got $15 trillion of debt, he — he said, “Look, I’m going to put another $1 trillion of debt for Obamacare.” That’s the problem in America, not the attacks they make on people who’ve been successful.

KING: But some of the questions about when you release your taxes have not come — the president has raised them; his campaign has raised them — you’re right on that — but so have some of your rivals up here. Speaker Gingrich has said you owe them to the people of South Carolina before they vote. Governor Perry made that point as well before he left the race.

Why not should the people of South Carolina before this election see last year’s return? [applause]

ROMNEY: Because I want to make sure that I beat President Obama. And every time we release things drip by drip, the Democrats go out with another array of attacks. As has been done in the past, if I’m the nominee, I’ll put these out at one time so we have one discussion of all of this. I — I obviously pay all full taxes. I’m honest in my dealings with people. People understand that. My taxes are carefully managed and I pay a lot of taxes. I’ve been very successful and when I have our — our taxes ready for this year, I’ll release them.

KING: Speaker Gingrich, is that good enough?

GINGRICH: Look, he’s got to decide and the people of South Carolina have to decide. But if there’s anything in there that is going to help us lose the election, we should know it before the nomination. And if there’s nothing in there — if there’s nothing in there, why not release it?

I mean, it’s a very simple model, but he’s got to decide. It’s his decision and everybody’s got to run their own campaign based on what they think is a reasonable risk. I have filed — I released mine this evening. We also released the little small charitable foundation we have so people can see what we do and how we did it and what our values are.

KING: Senator Santorum, when will we see yours?

SANTORUM: Well, I do my own taxes and they’re on my computer and I’m not home. So…[laughter]… and there’s nobody at home right now. Until I get home, I won’t get them. When I get home, you’ll get my taxes. [applause]

KING: But you — you did call on the governor to release his.

SANTORUM: No, someone asked me, “would it be OK for the governor,” and I said “yes.” I didn’t think — I don’t think it’s a big deal. I mean, if Governor Romney’s told what his tax rate is. Mine’s higher than that, I can assure you, but I can’t tell you what it was. All I know it was very painful writing the check last April. That’s all I can tell you. [applause]

KING: I want to — Governor Romney, you mentioned the Democratic attacks. I want to ask you to go back in history a little bit. Back in 1967, your father set a groundbreaking — what was then a groundbreaking standard in American politics. He released his tax return. He released them for not one year, but for 12 years. And when he did that, he said this: “One year could be a fluke, perhaps done for show.”

When you release yours, will you follow your father’s example?

ROMNEY: Maybe. [laughter]

You know, I don’t know how many years I’ll release. I’ll take a look at what the — what our documents are and I’ll release multiple years. I don’t know how many years, and — but I’ll be happy to do that.

Let me tell you, I know there are some who are very anxious to see if they can’t make it more difficult for a campaign to be successful. I know the Democrats want to go after the fact that I’ve been successful. I — I’m not going to apologize for being successful. [applause]

And I’m not — I’m not suggesting — I’m not suggesting these people are — are doing that, but I know the Democrats will go after me on that basis and that’s why I want to release these things all at the same time. And — and I — you know, my — my dad, as you know, born in Mexico, poor, didn’t get a college degree, became head of a car company. I could have stayed in Detroit like him and gotten pulled up in a car company.

I went off on my own. I didn’t inherit money from my parents. What I have I earned. I worked hard, the American way, and…[applause]… I’m going to be able — I’m going to be able to talk to President Obama in a way no one else can that’s in this race right now, about how the free economy works, what it takes to put Americans back to work, and make sure he understands that this divisiveness, of dividing Americans between 99 and one is dangerous. We are one nation under God. [applause]

KING: You’ve raised the topic of putting America back to work. I think we’re ready for another question from our audience. Am I right?

Not quite yet. All right. So let’s stay up here for a second.

Let’s move — you mentioned putting America back to work. Let’s talk about something: Apple Computer. Apple computer is a breathtakingly important American company.

Senator Santorum, it’s one of the most respected companies in the country. I’ve handed it off, but I carry Apple products to do my work every day. It employs about 500,000 people in China. It is based in the United States, has some employees here, about 40-something thousand, I think 46,000. Most of them in retail stores and at the headquarters. Five hundred thousand of them are in China.

As a president of the United States, what do you do about that?

SANTORUM: I’m the only person on this stage that will do something about it. I’ve got a specific plan in place that — that I’ve put out there, called the Made in the USA Plan, for exactly these kinds of companies that have great technology and then go somewhere else to make them because America is uncompetitive.

And that’s why we have to cut the corporate tax to zero for all corporations who manufacture and process in this country. People have said, “Well, why are you doing it for corporations and only cutting it in half?” which I do, to 17.5 percent for the rest. It’s because the local pharmacy’s not going to move to China. They’re not going to — the jobs that we’re losing are jobs that we have to compete with other countries, and those are manufacturing jobs.

The reason they’re going there is not because our — our — our workers or our management in this country are not productive. We have great productivity gains. It’s amazing the transformation that has been made in the last decade or two about our manufacturing processing here. It is simply government getting in the way.

None of these folks do anything. I do dramatic things that send a signal: Apple, you want — you — you have all those employees over there, you make all those profits over there, if you want to bring that money back, right now you pay a 35 percent tax. Under our plan, if you bring it back and invest it in plant and equipment here in Charleston, you pay nothing. You put that money to work. If you invest it, you pay nothing. [applause]

It’s a powerful incentive. You throw on top of that the energy policy that we put out there to revitalize the energy sector. You — which will create — again, manufacturing, energy cost is a big deal. So we have an energy piece.

We also a piece having to do with regulations. The Obama administration has promulgated two and a half times the number of regulations that cost American businesses over $100 million a year. Two and a half time the last 16 years of presidents.

This president is putting a burden on manufacturers and business. It’s the reason they’re not — we’re not making things here. I’ll repeal every single one of those regulations on day one. [applause]

KING: Congressman Paul, how do you revive made in America?

PAUL: You have to create the right conditions to bring these companies back and they have to bring their capital back and should be taxed.

But Apple’s a great company, but the way you asked the question, it infers that because there’s a bunch of workers overseas it hasn’t benefited a lot of people here. The consumers obviously have been benefited by a good company well run. But obviously there’s a lot of employees with Apple in this country as well.

I don’t think that’s the number that you have to be concerned about. A lot of people worry about us buying and money going overseas. But if you send money to China, let’s say they’re paying wages other there and we send dollars over there, they don’t put the dollars in a shoe box. They have to spend those dollars.

Unfortunately, they’re buying our debt and perpetuating our consumerism here and our debt here. But immediately there’s a benefit to us because those dollars come back.

But also when you get products, if they’re buying products cheaper over there, let’s say the computer cost $100 instead of $1,000. Well, the person’s just saved $900. That helps the economy. That $900 stays in that person’s pocket. So whether it’s shoes or a computer.

So we shouldn’t be frightened about trade or sending money on. But we have to look at the reason why they’re doing this. I mean, even the car companies, there’s obviously a problem with car companies here. They’re in bigger trouble. We had to bail them out.

But there are foreign companies that build cars in this country and they make a living out of it. So it’s more complex than that. But we have to do whatever we can.

I think the — I think the — the union problem, the right to work states, and of course I’ve chided Senator Santorum on this…[applause]… because he has voted, you know, against right to work. But we have to change these conditions to invite people back. But believe me, the regulations and the fact that we are the issuer of the reserve currency of the world is a real temporary blessing for us because it’s easy for us to export our money. That’s unfortunately our greatest export and they’re still taking our money. Soon, though, they’re going to quit and this whole ball game is going to end and we better get prepared for it. [applause]

KING: He mentioned you, Senator Santorum. Go ahead, quickly.

SANTORUM: Congressman Paul knows because we’ve talked about this before. I’ve already signed a pledge and said I would sign a national right to work bill. And when I was a senator from Pennsylvania, which is a state that is not a right to work state, the state made a decision not to be right to work. And I wasn’t going to go to Washington and overturn that from the federal government and do that to the state.

That’s a very different position.

KING: Quickly, sir.

PAUL: Yes, the response should be — yes, I understand that, that’s the way politics works. You voted the way you thought —

SANTORUM: Representative government works.

KING: Yes, for your state. But, as president, are you going to represent South Carolina or Pennsylvania? That’s really the question. [applause]

SANTORUM: Well, maybe you didn’t hear what I said. I said I would support a national right to work law and sign it into law, and would support and advocate for one.

KING: Let’s continue the economic conversation with some input from a question from Twitter. If you look up here you can see it, CNNDebate.

“What is your take on SOPA and how do you believe it affects Americans?”

For those who have not been following it, SOPA is the Stop Online Piracy Act, a crackdown on Internet piracy, which is clearly a problem. But opponents say it’s censorship. Full disclosure, our parent company, Time Warner, says we need a law like this because some of its products, movies, programming, and the like, are being ripped off online.

Let me start with you, Mr. Speaker. There’s two competing ends, two engines, even, of our economy here at on this.

How do you deal with it?

GINGRICH: Well, you’re asking a conservative about the economic interests of Hollywood. [applause]

And I’m weighing it. I’m weighing it. I’m not rushing in. I’m trying to think through all of the many fond left-wing people who are so eager to protect.

On the other hand, you have virtually everybody who is technologically advanced, including Google and YouTube and Facebook and all the folks who say this is going to totally mess up the Internet. And the bill in its current form is written really badly and leads to a range of censorship that is totally unacceptable.

Well, I favor freedom. And I think that if you — I think we have a patent office, we have copyright law. If a company finds that it has genuinely been infringed upon, it has the right to sue. But the idea that we’re going to preemptively have the government start censoring the Internet on behalf of giant corporations, economic interests, strikes me as exactly the wrong thing to do. [applause]

KING: Mr. Speaker, Governor Romney, these companies complain — some of them are based in Hollywood, not all of them are — that their software, that their publishing, that their movies, that their shows are being ripped off.

ROMNEY: I think he got it just about right. The truth of the matter is that the law, as written, is far too intrusive, far too expensive, far too threatening, the freedom of speech and movement of information across the Internet. It would have a potentially depressing impact on one of the fastest growing industries in America, which is the Internet, and all those industries connected to it.

At the same time, we care very deeply about intellectual content that’s going across the Internet. And if we can find a way to very narrowly, through our current laws, go after those people who are pirating, particularly those from off shore, we’ll do that.

But a very broad law which gives the government the power to start stepping into the Internet and saying who can pass what to whom, I think that’s a mistake. And so I’d say no, I’m standing for freedom. [applause]

KING: I mean, it’s a big issue in the country right now.

Congressman Paul and Senator Santorum, your views on this one quickly.

PAUL: I was the first Republican to sign on with a host of Democrats to oppose this law. And we have worked — [applause]

We have had a concerted effort, and I feel like we’re making achievement. This bill is not going to pass. But watch out for the next one.

And I am pleased that the attitude has sort of mellowed up here, because the Republicans unfortunately have been on the wrong side of this issue. And this is a good example on why it’s good to have somebody that can look at civil liberties and work with coalitions and bring people together. Freedom and the Constitution bring factions together. I think this is a good example. [applause]

KING: Those who support the law, Senator, argue tens of thousands of jobs are at stake.

SANTORUM: I don’t support this law. And I agree with everybody up here that is goes too far. But I will not agree with everybody up here that there isn’t something that can and should be done to protect the intellectual property rights of people.

The Internet is not a free zone where anybody can do anything they want to do and trample the rights of other people, and particularly when we’re talking about — in this case, we’re talking about entities offshore that are doing so, that are pirating things. So, the idea that the government — that you have businesses in this country, and that the government has no role to try to protect the intellectual property of people who have those rights in this country from people overseas pirating them and then selling them back into this country, it’s great.

I mean, I’m for free, but I’m not for people abusing the law. And that’s what’s happening right now, and I think something proper should be done. I agree this goes too far.

But the idea that, you know, anything goes on the Internet, where did that come from? Where in America does it say that anything goes? We have laws, and we respect the law. And the rule of law is an important thing, and property rights should be respected.

KING: All right.

Gentlemen, I want to thank you. I’ll ask our audience — applaud if you wish. Stand by one second. We’ll take one more break.

Much more of our Southern Republican Presidential Debate to come, including this question: After months of campaigning, if these candidates could do one thing over, what would it be? [applause]

[commercial break]

[applause]

KING: I’m John King. We’re live in Charleston, South Carolina, and this is the CNN Southern Republican Presidential Debate. Many of you are watching online, commenting on Twitter, Facebook and at CNN.com.

When we come back, we’ll ask the four candidates for president this question: After months and months of campaigning, if you could do one thing over, what would it be? Stay with us. [applause]

[commercial break]

KING: Welcome back to the Southern Republican Presidential Debate. I’m John King. We’re live in Charleston, South Carolina. A lot more issues to wander through tonight.

But I just want to take this moment. After months and months of campaigning, maybe this is fun; maybe it isn’t.

Speaker Gingrich, I want to start with you. You’re at this for months and you’re out there. If there’s one thing, just one thing in this campaign you could do over, what would it be?

GINGRICH: I would skip the opening three months where I hired regular consultants and tried to figure how to be a normal candidate. And I would just go straight to being a big ideas, big solutions, Internet-based campaign from day one.

Just didn’t work. I mean, it’s not who I am. I’m not capable of being a sort of traditional candidate. I’m a very ideal-oriented candidate and I think the Internet makes it possible to create a momentum of ideas that’s very, very exciting.

KING: Governor Romney?

ROMNEY: Well, I would have worked to get 25 more votes in Iowa, that’s for sure. [applause]

And — well, let’s see. I guess — I guess I also would go back and take every moment I spent talking about one of the guys on the stage and spent that time talking about Barack Obama because…[applause]… the — the truth is that — that Barack Obama is just way over his head and he’s taking our country down a path that is very dangerous. He’s making us more and more like a European social welfare state. He’s making us an entitlement society. He’s taking away the rights of our citizens. He believes government should run this country.

Look, the right course for America is to return to our fundamental principles, and I would be talking about that more, and probably about my colleagues less because frankly, any one of them would be a better president than the one we’ve got. [applause]

KING: Senator?

SANTORUM: I just thought about that, and you know what? I wouldn’t a change a thing. It’s — for me to be standing here in the final four is about as amazing a thing that I could have ever conceived of happening; someone who had no money; who lost his last race; who everyone basically ignored as I traveled around South Carolina, Iowa and — and New Hampshire and just talked to people. A town hall meeting — after 700 town hall meetings, just going around.

And it proved that good ideas and hard work still pay off in America and it just was an affirmation to me of the great process that we have. [applause]

KING: Congressman?

PAUL: I can’t — I can’t think of any one thing that I would do differently, but I would continue to do what I’m always trying to do. One thing that I believe about a free society is it provides the opportunity for us to work for our own virtue and excellence. And in campaigning, I think I can still learn a lot about becoming a better deliverer of a message.

And the conviction I have that I think if I spoke a little slower and maybe more conviction, that I could do a better job. So I think in general, I could — I will continue to work on delivering a message which I think is a great message.

KING: All right, gentlemen. Thank you.

Let’s get back to our issues discussion and let’s begin with a question down in our audience.

QUESTION: Hi. I would like to ask on the issue of amnesty of the illegal aliens, would you — how would you secure that the American citizens would get — keep the jobs in line first for them?

KING: Mr. Speaker, let’s start with you on that. She mentioned the word “amnesty.” You have explained your position in this campaign. And as you know, some conservatives have said, “No, Mr. Speaker, you say you can’t deport maybe it’s 10 million, 11 million, some people say as high as 20 million people illegally in this country. You say it’s unrealistic to deport them all. So some would have to be given a path to legal status.”

And as you know, many conservatives say, “No, that’s amnesty, Mr. Speaker.”

GINGRICH: Right. What I say, we’ll start with I think you have to first of all control the border. I don’t think you can pass a comprehensive bill because nobody trusts the government. So first, you control the border. We have a bill that would have it controlled by January 1, 2014. And I’m prepared both to waive all federal regulations to get it built and controlled by 2014 and I’m prepared to move up to half the people who work for Homeland Security — about 20,000 — they have 23,000 employees in Washington. I’d be prepared to move half of them to Texas, Arizona and New Mexico if that’s what it took to control the border. [applause]

Second, I favor English as the official language of government. And I think that creates a continuity. [applause]

Third, I would actually modernize the legal system of visas, because currently we make it too difficult to come here legally and too easy to come here illegally. [applause]

Fourth, I would make it much easier to deport people. So if you are a non-citizen who belonged, say, to MS-13, an El Salvadorian gang, we should be able to get rid of you in two weeks, not two years. And we should have a much easier deportation.

Fifth, I favor a guest worker program. And I would outsource it to American Express, Visa or MasterCard, because they can run it without fraud and the federal government’s hopeless. So you want a system that is accurate and that is anti-fraud, which leads you then to be able to say to private employers, if you hire somebody who’s illegal, we’re going to have an enormous economic sanction, because there will be no excuse once you have a guest worker program that’s legal.

Then you get down to the question of people who are already here. I believe in what I just described most of them will go home.

The one group I signaled out — and we do have a lively debate on this up here. There are people who have been here 25 years. They’ve been working. They’ve been paying their bills.

They’re married. They have children. They may have grandchildren. They may be in your church.

Now, I don’t think we’re going to deport grandmothers and grandfathers who have 25 years of networking and relationships in a community. So I’ve suggested a World War II-style draft board where local citizens would review the applications. You could only apply if you proved that you were financially responsible, you proved you had genuine family ties, and you had an American family sponsor you.

You still wouldn’t get amnesty. You wouldn’t get citizenship. You would get a residency permit.

In order to apply for a citizenship, you would have to go back to your own country and get in line behind everybody else and be processed as a person from that country. But I think this is a doable, solvable, practical solution. And I think trying to deport grandmothers and grandfathers will never pass the Congress and would never be accepted by the American people. [applause]

KING: Governor Romney, is that the doable, practical solution?

ROMNEY: You know, the issue of illegal immigration is relatively straightforward compared to the tough issues we face, issues like how we’re going to compete with China as it grows a military which is of extraordinary scale and a navy of that scale; how we’re going to deal with radical violent jihadists; Medicare, Medicaid, Social Security, making sure they’re solvent. We’ve got real challenges that are tough. This one is not tough.

You build a fence. You have enough border patrol agents to secure the fence. And you also have a system of giving to people who come here legally an identification card, and you expect employers and insist that employers check that card before they hire someone.

If they don’t check the card, if they don’t run it through the U.S. database and get an instant response from the government or from MasterCard, Visa, American Express, or whomever, then those employers are going to get severely sanctioned. If you do that, we solve the problem of illegal immigration.

And with regards to those that have come here illegally now, we’re not going to round them all up and deport them, but we’re also not going to give them a preferential pathway to become permanent residents or citizens. They need to go back home, apply for citizenship, apply for permanent residency, like everyone else. Coming here illegally should not give you an advantage being able to become a permanent resident of the United States. [applause]

KING: Do you have the same view, Senator?

SANTORUM: Well, I come at it from — as being the son of an immigrant. And my grandfather came to this country and brought my dad when he was 7 years old. And that’s the story that I love and am familiar with, and believe in my heart of hearts that immigration is — people who want to come to this country and be Americans is really the continuing infusion of freedom and enthusiasm for our country. But when you come here illegally, the first act you take is to break our law, that’s a different story.

And we have two folks here, both Governor Romney and Speaker Gingrich. Mitt Romney has a position now that people have to go home. But as of just a few years ago, he said that there could be a pathway to citizenship. He’s repeatedly said that.

Now he’s changed his position. I understand that. He’s done that on a couple of occasions.

And you have Speaker Gingrich, who believes there needs to be a legal pathway. That’s where President Obama’s position is.

Again, just like health care, we need a clear contrast, someone who can say, look, I have always been for making sure that the law is enforced and enforced fairly. I agree for people who have been here 25 years and maybe have to be separated from their family if they were picked up and deported, but my father grieved for his father when he came to this country and lived here five years.

And other folks who sacrificed, who came here to America, did it the right way according to the law. Because America was worth it. And if you want to be an American, the first thing you should do is respect our laws and obey our laws. And…[applause] And the idea that someone, whether it’s either of these two gentlemen, the idea that someone who came here and lived here 25 years has only broken one law — if they’ve worked for 25 years, they’ve been breaking the law for 25 years. [applause]

If they’ve been working, they have probably stolen someone’s Social Security number and they’ve committed Social Security fraud. They — this is not just a single occurrence. It’s an ongoing issue. And if we treat people like that differently than we do with a mother who, out of a desperate situation, goes out and shoplifts or does something and gets thrown in jail, what are we saying, that we’re going to treat people in this country who do things for their family differently than those who are here illegally? [applause]

I don’t think so. [applause]

KING: You mentioned both Governor Romney and the speaker. Take a moment, quickly. I want to bring Congressman Paul into the conversation. He is essentially saying he doesn’t trust you on this.

ROMNEY: Well, you know, I ran for president four years ago. This was the position I described when I ran four years ago. I wrote a book, laid out my position. I actually agreed, I think, with what you just said, which is I believe those people who have come here illegally should not be given a preferential path to become permanent residents or citizens of this country.

You shake your head…

SANTORUM: I’ll be happy to show you the quotes of what you said…

ROMNEY: OK, good. Good.

SANTORUM: … that people should have a pathway to citizenship.

ROMNEY: And the…

SANTORUM: Not — not — not citizens, a pathway to be legal in this country, not citizenship.

ROMNEY: And the pathway that I’ve described is that those individuals who have come here illegally should be able to register in this country, have a temporary period to arrange their affairs and return home and get at the — at the back of the line like everyone else.

And the position I’ve had is that the people who have come here illegally should not be given a preferential pathway relative to others but should be able to get in the same line at the back of the line.

And I agree with the senator. I’m sorry you don’t acknowledge my agreement, but I agree with you, that this is a nation of laws. At the same time, I think it’s important. I’m glad you mentioned this because I didn’t in my answer.

And that is we need to underscore the fact that we’re a party of legal immigration. We like legal immigration. We want legal immigration. [applause]

And to protect…[applause]… to protect legal immigration, we want to stop illegal immigration. And we don’t want to do anything that would suggest to people, “Come on in here, just wait long enough, whether it’s five years or 10 years, wait long enough and we’ll take you all in on an amnesty basis.” I want people to get in line legally. [applause]

KING: Congressman Paul, you’re from a border state. If this is a problem, you’ve heard your colleagues talk about making sure employers, companies that hire large numbers of people, making sure they get the message they can’t hire illegals.

What about individuals? About a quarter of the illegal immigrants in the country work for individuals. If this is a problem — if I hired an illegal immigrant, say, to clean my home, should I be prosecuted for doing that?

PAUL: I don’t believe you should be. Because I think those laws are misdirected. That makes you the policeman, or the businessman the policeman, or the Catholic Church the policeman, if they do anything to help an illegal immigrant.

It should be the law enforcers, and that is the border guards. And the federal government’s in charge of immigration. So, no, I don’t agree with those laws. But it doesn’t mean that I’m soft in the issue of illegal immigration.

Illegal — I can’t imagine anybody standing up here and saying, oh, I’m for illegal immigration. We’re all against illegal immigration. But I think what we fail to do is — is look at the incentives.

And it has a lot to do with economics. There’s an economic incentive for them to come, for immigrants to come. But there’s also an incentive for some of our people in this country not to take a job that’s a low-paying job. You’re not supposed to say that, but that is true.

But there’s also an economic incentive in the welfare state for immigrants to come in. In Texas, we suffer from the fact that there are federal mandates that we have to take care of their medical needs and their educational needs, and it bankrupts some of our — our school districts and our hospitals. So it’s those mandates.

But we need a more generous immigration policy. It should be legal, but we need more resources.

But I find that the resources are all overseas. When I was in the military, I was on the Pakistan-Afghanistan border, and that is a no-man’s-land. You can’t see the border. At least we can — we can see the river south of Texas. We know where the Rio Grande is. Over there, we can’t see it. But we’re over there fighting and dying over that border, looking for problems. Why don’t we take those resources and quit pretending we can defend those borders and put them on our borders and take care of our needs here? [applause]

KING: The Speaker? [applause]

GINGRICH: John, I just think, if you’re going to raise immigration, I want to make the point, on the very first day that I’m inaugurated, I will issue an executive order to the Justice Department to drop the lawsuits against South Carolina, Alabama and Arizona.

The federal government should enforce the law, not stop states from helping it enforce the law. [applause]

KING: I think we have nodding heads. I assume we have agreement on that. But let’s move on to another issue that came up in the campaign right here in South Carolina this week, and that’s the life issue.

Mr. Speaker, your campaign sent out a mailing to South Carolina Republicans across this state essentially questioning Governor Romney’s commitment on this issue, saying that he has changed his position on the abortion issue.

If you’ll recall, I moderated a debate back in New Hampshire in June. There were seven candidates then. We have four tonight. But when this came up, we talked about it briefly, and then I asked, is this fair game, an issue in this campaign, or is it case closed?

Mr. Cain, who was with us at the time, said case closed, and I paused. No one else took the opportunity to speak up.

If it was case closed then, why is a legitimate issue now?

GINGRICH: You just said nobody else spoke. So nobody else said, yes, it’s case closed. I mean, Herman Cain said it was case closed, the rest of us, it wasn’t a particular issue we wanted to fight that night.

I mean, we are allowed to run our own campaigns, John. It’s not an automatic requirement that we fit in your debate schedule. [applause]

This is — look, this is a very straightforward question. Governor Romney — and I — and I accept this — I mean, Governor Romney has said that he had a experience in a lab and became pro-life, and I accept that.

After he became pro-life, Romneycare does pay for tax-paid abortions. Romneycare has written into it Planned Parenthood, the largest abortion provider in the country, by name. Does not have any right to life group written into it.

He did appoint pro-abortion judges. And a branch of the government which included his appointees did agree to fund an abortion clinic for Planned Parenthood. All that occurred after he had become pro-life.

Now, those are all facts which we validated, and it seems to me that’s a legitimate part of the campaign, is to say, “OK, if you’re genuinely pro-life, how come these things are occurring?”

KING: Governor Romney, he questions whether you’re genuinely pro-life. [applause]

ROMNEY: I’m not questioned on character or integrity very often. And I don’t feel like standing here for that. But let me clarify the things which are wrong in what the speaker just said. And — and he can get a scintilla of truth in there to make it seem like this is a significant issue. But let’s go through one by one.

First, in Romneycare there’s no mention of abortion whatsoever. The courts in Massachusetts, the supreme court was the body that decided that all times if there was any subsidy of health care in Massachusetts that one received abortion care. That was not done by the legislature. Would not be done by me either. I would have vetoed such a thing. That was done by the courts, not by the legislature or by me.

Number two, it’s true, somewhere in that bill of ours, 70 pages, there’s the mention of the word Planned Parenthood, but it describes a person at a technical advisory board about payment structures. There’s no requirement or no participation of Planned Parenthood in our health care plan.

With regards to judges, I appointed probably 50 or 60 judges, at the trial court level mostly, the great majority. These were former prosecutors, 80 percent of them former prosecutors. We don’t have a litmus test for appointing judges, asking them if they’re pro-life or not pro-life. These are people going after crimes and — and — and the like. I didn’t get to appoint any supreme court justices.

I am pro-life. And the Massachusetts Citizens for Life and several other family-oriented groups wrote a letter two weeks ago and said they’d watched my record, that I was an avidly pro-life governor. I’m a pro-life governor. I am a pro-life individual.

And — and I — I have to be honest here. It is — this is not the time to be doubting people’s words or questioning their integrity. I’m pro-life.

By the way, is there any possibility that I’ve ever made a mistake in that regard, I didn’t see something that I should have seen? Possibly. But you can count on me as president of the United States to pursue a policy that protects the life of the unborn, whether here in this country or overseas. And I’ll reverse the policies of this president.

Thank you. [applause]

KING: Mr. Speaker, he says you’re questioning his integrity.

GINGRICH: I’ll yield to Senator Santorum.

KING: Senator?

SANTORUM: I just want to make one point. And a lot of legislatures here — legislators here in the room and they — and they know this to be the truth, that if you write a piece of legislation and you — and you say medical care and you do not specifically mention that abortion is not covered, we know from every court decision at the state and federal levels that the federal courts and state courts will require it.

That is someone every governor knows, every state legislator knows. And so when Governor Romney did not put that in the bill, you can’t say, “Oh, gee, surprise, the court made us cover abortions.” He knew very well that the court would make them cover abortions. That’s number one.

Number two…[applause]

Number — number two, what we’re talking about here is someone who’s not going to just check the boxes and say, “Yes, I’m pro-life.”

We’ve got a lot of folks who just whisper into the microphone that they’re pro-life, and then you have other people who go out and fight the battle and defend life and come out of the trenches and actually work to make sure that the dignity of every human life, innocent human life in this country is protected.

And I’ve done that. [applause]

And I — and I would say to you in — in contrast with Speaker Gingrich, who on the social issues, in particular when he was speaker and even afterwards, they were pushed on the back bench. There was a pledge to America that the Congress tried to put together in 2010. I got phone calls ringing off the hook that Speaker Gingrich went in and told them, “Keep social issues out of the pledge to America for the 2010 elections, and we need you to come in and help to try to convince these folks to put that back into the pledge.”

We don’t need someone who in the back rooms is going to say social issues in the front — are in the back of the bus, and then come out here and try to prevent they’re pro-life. [applause]

KING: Governor Romney and then Speaker Gingrich, he mentioned [inaudible]. Very quickly.

ROMNEY: Senator, I — I admire the fact that you’ve been a stalwart defender of — of pro-life and in a state where that’s not easy. I was also a governor in a state where being pro-life was not easy. And I — and I battled hard. What came to my desk was a piece of legislation that said “We’re going to redefine when life begins.” In our state, we said life began at conception. The legislature wanted to change that to say, “No, we’re going to do it an implantation.” I vetoed that.

The legislature also said, “We want to allow cloning for purposes of — of creating new embryos for testing.” I vetoed that. The legislature did not want to abstinence education. I pushed and pursued abstinence education. There was an effort to also have a morning-after pill provided to, as I recall, young women in their teens. I can’t remember the exact age. I vetoed that.

I stood as a pro-life governor and that’s why the Massachusetts Pro-Life Family Association supported my record as governor, endorsed my record as governor. I — I did my very best to be a pro-life governor. I will be a pro-life president. I’m proud of that. I wrote about it in my book. My record is — is solid.

I appreciate your record. I hope you’ll appreciate mine. [applause]

KING: Mr. Speaker, he — he mentioned you specifically, and then we want to move on, but please respond.

GINGRICH: Well, the fact is that I voted with Henry Hyde, who was the leading pro-life advocate in the House for a generation. I had a 98.6 percent pro-life voting record. The only one we disagreed on was welfare reform, which they scored for reasons we never understood. Otherwise, it was a perfect record on — on pro-life.

When I was speaker, we twice passed a bill that actually Rick was — was very active in, to end partial-birth abortion. Twice, it was vetoed by Clinton, but twice we passed it.

In the 2010 election, the freshman class has the highest percentage of pro-life members ever in history, and my job was to maximize their winning. And the fact is, we won a huge victory in 2010 with the largest number of pro-life members ever elected in a freshman class.

KING: All right, let’s move on. Let’s take another question.

Congressman, I’ll [inaudible] on this one. Let’s — let’s take a question now from social media. Question — [inaudible], before we move on, do you want in on this issue? They want you in on this issue. Would you like in on this issue? [applause]

PAUL: John, once again, it’s a medical subject and I’m a doctor. [laughter]

No, I do want to make a couple of comments because I can remember the very early years studying obstetrics and I was told — and it was before the age of abortion. And I was told taking care of a woman that’s pregnant, you have two patients. And I think that’s — that solves a lot of the problems of life — you know, when life begins and all. [applause]

And I also experienced a time later on in my training, in the 1960s when the culture was changing. The Vietnam War was going on. The drugs were there and pornography and everything came in. And abortion became prevalent, even though it was illegal. So the morality of the country changed, but then the law followed up. When the morality changed, it will — reflects on the laws.

The law is very important. We shouldn’t have these laws, but law will not correct the basic problem, and that’s the morality of the people that we must do.

Now, just very, very briefly, I want to talk a little bit about that funding because the flaw there is if you — if you send funding out and you say, “Well, you can have it for birth control, but not for abortion,” all funds are fungible. Even funds that go to any hospital if you say, “Well, it’s not for birth control and it’s not for Planned Parenthood and it’s not for abortion,” if you send it to the hospital, they can still use that money.

This is an indictment of government-run medicine because you never can sort that all out. You need the government out of that business or you will always argue over who’s paying what bills. [applause]

KING: Very quickly, Senator.

SANTORUM: I think that was directed at me, and so I would just say this. Congressman Paul has a national right-to-life voting record of 50 percent, which is pretty much what Harry Reid’s national right to life voting record is.

So for — to go out and say that you’re someone who stands up for the right to life, you repeatedly vote against bills on a federal level to promote the right to life. And you say that this is an individual, a personal decision, or state decision. Life should be protected, and you should have the willingness to stand up on a federal law and every level of government and protect what our Declaration protects, which is the right of our creator to life, and that is a federal issue, not a state issue. [applause]

KING: Quickly, sir.

PAUL: Just for the record, I wasn’t even thinking about you when I was giving my statement, so you are overly sensitive. [applause]

But it is true that we have a disagreement on how we approach it. I follow what my understanding is of the Constitution. And it does allow for the states to deal with difficult problems.

A matter of fact, it allows the states to deal with almost all the problems if you look at it. It is not given — these powers aren’t given to the Congress.

I see abortion as a violent act. All other violence is handled by the states — murder, burglary, violence. That’s a state issue.

So don’t try to say that I’m less pro-life because I want to be particular about the way we do it and allow the states the prerogative. This is the solution, . This is the solution. Because if we would allow the states to write their laws, take away the jurisdiction by a majority vote in the Congress, you repeal Roe versus Wade overnight, instead of waiting year after y, ear to change the court system. [applause]

KING: All right.

We need to take one more break, Gentlemen. Stand by.

Less than 35 hours away now from the polls opening right here in South Carolina, a state that is crucial, often decisive in Republican presidential politics.

Stay with us. Hear the candidates’ closing arguments to the voters of a state that takes pride in picking presidents.

[commercial break]

[applause]

KING: Welcome back to the Southern Republican Presidential Debate. [applause]

We’re in Charleston, South Carolina, tonight.

Gentlemen, we’re running out of time. Time flies. I wish we could stay all night. I don’t suspect you have campaigning to do. I don’t suspect you’ll agree. [laughter]

I didn’t think so. [laughter]

You know the history of this state. We’re inside 35 hours now from voters in South Carolina going to the polls, and we all know the history of this state.

In modern times, the winner of the South Carolina Republican primary has gone on to be your party’s nominee.

We have an interesting race at the moment. Senator Santorum wins Iowa; Governor Romney wins New Hampshire. Everybody’s waiting to see. Most people believe, if Governor Romney wins here, he would be the prohibitive favorite.

I want each of you, since we have a short time left, and I’ll start on the end. We’ll come down the line.

Congressman Paul, make your case. Make your case. South Carolina essentially faces this decision: “Not so fast, let’s continue the race,” or embrace Governor Romney. Make your case to the people of South Carolina in these final hours.

PAUL: Well, South Carolina is known for their respect for liberty, and a lot of people will ask the question…[applause]

They will ask the question, in a way, what will you do for South Carolina or what will you do for New Hampshire? What will you do for the various states?

But if you understand liberty, it’s equal for everybody; it benefits everybody, so if you have a protection of liberty, which is the purpose of the Constitution, protection of individual liberty, and that means you protect the private property rights system. And if you do that, that benefits everybody.

And this is what we have to do, is convince people that we can bring people together with the understanding of what those — those beliefs were that made America great. And it is freedom. It isn’t this continued spending money and debt. This is the reason — we’re in a mountain of debt and we have to deal with it. We really never even got around to talking about that tonight.

And one of my very modest proposals…[applause]

My modest proposal is in the first year, cut $1 trillion out of the budget to get started…[applause]… because the debt bubble is a great burden. It’s a burden to all of us, and as I mentioned earlier, these programs are going to go down if we don’t get our budget under control. And we have to be willing to look at overseas spending and all of the entitlement system here in the country. [applause]

KING: Mr. Speaker? [applause]

GINGRICH: Well, let me start — I want to thank CNN and I want to thank the people of Charleston for a very, very interesting and very useful evening.

We have a real challenge. It is imperative that we defeat Barack Obama. [applause]

This is, I believe, the most dangerous president of our lifetime.

And if he is re-elected after the disaster he has been, the level of radicalism of his second term will be truly frightening.

But in addition to beating Obama, we have to have a team victory in the Senate and the House and we have to have a principled victory so the American people send a signal that in January of 2013, they want very dramatic, very deep change in Washington. [applause]

I believe the only way to create the momentum is to be able to overcome his billion-dollar campaign with a series of debates which decisively convince the American people that a Sol Alinsky radical who is incompetent cannot be reelected, and I hope you will vote for me on Saturday as the person who could do that. [applause]

KING: Governor Romney?

ROMNEY: I agree with a lot of what these last two men have just said. I think this is an absolutely critical election.

I believe that the founders took very careful thought in the preparation of the words of our Declaration of Independence that said that the creator had endowed us with certain unalienable rights, not the state but the creator, among them life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.

And by virtue of those words, the pursuit of happiness, this became the place on the planet where we were able to pursue our dreams as we might choose. People came here from all over the world, wishing to pursue happiness in their own way. And that has made us the most powerful economic engine in the world, where we can guard freedom because our military is the strongest in the world, coming from that powerful economic engine.

This president’s changing that. He’s changing the very nature of America. He’s turning us not from a merit society, an opportunity society, where people are free to choose their own course, but instead he’s making us an entitlement society, where people think they’re entitled to what other people have, where government takes from some and gives to others.

That has never been the source of American greatness. We need to return to the principles upon which this country was founded.

Our president said, I think in a very revealing way, that he wants to fundamentally transform America. He’s wrong. We need to restore the values that made America the hope of the Earth. And I understand those values. [applause]

ROMNEY: I will do everything in my power to restore those values by keeping America free, by fighting for free enterprise, by standing up to President Obama and pointing out how he has made it almost impossible for our private sector to reboot. I will get America working again. I will defeat Barack Obama and keep America as it’s always been, the shining on a hill.

Thank you. [applause]

KING: Senator Santorum.

SANTORUM: I agree with Governor Romney 100 percent of what he said about what the stakes are. The question is, who is the best person to take on President Obama?

I would make the argument that a conviction conservative who has a clear contrast with President Obama on the most important issues of the day is the best person, someone who has a clear contrast on health care, a clear contrast on global warming, a clear contrast on the Wall Street bailout. Talk about the one issue — the huge issue in the last couple of years where the government has come in and taken over, and both Newt and Governor Romney have supported that.

We need someone who not only says now they’re going to stand up for conservative principles, the big issues, but someone who has a track record of doing so and winning. I’m the only one in this race that’s ever defeated a Democratic incumbent. I did it for the Congress and I did it for the Senate. [applause]

We’re the only people in this race that actually has won a swing state. And I did it because I have a plan like I outlined today.

I come from those states. I come from the background. I come with the working class and strong credentials, not just with a plan, but with the character that fits in with exactly the voters we need, those Reagan Democrats in Pennsylvania and Ohio and Michigan and Indiana and Wisconsin. Those are the votes and those are the states.

You want to win? Elect someone who can win in the states we have to win and draw the clear contrast with President Obama.

South Carolina, you’ve been told in the past, you’ve got to settle for a moderate because they can win, and you said the last time we had a situation like this, in 1980, you said, no, we’re going to take the strong conviction conservative, and you voted for Reagan before Reagan was the Reagan we knew. Vote for the one who can do the job that America needs. Vote for me. [applause]

KING: That concludes our debate this evening.

I want to thank all of our candidates for their time tonight.

I want to thank our wonderful audience. We also want to thank the people of South Carolina. [applause]

I do appreciate it, and I know the candidates do as well.

January 16, 2012: Fox News / South Carolina Republican Party Republican Presidential Debate Transcript

Republican Candidates Debate in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina January 16, 2012

PARTICIPANTS:
Former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich (GA);
Representative Ron Paul (TX);
Governor Rick Perry (TX);
Former Governor Mitt Romney (MA); and
Former Senator Rick Santorum (PA)MODERATOR:
Brett Baier (Fox News)

BAIER: Thanks, Bill, and welcome to the Myrtle Beach Convention Center and the Republican presidential debate. It’s being sponsored by Fox News, the Wall Street Journal, and the South Carolina Republican Party.

Now let’s meet the five remaining candidates. Texas Governor Rick Perry. [applause]

Former Senator Rick Santorum. [applause]

Former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney. [applause]

Former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich. [applause]

And Congressman Ron Paul. [applause]

And, of course, our stage is down one podium, with Governor Jon Huntsman’s announcement today that he is leaving the race. You at home can participate through Twitter tonight. You can weigh in on how well the candidates are answering the questions. Tweet the candidate’s last name and hashtag answer if you think he’s tackling the question or hashtag dodge if you think he’s avoiding the question.

Then you can go to foxnews.com/debate to see the results during the break. You can head there and check it out.

Now let’s meet our panelists tonight. Fox News political analyst and my colleague, Juan Williams. [applause]

And from the Wall Street Journal, economics correspondent Kelly Evans. [applause]

And Washington bureau chief Jerry Seib.

Our rules are similar to our previous Fox debates, except now answers will be 1 minute and 30 seconds to allow for a fuller discussion of the issues. But follow-ups will still be 30 seconds.

Now, in past debates, we’ve reminded candidates it’s time to wrap up with various sounds. We started with a doorbell. That didn’t work for dog-owners. And then we had a digital sound, which seemed rarely — pretty ineffective.

Tonight, after a long string of debates and with longer answer time, we’re going to try to not use any sound. You all have done this now 15 times. I’m sure you know the drill. But warning: We do reserve the right to bring back the bell if we have to.

Today, as you know, is Martin Luther King, Jr., Day. As we look live at the Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., Memorial in Washington, its first year on the mall, we’re reminded of one of the many notable quotes from the late Dr. King. “The ultimate measure of a man is not where he stands in a moment of comfort and convenience, but where he stands at times of challenge and controversy.”

This campaign has been filled with challenge and controversy. The challenges are large. Here in South Carolina, the unemployment rate is near 10 percent, well above the national average. And on this MLK Day, unemployment in African-American communities is near 16 percent.

But the controversy on the campaign trail in recent days has been about Governor Romney’s record. We are going to talk extensively about jobs, federal debt, world hotspots, and social issues, but, first, let’s clear the air.

Speaker Gingrich, on a debate stage in September, you vowed to, quote, “repudiate every effort of the news media to get Republicans to fight each other to protect Barack Obama, who deserves to be defeated,” close quote. And yet in recent days, you and your campaign have cited numerous outlets, from the New York Times to Salon.com, to attack Governor Romney’s business record, the exact line of attack the Obama campaign is using. Why?

GINGRICH: Well, first of all, I think that the staying positive through Iowa, through $3.5 million of negative attacks, proved you either have to unilaterally disarm and leave the race or you have to at least bring up your competitor’s record.

Second, I think it’s very important for us to look at job creation. As a young member of Congress, I worked with President Ronald Reagan. We passed an economic growth package. We created 16 million jobs. The American people within a framework that Reagan had established created 16 million jobs.

As speaker I came back — working with President Bill Clinton, we passed a very Reagan-like program, less regulation, lower taxes. Unemployment dropped to 4.2 percent. We created 11 million jobs. Now, those are real numbers that people can verify out in the open.

Governor Romney as governor raised taxes and Massachusetts was 47th in job creation, fourth from the bottom. That’s a public record difference.

The second part of his campaign is citing his experience in business, which is perfectly legitimate, but if that’s a part of your campaign, then questioning it has to be equally legitimate.

And it struck me raising those questions, giving me an opportunity to answer them is exactly what campaigns ought to be about. And we need to satisfy the country that whoever we nominate has a record that can stand up to Barack Obama in a very effective way. [applause]

BAIER: Governor Romney, I will give you time to respond in just a minute. Speaker Gingrich, the Wall Street Journal editorial page calls your attacks crude and damaging caricatures of modern business and capitalism. And they write that you are embarrassing yourself by taking the Obama line.

How do you respond to that?

GINGRICH: Well, first of all, I don’t think raising questions is a prerogative only of Barack Obama and I don’t think Republicans should allow themselves to automatically be intimidated because every time you raise a question somebody yells you are doing something the Democrats will do.

I raise questions that I think are legitimate questions. The questions, some of which came straight out of Wall Street Journal articles. The governor has every opportunity to answer those questions to give us facts and data and I think that’s part of his responsibility as a candidate and I think that’s part of what a campaign is about, is to raise question and see whether or not whether or not your competitor can answer them effectively before you get to a general election where you know those questions are going to be asked.

BAIER: One more time. You said last week if somebody comes in and takes all the money out of your company and leaves you bankrupt while they go off with millions, that’s not traditional capitalism. That doesn’t sound like a question.

GINGRICH: I think if you look at the record, part of which is published in the Wall Street Journal, remember its very limited public record because he was in a very private company. But there was a pattern in some companies, a handful of them, of leaving them with enormous debt and then within a year or two or three having them go broke. I think that is something he ought to answer.

BAIER: Governor Romney, your response.

ROMNEY: Well, I appreciate the chance to talk about my record and the private sector and also the governmental sector. And I appreciate the speaker’s work working in the Reagan years and in the Clinton years. We did see good growth in this country. I want to see that come back again.

My experience in the private sector took me, one to be head of a consulting firm that got in trouble and work to create jobs there and hold on to jobs. We were in tough times. And then I got the chance to start a business of my own.

And four of the companies that we invested in, they weren’t businesses I ran, but we invested in, ended up today having some 120,000 jobs. Some of the business we invested weren’t successful and lost jobs. And I’m very proud of the fact that we learned from the experience.

We invested in well over 100 different businesses. And the people have looked at the places that have added jobs and lost jobs and that record is pretty much available for people to take a close look at.

But my record as the governor of Massachusetts and as the person that led the Olympics flowed from the fact that I had experience turning around tough situations, that I worked in the private sector, demonstrated a record of success. By virtue of that I was asked to come out and organize the Olympic Games in Salt Lake City.

And then was asked after the success of that experience to come back to Massachusetts by a number of people there, encouraged me to come back, run for governor. I did. We were fortunate to have an unemployment rate by the time I left office of 4.7 percent. Sounds pretty good today.

And I was also proud of the fact that we balanced the budget every year I was in office. We reduced taxes 19 times, put in place a rainy day fund of over $2 billion by the time I left.

And so my record is out there, proud of it, and I think if team want to have someone who understand how the economy works, having worked in the real economy, that I’m the guy that can best post up against Barack Obama. [applause]

BAIER: Governor Perry, you have gone so far as to call what Mitt Romney did at Bain vulture capitalism. But you’ve also said regulations in America are killing America. In fact, you said we should repeal the most recent financial regulations law, Dodd-Frank.

So what specific regulations would you put in place to curb vulture capitalism?

PERRY: Well, let me go back and say that having been the governor of the state that created over a million net new jobs, that we are all about capitalism, and I think our record proves that we are all about capitalism.

But I visited Georgetown, South Carolina. It was one of those towns where there was a steel mill that Bain swept in, they picked that company over and a lot of people lost jobs there.

And the fact of the matter is we’ve got records. We’ve got records. My record is one of those that’s been open to the public for quite a few years. And as a matter of fact, my income tax have been out every year.

Newt, I think you will let your income tax come out Thursday.

And Mitt, we need for you to release your income tax so the people of this country can see how you made your money. And — and I think that’s a — I think that’s a fair thing. Listen, here’s the real issue for us, as — as — as Republicans, we cannot fire our nominee in September. We need to know now. So I hope you’ll put your tax records out there this week so the people of South Carolina can take a look and decide if, you know, we’ve got a flawed candidate or not.

But the fact is on the regulatory side, Dodd-Frank does need to — to be gone. We’ve got too many regulations. Everyone knows that. We are strangling this country with regulations. [applause]

And we as a country, need to get rid of Dodd-Frank. We’ve got plenty — matter of fact, I would get rid of a substantial amount of those financial regulators so that we can in fact, get back to capitalism without Washington strangling it.

BAIER: Governor Romney, 30 seconds. [applause]

ROMNEY: Well, Brett I need a little longer than that, we had a couple of…

BAIER: Well there will be plenty of time.

ROMNEY: Well…

BAIER: Thirty seconds for this time.

ROMNEY: Lets take a little more time than that. First — first of all, I think — I think Governor Perry makes a — a very good point about — about Georgetown. For those that don’t know, it was a steel mill and — and my firm invested in that steel mill and another one in Kansas City, tried to make them successful. Invested there for seven or eight years. And ultimately what happened from abroad, dumping steel into this country lead to some 40 different steel mills being closed.

And — and that was one of those. I understand what happens when China cheats, or when others cheat and dump products into this country. That’s one of the reasons I’m running is to make sure we crack down on cheaters. By the way, we also started a new steel mill with new technology in Indiana. That one’s growing and thriving. I — I think that experience is what America needs in a president. Secondly I — I agree with the governor with regards to regulations. Regulations are choking off this economy.

I will do everything in my power to put a halt to all the Obama era regulations, review those that kill jobs and get rid of those so we can get the private sector working again. [applause]

BAIER: Gerald Seib with the Wall Street Journal.

SEIB: Governor Romney, let’s look a little deeper at the business record that you’re talking about. In a nutshell, what your opponents here are saying is that Bain Capital and other private equity firms, buy companies, load them up with debt, take the profits and then head for the exits. Let’s look at another example and allow you to respond through that. America Pad and Paper is a company that Bain Capital bought with $5 million, took on more debt to expand, couldn’t pay back the loans, went bankrupt and several hundred people lost their jobs.

Bain Capital though, took $100 million in profits and fees. Does that show a flaw in the Bain Capital model? Or is that just the rough and tumble of America capitalism?

ROMNEY: Well, first of all you never want to seen an enterprise go bankrupt. And you never want to see anyone lose a job. At the time I was at Bain Capital, the business was still going and didn’t go bankrupt. What the company did, is they had one paper company and then they bought another one down the road and they said, we don’t need to have, in — in an industry that’s shrinking, two different plants making the same product, so lets consolidate the two plans together.

And all the people in the plant that was closed were offered jobs in the new plant. Now they were union workers. They didn’t all want that non-union plant work rule setting. But ultimately, do I believe that — that free enterprise works? And that — and that private equity and the various features of our economy work to actually improve our economy? To make America more productive with higher incomes and a brighter future? Absolutely. The — the — this is a major part of our economy, has been for a long time. Free enterprise, with all of it’s different dimensions and players, makes America the — the strongest economic nation in the world.

The GDP per capita in this country, income per capita in this country, is about 50 percent higher than the average in Europe. Every time we invested, we tried to grow an enterprise, add jobs to make it more successful. And — and I know that people are going to come after me. I know President Obama is going to come after me. But the record is pretty darn good. You look at places like Staples, Bright Horizons, that steel company I talked about, the Sports Authority. They alone added 120,000 jobs as of today.

And — and those kinds of experiences are the kinds of things that allow me to know what it takes to get this economy working and to put people back to work. We’ve got a president in office three years, and he does not have a jobs plan yet. I’ve got one out there already and I’m not even president, yet. Thank you. [applause]

BAIER: Kelly Evans from the Wall Street Journal.

EVANS: Congressman Paul — Congressman Paul, this morning when he suspended his campaign, Governor Huntsman said the Republican presidential race has, quote “degenerated into an onslaught of negative and personal attacks, not worthy of the American people.” You have been particularly scathing in your ads against the other candidates up here on stage tonight. Do you agree with Governor Huntsman that these attacks should be abandoned?

PAUL: Well, they should be abandoned if you’re not telling the truth. But if you’re exposing a voting record I think it’s quite proper. There was one ad that we used against Senator Santorum, and I was only — I only had one problem, is I couldn’t get all the things in I wanted to say in one minute. [applause]

But, you know, we mentioned No Child Left Behind and that he supported deficits times five, raising the national debt, and that he voted for prescription drug programs, as well as he voted against right-to-work. And I could have added, you know, things like — he voted for Sarbanes-Oxley. So my only regret is that I couldn’t get enough in in that one minute that I should have.

UNKNOWN: Congressman Paul?

QUESTION: Hold up. Senator Santorum, you are going to get a question next, but respond, please, to Congressman Paul.

SANTORUM: Look, Congressman Paul has been quoting sources like CREW, which is a George Soros or a left-wing-backed organization, saying that I was corrupt. And in fact, throughout his entire ad, he quotes a lot of left-wing organizations.

Well, of course, left-wing organization say a lot of bad things about me. I would expect them. And that’s — I wear that as a badge of honor, not something that I’m ashamed of.

With respect to some of the votes that they elicit, I admit, I’m a strong conservative, but I’m not perfect. President Bush’s signature initiative of No Child Left Behind, I voted for it, I shouldn’t have. It was something that I said, and I will say publicly, that we should repeal. In fact, we should repeal all of federal government’s role in primary and secondary education, and if you give me the opportunity, I’ll do that. [applause]

QUESTION: We have a question for you — go ahead; finish your thought.

SANTORUM: And with right-to-work, look, I represented the state of Pennsylvania, which is one of the — which is not a right-to-work state. If you look at who voted for the right-to-work bill in the Congress, those who came from right-to-work states voted for it. Those who came from non-right-to-work states represented their states. I wasn’t going to vote in Washington, D.C., to change the law in my state.

I support right-to-work. I actually, as president, will sign and advocate for a right-to-work bill, but when I represented the people of Pennsylvania, I made the decision that I wasn’t going to do in Washington and change the law in my state when my state didn’t want to have that provision in their laws.

QUESTION: Juan Williams.

WILLIAMS: Senator Santorum, today you said Governor Romney is guilty of distorting your record as well as, quote, “lies and hypocrisy.” You said this behavior is classic Romney, and no one is holding him accountable.

So the same question that Kelly asked, this time to you, should these barbed personal attacks against fellow Republicans be abandoned by the candidates?

SANTORUM: I — look, I have run a very strong and positive campaign. My ads have been positive. The only ad that I’ve ever put up that has contrasted myself with the other candidates, and does so in a way talking about issues.

Governor Romney’s super PAC has put an ad out there suggesting that I voted to allow felons to be able to vote from prison, because they said I’m allowing felons to vote, and they put a prisoner — a person in a prison jumpsuit.

I would ask Governor Romney, do you believe people who have — who were felons, who served their time, who have extended — exhausted their parole and probation, should they be given the right to vote?

WILLIAMS: Governor Romney?

ROMNEY: First of all, as you know, the PACs that run ads on various candidates, as we unfortunately know in this —

SANTORUM: I’m looking for a question — an answer to the question first. [applause]

ROMNEY: We have plenty of time. I’ll get there. I’ll do it in the order I want to do. I believe that, as you realize that the super PACs run ads. And if they ever run an ad or say something that is not accurate, I hope they either take off the ad or make it — or make it correct. I guess that you said that they — they said that you voted to make felons vote? Is that it?

SANTORUM: That’s correct. That’s what the ad says.

ROMNEY: And you’re saying that you didn’t?

SANTORUM: Well, first, I’m asking you to answer the question, because that’s how you got the time. It’s actually my time. So if you can answer the question, do you believe, do you believe that felons who have served their time, gone through probation and parole, exhausted their entire sentence, should they be given the right to have a vote?

This is Martin Luther King Day. This is a huge deal in the African-American community, because we have very high rates of incarceration, disproportionately high rates, particularly with drug crimes, in the African-American community.

The bill I voted on was the Martin Luther King Voting Rights bill. And this was a provision that said, particularly targeted African-Americans. And I voted to allow — to allow them to have their voting rights back once they completed their sentence.

QUESTION: Governor Romney, 30 seconds to respond.

ROMNEY: Yes. I don’t think people who have committed violent crimes should be allowed to vote again. That’s my own view. [applause]

SANTORUM: That’s very —

QUESTION: Last thing, Senator.

SANTORUM: You know, it’s very interesting you should say that, Governor Romney, because in the state of Massachusetts, when you were governor, the law was that not only could violent felons vote after they exhausted their sentences, but they could vote while they were on probation and parole, which was a more liberal position than I took when I voted for the bill in the — in the Congress. So…

BAIER: Governor?

SANTORUM: If, in fact — let me finish — if, in fact, you felt so passionately about this that you are now going to go out and have somebody criticize me for restoring voting rights to people who have — who have exhausted their sentence and served their time and paid their debt to society, then why didn’t you try to change that when you were governor of Massachusetts?

ROMNEY: Well, first of all, as… [applause] As governor of Massachusetts, I had an 85 percent Democratic legislature. This is something we discussed. My view was people who committed violent crimes should not be able to vote, even upon coming out of office.

Secondly, I did not have a super PAC run an ad against you. That’s — as you know, that’s something which is completely out of the control of candidates.

One of the things I decried in the current financial system that gets behind campaigns is that we have these voting requirements that put these super PACs in power that say things we disagree with. And I’ll tell you, there have been some — there have been some attacks on me, I mean, that — that have just been outrageous and completely inaccurate and have been shown to be inaccurate. That’s the nature of the process. I hope…

BAIER: We have a…

ROMNEY: I hope — I hope it ends. I hope it ends.

BAIER: We have a lot of questions.

SANTORUM: I need to — I need to respond to this. What the governor said is he didn’t propose anything to change that law, and what he’s saying is that the — the ad that says that I said that — or I voted to allow felons to vote is inaccurate. And it is inaccurate. And if I had something — the super PAC that was supporting me that was inaccurate, I would go out and say, “Stop it,” that you’re representing me and you’re representing my campaign. Stop it. [applause]

BAIER: Governor — Governor Perry, go ahead.

PERRY: Here’s — here’s the issue.

ROMNEY: I actually think…

PERRY: And this is a great — this is a great example of the insiders that are having the conversation up here. And the fact of the matter is this. [applause] Washington, D.C., needs to leave the states alone and let the states decide these issues and don’t do it from Washington, D.C. That’s what needs to happen. [applause]

BAIER: Governor Romney, any response to either one of those?

ROMNEY: I — I agree with Governor Perry, that it should be decided at the state level. I also agree with — with Congressman Paul that — that a number of the positions that were described that Governor — or that Senator Santorum took were — were positions that were very different than the conservative views that he would suggest today.

I think the decision on — on voting against right-to-work was a bad decision and was made — as he indicated — based upon the — the reflection of the people of the state he was representing. It’s politics, if you will.

In my state, I had a state that — that said that they did not favor my position. I’m not letting felons who had committed violent crimes vote. I think it’s a — a position that’s reasonable, and that’s the position I’ve got.

BAIER: We may have to rethink that whole bell thing, but we’re going to take a break right here. Remember to send your thoughts on how the candidates are answering the questions via Twitter. Tweet the candidate’s last name and hashtag answer or hashtag dodge. Send me questions at bretbaier. Include that hashtag scdebate.

After the break, key issues and some more fireworks. We’ll see. Stay with us.

[commercial break]

BAIER: Welcome back to Myrtle Beach, South Carolina and the Republican presidential debate.

We are getting questions from Twitter. Governor Romney — Governor Huntsman endorsed you today. But in New Hampshire he called you a, quote, “perfectly lubricated weather vein on the important issues of the day.” And just last week, Governor Huntsman charged that it’s hard to find your core. Which leads to our first Twitter question.

From MissinDixie, quote, “I want to support Mitt Romney, but considering his changing views, convince me you won’t change again.”

ROMNEY: You know, the issue where I change my mind, which obviously draws a lot of attention was that when I was running for governor, I said I would leave the law in place as it related to abortion. And I thought I could go in that narrow path between my personal belief and letting government stay out of the issue.

Then a piece of legislation came to my desk and it said we would begin to create embryos for the purpose of destroying those embryos, and I said I simply couldn’t sign something like that. And I penned an op-ed in the Boston Globe and said I’m pro-life, described my view and served as a pro-life governor.

The Massachusetts Citizens for Life have just written a letter last week describing my record and saying this is a solid record of a very pro-life governor. I’m proud of that record.

My view on other social issues such as gay marriage, I’ve always opposed gay marriage. I believe that we should provide equal rights to people regardless of their sexual orientation but I do not believe that marriage should be between two people of the same gender.

My care by getting in this race is about my belief in America and my concern that what we’re seeing with this president is a change in course for America to be become something we wouldn’t recognize. I think he is drawing us into becoming more like a European social welfare state. I think he wants us to become an entitlement society where people in this country feel they’re entitled to something from government and where government takes from some to give to others.

I’m running to make sure that we don’t transform America into something we don’t recognize, but instead we restore the principles that made America the hope of the Earth.

I believe in free enterprise, I believe in freedom, I believe in liberty, I believe in an opportunity society. And everything I do will be designed to strengthen the values of this country, to strengthen the families of this country, to strengthen our economy and to keep a military that is second to none in the world. [applause]

BAIER: Juan Williams, Juan?

WILLIAMS: Governor Perry, last month the Department of Justice challenged South Carolina’s new law requiring registered voters to show state issued identification before they can vote. Governor Haley has pledged to fight the federal government all the way to the Supreme Court. You sided with the government. [applause]

Now, Governor Perry, are you suggesting on this Martin Luther King, Jr. Day, that the federal government has no business scrutinizing the voting laws of states where minorities were once denied the right to vote?

PERRY: I’m saying — I’m saying that the state of — of Texas is under assault by federal government. I’m saying also that South Carolina is at war with this federal government and with this administration. [applause]

If you look at what this Justice Department has done, not only have they taken them to task on voter ID, they’ve also taken them to task on their immigration law and in then the most egregious thing obviously is this National Labor Relations Board, where they come into a right to work state and tell the state of South Carolina…[applause]…we’re not going to let a private company come in here. That is irresponsible. I would suggest to you it’s unconstitutional. And when I’m the president of the United States, the states are going to have substantially more right to take care of their business. And not be forced by the EPA, or by the Justice Department for that matter, to do things that are against the will of the people.

Look, I’ve said this administration is at war against organized religion. And when you look at what they’ve done, going after churches because churches have that ministerial exception in there and can decide who they were going to hire at — at their churches. The idea that the Catholic charities cannot take money or the federal government, this administration won’t give them those dollars for sexually trafficked individuals because this administration doesn’t agree with the Catholic church on the issue of abortion.

If that’s not a war on religion, I don’t know what it is. And this administration is out of control. [applause]

BAIER: Senator Santorum, we talked about the high unemployment rate here in South Carolina, almost 10 percent, well above the national average. We’ve talked about the skyrocketing national debt. In December, Congress authorized an additional 20 weeks of jobless benefits. Benefits being paid by the federal government in many cases because states can’t afford them. Do you support extending these benefits when they expire at the end of the month? Why or why not?

SANTORUM: Well, I think we have to look at having a reasonable time for people to be able to come back, get a job and then turn their lives around. But, what we’ve seen in — in the past under this administration, is extending benefits up to 99 weeks. I don’t support that. I think if you have people who are out of work that — that long a period of time, it’s — it’s without question it makes it harder to find work when you come back. When you’re that far long away from a job, then you lose certain skills. You lose — you lose a lot of things when you’re out of work.

And that’s — there’s a lot of research that show that to be the case. And so what I believe is, just like I did with welfare reform when we reformed welfare, we sent it back to the states. And we gave the states the flexibility to design these programs. Just as I would do here with unemployment insurance. It should go back to the states. Let the states design it. If South Carolina because of a unique situation, wants to have a longer unemployment period of time because of a unique situation here, fine. But to have a federal program that roughly and crudely tries to assess the problem of unemployment from state to state and area to area, is the wrong approach.

What we should do, is have it just like welfare. Give it to the states, put a time limit. In the case of welfare, it was 40 weeks. Give flexibility to the states to — to — to operate those programs and even in unemployment, I mean, you can — you can have as we did on welfare, have some sort of either work requirement of job training required as a condition. We’re not doing people any favors by keeping them on unemployment insurance for a long period of time. [applause]

BAIER: Speaker Gingrich, Senator Santorum just mentioned it, the surge in unemployment has created these so-called 99’ers, people who collect benefits for the maximum 99 weeks offered now. What is the maximum length anyone should be able to collect unemployment checks?

GINGRICH: Well, you know Brett, I think there’s a better way to — to think about this. All unemployment compensation should be tied to a job training requirement. If somebody can’t find a job…[applause]… and they show up, and they say, “You know, I need help,” the help we ought to give them is to get them connected to a business-run training program to acquire the skills to be employable. Now the fact is, 99 weeks is an associate degree. [applause]

It — it tells you — I think it tells you everything. I — I hope my four colleagues would agree here. It tells you everything you need to know about the difference between Barack Obama and the five of us, that we actually think work is good. [applause]

We actually — we actually think saying to somebody, “I’ll help you if you’re willing to help yourself,” is good. [applause]

And we think unconditional efforts by the best food stamp president in American history to maximize dependency is terrible for the future of this country. [applause]

BAIER: Kelly Evans?

EVANS: Governor Romney — Governor Romney, core European nations have just been downgraded, and several are only able to raise funds because of help from central banks. As president, you could immediately be faced with another financial crisis, perhaps this time sparked in Europe. This is not some imaginary event. How far would you be willing to go to keep the financial system functioning?

ROMNEY: Well, of course you want to keep our financial system functioning, but we’ve learned some lessons from the experience of the last several years. What you don’t want to do is to give the president or anyone else a blank check or a slush fund to take care of their friends or take care of industries or companies they think they want to save. What we have to do…[applause]

What we have to do is to recognize that — that bankruptcy can be a process, reorganization for banks, as well as other institutions, that allow them to get rid of their excess costs, to re-establish a sound foundation, and to emerge stronger. We’re seeing that as a result of the bankruptcy in the auto industry. We could see that in our banking sector, as well, if a bank or two get in trouble.

And so the right course for us is not to think we have to go run over to Europe to try and save their banking system or to try and pump money into the banks here in this country. This is time for us to recognize that the system of laws we have and the free enterprise system works and we don’t need government stepping in with regulations and higher taxes and telling us what we can and cannot do as a society to try and keep America strong.

The best way to get America’s economy going is not to think about how much we can push government into the American economy, but instead how much we can get government out of the American economy. [applause]

And our — our tax rates — our tax rates are too high on individuals, as well as on our employers. Our regulations are too burdensome. Regulators see themselves as the — the opponents of free enterprise as opposed to those that encourage it.

We have an energy policy that doesn’t take advantage of our natural resources. That makes no sense. We need our oil, our coal, our gas, our nuclear.

And, finally, we need to open up new markets. This president has opened up no new markets for American goods around the world in his three years, even as European nations and China have opened up 44. We have to have a policy to open markets, put Americans to work. That’s the answer, not bailouts.

BAIER: Jerry Seib has the next question.

SEIB: Congressman Paul, South Carolina has seven major military bases, and thousands of people employed in the defense industry. But you want to make major cuts in defense spending, several hundred billion dollars in the coming years, that inevitably would cost South Carolina jobs. What do you say to people in this state who worry that your military plans would hurt the national security and cost South Carolina jobs?

PAUL: I would say your — your question suggests you’re very confused about my position. [applause]

I want to cut money, overseas money. That’s what I want to do. I want to cut military money. I don’t want to cut defense money. I want to bring the troops home. I’d probably have more bases here at home. We were closing them down in the 1990s and building them overseas. That’s how we got into trouble.

So we would save a lot more money and have a stronger national defense, and that’s what we should do. But to say that we would be weaker is absolutely wrong, because — and — and — and another important thing you should consider is the fact that the military is behind me more than the others. I get twice as much money from the…[applause]… from the active military duties than all the other candidates put together. So they’re saying that I’m on the right track. They’re sick and tired of those wars. They’re sick and tired of the nation- building and the policing activity.

But to say that we would have less money for defense, we’d actually have more money. And if I may, I’d like to go back to the international financial thing.

SEIB: Congressman, just to be clear, your plan calls for freezing defense spending at 2006 levels, which is where —

PAUL: No, see, I — you still don’t understand.

BAIER: What is he missing, Congressman?

PAUL: You don’t understand there’s a difference between military spending and defense spending. Just because you spend a billion dollars on an embassy in Baghdad, bigger than the Vatican, you consider that defense spending. I consider that waste. [applause] So if you want to — a little while ago we were talking about funding the unemployed — and of course that should be privatized and I don’t support it — but I don’t support cutting it off like that. I would cut some of this military spending like Eisenhower advises, watch out for the military industrial complex. Defend this country. We have to have a strong national defense, but we don’t get strength by diluting ourselves in 900 bases in 130 countries. That is where the problem is.

But you need to understand that there is a difference between just military spending and defense spending, just to spend money. We understand this domestically. If you spend more money domestically, we know it’s wrong, but we are supposed to spend more money and that’s conservative. I’ve never quite understood this. We are supposed to be conservatives. Spend less money. [applause]

BAIER: I’d like to ask a question about keeping money for all of the candidates down the line. What is the highest federal income tax any American should have to pay? We are looking for a number.

Governor?

PERRY: Seven 7 percent flat tax. Simple. Keep it simple.

BAIER: Senator Santorum?

SANTORUM: Well, my plan has two rates, 10 and 28 percent, which is the highest rate under Ronald Reagan when he cut taxes.

BAIER: Governor Romney.

ROMNEY: I would like 25 percent, but right now it’s at 35, so people better pay what is legally required. But ultimately let’s get it down to as low as we possibly can, if it’s 20, if it’s 25 but paying more than 25 percent, I think, is taking too much out of our pockets.

BAIER: So the highest you had was 35?

ROMNEY: Well, that’s what the law is right now, but 25 is where I would like to see us go.

BAIER: Speaker Gingrich.

GINGRICH: I would like to see it be a flat tax at 15 percent and I would like to see us reduce government to meet the revenue, not raise revenue to meet the government.

BAIER: Congressman Paul.

PAUL: Well, we should have the lowest tax that we’ve ever had, and up until 1913 it was 0 percent. What’s so bad about that? [applause]

Now, I would like to follow up on that, because I think the question on taxes is generally misleading, because anytime you spend money, it’s a tax. You might tax, you might borrow, you might inflate. The vicious tax, that’s attacking the American people, the retired people today, is the inflation tax, the devaluation of the currency, the standard of living is going down, and you need to address that. And that’s why I want to make the inflation tax zero, as well.

BAIER: So your answer is zero?

PAUL: Zero.

BAIER: OK. About taxes. Kelly?

EVANS: Governor Romney, Speaker Gingrich, Senator Santorum and now vocally tonight Senator Perry — Governor Perry — are calling for you to release your tax records. The Obama campaign is asking for the same thing. Governor, will you release your income tax records?

ROMNEY: You know, I looked at what has been done in campaigns in the past with Senator McCain and President George W. Bush and others. They have tended to release tax records in April or tax season. I hadn’t planned on releasing tax records because the law requires us to release all of our assets, all the things we own. That I have already released. It’s a pretty full disclosure. But, you know, if that’s been the tradition and I’m not opposed to doing that, time will tell. But I anticipate that most likely I am going to get asked to do that around the April time period and I’ll keep that open.

EVANS: Governor, you will plan then to release your income tax records around April?

ROMNEY: I think I’ve heard enough from folks saying, look, let’s see your tax records. I have nothing in them that suggests there’s any problem and I’m happy to do so. I sort of feel like we are showing a lot of exposure at this point. And if I become our nominee, and what’s happened in history is people have released them in about April of the coming year and that’s probably what I would do.

BAIER: OK. Next round of questions, Juan Williams.

WILLIAMS: Governor Romney, your father was born in Mexico. You still have family there, yet you have taken the hardest line of anyone on this stage on immigration reform, including opposition to key parts of the DREAM Act, which is supported by 80 percent of Latinos in this country. Are you alienating Latino voters that Republicans will need to win the general election?

ROMNEY: You know, I think Latino voters, like all voters in this country, are interested in America being an opportunity nation. People come here because they believe they want to have a brighter future and that’s been the story of America. The president looks out across the country and says it could be worse. I can’t believe saying that. The American people recognize it’s got to be better.

In my view, as long as we communicate to the people of all backgrounds in this country that it can be better, and that America is a land of opportunity, we will get those votes.

Now with regards to immigration policy, I absolutely believe that those who come here illegally should not be given favoritism or a special route to becoming permanent residents or citizens that’s not given to those people who have stayed in line legally. I just think we have to follow the law, I think that’s the right course. [applause]

ROMNEY: And I have indicated I would veto the DREAM Act if provisions included in that act to say that people who are here illegally, if they go to school here long enough, get a degree here that they can become permanent residents.

I think that’s a mistake. I think we have to follow the law and insist those who come here illegally, ultimately return home, apply, and get in line with everyone else.

Look, I want people to know I love legal immigration. Almost all of us in this room are descendants of immigrants or are immigrants ourselves. Our nation is stronger and more vibrant by virtue of a strong legal immigration system.

But to protect our legal immigration system we have got to protect our borders and stop the flood of illegal immigration and I will not do anything that opens up another wave of illegal immigration.

WILLIAMS: Senator Santorum, the Obama administration has not specifically addressed high levels of joblessness and a 25 percent poverty rate in black America. They say they want to fix the economy for all, but given the crisis situation among a group of historically disadvantaged Americans, do you feel the time has come to take special steps to deal with the extraordinary level of poverty afflicting one race of America?

SANTORUM: It’s very interesting, if you look at a study that was done by the Brookings Institute back in 2009, they determined that if Americans do three things, they can avoid poverty. Three things. Work, graduate from high school, and get married before you have children. Those three things…[applause]

Those three things, if you do, according to Brookings, results in only 2 percent of people who do all those things ending up in poverty, and 77 percent above the national average in income. It’s a huge, huge opportunity for us.

But what is the Obama administration doing? Elaine Bennett runs a program called Best Friends, the wife of Bill Bennett. And she told me through Bill that the Obama administration now has a policy, and this program is a program targeted at at-risk youth, specifically in many case necessary the African-American community, who are at-risk young girls. The Obama administration now has regulations that tells them that they can no longer promote marriage to these young girls. They can no longer promote marriage as a way of avoiding poverty and bad choices that they make in their life. They can no longer even teach abstinence education. They have to be neutral with respect to how people behave.

The problem is neutrality ends in poverty, neutrality ends in choices that hurt people’s lives. This administration is deliberately telling organizations that are there to help young girls make good choices, not to tell them what the good choice is. That is absolutely unconscionable. [applause]

WILLIAMS: Congressman Paul. An analysis by the Prison Policy Initiative finds that blacks who are jailed at four times the rate of whites in South Carolina are most often convicted on drug offenses. Do you see racial disparities in drug-related arrests and convictions as a problem? And if so, how would you fix it?

PAUL: Yes. Definitely. There is a disparity. It’s not that it is my opinion, it is very clear. Blacks and minorities who are involved with drugs, are arrested disproportionately. They are tried and imprisoned disproportionately. They suffer the consequence of the death penalty disproportionately. Rich white people don’t get the death penalty very often.

And most of these are victimless crimes. Sometimes people can use drugs and arrested three times and never committed a violent act and they can go to prison for life. And yet we see times just recently we heard where actually murders get out of prison in shorter periods of time. So I think it’s way — way disproportionate.

I don’t think we can do a whole lot about it. I think there’s discrimination in the system, but you have to address the drug war. You know, the drug war is — is very violent on our borders. We have the immigration problem, and I’m all for having, you know, tight immigration policies, but we can’t ignore the border without looking at the drug war.

In the last five years, 47,500 people died in the drug war down there. This is a major thing going on. And it unfairly hits the minorities.

This is one thing I am quite sure that Martin Luther King would be in agreement with me on this. As a matter of fact, Martin Luther King he would be in agreement with me on the wars, as well, because he was a strong opponent to the Vietnam War.

So I — I — I would say, yes, the judicial system is probably one of the worst places where — where prejudice and — and discrimination still exists in this country.

WILLIAMS: Speaker Gingrich, you recently said black Americans should demand jobs, not food stamps. You also said poor kids lack a strong work ethic and proposed having them work as janitors in their schools. Can’t you see that this is viewed, at a minimum, as insulting to all Americans, but particularly to black Americans?

GINGRICH: No. I don’t see that. [applause]

You know, my daughter, Jackie, who’s sitting back there, Jackie Cushman, reminded me that her first job was at First Baptist Church in Carrollton, Georgia, doing janitorial work at 13. And she liked earning the money. She liked learning that if you worked, you got paid. She liked being in charge of her own money, and she thought it was a good start.

I had a young man in New Hampshire who walked up to me. I’ve written two newsletters now about this topic. I’ve had over 50 people write me about the jobs they got at 11, 12, 13 years of age. Ran into a young man who started a doughnut company at 11. He’s now 16. He has several restaurants that take his doughnuts. His father is thrilled that he’s 16 because he can now deliver his own doughnuts. [laughter]

What I tried to say — and I think it’s fascinating, because Joe Klein reminded me that this started with an article he wrote 20 years ago. New York City pays their janitors an absurd amount of money because of the union. You could take one janitor and hire 30-some kids to work in the school for the price of one janitor, and those 30 kids would be a lot less likely to drop out. They would actually have money in their pocket. They’d learn to show up for work. They could do light janitorial duty. They could work in the cafeteria. They could work in the front office. They could work in the library. They’d be getting money, which is a good thing if you’re poor. Only the elites despise earning money. [applause]

WILLIAMS: Well…[applause]

The suggestion that he made was about a lack of work ethic. And I’ve got to tell you, my e-mail account, my Twitter account has been inundated with people of all races who are asking if your comments are not intended to belittle the poor and racial minorities.

You saw some of this reaction during your visit…[booing]… to a black church in South Carolina. You saw some of this during your visit to a black church in South Carolina, where a woman asked you why you refer to President Obama as “the food stamp president.” It sounds as if you are seeking to belittle people. [booing]

GINGRICH: Well, first of all, Juan, the fact is that more people have been put on food stamps by Barack Obama than any president in American history. [applause]

Now, I know among the politically correct, you’re not supposed to use facts that are uncomfortable. [laughter] [applause]

Second, you’re the one who earlier raised a key point. There’s — the area that ought to be I-73 was called by Barack Obama a corridor of shame because of unemployment. Has it improved in three years? No. They haven’t built the road. They haven’t helped the people. They haven’t done anything. [applause]

So… [applause]

BAIER: Finish your thought, Mr. Speaker.

GINGRICH: One last thing.

BAIER: Yes, sir.

GINGRICH: So here’s my point. I believe every American of every background has been endowed by their creator with the right to pursue happiness. And if that makes liberals unhappy, I’m going to continue to find ways to help poor people learn how to get a job, learn how to get a better job and learn some day to own the job. [applause]

BAIER: Okay. When we come back — they can’t hear me, but I’ll talk to you, foreign policy. Bring me your questions, BretBair, include hash tag SCdebates after this break.

[commercial break]

BAIER: Welcome back to Myrtle Beach, South Carolina. That was a time lapsed video of a sand sculpture right outside the convention center here. It does still have Governor Huntsman on that sand sculpture. He’s not here tonight. Next round of questions is on foreign policy. And we’ll begin with Congressman Paul. In a recent interview, Congressman Paul with a Des Moines radio station you said you were against the operation that killed Osama bin Laden. You said the U.S. operation that took out the terrorist responsible for killing 3,000 people on American soil, quote, showed no respect for the rule of law, international law.

So to be clear, you believe international law should have constrained us from tracking down and killing the man responsible for the most brazen attack on the U.S. since Pearl Harbor?

PAUL: Obviously no. And that’s what — I did not say that.

What I — as a matter of fact, after 9/11 I voted for the authority to go after him. And my frustration was that we didn’t go after him. It took us ten years. We had him trapped at Tora Bora and I thought we should have trapped him there. I even introduced another resolutuion on the principle of market reprisal to keep our eye on target rather than getting involved in nation building.

BAIER: But no respect for international law was the question about the quote that you used in Des Moines.

PAUL: Well, you know, I can’t say — his colleague was in Pakistan, and we communicated, you know, with the government of Pakistan and they turned him over. And what I suggested there was that if we have no respect for the sovereignty of another nation that it will lead to disruption of that nation.

Here we have a nation that we are becoming constantly trying to kill people who we consider our enemies. At the same time we are giving the government of Pakistan billions of dollars. Now there’s a civil war going on, the people are mad at us but yet the government is getting money from us and I think it’s a deeply flawed policy.

But to not go after him — and if I voted for the authority, obviously I think it was proper. But once they waited ten years, I don’t see any reason why they couldn’t have done it like they did after Khalid Sheikh Aman. And that would have been a more proper way.

If somebody in this country, say a Chinese dissident come over here, we wouldn’t endorse the idea, well, they can come over here and bomb us and do whatever. I’m just trying to suggest that respect for other nation’s sovereignty — and look at the chaos in Pakistan now. We are at war in Pakistan, but to say that I didn’t want him killed…

BAIER: No, I just quoted from your radio.

PAUL: I’m just suggesting that there are processes that if you could follow and that you should do it. There is proper procedures rather than digging bigger holes for ourselves.

That’s what we have been doing in the Middle East, digging bigger and bigger holes for ourselves and it’s so hard for us to get out of that mess. And we have a long ways to go. We are still in Iraq and that’s getting worse and we are not leaving Afghanistan and the American people are sick and tired of it. 80 percent of the American people want us out of there. I am just suggesting that we work within the rule of law.

Like only going to war when you declare the law, then we wouldn’t be…

BAIER: International law. I understand.

I guess U.S. intelligence officials say they had documents recovered in the compound in Abbottabad that that shows that al Qaeda was planning other attacks, perhaps bigger than 9/11. I asked you in our debate in Sioux City on the topic of Iran about this. But on this topic, GOP nominee Ron Paul would be running far to the left of President Obama on the issue of tracking down and killing terrorists who want to attack the U.S.

PAUL: I would say that if you do your best and you can’t do anything, yes, we had the authority, we voted for it, you got it from the congress, you do it. I just didn’t think they had gone through the process enough to actually, you know, capture him in a different way.

I mean, think about Saddam Hussein. We did that. We captured him. We tried him. I mean the government tried him and he got hung. What’s so terrible about this?

This whole idea that you can’t capture — just a minute. This whole idea you can’t capture people…

BAIER: but you voted against the war in Iraq.

PAUL: Adolf Eichmann was captured. He was given a trial. What is wrong with capturing people? Why didn’t we try to get some information from him? You know, we are accustomed to asking people questions, but all of a sudden gone, you know, that’s it.

So I would say that there are different ways without trying to turn around and say, oh, for some reason this doesn’t mean he’s supporting America.

BAIER: Speaker Gingrich?

If you received, Speaker Gingrich actionable intelligence about the location of Taliban leader Mullah Mohammed Omar inside Pakistan would you authorize a unilateral operation, much like the one that killed bin Laden, with or without the Pakistani government knowing, even if the consequence was an end to all U.S.-Pakistani cooperation?

GINGRICH: well, let me go back to set the stage as you did awhile ago. Bin Laden plotted deliberately, bombing American embassies, bombings the USS Cole, and killing 3,100 Americans, and his only regret was he didn’t kill more. Now, he’s not a Chinese dissident. [applause]

You know, the analogy that Congressman Paul used was — was utterly irrational. A Chinese dissident who comes in here — a Chinese dissident who comes here seeking freedom is not the same as a terrorist who goes to Pakistan seeking asylum.

Furthermore, when you give a country $20 billion, and you learn that they have been hiding — I mean, nobody in their — nobody believes that bin Laden was sitting in a compound in a military city one mile from the national defense university and the Pakistanis didn’t know it. Now…[applause]

We’re in South Carolina. South Carolina in the Revolutionary War had a young 13-year-old named Andrew Jackson. He was sabred by a British officer and wore a scar his whole life. Andrew Jackson had a pretty clear-cut idea about America’s enemies: Kill them. [applause]

BAIER: Congressman Paul, 30 seconds, please, 30 seconds to respond, since you were mentioned.

PAUL: My — my — my point is, if another country does to us what we do others, we’re not going to like it very much. So I would say that maybe we ought to consider a golden rule in — in foreign policy. Don’t do to other nations…[booing]… what we don’t want to have them do to us. So we — we endlessly bomb — we endlessly these countries and then we wonder — wonder why they get upset with us? And — and yet it — it continues on and on. I mean, this — this idea…

BAIER: That’s time.

PAUL: This idea that we can’t debate foreign policy, then all we have to do is start another war? I mean, it’s — it’s warmongering. They’re building up for another war against Iran, and people can’t wait to get in another war. This country doesn’t need another war. We need to quit the ones we’re in. We need to save the money and bring our troops home. [applause]

BAIER: Governor Romney? And, again, the bell may be making a comeback. [laughter]

Governor Romney, should the United States negotiate with the Taliban to end the fighting in Afghanistan?

ROMNEY: Of course not. And Speaker Gingrich is right. Of course you take out our enemies, wherever they are. These people declared war on us. They’ve killed Americans. We go anywhere they are, and we kill them. And the — the right thing for…[applause]

The right thing for Osama bin Laden was the bullet in the — in the head that he received. That’s the right thing for people who kill American citizens. [applause]

Now, the Taliban is killing Americans. This president has done an extraordinary thing. He announced the date of our withdrawal. He announced the date of the withdrawal of our surge forces based upon a political calendar, not the calendar that the commanders on the ground said it was based for our mission. That was wrong. [applause]

And then he announced the day that we’re going to pull out of the country all together. And now he wants to negotiate from a position of extraordinary weakness? You don’t negotiate from — with your enemy from a position of weakness as this president has done.

The right course for America is to recognize we’re under attack. We’re under attack by people, whether they’re Al Qaida or other radical violent jihadists around the world, and we’re going to have to take action around the world to protect ourselves.

And hopefully we can do it as we did with Osama bin Laden, as opposed to going to war as we had to do in — in the case of — of Iraq. The right way, Congressman Paul, in my view, is — to keep us from having to go to those wars is to have a military so strong that no one would ever think of testing it. That’s the kind of military we have to have, and we have to pursue our interests around the world. [applause]

BAIER: Governor Romney, Mitchell Rice — Mitchell Rice, who I believe is one of your top foreign policy advisers, said that the Taliban may well be, quote, “our enemy and our negotiating partner.” He said this means that some type of negotiated solution is the best near-term bet to halt the fighting. Is he wrong?

ROMNEY: Yes. The — the right course for America is not to negotiate with the Taliban while the Taliban are killing our soldiers. The right course is to recognize they’re the enemy of the United States. It’s the vice president who said they’re not the enemy of the United States. The vice president’s wrong. They are the enemy. They’re killing American soldiers.

We don’t negotiate from a position of weakness as we’re pulling our troops out. The right course for us is to strengthen the Afghan military force so they can reject the Taliban.

Think what it says to the people in Afghanistan and the military in Afghanistan, when we’re asking them to stand up and fight to protect the sovereignty of their people, if they see us, their ally, turning and negotiating with the very people they’re going to have to protect their nation from. It’s the wrong course. The vice president’s wrong. We should not negotiate with the Taliban. We should defeat the Taliban. [applause]

BAIER: Senator Santorum, you said earlier, in the Libyan operation that President Obama missed an opportunity to capitalize on rebel offensives. Now, in Syria at the hands of Bashar al Assad, it’s estimated that some 5,000 people have been killed. The country appears to be sliding into civil war and Arab League peace monitors seem to be failing. How would President Santorum, deal with this international crisis?

SANTORUM: Well, the — first off President Obama has dealt with it about as badly as possible. First he emboldened Assad by coming into office and establishing an embassy there, reestablishing diplomatic relationships, going through the process of trying to rehabilitate this tyrant. All, I’m sure, to the consternation of our friend, Israel who has consistently done the opposite, tried to step away and isolate Israel while at the time they’re trying to negotiate in a very difficult situation in their country.

With respect to — to — to Syria, look, Syria and Assad are a threat to Israel. I was the author of a bill when I was in the United States Senate to put sanctions on Syria. And in fact, they worked to get Syria out of Lebanon, which was — which was step number one. That’s no longer a viable option. We need to rally the international community, work and cooperate with removing Assad and work in — in concert with the Arab League, work with others.

As far as a military mission on our own, no I do not support a military mission into Syria, but we should be much more aggressive in following through with policies that effectuate the removal of Assad for the benefit of the Syrian people and for our neighbor — and for their neighbor, Israel. [applause]

BAIER: Governor Perry, since the Islamist-oriented party took over in Turkey, the murder rate of women has increased 1,400 percent there. Press freedom has declined to the level of Russia. The prime minister of Turkey has embraced Hamas and Turkey has threatened military force against both Israel and Cypress. Given Turkey’s turn, do you believe Turkey still belongs in NATO?

PERRY: Well, obviously when you have a country that is being ruled by, what many would perceive to be Islamic terrorists, when you start seeing that type of activity against their own citizens, then yes. Not only is it time for us to have a conversation about whether or not they belong to be in NATO, but it’s time for the United States, when we look at their foreign aid, to go to zero with it. [applause]

And you go to zero with foreign aid for all of those countries. And it doesn’t make any difference who they are. You go to zero with that foreign aid and then you have the conversation about, do they have America’s best interest in mind? And when you have countries like Turkey that are moving far away from the country that I lived in back in the 1970’s as a pilot in the United States Air Force that was our ally, that worked with us, but today we don’t see that.

Our — our — our president, has a foreign policy that makes our allies very nervous and emboldens our enemies. And we have to have a president of the United States that clearly sends the message, whether it’s to Israel, our friend and there should be no space between the United States and Israel, period. [applause]

PERRY: And we need to send a powerful message to countries like Iran, and Syria and Turkey that the United States is serious and that we’re going to have to be dealt with.

BAIER: Governor Perry, you sounded like you wanted to get in when Congressman Paul was talking at the beginning of this round on foreign policy.

PERRY: Well, I was just saying that I thought maybe that the noise that you were looking for was a gong. [laughter]

BAIER: Do you have any reaction to what Congressman Paul said? [applause]

PERRY: Listen, as — you know, I volunteered to wear the uniform of our country. And what bothers me more than anything, is this administration and this administration’s disdain all too often for our men and women in uniform. Whether it was what they’ve said about the Marines — now these young men made a mistake. They obviously made a — a mistake.

BAIER: You’re talking about urinating on the corpses?

PERRY: They — they made a — a mistake that the military needs to deal with. And they need to be punished. But the fact of the matter — the fact of the matter is this, when the Secretary of Defense calls that a despicable act, when he calls that utterly despicable. Let me tell you what’s utterly despicable, cutting Danny Pearl’s head off and showing the video of it. [applause]

Hanging our contractors from bridges. That’s utterly despicable. For our president for the Secretary of State, for the Department of Defense secretary to make those kinds of statements about those young Marines — yes, they need to be punished, but when you see this president with that type of disdain for our country, taking a trillion dollars out of our defense budget, 100,000 of our military off of our front lines, and a reduction of forces, I lived through a reduction of force once and I saw the result of it in the sands of Iran in 1979. Never again.

BAIER: Kelly.

Yes, sir.

Congressman Paul.

PAUL: Just a very brief statement. I, too, served in the air force for five years during the height of the Cold War from ’62 to ’68 so I’ve had a little bit of experience. In a matter of fact, I was over in the Afghanistan, Pakistan region.

But I would like to point out one thing about the Taliban. The Taliban used to be our allies when we were fighting the Russians. So Taliban are people who want — their main goal is to keep foreigners off their land. It’s the al Qaeda you can’t mix the two. The al Qaeda want to come here to kill us. The Taliban just says we don’t want foreigners. We need to understand that, or we can’t resolve this problem in the Middle East. We are going to spend a lot of lives and a lot of money for a long time to come.

BAIER: Kelly Evans.

EBANS: Governor Romney, when President Obama signed the National Defense Authorization Act into law, he enacted a provision allowing him to indefinitely detain American citizens in U.S. military custody, many, including Congressman Paul, have called it unconstitutional. At the same time the bill did provide money to continue funding U.S. troops.

Governor Romney, as president, would you have signed the National Defense Act as written?

ROMNEY: Yes, I would have. And I do believe that it is appropriate to have in our nation the capacity to detain people who are threats to this country, who are members of al Qaeda.

Look, you have every right in this country to protest and to express your views on a wide range of issues but you don’t have a right to join a group that is killed Americans, and has declared war against America. That’s treason. In this country we have a right to take those people and put them in jail.

And I recognize, I recognize that in a setting where they are enemy combatants and on our own soil, that could possibly be abused. There are a lot of things I think this president does wrong, lots of them, but I don’t think he is going to abuse this power and I that if I were president I would not abuse this power. And I can also tell you that in my view you have to choose people who you believe have sufficient character not to abuse the power of the presidency and to make sure that we do not violate our constitutional principles.

But let me tell you, people who join al Qqaeda are not entitled to rights of due process under our normal legal code. They are entitled instead to be treated as enemy combatants.

EVANS: Senator Santorum…

ROMNEY: I’ve still got time. So as long as I still have time I just want to go back and agree with what Governor Perry said, the most extraordinary thing that’s happened with this military authorization is the president is planning on cutting $1 trillion out of military spending. Our navy is smaller than it’s been since 1917. Our air force is smaller and older than any time since 1947.

We are cutting our number of troops. We are not giving the veterans the care they deserve. We simply cannot continue to cut our Department of Defense budget if we are going to remain the hope of the Earth. And I will fight to make sure America retains military superiority.

EVANS: Senator Santorum, 30 seconds to you, sir. Same question would you have signed, as president would you have signed the National Defense Authorization Act into law as written?

SANTORUM: So he gets two minutes and I get 30 seconds?

BAIER: Take whatever time you want.

SANTORUM: OK.

First off, I would say this, what the law should be and what the law has been is that if you are a United States citizen and you are detained as an enemy combatant, then you have the right to go to federal court and file a habeas corpus position and be provided a lawyer. That was the state of the law before the National Defense Authorization Act and that should be the state of the law today.

You should not have — you should not have — if you are not an American citizen, that’s one thing. But if you are a citizen and you are being held indefinitely, then you have the right to go to a federal court — and again, the law prior to the National Defense Authorization Act was that you had the right to go to a court, and for that court to determine by a preponderance of the evidence whether you could continue to be held. That is a standard that should be maintained and I would maintain that standard as president.

EVANS: Congressman Paul, different question.

PAUL: Why can’t I answer about that one?

BAIER: You were included in the question in the first place. Do you want 30 seconds to respond to this?

PAUL: I need a minute.

No, I think we are going in the wrong direction for the protection of our liberties here at home. They are under deep threat. The PATRIOT Act has eliminated the fourth amendment. We now have a policy of preemptive war, you don’t have to declare war and you don’t even have to have an enemy. We can start the wars, that’s what preemptive war is all about.

Now with the military appropriations defense act, this — this is — this is major. This says that the military can arrest an American citizen for under suspicion, and he can be held indefinitely, without habeas corpus, and be denied a lawyer indefinitely even in a prison here.

Let me give you one statistic. You’re worrying about all these — all these — where we’re going to try people, where are they going to do it, we have to do it secretly, because our rule of law is so flawed. We have arrested 362 people related to Al Qaida-type operation; 260 of them are in prison. They’ve been tried and convicted. So don’t give up on our American judicial system so easily, I beg of you. [applause]

BAIER: Kelly?

EVANS: All right. Change of topic. This question to Governor Perry. What measures would you immediately take to improve the housing market? Or do you consider any such intervention to be an overreach of government?

PERRY: Well, obviously, the first thing we need to do in this country is cut the tax rate down to where the people feel confident that they can risk their capital and have a return on their investment. That’s the reason I laid out a simple and — and flat tax of 20 percent with their home mortgage deduction and charitable expenses and local taxes, get rid of capital gains tax, get rid of the benefits tax, get rid of the tax on Social Security benefits, and then take 20 percent of that and mail your check in. I mean, even Timothy Geithner can get his taxes in on time with that type of a system. [applause]

And — and — and that is where we need to be focused, is creating jobs. As — pulling back those regulations that we talk about since ’08, that this administration have pushed into place that have strangled jobs, getting America back to work again. That’s what I’ve done for 11 years as the governor of the 13th-largest economy in the world. A million jobs have been created in our state. And our housing market not only is — is pretty solid, it’s growing, and it’s doing because we have created that climate where job creators know that they can go out and risk their capital and have a return on investment.

As the president of the United States, that’s what I’m going to do, is to walk into Washington, D.C., work towards a balanced budget amendment to the United States Constitution, and try to pass a constitutional amendment, if the people will accept and work with me, to make Congress a part-time body, so they stay less time in Washington, D.C., they go back home and get a real job, like everybody else has, and live under the laws that they passed. [applause]

EVANS: Governor, so beyond moving to a part-time Congress and encouraging the rest of the nation to follow Texas in terms of job creation, you would take no pointed measures aimed at helping the U.S. housing market?

PERRY: I think I said two things that are pretty powerful: cut the taxes and cut the regulations, and — which will increase the jobs and people will have the income to come in.

It is — I don’t think it is the government’s responsibility. Look, we’ve already seen that with Freddie and Fannie. We don’t need the federal government in the housing market anymore. They need to be out of the housing market. [applause]

BAIER: Jerry Seib?

SEIB: Governor Romney, in the book you wrote just before this campaign began, you said you were surprised that the press in the last campaign didn’t press for more specifics on how to fix Social Security and Medicare, so let’s fix that tonight. Let me ask you specifically: Would you reduce the cost of these programs by raising the retirement age for Social Security, by raising the eligibility age for Medicare, or by reducing benefits for seniors with higher incomes?

ROMNEY: Let me lay it out. First of all, for the people who are already retired or 55 years of age and older, nothing changes. It’s very important, because I know the Democrats are going to be showing videos of, you know, old people being thrown off cliffs and so forth. But don’t forget…[applause]

Don’t forget who it was that cut Medicare by $500 billion, and that was President Obama to pay for Obamacare. So let’s not forget that. [applause]

What — what I would do with Social Security is that I would lower — if you will, the 2.0, the version for the next generations coming up, I’d lower the rate of inflation growth in the benefits received by higher-income recipients and keep the rate as it is now pretty high for lower income recipients. And I’d also add a year or two to the retirement age under Social Security. That balances Social Security.

ROMNEY: With regards to Medicare, I would lay out the plan that — well, I actually did a couple of months ago that said, again, for higher-income recipients, lower benefit, a premium support program which allows people to buy either current standard Medicare or a private plan.

And this is the proposal which Congressman Paul Ryan has adopted. It’s a proposal which I believe is absolutely right on. We have a premium support program. Give people choice. Let competition exist in our Medicare program by virtue of the two things that I’ve described: higher benefits for lower-income people, lower benefits for higher-income people and making a premium support program in Medicare and in — and Social Security a slightly higher retirement age. You balance those two programs.

By the way, the third major entitlement, Medicaid, you send back to the states. And the fourth new entitlement, ObamaCare, you repeal that one and finally get our balance sheet right. [applause]

BAIER: Speaker Gingrich. Speaker Gingrich, the plan that you have endorsed for addressing Social Security, you suggest also that younger workers should be allowed to put their tax money into private accounts rather than into the government program.

But that plan also says that if those private accounts don’t pay out as much as the government program would, Washington should cut a check to make up the difference. Is that really a free market outcome if the government guarantees the outcome?

GINGRICH: Well, it is, as a historian, a fact-based model that has Galveston, Texas, and the entire country of Chile as testing grounds. Chile has done this. Jose Pinera’s glad to talk about it, the guy who created it, they have done it for over 30 years.

First of all, it’s totally voluntary. If you want to stay in the current system, stay in it. If you are younger and you want to go and take a personal savings account, which would be a Social Security savings account, you can take it.

Your share of the tax goes into that. The employer’s share goes into the regular fund to pay for the regular fund. The historic record in Chile is the average young person gets two to three times the retirement income. In 30 years they have never written a single check, because nobody has fallen below the minimum payment of Social Security, and these are historic facts.

They now have 74 percent of the GDP in their savings fund, so much that they now allow people to actually invest outside the country. The principal group in Des Moines, Iowa, actually runs part of this program, and I actually interviewed the person who is in charge of it for the principal group.

So the Social Security actuary estimate if you make it a voluntary program, 95 to 97 percent of young people will take the program, because it is such a big return on your investment, you’d be relatively stupid not to do it. OK. [applause]

Now, what does it do? It gets the government out of telling you when to retire. It gets the government out of picking winners and losers. You save — it makes every American an investor when they first go to work. They all have a buildup of an estate, which you do not get in the current system.

And the estimate by Martin Prostein at Harvard is, who was Reagan’s chief counsel and economic advisors, was you actually reduce wealth inequality in America by 50 percent over the next generation because everybody becomes a saver and an investor and you have a universal investing nation. [applause]

BAIER: Senator Santorum, Senator Santorum, in your jobs program you propose to eliminate the corporate income tax for manufacturers, but not for other businesses. Isn’t that picking winners and losers in the same way the Obama administration did when it gave grants to one solar energy company, Solyndra, and it went bankrupt?

SANTORUM: No, it’s not. What we do is cut corporate taxes for everybody. We cut it from 35 percent to 17.5 percent, make it a — basically a net profits tax. And then we take the area of the economy that’s under competition from overseas for our jobs. The rest of the economy is not being shipped off like the mills here in South Carolina were to other countries around the world because of foreign competition.

Why? The foreign competition that we are dealing with right now is much cheaper to do business, excluding labor costs than we are, about 20 percent more, and that 20 percent differential is government. It’s government regulation and it’s also government taxation.

So part of what we are trying to do is to have a government system that can compete with who our competitor is. The competitor at the local drugstore is not China. The competitor is other people.

And as long as that is level and everybody’s paying, the big corporations and the little ones — and that’s why we have a flat 171/2 percent — so we keep the little guys paying the same rate as the big guys who have — right now, with this very complex code, a lot of folks in there trying to reduce rates by using the tax code to shrink their tax liability.

So we’ve leveled the playing field for the guys here in this country and we’ve created a competitive environment for the manufacturer. I want to make a point about Newt and his plans because they are not bold. And they’re not — in the case of Governor Romney.

SANTORUM: And they are — and they’re irresponsible. And I say that against Newt because there’s nobody for the last 15 years that’s been more in favor of personal savings accounts than I have for Social Security. But we were doing that when we had a surplus in Social Security. We are now running a deficit in Social Security. We are now running a huge deficit in this country.

Under Congressman Gingrich’s proposals, if he’s right, that 95 percent of younger workers taken, there will be hundreds of billions of dollars in increased debt, hundreds of billions of more debt being put on the books, which we can’t simply — we’re going to be borrowing money from China to fund these accounts, which is wrong. I’m for those accounts, but first we have to get our fiscal house in order, balance this budget and then create the opportunity that Newt wants. But the idea of doing that now, is fiscal insanity.

BAIER: Speaker Gingrich?

SANTORUM: And Mitt Romney’s plan is simply not bold. We have a deficit now in Social Security. We have deficits now in Medicare. And he wants to say, well we’re not going to touch anybody now. There’s 60,000 people in this country who are earning over $1 million a year as a senior and he’s saying, no let’s not touch them. I’m saying, yes. We should absolutely do something about people who don’t need Social Security when we’re borrowing money from China to pay those millionaires.

BAIER: Okay, first Speaker Gingrich, your response?

GINGRICH: Well if you actually look at the plan at newt.org, you’ll see that one of the ways we pay for it is we take 185 different federal bureaucracies that deal with low income Americans. Think about this, there are 185 separate bureaucracies with separate regulations, all dealing with low income Americans. We can consolidate them into a single block grant. We send it back to the states and we take the billions of dollars in federal overhead that saves and put that into Social Security in order to make up the difference.

So in fact Rick, it is a very sound plan and I say this as somebody who helped balance the budget four times in a row. [applause]

BAIER: Quickly. Quickly.

SANTORUM: Newt, I support that idea. But we need that to reduce the deficit we have now, not doing what you’re suggesting, which is ballooning the deficit by hundreds of billions of dollars more and then using things that we should be doing now to strengthen this budget deficit, to add more fiscal — financial responsibility on to the federal government.

BAIER: Last one.

GINGRICH: Okay, Martin Feldstein estimates that if you have a personal savings account model, you increase the size of the economy by $7 to $8 trillion over a generation because of the massive reinvestment. In addition, I would just suggest having helped balance the budget for four consecutive years, for the only time in your lifetime, I’m reasonably confident I can find ways to balance the budget. [applause] Without hurting young people and blocking them from Social Security. [applause]

BAIER: Governor Romney, do you want your 30 seconds? Or are you just enjoying this back and forth? Would you like to weigh in?

ROMNEY: Rick is right. I — I know it’s popular here to say, oh we could just — we can do this and it’s not going to cost anything. But look, it’s going to get tough to get our federal spending from the current 25 percent of the GDP down to 20, down to 18 percent, which has been our history. We’ve got a huge number of obligations in this country and cutting back is going to have to happen. I know something about balancing budgets.

In the private sector, you don’t have a choice. You balance your budget, or you go out of business. And we — we simply can’t say we’re going to go out and borrow more money to let people set up new accounts that take money away from Social Security and Medicare today. Therefore, we should allow people to have a voluntary account, a voluntary savings program, tax free. That’s why I’ve said anybody middle income should be able to save their money tax free. No tax on interest, dividends or capital gains.

That will get American’s saving and accomplishes your objective, Mr. Speaker, without threatening the future of America’s vitality by virtue of fiscal insanity. [applause]

BAIER: Coming up, social issues. And a reminder, go to foxnews.com/debate to see how well the candidates are answering the questions with your votes. Keep it here.

[commercial break]

BAIER: Welcome back to Myrtle Beach, South Carolina. And now for the next round of questions, my colleague Juan Williams.

WILLIAMS: Gov Romney, Speaker Gingrich says your record of support for gun owners is weak. You signed the nation’s first ban on assault weapons in Massachusetts and steeply increased fees on gun owners in that state, in fact by 400 percent. How can you convince gun owners that you will be an advocate for them as president?

ROMNEY: Well, Juan, in my state we had a piece of legislation that was crafted both by the pro gun lobby and the anti-gun lobby. Massachusetts has some very restrictive rules and the pro gun lobby said, you know what, this legislation is good for us, it includes provisions that we want that allows us, for instance, to crossroads with weapons when we’re hunting that had not been previously allowed.

And so the pro gun folks in our state, the the Gun Owners Action League and others said, look, we would like you to sign this legislation. And the day when we announced our signing, we had both the pro gun owners and anti-bun folks all together on the stage because it worked. We worked together. We found common ground.

My view is that we have the second amendment right to bear arms and in this country my view is also that we should not add new legislation. I know that there are people that think we need new laws, we need to find new ways to restrict gun ownership. And there is in Washington a non-stop effort on the part of some legislators, and I believe the president, to restrict the right of law-abiding American citizens from owning a gun.

I disagree with that. I believe we have in place all the laws we need. We should enforce those laws. I do not believe in new laws restricting gun ownership and gun use.

WILLIAMS: By the way, governor, I remember that you were teased mightily a few years ago to say you hundred varmints. I’m just wondering if you have gone hunting since ’07.

ROMNEY: I’m not going to describe all of my great exploits. But I went moose hunting actually — not moose hunting, I’m sorry, elk hunting with friends in Montana. I’ve been pheasant hunting. I’m not the great hunter that some on this stage, probably Rick Perry, my guess is you are a serious hunter. I’m not a serious hunter, but I must admit — I guess I enjoy the sport and when I get invited I’m delighted to be able to go hunting.

WILLIAMS: Senator Santorum, you voted in support of requiring trigger locks on handguns. You also voted for background checks on firearm purchases made at gun shows. These positions have led your rivals to question your second amendment bona fides. What can you say tonight to reassure gun owners that you will stand with them?

SANTORUM: Both of those things were supported by the National Rifle Association. I worked with them to craft a bill. This was during the Clinton administration, where I voted against the gun ban, voted against the assault weapons ban, voted — voted 100 percent with the NRA. And this was a piece of legislation that was crafted that they endorsed, they supported, and worked with me to make sure that we could — we’d not have something far worse pass.

And so sometimes you have to pass something that can get enough votes to be able to satisfy folks that they won’t pass something that’s much worse. And so that’s what you have to do to make sure that rights aren’t taken away.

I’ve been a strong — again, lifetime A-plus record with the NRA, worked with them. They came to me repeatedly when I was in the Senate to help them and — and — and sponsor legislation and work toward making sure in ensuring gun rights.

Contrast that with Congressman Paul. And one of the most important things that we did in — in — in protecting the Second Amendment — and I provided a leadership role on it — was the gun manufacturers’ liability bill. There were a lot of lawyers out there who were trying to sue gun manufacturers and hold them liable for anybody who was harmed as a result of the gun properly functioning.

And we — we went forward and passed, with the NRA’s backing, a bill that put a ban on those types of lawsuits. If that ban had not been passed, if that gun manufacturer’s liability bill, removing them from liability from that, had that not been passed, there would have been no gun industry in this country and there would have de facto been no Second Amendment right.

Congressman Paul voted against that bill. And — and that’s a very big difference between someone who actually works with the gun — Second Amendment groups for — for legislation that can protect that right and someone who says they’re for Second Amendment, has attacked me on my Second Amendment issues, which you just referred to, and here’s a man that would have wiped out the Second Amendment by — if his vote would have been — carried the day.

BAIER: Congressman Paul?

PAUL: Hardly would that wipe out the Second Amendment. But the jurisdiction is obviously with the state. Even when tort law is involved with medical malpractice, which is a real problem, now, our governor worked on and our state has done a little bit on medical liability. I think that’s the way it should be handled.

You don’t have — you don’t have national tort law. That’s not part of the process. That should be at the state level. So to argue the case that that does away with the Second Amendment, when I’m the one that offers all — all the legislation to repeal the gun bans that have been going on [inaudible] everything else. [applause]

I mean, I’ve introduced legislation like that. So that’s a bit — a bit of an overstretch to — to say that I’ve done away with the Second Amendment.

SANTORUM: No, I need to respond to that, because the fact is, if we did not have a national liability bill, then people would have been able to go to states like, say, Massachusetts or New York and sue gun manufacturers where they would not pass a gun liability bill. So unless you have a national standard to protect guns — manufacturers of guns, you would create the opportunity for the elimination of guns being manufactured in this country and de facto elimination of the right to bear arms. [applause]

PAUL: Well, this is the way — this is the way our Constitution disappears. It’s nibbled away. You say, well, I can give up on this, and therefore, I’ll give that, and so eventually there’s nothing left. But, no, tort law should be a state function, not a federal function.

BAIER: Jerry Seib?

SEIB: Speaker Gingrich, a super PAC supporting Governor Romney is running an ad here citing a pro-life’s group charge that you voted for a bill in Congress, co-sponsored by Nancy Pelosi, that supported China’s one-child policy. And they say that means you provided government funding for abortion, but you oppose abortion. What’s your response to that charge?

GINGRICH: Well, this is typical of what both Senator Santorum and I have complained about with Governor Romney’s super PAC, over which he apparently has no influence, which makes you wonder how much influence he’d have if he were president. [applause]

Well, let me take that particular bill. That bill was introduced by Claudine Schneider, who is a Republican from Rhode Island. It was introduced at a time when Ronald Reagan’s Mexico City policy was enforced. The Mexico City policy said no U.S. funding will be used to fund any activity that relates to abortion.

So it is explicitly a falsehood to suggest that a bill introduced under Mexico City policy would have paid for China’s one-child policy. In fact, I have explicitly opposed it. I have a 98.6 percent National Right to Life voting record in 20 years. And the only vote we disagreed on was welfare reform, which had nothing to do with abortion. So I think it is an absurdity and it would be nice if Governor Romney would exercise leadership on his former staff and his major donors to take falsehoods off the air.

BAIER: Governor Romney? [applause]

ROMNEY: Speaker Gingrich, I — I already said at our last debate that anything that’s false in PAC ads, whether they are supportive of me or supportive of you should be taken often the air and fixed. I’ve already said that.

Now I can’t call these people and direct them to do that, as you know, because that would violate federal law, is that correct?

GINGRICH: Absolutely.

BAIER: All right.

So I can’t do what you just asked me to do, but I can tell them publicly as I can here if there’s anything that’s inaccurate in any ads that support me I hope they take it off and don’t run it.

But if we are talking about Super PAC ads that are inaccurate, Mr. Speaker, you have a Super PAC ad that attacks me. It’s probably the biggest hoax since Big Foot. The people that looked at it have said that this ad is entirely false, that this documentary that they are running includes businesses I had no involvement with, the events that they described. And yet that’s out there on a Super PAC that is supporting you.

You said that you think it’s bad just as I said the Super PAC that support me is doing bad things. But somehow for you to suggest that you and I have different standards here is just not quite right.

GINGRICH: I said publicly — I said publicly it ought to be edited. And I believe, in fact, the head of that group has actually submitted your campaign a set of questions to make sure that they edit it accurately and put only the correct facts in.

So I think it should be edited. And I would be delighted if you would agree that the ad that was just referred to was false and people see the Romney Supe PAC ad attacking me on that particular issue should know in advance it is false and shouldn’t be run.

UNKNOWN: Me too.

EVANS: Governor Perry.

ROMNEY: We all would like to have Super PACs disappear, to tell you the truth. Wouldn’t it nice to have people give what they would like to to campaigns and campaigns could run their own ads and take responsibility for them. But you know what, this campaign is not about ads, it’s about issues.

BAIER: So governor Romney, in the general election, if you are the nominee you would like to see Super PACs ended?

ROMNEY: Oh, I would like to get rid of the campaign finance laws that were put in place McCain-Feingold is a disaster, get rid of it. Let people make contributions they want to make to campaigns, let campaigns then take responsibility for their own words and not have this strange situation we have people out there who support us, who run ads we don’t like, we would like to take off the air, they are outrageous and yet they are out there supporting us and by law we aren’t allows to talk to them.

I haven’t spoken to any of the people involved in my Super PAC in months and this is outrageous. Candidates should have the responsibility and the right to manage the ads that are being run on their behalf. I think this has to change.

EVANS: Governor Perry, you advocate placing more troops and bigger walls along the nation’s southern boarder to stop illegal immigration, but border crossings are at a 4 year low — 40 year low, illegal immigration overall is down substantially and the U.S. has other pressing infrastructure and defense needs.

Governor, wouldn’t we be better off not spending more money on border walls?

PERRY: Let me tell you the reason that those crossings are at 40 year lows is because the economy of the United States is probably at a 40 year low and the president of these United States needs to change. That’s the reason.

As the governor of the second largest state and the state with the longest border, I have spent 11 years dealing with this issue. And the idea that Americans don’t want us to spend the money to secure that border is just flat out false. We are going to secure the border with Mexico, that means strategic fencing, that means thousands of national guard troops on the border until we can train up those border patrol to be there.

And it means predator drones and other aviation assets to that we have the real-time information to flow down to those individuals that are in law enforcement so that they can immediately respond to any activities that they see on the border that is either weapons related or drug related or illegal immigration that’s occurring on that border.

Americans want that border secure. The issue isn’t about how much is it going to cost, the issue is when are you going to get it done? And when I’m the president of the United States that border will be locked down and it will be secure by one year from the time I take my hand off the Bible.

BAIER: Last Twitter question is from an eighth grade teacher in Hobart, Indiana. And it’s for you, Speaker Gingrich.

Mr. Whiteman, has No Child Left Behind been a success or a failure? If the latter, what needs to be done to change it?

GINGRICH: I think it’s clearly a failure. I think it has led teachers to be forced into a bureaucratic system of teaching to the test. I find virtually no teacher who likes it.

It is grossly disproportionate. You end up with first-generation immigrants who don’t speak very good English being tested against a national standard. And a perfectly good school looks bad even though it’s doing a great job because there’s no measurement that’s reasonable.

The correct answer is to radically reduce the Department of Education, cut out all federal regulations, return the money and the power back home to the states. But I would say to the states, it will be good for them to shrink their Departments of Education and return the power back to the local county boards, and then let parents and teachers and students get back to learning. [applause]

BAIER: Thank you all very much. That is the end of our debate, a fiery debate. We appreciate it. That’s it for our debate tonight. Our thanks to the candidates, their staffs, the South Carolina Republican Party, and the great people here in Myrtle Beach, fantastic crowd. [applause]

Of course, the state of South Carolina, as well. They could not have been more hospitable.

January 8, 2012: NBC News / Facebook Republican Presidential Debate Transcript

Republican Candidates Debate in Concord, New Hampshire January 8, 2012

PARTICIPANTS:
Former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich (GA);
Former Governor Jon Huntsman (UT);
Representative Ron Paul (TX);
Governor Rick Perry (TX);
Former Governor Mitt Romney (MA); and
Former Senator Rick Santorum (PA)MODERATOR:
David Gregory (NBC News)

GREGORY: And good morning and welcome to this special edition of “Meet the Press,” the final debate before New Hampshire voting begins. All six candidates are here. And before we begin, you know the drill. We quickly go through the rules.

Each candidate will have one minute, 60 seconds, to make their statement, to respond to questions, and at my discretion, 30 seconds for follow-ups or rebuttals. We’re on a pretty tight schedule, so I will ask the candidates to stay within their allotted time, and we’ll see how that goes.

We’ve partnered with Facebook, so some of the questions will come from me and some, of course, will come from you. We encourage you to weigh in on the debate in real time, our online app at mtp.msnbc.com. You can monitor the conversation there, and we’ll see some of your feedback during that debate — over the course of this debate.

Candidates, good morning. I just want to say, on behalf of all Americans, that I thank you for being willing to debate each other every 10 hours, whether you feel you need it or not. [laughter]

This is an important moment. Elections are about choices. They’re about distinguishing one from the other. There’s a political element to that, and of course, it has to do with policy, as well.

Governor Romney has won the Iowa caucuses, although narrowly. He’s up in the polls here in New Hampshire. He’s also up in the polls down in South Carolina. Speaker Gingrich, why shouldn’t Governor Romney be the nominee of this party? What about his record concerns you most or makes him disqualified to be the nominee?

GINGRICH: Well, look, I think what Republicans have to ask is, who’s most likely in the long run to survive against the kind of billion-dollar campaign the Obama team is going to run? And I think that a bold Reagan conservative, with a very strong economic plan, is a lot more likely to succeed in that campaign than a relatively timid, Massachusetts moderate who even the Wall Street Journal said had an economic plan so timid it resembled Obama.

So I think you’ve got to look at — you know, Massachusetts was fourth from the bottom in job creation under Governor Romney. We created 11 million jobs while I was speaker, and I worked with Governor — with President Reagan in the entire recovery of the 1980s. So I just there’s a huge difference between a Reagan conservative and somebody who comes out of the Massachusetts culture with an essentially moderate record who I think will have a very hard time in a debate with President Obama. It’s that simple.

GREGORY: Speaker Gingrich, bottom line, you believe that Governor Romney is unelectable?

GINGRICH: No, I don’t believe he’s unelectable, but I think he has a — look, against Obama’s record, I think, you know, the fact is, President Obama is going to have a very hard re-election effort. But I do think the bigger the contrast, the bolder ideas, the clearer the choice, the harder it is for that billion-dollar campaign to smear his way back into office.

GREGORY: Speaker, this is your flyer that you’re circulating here in New Hampshire. It says very clearly, “Romney is not electable”?

GINGRICH: I think he will have a very hard time getting re- elected — getting elected.

GREGORY: Governor?

ROMNEY: David, I’m very proud of the record that I have, and I think the one thing you can’t fool the people about New Hampshire about is the record of a governor next door. And people have watched me over my term as governor and saw that I was a solid conservative and that I brought important change to Massachusetts.

They recognized that I cut taxes 19 times, balanced the budget every one of the four years I was governor, put in place a $2 billion rainy day fund by the time I’d gone. We had — we’d seen job losses in the months leading up to my becoming the governor, and then we began to finally create jobs.

By the way, we created more jobs in Massachusetts than Barack Obama’s created in the entire country.

ROMNEY: We also got our state police to enforce illegal immigration laws, put in place English immersion in our schools. I’m very proud of the conservative record I have, and I think that’s why some of the leading conservatives in today’s world, who are fighting the conservative battles of today, that don’t have any axe to grind, have gotten behind my campaign.

Governor Nikki Haley of South Carolina, Governor Chris Christie of New Jersey, right here, the great senator of New Hampshire, Kelly Ayotte. These are conservatives who looked at my record, looked at my plan to get this economy going.

I happen to believe that if we want to replace a lifetime politician like Barack Obama, who had no experience leading anything, you have to choose someone who’s not been a lifelong politician, who has not spent his entire career in Washington, and instead has proven time and again he can lead, in the private sector twice, in the Olympics, and as a governor. We’ve got to nominate a leader if we’re going to replace someone who is not a leader.

GREGORY: Well, Senator Santorum, had you not lost re-election in 2006, you would have been in Washington even longer than you were. It would have been 21 years. So you’ve got a long Washington record. How do you address this question? Why shouldn’t Governor Romney be the nominee? What is disqualifying, in your judgment?

SANTORUM: Well, if his record was so great as governor of Massachusetts, why didn’t he run for re-election? I mean, if you didn’t want to even stand before the people of Massachusetts and run on your record, if it was that great, why didn’t — why did you bail out?

I mean, the bottom — the bottom line is, you know, I go and fight the fight. If it was that important to the people of Massachusetts that you were going to go and fight for them, at least you can stand up and — and make the battle that you did a good job.

I did that. I ran for re-election a couple of times, and I won a couple of times, and — and in a 71 percent Democratic district, when I ran for re-election, I was redistricted. And I was in a 71 percent Democratic district, had a 90 percent conservative voting record. It was a hard thing to do. My district was more Democrat than the state of Massachusetts that I ran in. It was the steel valley of Pittsburgh.

And I stood up and fought for the conservative principles. I didn’t do what Governor Romney did in 1994. I was running the same year he ran, in 1994. I ran in a tough state of Pennsylvania against an incumbent. Governor Romney lost by almost 20 points. Why? Because at the end of that campaign, he wouldn’t stand for conservative principles. He ran from Ronald Reagan. And he said he was going to be to the left of Ted Kennedy on gay rights, on abortion, a whole host of other issues.

We want someone, when the time gets tough — and it will in this election — we want someone who’s going to stand up and fight for the conservative principles, not bail out and not run, and not run to the left of Ted Kennedy.

GREGORY: Well, you did say when you endorsed him four years ago, just those words, that he would stand up for conservative principles, Senator.

SANTORUM: Vis-a-vis John McCain.

GREGORY: Vis-a-vis John McCain. Governor, your response?

ROMNEY: Well, a lot of things were inaccurate in that, and I’m not going to go through them one by one. But I can tell you this: I think it’s unusual and perhaps understandable that people who spend their life in politics imagine that if you get in politics, that that’s all you want to do, that if you’ve been elected to something, well, you get — want to get re-elected and re-elected.

I went to Massachusetts to make a difference. I didn’t go there to begin a political career, running time and time again. I — I made a difference. I put in place the things I wanted to do. I listed out the accomplishments we wanted to pursue in our administration. There were 100 things we wanted to do. Those things I pursued aggressively. Some we won; some we didn’t.

Run again? That would be about me. I was trying to help get the state into the best shape as I possibly could, left the world of politics, went back into business. Now I have the opportunity, I believe, to use the experience I have — you’ve got a surprised look on your face. [crosstalk]

ROMNEY: It’s still — it’s still my time.

SANTORUM: Are you going — are you going to tell people you’re not going to run for re-election for president if you win?

ROMNEY: Rick, Rick, it’s still my time.

SANTORUM: I’m just asking.

ROMNEY: OK.

GREGORY: Go ahead. Governor Romney — Governor Romney, take 30 seconds there.

ROMNEY: Yeah. What I’m going to tell you is, this — this for me, politics is not a career. For me, my career was being in business and starting a business and making it successful. My — my life’s passion has been my family, my faith, and my country.

I believe, by virtue of the experiences I’ve had, that I’m in a good position to make a contribution to Washington. I long for a day when instead of having people who go to Washington for 20 and 30 years, who get elected, and then when they lose office, they stay there and make money as lobbyists or connecting to businesses, I think it stinks.

I think when people go to Washington and serve Washington and — and serve as — as their — the people of their — of their nation and go home. I’d love to see term limits in Washington.

SANTORUM: So one — so one term?

ROMNEY: And so — no, as the president of the United States, as the president of the United States, if I’m elected, of course I’ll fight for a second term. There’s a lot of work to be done.

GREGORY: Speaker Gingrich, take 30 seconds here to get in.

GINGRICH: Well, yeah. Mitt, I realize the red light doesn’t mean anything to you, because you’re the frontrunner. [applause]

But — but can we drop a little bit of the pious baloney? The fact is, you ran in ‘94 and lost. That’s why you weren’t serving in the Senate with Rick Santorum. The fact is, you had a very bad re- election rating, you dropped out of office, you had been out of state for something like 200 days preparing to run for president. You didn’t have this interlude of citizenship while you thought about what you do. You were running for president while you were governor. You were going all over the country. You were — you were out of state consistently.

You then promptly re-entered politics. You happened to lose to McCain as you had lost to Kennedy.

Now you’re back running. You have been running consistently for years and years and years. So this idea that suddenly citizenship showed up in your mind, just level with the American people. You’ve been running for — at least since the 1990’s. [applause]

GREGORY: Governor, please.

ROMNEY: Mr. Speaker, citizenship has always been on my mind and — and I happened to see my dad run for governor when he was 54-years- old. He had good advice to me. He said, Mitt, never get involved in politics if you have to win an election to pay a mortgage. If you find yourself in a position where you can serve, well you ought to have a responsibility to do so, if you think you can make a difference.

He said also don’t get involved in politics if your kids are still young because it may turn their heads. I never thought I’d get involved with politics. When I saw Ted Kennedy running virtually unopposed in 1994, a man who I thought by virtue of the policies of the liberal welfare state, had created a permanent underclass in America, I said someone’s got to run against him. And I happened to have been wise enough to realize, I didn’t have a ghost of a chance at — at beating him.

This — this guy from — Republican from Massachusetts was not going to beat Ted Kennedy. And I told my partners at my firm, I’ll be back in six months, don’t take my chair. And I — I went in and gave it a real battle and went after it. It was — I was happy that he had to take a mortgage out on his house to ultimately defeat me. And I’m — I’m very proud of the fact that I have stood up as a citizen to battle when I felt it was best for the nation. And — and we’re talking about running for president.

I am in this race because I care about the country. I believe my background and experience are … [crosstalk]

GREGORY: Let me bring Dr. Paul into this, because there is a question about who is the true conservative in the race. And Governor Romney said only nine years ago during an interview with New England Cable News, he said the following, “I think people recognize that I’m not a partisan republican, that I’m someone who is moderate and my views are progressive.” Do you believe Governor Romney now when he says he is a man of constancy and that he’ll stand up for conservative principles?

PAUL: You know, I think this whole discussion so far has been very superficial. And I think the question in the way that you ask it is superficial and you’re talking about character, which is very important. But I feel we should deal with the issues as well. And I don’t see how we can do well against Obama if we have any candidate that, you know, endorsed, you know, single payer systems and TARP bailouts and don’t challenge the Federal Reserve’s $15 trillion of injection bailing out their friends.

I don’t see how we can have anybody really compete with Obama who doesn’t challenge this huge empire we have overseas and the overseas spending. I mean this is how nations come down. You see they extend themselves too far overseas. That’s how the Soviets came down. We — we really have to talk about real cuts. We haven’t gotten around to this yet.

So if we want to change things, this is what we have to talk about. Character is important and motivation is important, our history is important. But I really consider that, in the debate format, to be less significant than what we really believe in.

GREGORY: You read my mind, Dr. Paul. And we’re going to get to…[applause]…some of the touch choices, not just on politics, but on policy. First Governor Perry, I do want to ask you to flat out — your staking your campaign going down to South Carolina, is Governor Romney unelectable in your judgment?

PERRY: Well I think you have to ask the question of, who is it that can beat Obama. Who is it that can invigorate the — the Tea Party? Who is it that can take the message of — of smaller, outsider government that’s truly going to change that places (sic). I look from here down to Rick Santorum I see insiders. Individuals who have been the big spending Republicans in — in Washington, D.C.

And lets be honest with ourselves, I mean the fact of the matter is that Obama has thrown gasoline on the fire. But the bonfire was burning well before Obama got there. It was policies and spending, both from Wall Street and from the insiders in Washington, D.C., that got us in this problem. And we need a candidate that can not only draw that stark contrast between themselves and Barack Obama, but also stand up and lead the Tea Party movement back.

2010 was about the Tea Party standing up and understanding that Republicans, big spending Republicans that caused the — as much of this problem as anything, and it was their power that brought together — that brought Washington, D.C., and the House to Republican control. And that’s the kind of individual we’ve got to have to — to lead this election.

GREGORY: Before I get to Governor Huntsman, I’d be remiss, Governor Romney if I did not allow you to respond to the quote that I read from you nine years ago. What would you say to conservatives so that they’ll trust that you will stand up for conservative principles?

ROMNEY: They’ve got my record as governor. That — that’s the great thing of people here in New Hampshire is they see what I did as governor of Massachusetts. I also had the occasion after my last failed attempt to run for president, a learning experience, to sit down and write a book. And I wrote a book and described my view for the country. And people can describe it in differing ways but I — but my view is that — that the principles that I’ve learned in business and the principles as governor, frankly, it made me more conservative as time has gone on.

I’ve seen a lot of government trying to solve problems, and it didn’t work. And — and my view is, the right course for America is to have somebody who understands how the economy works, who will passionately get America back on track.

GREGORY: All right. We’re going to come back to the question of obstacles to the nomination, but let me get to policy, Governor Huntsman. This is, by all accounts, an age of austerity for this country, a jobs crisis, also a spending crisis in Washington. I wonder what specifically you would do to say to Americans, “These are cuts I’m going to make in federal spending that will cause pain, that will require sacrifice”?

HUNTSMAN: Let me say — let me say, first are all, with respect to Governor Romney, you know, there are a lot of people who are tuning in this morning, and I’m sure they’re terribly confused after watching all of this political spin up here.

I was criticized last night by Governor Romney for putting my country first. And I just want to remind the people here in New Hampshire and throughout the United States that I think…[applause]

He criticized me while he was out raising money for serving my country in China, yes, under a Democrat, like my two sons are doing in the United States Navy. They’re not asking who — what political affiliation the president is.

I want to be very clear with the people here in New Hampshire and this country: I will always put my country first. And I think that’s important to them.

GREGORY: All right. Well, why don’t you get a response, Governor Romney? And then I’ll come back to you on the austerity question. ROMNEY: I think we serve our country first by standing for people who believe in conservative principles and doing everything in our power to promote an agenda that does not include President Obama’s agenda. I think the decision to go and work for President Obama is one which you took. I don’t disrespect your decision to do that. I just think it’s most likely that the person who should represent our party running against President Obama is not someone who called him a remarkable leader and went to be his ambassador in China.

HUNTSMAN: This nation is divided, David, because of attitudes like that. [applause]

The American people are tired of the partisan division. They have had enough. There is no trust left among the American people and the institutions of power and among the American people and our elected officials. And I say, we’ve had enough, and we have to change our direction in terms of coming together as Americans first and foremost and finding solutions to our problems.

GREGORY: Dr. Paul said let’s not be superficial. Let’s talk substance. So, Governor Huntsman, name three areas where Americans will feel real pain in order to balance the budget.

HUNTSMAN: Well, I would have to say that I agree with the Ryan plan. I think I’m the only one standing up here who has embraced the Ryan plan. It’s a very aggressive approach to taking about $6.2 trillion out of the budget over 10 years. And it looks at everything.

And what I like about it is it says there will be no sacred cows. Medicare won’t be a sacred cow. Department of Defense won’t be a sacred cow. As president of the United States, I’m going to stand up and I’m going to say, we are where we are, 24 percent spending as a percentage of GDP. We’ve got to move to 19 percent…[crosstalk]

GREGORY: Three programs that will make Americans feel pain, sir.

HUNTSMAN: Well, let me just say on — on entitlements, across the board, I will tell the upper-income category in this country that there will be means testing. There are a lot of people in this nation who don’t need…[crosstalk]

GREGORY: Social Security and Medicare?

HUNTSMAN: Absolutely. Absolutely. And also, I’m not going to tie Department of Defense spending to some percentage of GDP. I’m going to tie it to a strategy that protects the American people. And if we think that we can’t find efficiencies and cuts in the Department of Defense budget, then we are crazy.

GREGORY: Senator Santorum, same question. Three programs that would make — would have to be cut to make Americans feel pain, to sacrifice if we’re going to balance the budget?

SANTORUM: I would agree with Governor Huntsman that means testing — I talked about that in Hollis yesterday. We had about 1,200 people, and I walked through and talked about how we have to make sure that we’re not going to burden future generations with a Social Security program that’s underfunded. It’s already unfunded right now.

And we have to take those who have — who have been successful, who are seniors, who have a tremendous amount of wealth, and we’ve got to reduce benefits. It makes no sense for folks who are struggling right now to pay their payroll tax, which is the biggest tax. It’s tax on labor, makes us uncompetitive. And the idea that someone on the left would have to raise those taxes, to make labor even more uncompetitive for those working people who are trying to get a job to subsidize high-income seniors doesn’t make any sense to me.

Food stamps is another place. We’ve got to block grant it, send it back to the states, just like I did on welfare reform, do the same thing with Medicaid. Those three programs. We’ve got to — and including housing programs, block grant them, send them back to the states, require work, and put a time limit. You do those three things, we will help take these programs, which are now dependency programs, which people are continually dependent upon, and you take them into transitional programs to help people move out of poverty.

GREGORY: Speaker Gingrich, on the issue of Medicare, when you were on “Meet the Press” earlier in the year, you had talked about what Paul Ryan was talking about as a step too far, which is moving seniors onto a premium support or a voucher program, depending on how you phrase it.

As you know, Senator Santorum thinks that current seniors should be moved off of that program into premium support or a voucher program.

Do you agree with doing it that quickly and making current seniors bear the brunt of that?

GINGRICH: Well, the fact is that the Ryan-Wyden bill, which was just introduced recently, actually incorporates allowing people to choose and allows them to stay in traditional Medicare with the premium support model or go to new methods. And I think it’s a substantial improvement, because it allows for a transition in Medicare in a way that makes sense.

But, David, you know, I — I find it fascinating that very, very highly paid Washington commentators and Washington analysts love the idea of pain.

What — who’s going to be in pain?

The duty of the president is to find a way to manage the federal government so the primary pain is on changing the bureaucracy. On — on theft alone, we could save $100 billion a year in Medicaid and Medicare if the federal government were competent. That’s a trillion dollars over 10 years. And the only people in pain would be crooks.

So I think a sound approach is…[applause]…to actually improve the government, not punish the American people because of the failure of the political class to have any sense of cleverness.

GREGORY: Governor Perry, from Facebook, a lot of question, as we mentioned, have been submitted. And this from Martin Montalvo, because we do have a spending crisis, but also, a lot of people hurting. He writes this: “With more Americans on government assistance than ever before, is it un-American for Americans to feel relieved when the government helps them?”

PERRY: Well, let me answer the question that you asked earlier, what are the three areas that you would make some reductions that people would feel some pain. And I will tell you, it would be those bureaucrats at the Department of Commerce and — and Energy and Education that we’re going to do away with. [applause]

GREGORY: And that’s your final answer? [laughter]

PERRY: You know, the fact of the matter is that Americans want to have a job. That’s — that’s the issue here. And the idea that — that there are people clamoring for government to come and to give them assistance is just wrong-headed. And — and that’s what he needs to be focusing on as a people, is how do we create the environment in this country where the entrepreneurs know that they can risk their capital, have a chance to have a return on the investment and create the — the jobs out there so people can have the dignity to take care of their families.

That’s what Americans are looking for.

I’ve done that for the last 11 years in the state of Texas and have the executive governing experience that no one else up here on this stage has.

GREGORY: All right, I’m going to leave it there.

We’re going to take a quick break.

We are going to come back live from New Hampshire with many more questions for the candidates and feedback from you. So please participate online at mtp.msnbc.com.

We’re coming right back to New Hampshire.

[commercial break]

GREGORY: And we are — we are back on this special edition of MEET THE PRESS from here in New Hampshire.

We want to get right back to the questions here with our candidates.

And before the break, we were talking about Medicare. Paul Ryan, Senator Santorum, had a plan where he’d like to move seniors off, give them a voucher or premium support and then they would take care of their health care from there.

There’s a lot of debate about that. And I mentioned, you said seniors should be affected right now, 55 plus, have them affected right now, which has been somewhat controversial.

You wanted to respond to that?

SANTORUM: Well, you know, I hear this all the time when I was — I’ve been campaigning around the state, you know, we should have the same kind of health care that members of Congress have.

Well, that’s pretty much what Paul Ryan’s plan is. It’s a — the members of Congress have a premium support model. So does every other federal employee.

I mean it works very well as, you know, the federal government has a liability. They put — put money out there and then if you want, you — you have about this thick, if you’re an employee in Washington, DC, have got a whole bunch of different plans to choose from. And you have all sorts of options available to you. If you want a more expensive plan, you pay more of a coinsurance. If you want a less expensive plan, you don’t.

But here’s the fundamental difference between Barack Obama and — and everybody up here. It’s whether you believe people can be free to make choices or whether you have to make decisions for them.

And I believe seniors, just like every other Americans, should be free to make the choices in their health care plan that’s best for them.

GREGORY: Governor Romney, there’s a lot of discussion…[applause]…a lot of discussion this morning on Facebook about taxes. And as we talk about taxes and spending, of course, what about economic security and economic growth.

There’s been a debate in Washington and beyond, as you well know, between Warren Buffet and Grover Norquist. Grover Norquist, the anti- tax crusader, who says no tax increases under any circumstances. Warren Buffet says, hey, the wealthier in this country can pay more and they should pay more. Indeed, balancing the budget is a way for more economic growth down the line.

Who knows more about the American economy, Grover Norquist or Warren Buffet?

ROMNEY: Well, who knows more about tax policy?

I’m not sure that we’re going to choose from the two of them. But I can tell you this, the right course for America is not to raise taxes on Americans. I understand that President Obama and people of his political persuasion would like to take more money from the American people. And they want to do that so that they can continue to grow government.

But the answer for America is not to grow government, it is to shrink government. We’ve been going — over the last 20, 30, 40 years, government keeps growing at a faster rate relative to inflation. We’ve got to stop the extraordinary spending in this country. That’s why I put out a — a plan that reduces government spending…[applause]…I cut — I cut programs, a whole series of programs, by — by the way, the number one to cut is ObamaCare. That saves $95 billion a year. [applause]

ROMNEY: Return this — as Rick indicated — return to states a whole series of programs — food stamps, housing vouchers, Medicaid. And then set how much goes to them.

And, finally, with regards to entitlements, in the entitlement reform area, I do not want to change Medicare and Social Security for current retirees. But for younger people coming up, they have to recognize that, in the future, higher income people will receive less payments of the premium support program.

GREGORY: Governor Huntsman, who knows more about the American economy?

You — you — and this is an odd question, you seem to be a little bit uncomfortable with a moment from earlier in this debate cycle when everybody said that they would reject even a 10 to one ratio of cuts to new taxes.

HUNTSMAN: It was — it was a silly format. I mean it was an important question they asked us to raise our hands. I mean for heaven’s sake, we didn’t get a chance to talk about it. I put a tax reform proposal on the table endorsed by the Wall Street Journal that goes farther than anybody elses on this stage. It calls for what absolutely needs to be done. And everybody knows about it.

We are so chock full of loopholes and deductions, it weighs down our tax code to the tune of $1 trillion, $100 billion. You can’t compete that way. It gives rise to lobbying on Capitol Hill that needs to clean up. We’ve got to phase out loopholes and deductions in total. And we’ve got to say, so long to corporate welfare and to subsidies. Because this country can no longer afford it. And we’ve got to prepare for competition in the twenty first century.

GREGORY: Speaker Gingrich, if you become President Gingrich and the leader of the Democrats, Harry Reed says he’s going to promise to make you a one term president, how would you propose to work with someone like that in order to achieve results in Washington?

GINGRICH: I think every president who works with the leader of every opposition knows they’re working with someone who wants to make them a one term president. I mean you know that — that’s the American process. I worked with Ronald Reagan in the early 1990’s. Tip O’Neil was speaker. He wanted to make Reagan a one term president. We had to get one-third of the Democrats to vote for the Reagan tax cuts and we did.

As speaker I was negotiating with Bill Clinton. He knew I wanted him to be a one term president. And we got a lot of things done, including welfare reform. Because you have to reach — I agree with what Governor Huntsman said earlier, you have to at some point say, the country comes first. How are we going to get things done? We’ll fight later. Lets sit down in a room, lets talk it through. I’ll tell you what I need and I’ll tell you what I can’t do.

You tell me what you need and you tell me what you can’t do and it sometimes takes 20 or 30 days. But if people of goodwill, even if their partisans, come together, talk it out, you know, we’ve got welfare reform, the first tax cut in 16 years, 4.2 percent unemployment and four straight years of a balanced budget, with a Republican speaker and a Democratic president. So it can be done with real leadership.

GREGORY: Anybody else have a point of view about how you would actually work with the other side when they’ve committed to working against you? Governor?

ROMNEY: Yeah I was governor of a state that had a slightly democratic leaning House and Senate. [laughter]

My legislature was 85 percent Democrat. And I went around at the very beginning of having been elected and met with the Speaker of the House and the Senate president. The Senate president said something I won’t forget, he said, Mitt the campaign is over. The people expect us to now govern for them. And we did. We met every week. We rotated in offices. We got to know each other personally. We developed a relationship of respect and rapport, even though we disagreed on a lot of issues.

And when crises arose, as they did time and again — we had a severe budget crisis. I went to them and said, will you give me unilateral power to cut spending? Without even a vote of the legislature, they had enough confidence in me and decided to do that. And — and I was able to cut the spending on an emergency basis, not just slow down its rate of growth. We can work together, Republicans and Democrats are able to go across the aisle because we have common — we really do have areas of — of common interest.

Even though there are dramatically different perspectives on how the world works and what’s right, we can find common ground. And I have proven in a state that is very Democrat that I’m able to work with people. Nineteen tax cuts, protected charter schools, drove our schools to be number one in the nation — kept them there rather. I — I — that — that record can work with Republicans and Democrats who are willing to work together.

GREGORY: Dr. Paul, there’s this question of argument versus accomplishment. The question again comes from Facebook. Health Treat (ph) writes, I want to — Paul Treat (ph) rather — I want to know what Ron Paul’s plan of action will be to achieve getting the House and Senate to help him do all he has promised. And here’s the record Dr. Paul. You have actually sponsored 620 measures. Only four made it to a vote on the House floor. And only one has been signed into law.

PAUL: You know that demonstrates how out of touch the U.S. government and the U.S. Congress is with the American people. Because I’m supporting things that help the American people. [applause]

That’s the disgust that people have. Is because they keep growing government. Whether it’s the Republicans in charge or the Democrats in — in charge. But as far as working with other groups, I think my record is about as good as anybody’s because I work on the principle that freedom and the Constitution bring people together, for different reasons. People use freedom in different ways like it does. It invites variations in our religious beliefs and economic beliefs.

We tell people that they’re allowed to, you know, spend their money as they choose. On civil liberties, that’s a different segment. Republican conservatives aren’t all that well known for protecting privacy and personal liberties. When it comes to this spending overseas, I can work a coalition. Matter of fact, my trillion dollar proposal to cut spending, doesn’t immediately deal with Social Security, it’s to try to work our way out of Social Security.

I’m cutting a trillion dollars by attacking overseas spending and going back to ‘06 budget. And I do not believe that you have to have — people who have gotten special privileges and bailouts from the government, they may get the pain, but the American people, they get their freedom back and get no income back, they don’t suffer any pain.

GREGORY: Senator Santorum, here’s the reality. Two previous presidents, President Bush talked about being a united and not a divider, President Obama talked about transforming Washington, and it hasn’t worked. Washington is polarized, the country is polarized, and the American people are pretty sick of the fact that nothing gets done in Washington. Specifically, how do you change that?

SANTORUM: Well, let me first address Congressman Paul, because the — the serious issue with Congressman Paul here is you’re right. He’s never really passed anything of any — any import.

And one of the — one of the reasons people like Congressman Paul is his economic plan. He’s never been able to accomplish any of that. He has no track record of being able to work together. He’s been out there on the — on the margins and has really been unsuccessful in — in working together with anybody to do anything.

The problem is that what Congressman Paul can do as commander-in- chief is he can on day one do what he says he wants to do, which is pull all our troops back out of seas, overseas, put them here in America, leave us in a — in a — in a situation where the world is now going to be created — huge amounts of vacuums all over the place, and have folks like China and Iran and others. Look at the Straits of Hormuz, as I said last night. We wouldn’t even have the Fifth Fleet there.

The problem with Congressman Paul is, all the things that Republicans like about him he can’t accomplish and all the things they’re worried about, he’ll do day one. And — and that’s the problem. [applause]

And so what we — what we need to do is have someone who has a plan and has experience to do all the things Republicans and conservatives would like to do.

GREGORY: Let me get Dr. Paul to respond…

[crosstalk]

SANTORUM: And then I’d like my opportunity to come back and answer the question.

GREGORY: Well…

PAUL: It’s not exactly a simple task to repeal approximately 100 years of us sliding away from our republic and still running a foreign policy of Woodrow Wilson, trying to make the world safe for democracy. And, look, we have elections overseas and we don’t even accept the elections.

No, changing foreign policy is significant, but that’s where a nation will come down if they keep doing this. We can’t stay in 130 countries, get involved in nation-building. We cannot have 900 bases overseas. We have to change policy.

What about changing monetary policy? Yes, we do. But we’ve had that for 100 years. And right now, we’re winning that battle. The American people now agree. About 75 percent of the American people now say we ought to audit the Federal Reserve, find out what they’re doing, and who are their friends that they’re bailing out constantly? [applause]

GREGORY: Senator Santorum, come back to this point. It’s easy to say, boy, I’m going to change the culture in Washington, hasn’t worked for the past two presidents.

SANTORUM: Well, it — it worked in my case. Look at welfare reform. In a federal entitlement that — I remember standing next to Daniel Patrick Moynihan, Ted Kennedy, who were out there just talking about how this was going to be the end of civilization as we know it, there’d be bread lines, the horrific consequences of removing federal income support from basically mothers with children.

And we stood up and said, no, that creating dependency and creating that dependency upon — upon federal dollars is more harmful than — and in not believing in people and their ability to work is more harmful. And so we stood up and fought and went out to the American public — Bill Clinton vetoed this bill twice. We had hard opposition. But I was able to — to work together and paint a vision.

We made compromises, but not on our core principles. The core principles were this was going to end the federal program, we were going to require work, and we were going to put time limits on welfare. I stuck to those principles, and we were able to compromise on some things like transportation funding, and some daycare funding, all in order to get a consensus that poverty is not a disability…

GREGORY: All right.

SANTORUM: … and that programs that we need to put in place should help transition people, not make them dependent, and we were able to get 70 votes in the United States Senate, including 17 Democrats.

GREGORY: Governor Huntsman, this question of — if the leader of the Democrats promised to make you a one-term president, how would you go about dealing with them in a more effective way than you think the man you serve, President Obama, did?

HUNTSMAN: I think it comes down to one word, David, and I think the one word is trust. When the American people look at the political process play out, they hear all the spinning and all the doctrinaire language, and they still walk away with the belief that they’re not being represented in Congress, that there’s no trust in the executive branch. And the Simpson-Bowles bipartisan proposal lands right on the desk of Barack Obama, and it lands in the garbage can.

The first press conference I had when I ran for governor in 2004 was on ethics in government service. I talked about term limits. I talked about campaign finance reform. I talked about the role of lobbyists and knew I wouldn’t make a lot of friends. I had one member of the legislature who supported me in that run. We won, because we had the will of the people. And I believe the next president — and if that is to be me, I want to roam around this country and I want to generate the level of excitement and enthusiasm that I know exists among the American people to bring term limits to Congress, to close the revolving door…[applause]…on members going right on out and become a lobbyist. We’ve got to start with the structural problems. There is no trust…

GREGORY: All right.

Governor Perry, I want to continue on the theme of leadership.

PERRY: Good. We need to.

GREGORY: This is…[laughter] As you well know, New Hampshire is an independent place. And I wonder where, besides criticizing the previous administration for running up the debt, I wonder where you would buck your party.

What would you say or do to make Republicans uncomfortable?

PERRY: I hope I’m making Republicans uncomfortable right now by talking about the spending that they’ve done back in the 2000s, when we had control of both parties. I mean that…

GREGORY: But aside from that, I just…

PERRY: — that is…

GREGORY: — I just mentioned that.

PERRY: Well, listen, Dr. Paul says that the biggest problem facing this country is — is our work overseas. I disagree with that. The biggest problem facing this country today is a Congress that is out of control with their spending. And we’ve got to have someone, an outsider, that will walk in, not part of the insider group that you see here, people who have voted for raising the — the debt limit, people who have been part of the problem that is facing America.

I will tell you two things that can occur that a president can lead the charge on. And it will put term limits into place. One of those is a part-time Congress to tell those members of Congress, we’re going to cut your pay, we’re going to cut the amount of time that you spend in Washington, DC, send you back to your districts so you can have a job, like everybody else in your district has, and live under the laws of which you pass…

GREGORY: But Governor…

PERRY: — and then a balanced budget amendment to the United States Constitution.

GREGORY: Governor, my question…

PERRY: You do those two things…

GREGORY: — but my question, sir was…

PERRY: — and that will make them uncomfortable.

GREGORY: You think telling conservatives a balanced budget amendment is something I’m going to do and I’m going to cut spending, that’s going to make them uncomfortable?

PERRY: You’re darned right, because there’s a bunch of people standing up here that say they’re conservatives, but the records don’t follow up on that.

GREGORY: All right, I’ve got to take another break here.

We’ll come back — we’ll come back on this point.

Another quick break here.

We’ll return with much more. And, of course, please share your thoughts with us online via Facebook at mtp.msnbc.com.

[commercial break]

GREGORY: And we are back in New Hampshire.

I’m happy to be joined now by our local partners for the debate, for the — from the “New Hampshire Union Leader,” senior political reporter, John DiStasos is — is with us.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Hi, David.

GREGORY: Good go have you here, John.

And from WHT — WHDC — we had this problem yesterday — TV in Boston, Channel 7 in Boston, political editor Andy Hiller.

Welcome to you, as well.

Good to have you both.

John, get it started.

JOHN DISTASOS, SENIOR POLITICAL REPORTER, “NEW HAMPSHIRE UNION LEADER”: All right, Governor Huntsman, it’s winter in New Hampshire. It’s a little mild, but it’s still winter. Home heating oil is nearly $4 a gallon. Yet President Obama and Congress have cut by 25 percent the program that helps — helps low income people heat their homes. About a million households that were helped last year won’t be helped this year.

Is this an example of pain that must be suffered?

Should this — should this program funding be restored?

Should it be cut more?

So does this program be eliminated, perhaps?

Where does this fit in?

This is a practical problem in this area of the country.

HUNTSMAN: No. We have people in need. We have people suffering. And this is a challenge that we need to address.

But I believe we’re not going to be able to effectively confront it head-on until such time as this nation begins to move more toward greater energy diversity and energy independence.

One of the first things I would do as president is I would take a look at that one product distribution bias that always favors one product, and that’s oil. And I’d say, if we’re going to do what this nation needs to be done, in terms of using a multiplicity of products that we have in such diversity and abundance and get them to the customers, we’re going to have to break up that one product distribution monopoly.

And I want to do to that oil distribution monopoly what we did to broadcast communication in the — in the early 1970s. We blew it apart. And we went to the Federal Trade Commission and said we need more. We need diverse sources to draw from. We need — we need to service the consumers.

I believe if we’re going to do what needs to be done from an energy independence standpoint, all products — getting the products to the customer, we’ve got to disrupt that one product monopoly that does not serve this country well nor its consumers.

GREGORY: Congressman Paul, Congressman Paul…[applause]…how do you feel about…[applause]

DISTASOS: How do you — how do you feel about subsidies in — in general for — for specific energy and…[crosstalk]…and also, though, more — more specifically right now, more immediately, this low income program, heating assistance program.

PAUL: Right.

DISTASOS: Is this something that fits in un — under your view of — of what government does do or should not do?

PAUL: Well, subsidies per se are — it’s bad economic policy. It’s bad moral policy, because it’s using government force to transfer money from one group to another. And economically, it does a lot of harm.

But when it — when it comes to energy, we should, you know, deregulate it, like others talk about.

But we need to talk — you know supply and demand — everybody knows about supply and demand. They talk about oil and if we had more alternative sources, that we — we always hope the prices will go down.

But everybody forgets that there’s another 50 percent of a transaction is the monetary unit and you don’t deal, very few people talk about the supply and demand of money.

And when you create a lot of money, prices go up. So it goes up in the areas where government most gets involved, you know, in education and medical care, housing and in energy.

So prices go up much faster than in any other place. So if you subsidize somebody and you print money to do it, you compound the problem.

It’s good politics. Yes, I’m going to subsidize you and take care of you. But it’s bad economic policy and it — it’s not a good way to find — find any answers.

DISTASOS: Gov — Governor Romney, this is such an important topic, because beyond the — the regional implication, there’s also a larger question about the social safety net. You think all the time about opportunity for Americans.

But what about Americans left behind?

In this age of austerity, what do Americans have to learn to live with less of?

ROMNEY: Well, what we don’t need is to have a — a federal government saying we’re going to solve all of the problems of poverty across the entire country, because the — what it means to be poor in Massachusetts is different than Montana and Mississippi and other places in the country.

And that’s why these programs, all these federal programs that are bundled to help people and make sure we have a safety net need to be brought together and sent back to the states. And let states that are closest to the needs of their own people craft the programs that are de — able to deal with their — the needs of those folks.

So you — you — whether it’s food stamps and housing vouchers, they’re certainly on the list. But certainly Medicaid, home — home heating oil support.

ROMNEY: What — what unfortunately happens is with all the multiplicity of federal programs, you have massive overhead with government bureaucrats in Washington administering all these programs, very little of the money that’s actually needed by those that really need help, those that can’t care for themselves, actually reaches them.

These — they — government — folks in Washington keep building program after program. It’s time to say enough of that. Let’s get the money back to the states, the way the constitution intended.

DISTASO: OK.

ROMNEY: And let states care for their own people in the way they feel best. [applause]

GREGORY: Andy Hiller.

HILLER: Governor Romney, I’d like to remind you of something you said in Bay Windows, which is a gay newspaper in Massachusetts in 1994, when you were running against Senator Kennedy. These are your words: “I think the gay community needs more support from the Republican Party, and I would be a voice in the Republican Party to foster anti-discrimination efforts.” How have you stood up for gay rights? And when have you used your voice to influence Republicans on this issue?

ROMNEY: Andy, as you know, I don’t discriminate, and in the appointments that I made when I was governor of Massachusetts, a member of my cabinet was gay. I appointed people to the bench regardless of their sexual orientation, made it very clear that, in my view, we should not discriminate in hiring policies and legal policies.

At the same time, from the very beginning in 1994, I said to the gay community: I do not favor same-sex marriage. I oppose same-sex marriage, and that has been my — my view.

But — but if people are looking for someone who — who will discriminate against gays or will in any way try and suggest that people — that have different sexual orientation don’t have full rights in this country, they won’t find that in me.

HILLER: When’s the last time you stood up and spoke out for increasing gay rights?

ROMNEY: Right now. [laughter] [applause]

HILLER: Senator Santorum, would you be a voice for increasing gay rights in the party? [laughter]

SANTORUM: Surprised he’s coming to me. What? What was your question?

HILLER: Would you be a voice for speaking out for gay rights in your party? And if not, why not?

SANTORUM: I would be a voice in speaking out for making sure that every person in America, gay or straight, is treated with respect and dignity and has equality of opportunity. That does not mean that I would agree with certain things that the gay community would like to do to change laws, with respect to marriage or respect to adoption, and things like that.

So you can be respectful. This is the beautiful thing about this country. James Madison called the First Amendment — he called it the perfect remedy. And that is, people of all different backgrounds — diversity, opinions, faith — can come into the public square and can be heard and can be heard in a way that’s respectful of everybody else.

But just because you don’t agree with someone’s desire to change the law doesn’t mean you don’t like them or you hate them or you want to discriminate against them, but you’re trying to promote — excuse me, promote things that you think are best for society.

And I do so, and I think if you — if you watch the town hall meetings that I’ve been doing all over New Hampshire, I do so in a respectful tone. I listen to the other side. I let them make their arguments. And then we do so in a very — very respectful way. And you know what? We may not agree. That’s why we leave it open to the public to be able to elect members of Congress and the Senate and the president who will support their ideas.

HILLER: What if you had a son who came to you and said he was gay?

SANTORUM: I would love him as much as I did the second before he said it. And I would try to do everything I can to be as good a father to him as possible. [applause]

DISTASO: Governor Perry, we’re going to move on. Right-to-work, which outlaws mandatory union membership, as you know, continues to be a major issue in the state of New Hampshire. You’ve spoken about promoting, having states pass state laws. What about on the federal level? Do you see this as a federal issue and one that you would promote as president or is it a state-by-state…

PERRY: Actually, it is a federal issue, and it’s a federal issue because of the law that was passed that forces the states to make a decision about whether or not they’re going to be right-to-work. So Jim DeMint’s legislation, I would support that, of repealing that legislation that forces states to make that decision to be a right-to- work, rather than all of this country being right-to-work.

Listen, I’m not anti-union. I’m pro-job. And the way you promote this country’s rehabilitation from the Obama administration’s attack on — on job creation is by taxes and regulation, particularly the regulatory side, and — and pulling those regulations that have gone forward over the course of the last — since ‘08 and test them all for — do they create jobs or do they kill jobs? And if they kill jobs, you throw them out.

That will make more difference in this country from the standpoint — I’m a right-to-work guy. I come from a right-to-work state. And I will tell you, if New Hampshire wants to become the magnet for job creation in the Northeast, you pass that right-to-work legislation in this state. [applause]

DISTASO: I’d like to — I’d like to ask both Governor Romney, quickly, and Senator Santorum, quickly, do — what positive contributions do labor unions provide in this country at this — this point in the 21st century?

ROMNEY: Well, the carpenters union, for instance, trains their workers to be more effective on the job. And when they compete against nonunion workers, while they do that on a fair basis, if that happens, that’s a positive contribution.

But let me just say this with regards to unions. I agree with Governor Perry. Right-to-work legislation makes a lot of sense for New Hampshire and for the nation.

But — but, also, let’s not forget the government unions and the impact they’re having. If we’re going to finally pull back the extraordinary political power government unions are exerting in this country, we’re going to have to say that people who work for the government, government workers, should have their compensation tied to that which exists in the private sector. People who are government servants, public servants, should not be paid more than the taxpayers who are paying for it.

GREGORY: Governor, can I just — very quickly, Senator, because we’re about to hit a hard break, a quick comment on this?

SANTORUM: Yeah, I will. I’ve signed a — a pledge that I would support a national right to work. When I was in — I mentioned this last night. When I was a senator for Pennsylvania, I didn’t vote for it because Pennsylvania’s not a right-to-work state and I didn’t want to vote for a law that would change the law in Pennsylvania, number one.

Number two, what can unions do? As — as Mitt mentioned, they can do training. They also do a lot in the community. I work with a lot of labor unions in Philadelphia and other places to do a lot of community involvement work. And they — they try to participate as good members of the community, like a business does.

GREGORY: I’ve got to cut you off. I apologize. We have a mandatory break. We’ll be back with more questions in just a moment.

[commercial break]

ANNOUNCER: The NBC News-Facebook Republican presidential candidates debate continues from New Hampshire. Now, the moderator of “Meet the Press,” David Gregory. [applause]

GREGORY: And we are back for our final half-hour. So much discussion, Speaker Gingrich, on Facebook in the course of this debate about jobs. And you can understand why. And we’ve talked about spending; we’ve talked about economic growth.

It was Governor Romney who made the point to a young person who approached him that if he were president, and when this person got out of college, he or she’d have a job. If President Obama has a second term, he or she will not have a job. Isn’t that the kind of thing that makes people angry, the politicians, easy answers like that?

GINGRICH: Well, I don’t think that’s an easy answer. I think that’s a statement of fact. [laughter] [applause]

You know, but let me — let me take — I want to go back to what John DiStaso said, because it’s exactly the same question. The long- term answer to $4 heating oil is to open up offshore development of oil and gas, open up federal lines to oil and gas, flood the market, as — as Dr. Paul said, make supply and demand work for us, not against us. The price will come down.

Under Obama, 2011 was the highest price of gasoline in history. It is a direct result of his policies, which kill jobs, raise the price of heating oil and gasoline, weaken the United States, increase our dependence on foreign countries, and weaken our national security in the face of Iran trying to close the Straits of Hormuz.

So the right president opening up in a Reagan tradition and using the massive development of American energy, there’s 3.2 percent unemployment in North Dakota. There’s a hint here. You can actually have jobs, lower price heating oil, which by the way means less LIHEAP spending, so you get more revenue from the federal government from royalties, less spending on — on LIHEAP subsidy, lower price, people are happier all the way around. That’s what supply-side economics was originally all about in the 1970s.

GREGORY: But, Governor Romney, on this economic question, you blame President Obama for the jobs crisis, but when you look at the data and a positive trend line, he still only gets the blame and none of the credit. How come?

ROMNEY: Actually, I don’t blame him for the recession and for the decline. What I blame him for is having it go on so long and going so deep and having a recovery that’s been so tepid.

Businesses I talked to all over the country that would normally be hiring people are not hiring. And I asked them why. And they say because they look at the policies of this administration and they feel they’re under attack.

When you have an administration that tries to raise taxes — and has on businesses — when it puts in place Obamacare that’s going to raise the cost of health care for businesses, when they stack the National Labor Relations Board with labor stooges, which means that the policies relating to — to labor are now going to change dramatically in a direction they find uncomfortable, when you have Obamacare that — that places more mandates on them, when you — when you have Dodd-Frank, which makes it harder for community banks to make loans, all these things collectively create the — a reality of a president who has been anti-investment, anti-jobs, anti-business, and people feel that.

And if you want to get this country going again, you have to recognize that the role of government is not just to catch the bad guys, important as that is. It’s also to encourage the good guys…

GREGORY: All right.

ROMNEY: … and to return America to a land of opportunity.

GREGORY: Back to John and Andy.

John, go ahead.

HILLER: Governor Romney, I’m going to stay with you for one moment here on the — talking about regulation. One of your prime New Hampshire supporters, Senator Kelly Ayotte, has said, quote, “New Hampshire should not be the tailpipe for pollutants from out-of-state power plants.”

Many Senate Republicans attacked an EPA rule limiting air pollution that affects downwind states, but she and others, including Scott Brown, joined with the president and Senate Democrats to block a repeal effort.

Now, is this an example, this cross-state air pollution rule, of fair regulation, something that we in the Northeast are very concerned about in terms of pollution? Or is this overregulation, job-killing overregulation?

ROMNEY: Well, I’m not — I’m not familiar with the specific regulation as it — as it applies to — to New Hampshire. But I do believe that we have a responsibility to keep the air clean, and we have to find ways to assure that we don’t have the pollution of one state overwhelming the — the ability of another state to have clean air.

I know, in my state of Massachusetts, we — we received a lot of air from the rest of the country, obviously, given the winds coming from the west of the country to the east. And so the responsibility in our state was to get the cost — get the — the emissions from our power plants down. That’s one of the reasons why we moved to natural gas.

And, really, by the way, this discussion about energy and security, and getting the cost of gasoline down, the big opportunity here is not just a new oil distribution system, but it’s natural gas. We have massive new natural gas reserves that have been found in Pennsylvania, in — in North Dakota, South Dakota, Texas, natural gas cheap, a fraction of the cost for BTU of oil.

If we want to help people in New England have not only homes and businesses that emit less pollutant into the air — and therefore would have cleaner air — and also have lower cost of energy, it’s let’s build out this natural gas system so that we can take advantage of that new, enormous source of American economic strength.

DISTASO: Speaker Gingrich, what exactly is an Environmental Solutions Agency? I don’t — I think a lot of people might not know or understand that — why you want to disband the EPA and set up — set up something that kind of looks like the EPA?

GINGRICH: If you look at the EPA’s record, it is increasingly radical. It’s increasingly imperious. It doesn’t cooperate, it doesn’t collaborate and it doesn’t take into account economics. The city of Nashville recently had a dump that was cited by EPA. They went down to find out, what was it being cited for? And they told them, frankly we don’t know. We can’t find the records that lead to this citation and we’re not exactly sure what it referenced. But it must be bad or we wouldn’t have sent it out. [laughter]

In Iowa they had a dust regulation underway because they control particulate matter. I do agree on clean air. There are things they should do that are right. But dust in Iowa is — is an absurdity. And they were worried that the plowing of a cornfield would leave dust to go to another farmer’s cornfield. And they were going to — they were planning to issue a regulation. In Arizona they went in on the dust regulation and suggested to them that maybe if they watered down the earth, they wouldn’t have these dust storms in the middle of the year. And people said to them, you know the reason it’s called a desert…[laughter]…is there’s no water. Now this is an agency out of touch with reality which I believe is incorrigible and you need a new agency that is practical, has commonsense, uses economic factors and in the case of — of pollution actually incentives change, doesn’t just punish it.

DISTASO: All right, Andy?

HILLER: Governor Perry, your party’s last nominee, John McCain wrote in the Washington Post in an op-ed about a year ago, his words, “I disagree with many of the president’s policies but I believe he is a patriot, sincerely intent on using his time in office to advance our country’s cause. I reject accusations that his policies and beliefs make him unworthy to lead America, or opposed to it’s founding ideals.” Agree?

PERRY: I make a very proud statement and, in fact that we have a president that’s a socialist. I don’t think our founding fathers wanted America to be a socialist country. So I disagree with that premise that somehow or another that President Obama reflects our founding fathers. He doesn’t. He talks about having a more powerful, more centralized, more consuming and costly federal government.

I am a Tenth Amendment believing governor. I truly believe that we need a president that respects the Tenth Amendment, that pushes back to the states. Whether it’s how to deliver education, how to deliver health care, how to do our environmental regulations. The states will considerably do a better job than a one-size-fits-all Washington, D.C. lead by this president.

GREGORY: Can I just jump in? Senator Santorum, Governor Perry — he called the president a socialist. I wonder Senator Santorum, when you voted for a new prescription drug benefit that did not have a funding mechanism, were you advancing socialism?

SANTORUM: Why — I said repeatedly that we should have had a funding mechanism and it’s one of those things that I had a very tough vote, as you know. In that bill we had health savings accounts. Something I’ve been fighting for, for 15 years to transform the private sector health care system into a more consumer, bottom-up way of doing it. We also had Medicare Advantage to transform the entire Medicare system into — Medicare Advantage is basically a premium support type model.

[crosstalk]

GREGORY: …socialism though. That’s the… [crosstalk]

SANTORUM: I — I think I’m just answering your question. Maybe I’m — maybe we’re not communicating well, but I just talked about the — the medical — it’s a health savings accounts is an anti- socialistic idea to try to build a bottom-up, consumer based economy in — in health care. The same thing with Medicare Advantage. And we also structured the Medicare Part-D benefit to be a premium support model as a way of trying to transition Medicare. So there were a lot of good things in that bill. There was one really bad thing. We didn’t pay for it. We should have paid for it. And that was a mistake.

GREGORY: You want to have a follow up on that?

HILLER: No, I’m going to switch to Congressman Paul and I’m going to say, many Americans, particularly Democrats, think that health care is a right. In your opinion, what services are all Americans entitled to expect to get from government?

PAUL: Entitlements are not rights. Right mean you have a right…[applause]…rights mean you have a right to your life. You have a right to — to your liberty and you should have a right to keep the fruits of your labor. And this is quite a bit different, but earlier on there was a little discussion here about gay rights. I in a way don’t like to use those terms, gay rights, woman’s rights, minority rights, religious rights. There’s only one type of right. It’s the right to your liberty. And I think this causes divisiveness when we see people in groups, because for too long we punish groups. So the answer then was, let’s — let’s relieve them by giving them affirmative action.

So I think both are wrong. If you think in terms of individuals and protect every single individuals, no, they’re not entitled. One group isn’t entitled to take something from somebody else. And the basic problem here is, there’s a lot of good intention to help poor people, but guess who gets the entitlements in Washington? The big guys get — the rich people. They run the entitlement system, the military industrial complex, the banking system. Those are the entitlements we should be dealing with.

GREGORY: Dr. Paul, thanks.

In our remaining moment here, back to you, John.

DISTASO: OK. Well, Governor Huntsman, Andy and I are about to wrap up our role in this debate. And as we do, I’d like to ask you, as someone who’s been here in New Hampshire a while, what does our state motto, “Live Free or Die,” mean to you personally? And how would it guide you in the White House?

HUNTSMAN: It is the fulfillment of a citizenry being able to live out the meaning of our founding documents: life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. And everywhere I’ve gone in this great state — and we’ve done 160-plus public events… [applause]… I feel it, and I sense it, and people take that very seriously. You know what else they take seriously? They take seriously the idea of real leadership.

I’ve heard a lot of obfuscating up here, the blame game, talking about gays, talking about unions. Everybody’s got something nasty to say. You know what the people of this country are waiting for and the people of — they want a leader who is going to unify, who’s going to bring us together. Because at the end of the day, that’s what leadership is all about.

It’s not about taking on different groups and vilifying them for whatever reason. It’s about projecting a vision for a more hopeful tomorrow. That’s why there is no trust in this country today. And that’s why, as president, I’m going to attack that trust deficit just as aggressively as I attack that economic deficit. Because with no trust, I can’t think of anything more corrosive longer term to the people of this nation.

GREGORY: All right. We’re going — we’re going to leave it there. [applause]

Thank you, John, thank you, Andy, both. We’re going to take another quick break here. I’ll be back with a final round of questions, including your questions from our “Meet the Press” Facebook page. We’re back with our final moments in just a moment.

[commercial break]

GREGORY: We are back.

Gentlemen, candidates, we have just a few minutes left. And I’d like to try something, because I do want to get to as much substance and pin you down on views as best I can.

I know this could be hard for you, but you are spending a lot of money getting your message out in 30 second increments, based on what I’ve been watching in the hotel room here in New Hampshire. So I know you know how to do this.

Let’s try having 30 second answers to some of these questions and we might have some response along the way.

Senator Santorum, I want to ask you about Iran. It’s been a big issue in the course of this campaign so far.

I wonder why it is, if America has lived with a nuclear Soviet Union, we have come to live with a nuclear North Korea, why is it that we cannot live with a nuclear Iran?

And if we can’t, are you prepared to take the country to war to disarm that country?

SANTORUM: They’re a — they’re a theocracy. They’re a theocracy that has deeply embedded beliefs that — that the afterlife is better than this life. President Ahmadinejad has repeatedly said the principle virtue of the Islamic Republic of Iran is martyrdom.

So when your principle virtue is to die for your — for Allah, then it’s not a deterrent to have a nuclear threat, if they would use a nuclear weapon. It is, in fact, an encouragement for them to use their nuclear weapon. And that’s why there’s a difference between the Soviet Union and China and others and Iran.

GREGORY: What about Pakistan?

They are an indifferent ally, at best. They have nuclear weapons.

Are you also prepared, as president, to say they must disarm or else?

SANTORUM: They are not a theocracy. And we’re very hopeful of — of maintaining a — a more secular state than — than is in place today.

But there is a serious threat. And this administration has bungled it about as badly as they can in trying to con — continue those positive relationships. We’ve had some real serious problems with the — with the Pakistani military, obviously, with respect to Osama bin Laden and with respect to North Waziristan.

But you have a — the reason is we have a president who’s just very weak in — in that region of the world and is not respected…

GREGORY: All right.

SANTORUM: — and — and therefore, he’s not a — he’s not been able to have that strong hand in working with Pakistan that they’re used to.

GREGORY: Speaker Gingrich, how about tone of this campaign?

I was in Iowa. I heard you on the stump. You complained bitterly about the super PAC, the outside groups that were lodging charges against you, bringing up some old issues against you.

And now you have a former campaign spokesman who is preparing attacks against Governor Romney, calling him, quote, “a predator” for his involvement at the investment company, Bain.

You agreed with someone who said that Governor Romney was a liar when he didn’t take account for those attacks against you.

Are you consistent now, as you’re preparing to launch against Governor Romney?

GINGRICH: Sure.

GREGORY: How so?

GINGRICH: I’m consistent because I think you ought to have fact- based campaigns to talk about the records.

GREGORY: Calling him a predator is not over the line?

GINGRICH: Well, I think you have to look at the film, which I haven’t seen. But if you look at “The New York Times” article, I think it was on Thursday, you would clearly have to say that Bain, at times, engaged in behavior where they looted a company, leaving behind 1,700 unemployed people. That’s “The New York Times.” That’s not me.

So I think, you know, the — I mean one of the ads I complained about got four Pinocchios from “The Wall Street” — from “The Washington Post.” Now, to get four Pinocchios in a 30 second ad means there’s virtually nothing accurate…

GREGORY: All right.

GINGRICH: — in 30 seconds.

GREGORY: Speaker, you — you — you decry the Washington establishment and you just talked about “The New York Times” and “The Washington Post.” You have agreed with the characterization that Governor Romney is a liar.

Look at him now.

Do you stand by that claim?

GINGRICH: Well, sure. Governor, I wish you would calmly and directly state it is your former staff running the PAC. It is your millionaire friends giving to the PAC. And you know some of the ads are — aren’t true. Just say that. It’s straightforward. [applause]

ROMNEY: Well, of course it’s former staff of mine. And, of course they’re people who support me. They wouldn’t be putting money into a PAC that supports me if they weren’t people who support me.

And with regards to their ads, I haven’t seen them. And, as you know, under the law, I can’t direct their ads.

Speaker…

GINGRICH: Yes, but…

ROMNEY: Hold on a second. I — I can’t direct their ads. If there’s anything in them that’s wrong, I hope they take it out. I hope everything that’s wrong…

GINGRICH: Good.

ROMNEY: — is taken out.

But let me tell you this. The — the ad I saw said that — that you’d been forced out of the speakership. That was correct.

GINGRICH: [inaudible].

ROMNEY: It said that — that you had sat down with Nancy Pelosi and — and argued for — for a climate change bill. That was correct. It said that you called the — the Ron Paul’s — Ron Paul — Paul Ryan’s plan to bu — to provide Medicare reform…[laughter] …a — a — a right-wing social engineering plan. It said that — that as part of an investigation, an ethics investigation, that you had to reimburse some $300,000. Those things were all true.

If there was something related to abortion that it said that was wrong, I hope they pulled it out. Anything wrong, I’m opposed to.

But, you know, this ain’t — this ain’t beanbag. We’re going to come into a campaign, and we’re going to describe the differences between us. But… [crosstalk]

GREGORY: Go ahead, Speaker. Go ahead, Speaker.

ROMNEY: But I do think — but I do think the rhetoric, Mr. Speaker, I think was a little over-the-top.

GINGRICH: You think my rhetoric was over-the-top, but your ads were totally reasonable? That’s what I don’t understand. Look…

ROMNEY: Again — again…[crosstalk]

GINGRICH: I’ve taken the governor’s advice.

ROMNEY: Mr. Speaker, Mr. Speaker, the — the super PACs that are out there running ads with Ron Paul’s, mine, yours, as you know, that is not my ad. I don’t write that ad. I can’t tell them how to.

GREGORY: Well, how about this? Would you both — would both agree to take these super PAC ads down? [crosstalk]

ROMNEY: But, Mr. Speaker, but, Mr. Speaker, I wouldn’t call someone the things you’ve called me public. I think that’s just over- the-top.

GREGORY: Would you both agree that — to — to request that these super PAC ads be taken down?

GINGRICH: David, wait a second. Come on. Come on. I’m glad finally on this stage, weeks later, he has said, gee, if they’re wrong, they should take them down. They would have course — we’ve sent a letter in South Carolina saying — warning the stations to just fact-check them before they start running them.

But I’m taking his advice. You know, we started to run his commercial from 1994 attacking Teddy Kennedy for running negative ads. We thought, no, that would be wrong.

So, instead, I — I agree with him. It takes broad shoulders to run. If you can’t take the heat, get out of the kitchen. When the 27-and-a-half-minute movie comes out, I hope it’s accurate.

I — I — I can say publicly I hope that the super PAC runs an accurate movie about Bain. It will be based on establishment newspapers, like the Washington Post, the Wall Street Journal, the New York Times, Barron’s, Bloomberg News. And I hope that it’s totally accurate and then people can watch the 27-and-a-half minutes of his career at Bain and decide for themselves.

GREGORY: All right. Let me ask you, Senator Santorum, we’ve talked some about the role of government, but the presidency is often called the bully pulpit. I wonder as president how you’d use the bully pulpit to try to shape American culture and values?

SANTORUM: I haven’t written a lot of books. I’ve written one. And it was in response to a book written by Hillary Clinton called “It Takes a Village.” I didn’t agree with that. I believe it takes a family, and that’s what I wrote.

And I believe that there’s one thing that is undermining this country, and it is the breakdown of the American family. It’s undermining our economy. You see the rates of poverty among single- parent families, which are — moms are doing heroic things, but it’s harder. It’s five times higher in a single-parent family.

We — we know there’s certain things that work in America. The Brookings Institute came out with a study just a few — couple of years ago that said, if you graduate from high school, and if you work, and if you’re a man, if you marry, if you’re a woman, if you marry before you have children, you have a 2 percent chance of being in poverty in America. And to be above the median income, if you do those three things, 77 percent chance of being above the median income.

Why isn’t the president of the United States or why aren’t leaders in this country talking about that and trying to formulate, not necessarily federal government policy, but local policy and state policy and community policy, to help people do those things that we know work and we know are good for society? This president doesn’t.

In fact, he has required programs not to talk about marriage, not to talk about abstinence, if — in order to get federal funds. He’s working exactly against the things…

GREGORY: Dr. Paul…

SANTORUM: … he knows works because he has a secular ideology that is against the traditions of our country and what works.

GREGORY: Dr. Paul, quickly, how would you use the bully pulpit?

PAUL: I would continue to do what I’m doing now, preaching the gospel of liberty. I think that the most important ingredients in this country that made us great was our founders understood what liberty meant. And that is what we need. We have deserted that. We have drifted a long way. It involves our right to our life, right to our liberty. We ought to be able to keep the fruits of our labor. We ought to understand property rights. We ought to understand contract rights. We ought to understand what sound money is all about, and we ought to understand what national defense means. That means defending this country. That is the bully pulpit we need. We need to defend liberty.

GREGORY: All right. Defend liberty and…[applause] [laughter]

PAUL: And liberty. [laughter]

GREGORY: Thank you. We’re going to take another break here. We’ll be back with some closing moments right after this.

[commercial break]

GREGORY: I would like to thank the candidates for joining us. I’d also like to thank our debate partners, Facebook, the New Hampshire Union Leader, and our hosts here, of course, in Concord, the Capitol Center for the Arts. Thank you, of course, for watching and participating in this debate online.

Post-debate analysis will continue on MSNBC. Be sure to watch complete coverage of the New Hampshire primary returns. That’s Tuesday night on NBC News, MSNBC, and online at nbcpolitics.com. We’ll be back next week from Washington. If it’s Sunday, it’s “Meet the Press.”

January 7, 2012: ABC News / WMUR-TV Saint Anselm College Republican Presidential Debate Transcript

Republican Candidates Debate in Manchester, New Hampshire January 7, 2012

PARTICIPANTS:
Former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich (GA);
Former Governor Jon Huntsman (UT);
Representative Ron Paul (TX);
Governor Rick Perry (TX);
Former Governor Mitt Romney (MA); and
Former Senator Rick Santorum (PA)

MODERATORS:
Diane Sawyer (ABC News);
George Stephanopoulos (ABC News); and
Josh McElveen (WMUR)

SAWYER: And good evening to all of you. Welcome to Saint Anselm College and the first debate of the year, 2012. The voting is underway. And, George, those eight votes in Iowa reminded us on Tuesday every vote counts.

STEPHANOPOULOS: No question about it, we are off and running. Great to be here with you, Josh. And now let’s introduce the candidates: former Governor Jon Huntsman; Texas Congressman Ron Paul; former Governor of Massachusetts Mitt Romney; former Senator from Pennsylvania Rick Santorum; the former speaker of the House, Newt Gingrich; and Texas Governor Rick Perry.

SAWYER: And it is time to remind everyone again of the rules, which are pretty straightforward, and we remind you again, they were negotiated and agreed to by the candidates themselves. So let’s take you through them.

One-minute responses to the question, with 30 seconds for rebuttal. And we’re showing everybody at home that the candidates will see green, and then when there’s 15 seconds left, it will turn yellow and red when the time is up.

SAWYER: Our audience was chosen by Saint Anselm College and WMUR. And all of you at home can watch on abcnews.com and yahoo.com. You can even join the discussion by downloading Yahoo’s IntoNow app on your iPhone. You can pitch in your opinions during the debate.

SAWYER: So lets the — let the debate begin.

And, Governor Romney, we’ll begin with you. We just saw 200,000 new jobs created last month, and there are optimists who say this is the signal that this economy is finally turning around. Are you with those optimists?

ROMNEY: I’m an optimist, and I certainly hope it turns around. We have millions of people who’ve been suffering too long, 25 million people that are out of work or have stopped looking for work, and also a lot of people who’ve got part-time jobs and need full-time employment. So it’s very good news. I hope we continue to see good news.

But it’s not thanks to President Obama. His policies have made the recession deeper, and his policies have made the recovery more tepid. As a result of everything from Obamacare to Dodd-Frank to a stimulus plan that was not as well directed as it should have been to a whole host of new regulations that have been put on American businesses, he’s made it harder for small entrepreneurs and big businesses to decide to invest in America and to grow jobs here.

And so the president is going to try and take responsibility for things getting better. You know, it’s like the rooster taking responsibility for the sunrise. He didn’t do it. In fact, what he did was make things harder for America to get going again.

SAWYER: I want to turn now to Senator Santorum. Senator Santorum, you have said we don’t need a CEO, we don’t need a manager as president. What did you mean by that?

SANTORUM: Well, we need a leader, someone who can paint a positive vision for this country, someone who, you know, has the experience to go out and be the commander-in-chief. I’ve experienced in eight years on the Armed Services Committee, I managed major pieces of legislation through the House and through the Senate on national security issues, like Iran, which is the most — you want to talk about the most pressing issue that we’re dealing with today? It’s Iran.

And as Newt’s talked about many times, there’s no one that has more experience in dealing with that country than I do. And that means that we need — we need someone who can — who can go out and paint a vision of what America’s strength is about, let our allies know that they can trust us, let our enemies know that they have to respect us, and if they cross us, they should fear us.

SAWYER: It has been written you were talking about Governor Romney. Were you?

SANTORUM: Well, I was — I’m talking about — yeah, in the case of — well, in a manager — as you’re talking about, as far as commander-in-chief or the manager part?

SAWYER: The manager part.

SANTORUM: The manager part. Yeah, well, of course I was talking about Governor Romney. I was talking about someone who — who — who’s bring to the table — he says I’m going to be, you know, I’ve got business experience. Well, business experience doesn’t necessarily match up with being the commander-in-chief of this country.

The commander-in-chief of this country isn’t a CEO. It’s someone who has to — has to lead, and it’s also — being the president is not a CEO. You can’t direct, you know, members of Congress and — and members of the Senate as to how you do things. You’ve got to lead and inspire.

And that’s what — that’s what I think the people here in — in Iowa and in New Hampshire were looking for, someone who can inspire and paint a positive vision for this country.

And I’ve been the one that’s been able to do that and that’s the reason I think we’re doing well in the polls.

SAWYER: Governor Romney, your response?

ROMNEY: You know, I — I think people who spend their life in Washington don’t understand what happens out in the real economy. They think that people who start businesses are just managers. People who start a — as entrepreneurs that start a business from the ground up and — and get customers and get investors and hire people to join them, those people are leaders.

And the chance to — to lead in — in free enterprise is extraordinarily critical to also being able to lead a state, like I led in Massachusetts, and, by the way, lead the Olympics.

My experience is in leadership. The people in the private sector, who are, every day, making this country a stronger nation and hiring people, they’re not successful because they’re managers, they’re successful primarily because they are leaders.

I wish people in Washington had the experience of going out and working in the real economy first, before they went there, and they’d understand some of the real lessons of leadership.

STEPHANOPOULOS: Let me bring Speaker Gingrich in on this discussion, because, Mr. Speaker, a group supporting you run — one run by one of your closest long-time advisers just put out a very scathing attack, just today, on Governor Romney, on his tenure as the CEO of that investment firm, Bain Capital.

It calls that tenure “a story of greed,” that’s a quote, saying that Bain made spectacular profits by, again, quote, “stripping American businesses of assets, selling everything to the highest bidder and often killing jobs for big financial rewards.”

Do you agree with that characterization?

GINGRICH: Well, I — I haven’t seen the film, but it does reflect “The New York Times” story two days ago about one particular company. And I think people should look at the film and decide. If it’s factually accurate, it raises questions.

I’m very much for free enterprise. I’m very much for exactly what the Governor just described, create a business, grow jobs, provide leadership.

I’m not nearly as enamored of a Wall Street model where you can flip companies, you can go in and have leveraged buyouts, you can basically take out all the money, leaving behind the workers. And I think most…

STEPHANOPOULOS: Is that the Bain model?

GINGRICH: Well, I — I think you have to look at the film. You have to look at “The New York Times” coverage of one particular company. And you have to ask yourself some questions.

The Governor has every right to defend that. And I think — but I think it’s a legitimate part of the debate to say, OK, on balance, were people better off or were people worse off by this particular style of investment?

STEPHANOPOULOS: Back in December, you said that Governor Romney made money at Bain by, quote, “bankrupting companies and laying off employees.”

GINGRICH: That was, I think, “The New York Times” story two days ago. They took one specific company. They walked through in detail. They showed what they bought it for, how much they took out of it and the 1,700 people they left unemployed. Now that’s — check “The New York Times” story, but that’s their story.

STEPHANOPOULOS: Governor Romney, your response?

ROMNEY: Well, I — I’m not surprised to have “The New York Times” try and put free enterprise on trial. I’m not surprised to have the Obama administration do that, either. It’s a little surprising from my colleagues on this stage. We understand that in the free economy, in the private sector, that — that sometimes investments don’t work and you’re not successful. It always pains you if you have to be in a situation of — of downsizing a business in order to try and make it more successful, turn it around and try and grow it again.

And I’m very proud of the fact that the two enterprises I led were quite successful and the Olympics were successful. And my state was successful, the state of Massachusetts.

But in the business I had, we invested in over 100 different businesses and net-net, taking out the ones where we lost jobs and those that we added, those businesses have now added over 100,000 jobs.

I have a record of learning how to create jobs…

STEPHANOPOULOS: Now, there have been questions about that — that — that calculation of a hundred thousand jobs. So if you could explain it a little more. I — I’ve read some analysts who look at it and say that you’re counting the jobs that were created but not counting the jobs that were taken away.

Is that accurate?

ROMNEY: No, it’s not accurate. It includes the net of both. I’m a good enough numbers guy to make sure I got both sides of that.

But — but the — the simple ones, some of the biggest, for instance, there’s a steel company called Steel Dynamics in Indiana, thousands of jobs there. Bright Horizons Children’s Centers, about 15,000 jobs there; Sports Authority, about 15,000 jobs there. Staples alone, 90,000 employed. That’s a business that we helped start from the ground up.

But there were some…

STEPHANOPOULOS: But that includes jobs that were created even after you left, right?

ROMNEY: Oh, yes. Oh, yes. Those — those are businesses we started that continue to grow. And — and we’re only a small part of that, by the way. We were investors to help get them going. But in some cases, businesses shrunk. We tried to help turn them around, sometimes successfully, sometimes not.

But let’s not forget, this is a free enterprise system. We don’t need government to come in and tell us how to make businesses work. We need people with passion, willing to take risk and help turn things around. And where that works, you create jobs.

STEPHANOPOULOS: Let me bring Governor Huntsman in on this, because supporters of yours have also taken aim at this tenure, Governor Romney’s tenure at Bain Capital. And, you know the Democrats are preparing to do it, as well.

So on balance, should Republicans worry about this attack?

Is — is Governor Romney’s record at Bain a weakness or a strength?

HUNTSMAN: Well, it’s — part of his record, and therefore, it’s going to be talked about. And I think it’s fair for the people of this nation to have a conversation about one’s record. And Governor Romney can say whatever he wishes to say about it.

I also have private sector experience. I combine a little bit of what Rick Santorum talked about and what Governor Romney has. I think it’s a good balance. I come from manufacturing. People will find something in my record. But you know what, it’s important for the people to look at our records, because everybody up here has a record that ought to be scrutinized.

But it goes beyond the private sector. You know, I served as a governor. Mitt served as a governor. Others up here have had positions of responsibility. Take a look at what we did as governor. I think that is probably more telling in terms of what I would do or what Mitt would do as president of the United States.

I put bold proposals forward. I delivered a flat tax for my state. I took my state to number one in job creation, with all due respect to what Rick Perry has said about Texas, we did a little bit better. We reformed health care without a mandate. We took our state to number one as the most business-friendly state in America.

Now, in a time in our nation’s history when we so desperately need jobs, I think that’s going to be a very material part of the discussion.

STEPHANOPOULOS: Governor Romney, 30 seconds.

ROMNEY: I congratulate Governor Huntsman on the success in his governorship to make the state more attractive for business. That has got to happen. But what — I actually think it’s helpful to have people who had a job in the private sector, if you want to create jobs in the private sector. We’ve had a lot of presidents over the years who had wonderful experience. And right now we have people whose backgrounds are in the governmental sector as well as the private sector. I think now, given what America is facing globally, given an economy that has changed its dynamics dramatically over the last 10 years, you need to have someone who understands how that economy works at a very close level if we’re going to be able to post up against President Obama and establish a record that says this is different than a president who does not understand job creation.

STEPHANOPOULOS: Congressman Paul, let’s stay on the issue of records. You’ve got a new ad up in South Carolina taking direct aim at Senator Santorum. You call him a corrupt — a corporate lobbyist, a Washington insider with a record of betrayal. You also call him corrupt in that ad.

Senator Santorum is standing right here. Are you willing to stand by those charges and explain them?

PAUL: Well, it was a quote — somebody did make a survey and I think he came out as one of the top corrupt individuals because he took so much money from the lobbyists. But really what the whole — there it goes again.

SANTORUM: They caught you not telling the truth, Ron. [laughter]

PAUL: But really — what really counts is his record. I mean, he’s a big government, big spending individual. Because, you know, he preached to the fact he wanted a balanced budget amendment but voted to raise the debt to five times. So he is a big government person.

And we as Republicans know something about right to work. He supported — he voted against right to work. He voted along with No Child Left Behind, to double, you know, the size of the Department of Education. And he also voted to — for the prescription drug program. So he’s a big government person, along with him being very — associated with the lobbyists and taking a lot of funds.

And also where did he get — make his living afterwards? I mean, he became a high-powered lobbyist on — in Washington, D.C. And he has done quite well.

We checked out Newt, on his income. I think we ought to find out how much money he has made from the lobbyists as well.

STEPHANOPOULOS: A lot of charges there, Senator.

SANTORUM: Yes, I was going to say, do I have 20 minutes to answer these?

STEPHANOPOULOS: Take your time.

SANTORUM: Let’s talk about the corruption issue. The person who — the group that called me corrupt was a group called CREW. If you haven’t been sued by CREW, you’re not a conservative. CREW is this left-wing organization that puts out a list every election of the top Republicans who have tough races and calls them all corrupt because they take contributions from PACs.

It’s a ridiculous charge. And you should know better than to cite George Soros-like organizations to say that they’re corrupt. So that’s number one.

Ron, I’m a conservative. I’m not a libertarian. I believe in some government. I do believe that government has — that as a senator from Pennsylvania that I had a responsibility to go out there and represent the interests of my state.

And that’s what I did to make sure that Pennsylvania was able, in formulas and other things, to get its fair share of money back. I don’t apologize for that any more than you did when you earmarked things and did things when you were a congressman in Texas.

As far as the money that I received, you know, I think I’m known in this race and I was known in Washington, D.C., as a cause guy. I am a cause guy. I care deeply about this country and about the causes that make me — that I think are at the core of this country.

And when I left the United States Senate, I got involved in causes that I believe in. I went and worked at the Ethics and Public Policy Center and wrote on the cause of Iran, and wrote and lectured all over this country. I got involved with a health care company. Why? Because I was afraid of what was going to happen, and I was asked by a health care company to be on their board of directors.

Now, I don’t know whether you think board of directors are lobbyists. They’re not. That’s the private-sector experience that I’m sure that Mitt would — would approve of.

You — you also — I also worked for a coal company. As I mentioned the other day, my grandfather was a coal miner. I grew up in — in — in the coal region. And when I left the United States Senate, one of the big issues on the table was cap-and-trade, global warming, and I wanted to stay involved in the fray.

So I contacted a local coal company from my area who — and I asked — I said, look, I want to join you in that fight. I want to work together with you. I want to help you in any way I can to make sure we defeat cap-and-trade. And so I engaged in that battle. And I’m very proud to have engaged in that battle.

STEPHANOPOULOS: Congressman Paul, do you accept it?

PAUL: Well, you know, it is true — I believe Congress should designate how the money should be spent. I agree with that. But the big difference between the way I voted and the senator voted is I always voted against the spending. I voted against all the spending. It’s only been a couple appropriations bills I voted for in the past, what, 24, 26 years I’ve been in Washington.

So you’re a big spender; that’s all there is to it. You’re a big-government conservative. And you don’t vote for, you know, right to work and these very important things. And that’s what weakens the economy. So to say you’re a conservative, I think, is a stretch. But you’ve convinced a lot of people of it, so somebody has to point out your record.

[crosstalk]

SANTORUM: No, I think I have an opportunity to respond here. I’ve convinced a lot of people of it because my record is actually pretty darn good. I — I supported and voted for a balanced budget amendment, the line-item veto. I voted — in fact, I used to keep track when I was in the United States Senate of all the Democratic amendments and all amendments that increased spending. I — I put on the board — something called a spend-o-meter.

If you look at my spending record and you — and you take all the, quote, “spending groups,” I was rated at the top or near the top every single year.

I — I go back to the point. I am not a libertarian, Ron. I agree with — you vote against everything. I don’t vote against everything. I do vote for some spending. I do think government has a role to play… [crosstalk] …particularly in defense…

STEPHANOPOULOS: We’ll let everybody get in here, but first I wanted to bring in Governor — Governor Perry on this. We’ll stay on this subject, don’t worry about it.

PERRY: And I’ll let you — I’ll — I’ll let you back in here, Ron.

STEPHANOPOULOS: You’ve called Senator Santorum the…

PERRY: Yeah. I think you’ve just seen a great example of why I got in this race, because I happen to think that I’m the only outsider, with the possible exception of Jon Huntsman, who has not been part of the problem in Washington, D.C., the insiders in Washington, D.C.

We — we have to — we have to nominate someone that can beat Barack Obama, that can get the Tea Party behind them, that can go to Washington, D.C., and stop the corrupt spending that has been going on. And it doesn’t make any difference whether you’re an insider from Washington, D.C., or you’re an insider from Wall Street.

That is what Americans rightfully see is the real problem in America today. They want someone who has a record of executive governing experience, like I have in Texas. I’ve been the commander- in-chief of 20,000-plus troops that get deployed. I have been the governor of a state that has created a million net new jobs. That is a record that American people are looking for. That is what Americans are looking for, an outsider that is not corrupted by the process.

STEPHANOPOULOS: So, Governor, you’re saying Congressman Paul is an insider?

PERRY: I am telling you, anybody that has had as many — I mean, here’s what frustrates me, is that you go get the earmarks and then you vote against the bill? Now, I don’t know what they call that in other places, but, Congressman Paul, in Texas, we call that hypocrisy.

PAUL: Well, I call it being a constitutionalist, because I believe we should earmark, or designate, every penny. You designate weapons systems. You designate money to go to spend $1 billion on an embassy in Iraq. That’s — that’s an earmark, too. I say the Congress has more responsibility.

But this thing, back — back to Senator Santorum, you know, he ducks behind this — he’s for this balanced budget amendment, but voted five times to increase the national debt by trillions of dollars. This is what the whole Tea Party movement’s about.

When — I mean, government’s practically stopped over increasing the national debt. You did it five times. So what’s your excuse for that? That’s trillions of dollars. You kept this thing going. You didn’t do very much to slow it up when you had a chance.

SANTORUM: As a matter of fact, I did slow — do a lot to slow it up when I had a chance. I was the author of the only bill that actually repealed a federal entitlement, welfare reform. I — I — I actually promoted and talked — and tried to pass Social Security reform. I worked on Medicare and Medicaid.

I was one of the only guys out there in a time, Ron, when we were running surpluses that was out there talking about the need for long- term entitlement reform, which is where the real problem is. When the government runs up a tab and you don’t have the money no — no longer to pay, then you have to increase the debt ceiling. But every time we tried to — we tried to tie it with reducing spending.

We’re in a point right now where we have blown the doors off of it. And as you know, back in the last — in the last go round, I stood up and said, no we shouldn’t increase the debt ceiling because we’ve gone too far. But, you know, routine debt ceiling increases have happened throughout the — the course of this country for 200 years.

SAWYER: If I can, I’d like to pivot and go to another topic here, which is the issue of commander-in-chief and national security. And Governor Huntsman, you have already said for us that — that the Iranians have made the decision to go nuclear. You think they want a nuclear weapon. Tell us why you would be better as commander-in-chief than the other candidates on this stage?

HUNTSMAN: Because being commander-in-chief is less about having the discussions we just heard a moment ago. A lot of insider gobbledygook, a lot of political spin. It’s about leading organizations. It’s about leading people. It’s about creating a vision. And I have done that my entire career. I did that as governor. I took my state to the best managed state in America.

I took that economy to the number one position, number one in job creation. As compared and contrasted with Massachusetts, which was number 47 during a time when, I think, leadership matters to the American people. But more than anything else, I believe that this nation is looking for, not only leadership, but leadership that can be trusted.

Because let’s face it, we have a serious trust deficit in this nation. The American people now longer trust our institutions of power. And they no longer trust our elected officials. And I’m here to tell you that we must find, not just a commander-in-chief, not just a president, not just a visionary, but we’ve got to find somebody who can reform Congress and do what needs to be done with respect to leading the charge on term limits.

Everybody knows that Congress needs term limits. Everybody knows that we’ve got to close the revolving door that has corrupted Washington. And everybody knows as well, that we’ve got to have someone who can deliver trust back to Wall Street, which has also lost the American people’s trust.

SAWYER: Do you want to speak specifically about anyone on this stage?

HUNTSMAN: They can all speak for themselves, but I can tell you, having served as governor successfully, the only person on this stage as well to have lived overseas four times, I’ve run two American embassies, including the largest and most complicated we have in the world, the United States embassy in China. I think I understand better than anyone on this stage, the complex national security implications that we will face going forward with what is, we all know, the most complex and challenging relationship of the twenty- first century, that of China.

SAWYER: Governor Romney?

ROMNEY: Do you have a question or shall I just…

SAWYER: My question is the — the governor has just said that he thinks he can speak better than anyone else to these…

ROMNEY: Well he can do a lot better than Barack Obama, lets put it that way. We — we have a president who had no experience in leadership. He never led a — a business, never led a — a city, never led a — a state. And as a result, he learned on the job being president of the United States and he has made one error after another related to foreign policy, the most serious of which relates to Iran.

We have a nation, which is intent on becoming nuclear. Iran has pursued their — their ambition without having crippling sanctions against them. The president was silent when over a million voices took to the streets in Iran. Voices he should have stood up for and said, we’re supporting you. And he’s — and he’s failed to put together a plan to show Iran that we have the capacity to remove them militarily from their plans to have nuclear weaponry.

Look, this is a failed presidency. And the issue in dealing with the responsibility of commander-in-chief, is the issue of saying, who has the capacity to lead? Who is someone who has demonstrated leadership capacity? Who has character, shown that character over their career? Who has integrity and — and I hope — I — each of these people — I don’t — I don’t want to be critical of the people on this stage. Any one of these people would do a better — a better job in many respects than our president.

And I will endorse our — our nominee. I believe in the principles that made America such a great nation. This is a time when we’re faced, not with a nation that is — that is extraordinarily secure in a very, very calm world. We’re facing a very dangerous world. And we have a president now who unbelievably has decided to shrink the size of the — of the military. Who unbelievably has said, for the first time since FDR, we’re going to no longer have the capacity to fight two wars at a time.

SAWYER: I want…

ROMNEY: This president must be replaced.

SAWYER: I want to bring in Josh now.

MCELVEEN: I want to stay on the topic of commander-in-chief as well. Obviously that puts you in charge of the most powerful armed forces in the world. Only two of you on stage have served in the military. Dr. Paul was a flight surgeon, Governor Perry a pilot. There are 25 million veterans in this country, three million currently serving active duty so this question is very relevant to a large number of voters out there.

My question goes to you, Governor Perry. Do you believe having worn a uniform, being part of a unit, better prepares you for the job of commander-in-chief than those on the state who haven’t served?

PERRY: I think it brings a very clear knowledge about what it requires for those that are on the front lines, but also having been the governor of the state of Texas and been the commander-in-chief for 11 years there and 20,000-plus troops that we’ve deployed to multiple theaters of operation.

But I want to go back to this issue that we just brought up earlier when we talked about one of the biggest problems facing this country, and Iran’s a big problem, Senator, without a doubt. But let me tell you what this president is doing with our military budget is going to put our country’s freedom in jeopardy.

You cannot cut $1 trillion from the Department of Defense budget and expect that America’s freedoms are not going to be jeopardized. That, to me, is the biggest problem that America faces, is a president that doesn’t understand the military and a president who is allowing the reduction of the DOD budget so that he can spend money in other places, and it will put America’s freedom in jeopardy.

MCELVEEN: Talk about the understanding of the military. And let’s go to you, Speaker Gingrich. Recently, Dr. Paul referred to you as a chicken hawk because you didn’t serve. Given what you just heard Governor Perry say about understanding the military and Dr. Paul’s comments. How do you respond?

GINGRICH: Well, Dr. Paul makes a lot of comments. It’s part of his style.

My father served 27 years in the Army in World War II, Korea, and Vietnam. I grew up in a military family, moving around the world. Since 1979, I have spent 32 years working, starting with the Army’s Training and Doctrine Command. I was the longest-serving teacher in the senior military for 23 years. I served on the Defense Policy Board. But let me say something about veterans, because as an Army brat whose family was deeply engaged, I feel for veterans. We had a great meeting today in Wolfeboro with veterans. And I made a commitment in New Hampshire that we would reopen the hospital in Manchester, we would develop a new clinic in the north country using telecommunications, and we would provide a system where veterans could go to their local doctor or their local hospital.

The idea that a veteran in the north country in midwinter has to go all the way to Boston is absolutely, totally, fundamentally wrong. And I would say, as an Army brat who watched his mother, his sisters, and his father for 27 years, I have a pretty good sense of what military families and veterans’ families need.

SAWYER: Congressman Paul, would you say that again? Would you — would you use that phrase again?

PAUL: Yeah. I — I think people who don’t serve when they could and they get three or four or even five deferments aren’t — they — they have no right to send our kids off to war, and — and not be even against the wars that we have. I’m trying to stop the wars, but at least, you know, I went when they called me up.

But, you know, the — the veterans’ problem is a big one. We have hundreds of thousands coming back from these wars that were undeclared, they were unnecessary, they haven’t been won, they’re unwinnable, and we have hundreds of thousands looking for care. And we have an epidemic of suicide coming back. And so many have — I mean, if you add up all the contractors and all the wars going on, Afghanistan and in Iraq, we’ve lost 8,500 Americans, and severe injuries, over 40,000. And these are undeclared war.

So, Rick keeps say we — you don’t want this libertarian stuff, but what I’m talking about, I don’t bring up the word. You do. But I talk about the Constitution. Constitution has rules. And I don’t like it when we send our kids off to fight these wars, and when those individuals didn’t go themselves, and then come up and when they’re asked, they say, oh, I don’t think I could — one person could have made a difference.

I have a pet peeve that annoys me to a great deal, because when I see these young men coming back, my heart weeps for them.

STEPHANOPOULOS: Speaker Gingrich?

GINGRICH: Well, Dr. Paul has a long history of saying things that are inaccurate and false. The fact is, I never asked for deferment. I was married with a child. It was never a question. My father was, in fact, serving in Vietnam in the Mekong Delta at the time he’s referring to.

I think I have a pretty good idea of what it’s like as a family to worry about your father getting killed. And I personally resent the kind of comments and aspersions he routinely makes without accurate information and then just slurs people with.

PAUL: I need one quick follow-up. When I was drafted, I was married and had two kids, and I went. [applause]

GINGRICH: I wasn’t eligible for the draft. I wasn’t eligible for the draft.

STEPHANOPOULOS: Congressman Paul, while — while we’re on the subject, the speaker said that you’ve had a history of inaccurate statements. There has been quite a bit controversy over this newsletter that went out under your name, a number of comments that were perceived as racist, as inaccurate. You’ve said that even though they were written under your name, that you’re not necessarily — that you didn’t necessarily know they were written, you don’t necessarily stand by them. Can you really take the time now and explain to everybody what happened there, how it was possible that those kind of comments went out under your name without you knowing about it?

PAUL: Well, it’s been explained many times, and everything’s written 20 years ago, approximately, that I did not write. So concentrating on something that was written 20 years ago that I didn’t write, you know, is diverting the attention from most of the important issues.

But the inference is obvious that — and you even bring up the word racial overtones. More importantly, you ought to ask me what my relationship is for racial relationships. And one of my heroes is Martin Luther King because he practiced the libertarian principle of peaceful resistance and peaceful civil disobedience, as did Rosa Parks did.

But, also, I’m the only one up here and the only one in the Democratic Party that understands true racism in this country is in the judicial system. And it has to do with enforcing the drug laws.

Look at the percentages. The percentage of people who use drugs are about the same with blacks and whites. And yet the blacks are arrested way disproportionately. They’re — they’re prosecuted and imprisoned way disproportionately. They get — they get the death penalty way disproportionately.

How many times have you seen a white rich person get the electric chair or get, you know, execution?

But poor minorities have an injustice. And they have an injustice in war, as well, because minorities suffer more. Even with a draft — with a draft, they suffered definitely more. And without a draft, they’re suffering disproportionately.

If we truly want to be concerned about racism, you ought to look at a few of those issues and look at the drug laws, which are being so unfairly enforced.

SAWYER: We want to thank you for the first round of this debate.

And we want to take a break right now.

And when we come back, there are so many family issues, the issues of gay rights, that have been front and center in this campaign.

We’d love to have you address some of those.

Again, thank you for being with us.

This is the 2012 debate at St. Anselm.

We’ll be back.

[commercial break]

STEPHANOPOULOS: You’ve got a new ad up in South Carolina taking direct aim at Senator Santorum. You call him a corrupt — a corporate lobbyist, a Washington insider with a record of betrayal. You also call him corrupt in that ad.

Senator Santorum is standing right here.

Are you willing to stand by those charges and explain them?

PAUL: Well, it was a quote. Somebody did make a survey and I think he came out as one of the top corrupt individuals, because he took so much money from the lobbyists. But, really, what the whole…

[feedback noise]

PAUL: There it goes again. [laughter] But — but…

SANTORUM: They — they’ve caught you not telling the truth, Ron.

PAUL: But what real — really… [laughter] …What really counts is — is his record. I mean he’s a big government, big spending individual.

SANTORUM: The group that called me corrupt was a group called CREW. If you haven’t been sued by CREW, you’re not a conservative. It’s — it’s a ridiculous charge. It’s — and — and you should know better.

ANNOUNCER: Back live from Manchester, New Hampshire, in a moment.

[commercial break]

STEPHANOPOULOS: Back in Manchester. Governor Romney, I want to go straight to you.

Senator Santorum has been very clear in his belief that the Supreme Court was wrong when it decided that a right to privacy was embedded in the Constitution. And following from that, he believes that states have the right to ban contraception. Now I should add that he said he’s not recommending that states do that…

SANTORUM: No, I said — let’s be clear.

STEPHANOPOULOS: Absolutely. I’m giving you your due…

SANTORUM: I’m talking about — we’re talking about the 10th Amendment and the right of states to act.

STEPHANOPOULOS: But I do want to get to that core question.

SANTORUM: OK.

STEPHANOPOULOS: Governor Romney, do you believe that states have the right to ban contraception? Or is that trumped by a constitutional right to privacy?

ROMNEY: George, this is an unusual topic that you’re raising. States have a right to ban contraception? I can’t imagine a state banning contraception. I can’t imagine the circumstances where a state would want to do so, and if I were a governor of a state or…

STEPHANOPOULOS: Well, the Supreme Court has ruled —

[crosstalk]

ROMNEY: … or a — or a legislature of a state — I would totally and completely oppose any effort to ban contraception. So you’re asking — given the fact that there’s no state that wants to do so, and I don’t know of any candidate that wants to do so, you’re asking could it constitutionally be done? We can ask our constitutionalist here. [laughter]

[crosstalk]

STEPHANOPOULOS: I’m sure Congressman Paul…

[crosstalk]

ROMNEY: OK, come on — come on back…

[crosstalk]

STEPHANOPOULOS: … asking you, do you believe that states have that right or not?

ROMNEY: George, I — I don’t know whether a state has a right to ban contraception. No state wants to. I mean, the idea of you putting forward things that states might want to do that no — no state wants to do and asking me whether they could do it or not is kind of a silly thing, I think.

[applause]

STEPHANOPOULOS: Hold on a second. Governor, you went to Harvard Law School. You know very well this is based on…

ROMNEY: Has the Supreme Court — has the Supreme Court decided that states do not have the right to provide contraception? I…

STEPHANOPOULOS: Yes, they have. In 1965, Griswold v. Connecticut.

ROMNEY: The — I believe in the — that the law of the land is as spoken by the Supreme Court, and that if we disagree with the Supreme Court — and occasionally I do — then we have a process under the Constitution to change that decision. And it’s — it’s known as the amendment process.

And — and where we have — for instance, right now we’re having issues that relate to same-sex marriage. My view is, we should have a federal amendment of the Constitution defining marriage as a relationship between a man and a woman. But I know of — of no reason to talk about contraception in this regard.

STEPHANOPOULOS: But you’ve got the Supreme Court decision finding a right to privacy in the Constitution.

ROMNEY: I don’t believe they decided that correctly. In my view, Roe v. Wade was improperly decided. It was based upon that same principle. And in my view, if we had justices like Roberts, Alito, Thomas, and Scalia, and more justices like that, they might well decide to return this issue to states as opposed to saying it’s in the federal Constitution.

And by the way, if the people say it should be in the federal Constitution, then instead of having unelected judges stuff it in there when it’s not there, we should allow the people to express their own views through amendment and add it to the Constitution. But this idea that justice…

STEPHANOPOULOS: But should that be done in this case?

ROMNEY: Pardon?

STEPHANOPOULOS: Should that be done in this case?

ROMNEY: Should this be done in the case — this case to allow states to ban contraception? No. States don’t want to ban contraception. So why would we try and put it in the Constitution?

With regards to gay marriage, I’ve told you, that’s when I would amend the Constitution. Contraception, it’s working just fine, just leave it alone. [laughter] [applause]

STEPHANOPOULOS: I understand that. But you’ve given two answers to the question. Do you believe that the Supreme Court should overturn it or not?

ROMNEY: Do I believe the Supreme Court should overturn…

[noise from audience]

ROMNEY: Do I believe the Supreme Court should overturn Roe v. Wade? Yes, I do.

PAUL: He mentioned my name.

STEPHANOPOULOS: Go ahead then.

PAUL: I didn’t know whether I got time when it was favorable or not. But thank you. No, I think the Fourth Amendment is very clear. It is explicit in our privacy. You can’t go into anybody’s house and look at what they have or their papers or any private things without a search warrant.

This is why the Patriot Act is wrong, because you have a right of privacy by the Fourth Amendment. As far as selling contraceptives, the Interstate Commerce Clause protects this because the Interstate Commerce Clause was originally written not to impede trade between the states, but it was written to facilitate trade between the states. So if it’s not illegal to import birth control pills from one state to the next, it would be legal to sell birth control pills in that state.

STEPHANOPOULOS: Senator Santorum?

SANTORUM: What’s the question? [laughter]

STEPHANOPOULOS: On the right to privacy and the response to Congressman Paul.

SANTORUM: Well, Congressman Paul is talking about privacy rights under the Fourth Amendment, which I agree with him in, I don’t necessarily agree that the Patriot Act violates that. But I do agree with — obviously we have a right to privacy under the Fourth Amendment. But that’s not what the Griswold decision nor the Roe v. Wade decision were about.

They created through a penumbra of rights a new right to privacy that was not in the Constitution. And what I’ve — and that’s, again, I sort of agree with Governor Romney’s assessment — legal assessment, it created a right through boot-strapping, through creating something that wasn’t there. I believe it should be overturned.

I am for overturning Roe versus Wade. I do not believe that we have a right in this country, in the Constitution, to take a human life. I don’t think that’s — I don’t think our founders envisioned that. I don’t think the writing of the Constitution anywhere enables that. SAWYER: I want to turn now, if I can, from the Constitutional and the elevated here, to something closer to home and to maybe families sitting in their living rooms all across this country.

Yahoo! sends us questions, as you know. We have them from real viewers. And I’d like to post one, because it is about gay marriage. But at the level — and I would really love to be able to ask you what you would say personally, sitting in your living rooms, to the people who ask questions like this.

This is from Phil in Virginia. “Given that you oppose gay marriage, what do you want gay people to do who want to form loving, committed, long-term relationships? What is your solution?” And, Speaker Gingrich?

GINGRICH: Well, I think what I would say is that we want to make it possible to have those things that are most intimately human between friends occur. For example, you’re in a hospital. If there are visitation hours, should you be allowed to stay there? There ought to be ways to designate that.

You want to have somebody in your will. There ought to be ways to designate that. But it is a huge jump from being understanding and considerate and concerned, which we should be, to saying we therefore are going to institute the sacrament of marriage as though it has no basis.

The sacrament of marriage was based on a man and woman, has been for 3,000 years. Is at the core of our civilization. And it’s something worth protecting and upholding. And I think protecting and upholding that doesn’t mean you have to go out and make life miserable for others, but it does mean you make a distinction between a historic sacrament of enormous importance in our civilization and simply deciding it applies everywhere and it’s just a civil right.

It’s not. It is a part of how we define ourselves. And I think that a marriage between a man and a woman is part of that definition.

SAWYER: Governor Huntsman, you’ve talked about civil unions. How do you disagree with the others on this stage?

HUNTSMAN: Well, personally, I think civil unions are fair. I support them. I think there’s such a thing as equality under the law.

I’m a married man. I’ve been married for 28 years. I have seven kids. Glad we’re off the contraception discussion. [laughter] Fifteen minutes’ worth, by the way. And I don’t feel that my relationship is at all threatened by civil unions. On — on marriage, I’m a traditionalist. I think that ought to be saved for one man and one woman, but I believe that civil unions are fair. And I think it brings a level of dignity to relationships. And I believe in reciprocal beneficiary rights. I think they should be part of civil unions, as well. And states ought to be able to talk about this. I think it’s very — I think it’s absolutely appropriate.

MCELVEEN: I’d like to go to Senator Santorum with a similar topic. We’re in a state where it is legal for same-sex couples to marry. Eighteen hundred, in fact, couples have married since it became law here in New Hampshire. The legislature passed it a couple of years ago. And they’re trying to start families, some of them.

Your position on same-sex adoption, obviously, you are in favor of traditional families, but are you going to tell someone they belong in — as a ward of the state or in foster care, rather than have two parents who want them?

SANTORUM: Well, this isn’t a federal issue. It’s a state issue, number one. The states can make that determination, in New Hampshire.

My — my feeling is that this is an issue that should be — I believe the issue of marriage itself is a federal issue, that we can’t have different laws with respect to marriage. We have to have one law. Marriage is, as Newt said, a foundational institution of our country, and we have to have a singular law with respect to that. We can’t have somebody married in one state and not married in another.

Once we — if we were successful in establishing that, then this issue becomes moot. If we don’t have a — a federal law, I’m certainly not going to have a federal law that bans adoption for gay couples when there are only gay couples in certain states. So this is a state issue, not a federal issue.

MCELVEEN: Well, let me ask you to follow up on that, if you don’t mind, Senator. With those 1,800 — if you — we have a federal constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage, what happens to the 1,800 families who have married here? Are their marriages basically illegitimate at this point?

SANTORUM: If we have a — if the Constitution says marriage is between a man and a woman, then marriage is between a man and a woman. And — and, therefore, that’s what marriage is and — and would be in this country. And those who are not men and women who are married are — would not be married. That’s what the Constitution would say.

SAWYER: If I could come back to the living room question again, Governor Romney, would you weigh in on the Yahoo question about what you would say sitting down in your living room to a gay couple who say, “We simply want to have the right to,” as the — as the person who wrote the e-mail said — “we want gay people to form loving, committed, long-term relationships.” In human terms, what would you say to them?

ROMNEY: Well, the answer is, is that’s a wonderful thing to do, and that there’s every right for people in this country to form long- term committed relationships with one another. That doesn’t mean that they have to call it marriage or they have to receive the — the approval of the state and a marriage license and so forth for that to occur.

There can be domestic partnership benefits or — or a contractual relationship between two people, which would include, as — as Speaker Gingrich indicated, hospital visitation rights and the like. We can decide what kinds of benefits we might associate with people who form those kind of relationships, state by state.

But — but to say that — that marriage is something other than the relationship between a man — a man and a woman, I think, is a mistake. And the reason for that is not that we want to discriminate against people or to suggest that — that gay couples are not just as loving and can’t also raise children well.

But it’s instead a recognition that, for society as a whole, that the nation presumably will — would be better off if — if children are raised in a setting where there’s a male and a female. And there are many cases where there’s not possible: divorce, death, single parents, gay parents, and so forth.

But — but for a society to say we want to encourage, through the benefits that we associate with marriage, people to form partnerships between men and women and then raise children, which we think will — that will be the ideal setting for them to be raised.

SAWYER: Speaker Gingrich has to weigh in.

GINGRICH: I just want to raise — since we’ve spent this much time on these issues — I just want to raise a point about the news media bias. You don’t hear the opposite question asked. Should the Catholic Church be forced to close its adoption services in Massachusetts because it won’t accept gay couples, which is exactly what the state has done? Should the Catholic Church be driven out of providing charitable services in the District of Columbia because it won’t give in to secular bigotry? Should the Catholic Church find itself discriminated against by the Obama administration on key delivery of services because of the bias and the bigotry of the administration?

The bigotry question goes both ways. And there’s a lot more anti-Christian bigotry today than there is concerning the other side. And none of it gets covered by the news media. [applause]

ROMNEY: As you can tell, the people in this room feel that Speaker Gingrich is absolutely right and I do too. And — and I was in a state where the Supreme Court stepped in and said, marriage is a relationship required under the Constitution for — for people of the same sex to be able to marry. And John Adams, who wrote the Constitution, would be surprised.

And — and it did exactly as Speaker Gingrich indicated, what happened was Catholic charities that placed almost half of all of the adoptive children in our state, was forced to step out of being able to provide adoptive services. And the state tried to find other places to help children that we — we have to recognize that — that this decision about what we call marriage, has consequence which goes far beyond a loving couple wanting to form a long-term relationship.

That they can do within the law now. Calling it a marriage, creates a whole host of problems for — for families, for the law, for — for — for the practice of — of religion, for education. Let me — let me say this, 3,000 years of human history shouldn’t be discarded so quickly.

STEPHANOPOULOS: Governor Paul — Congressman Paul, let me bring this to you. You’re running here in the Republican primary, but you haven’t promised to support the party’s nominee in November. And you refuse to rule out running as a third party candidate if you fail to get the nomination. Why not rule that out?

PAUL: Well I essentially have. It’s just that I don’t like absolutes like, I will never do something. But no…

SANTORUM: You’ve never done it for a debt ceiling.

PAUL: Please don’t interrupt me. [applause]

So, I have said it in the last go-around, I said — they asked me that about 30 times. I think maybe you’ve asked me four or five already. And the answer is always the same. You know, no, I have no plans to do it. I don’t intend to do it. And somebody pushed me a little bit harder and said why don’t you plan to do it? I just — I don’t want to. So I have no intention. But I don’t know why a person can’t reserve a judgment and see how things turn out? You know, in many ways I see the other candidates as very honorable people, but I sometimes disagree with their approach to government.

And I’d like to see some changes. I — I want to see changes. When they’re talking about a — a little bit of a difference in foreign policy and — and interest in the Federal Reserve, a change in the monetary policy. We haven’t heard one talk — minute of talk about cutting any spending. we’ve talked previously about cutting the military spending. That’s cutting proposed increases. This is why I have proposed that we cut a whole trillion dollars that first year.

If we’re serious as Republicans and conservatives, we have to cut. So I want to put as much pressure on them as I can. But besides, I’m doing pretty well, you know? Third wasn’t too bad. I wasn’t too far behind. And doing pretty well. Catching up on Mitt every single day. [laughter]

SAWYER: Governor Perry, do you think everyone on this stage should rule out third party candidacy?

PERRY: I think anyone on this stage is better than what we’ve got in place. And — and — and let me just address this — this issue of — of gay marriage just very quickly. And — and it’s a bigger issue frankly. I am for a constitutional amendment that says that marriage is between a man and a woman at the federal level.

But this administration’s war on religion is what bothers me greatly. When we see an administration that will not defend the Defense of Marriage Act, that gives their Justice Department clear instructions to go take the ministerial exception away from our churches where that’s never happened before. When we see this administration not giving money to Catholic charities for sexually trafficked individuals because they don’t agree with the Catholic church on abortion, that is a war against religion. And it’s going to stop under a Perry administration. [applause]

SAWYER: I would like to turn now if I can back to foreign policy and, Governor Huntsman. Afghanistan, 90,000 troops tonight and we salute them all serving in Afghanistan. What is the earliest you think they should be brought home?

HUNTSMAN: You know we’ve been at the war on terror for 10 years now, we’ve been in Afghanistan. And I say we’ve got a lot to show for our efforts and I, as president, would like to square with the American people on what we have to show for it. The Taliban is no longer in power. We’ve run out al Qaeda, they’re now in sanctuaries. We’ve had free elections. Osama bin Laden is no longer around.

We have strengthened civil society. We’ve helped the military. We’ve helped the police. I believe it’s time to come home. And I would say within the first year of my administration, which is to say the end of 2013, I would want to draw them down. And I want to recognize Afghanistan for what it is. It is not a counter insurgency. I don’t want to be nation building in Southwest Asia when this nation is in such need of repair.

But we do have a counter-terror mission in Southwest Asia. And that would suppose leaving behind maybe 10,000 troops for intelligence gathering, for Special Forces rapid response capability and training.

SAWYER: Governor Romney, time to come home?

ROMNEY: Well, we want to bring our troops home as soon as we possibly can. And Governor Huntsman says at the end of 2013 the — the — the president and the — the commanders are saying they think 2014 is a better date. We’ll get a chance to see what happens over the coming year.

We want to bring our troops home as soon as we possibly can. And — and I will, if I’m president, I will inform myself based upon the experience of the people on the ground that are leading our effort there. I want to make sure that we hand off the responsibility to an Afghan security force that is capable of maintaining the sovereignty of their nation from — from the Taliban.

But — but I can — but I can tell you this, I don’t want to do something that would put in jeopardy much of the — the hard earned success which we’ve had there. And I would bring our troops home as soon as we possibly can, of course, based upon my own experience there, going there, informing myself of what’s happening there and listening to the commanders on the ground.

SAWYER: Governor Huntsman, you have a disagreement?

HUNTSMAN: Yes. I would have to tell Mitt that the president of the United States is the commander-in-chief. Of course you get input and — and advice from a lot of different corners of Washington, including the commanders on the ground.

But we also deferred to the commanders on the ground in about 1967, during the Vietnam War, and we didn’t get very good advice then.

Here’s what I think is around the corner in Afghanistan. I think civil war is around the corner in Afghanistan. And I don’t want to be the president who invests another penny in a civil war. And I don’t want to be the president who sends another man or woman into harm’s way that we don’t — we’re not able to bring back alive.

I say we’ve got something to show for our mission. Let’s recognize that and let’s move on.

STEPHANOPOULOS: Speaker Gingrich, do you have any quarrel with that? [applause]

GINGRICH: Well, I — I think, look, I think we’re asking the wrong questions. Afghanistan is a tiny piece of a gigantic mess that is very dangerous. Pakistan is unstable and they probably have between 100 and 200 nuclear weapons. Iran is actively trying to get nuclear weapons. I mean they go out and practice closing the Strait of Hormuz, where one out of every six barrels of oil goes through every day.

And if they close the Straits of Hormuz, you have an industrial depression across the planet within 48 hours. You have the Muslim Brotherhood winning the elections in Egypt. The truth is, we don’t know who’s in charge in Libya.

You have a — you have a region-wide crisis, which we have been mismanaging and underestimating, which is not primarily a military problem. We’re not going to go in and solve Pakistan militarily. We’re not going to go in and solve all these other things.

Look at the rate at which Iraq is decaying. I mean they began decaying within 24 hours of our last troops leaving.

And I think we need a fundamentally new strategy for the region comparable to what we developed to fight the cold war. And I think it’s a very big, hard, long-term problem, but it’s not primarily a military problem.

SAWYER: Senator Santorum, would you send troops back into Iraq right now?

SANTORUM: Well, I wouldn’t right now, but I did…

SAWYER: If you were president…

SANTORUM: But what I would say is that — that Newt is right, we need someone who has a — a strong vision for the region and we have not had that with this president. He has been making mistakes at every turn in Iran, in Egypt, I would argue, Libya, Syria, Israel. All of these places, he has made mistakes on the ground that have shown the people in that region that we are the weak horse. That is something that cannot happen because it will cause events like you’re seeing in the Straits of Hormuz. There will be push, push. America is soft and so they can be pushed around.

That’s what this administration has done. They did it by withdrawing from Iraq, and as Newt just said, you want to see what’s going to happen, Jon, if we take — if we get — get out of Afghanistan. Let’s just wait the next few weeks and months and see how things turn out when the United States isn’t there and see how consequential our — our — our efforts are — were for the stability of that region…

HUNTSMAN: So how long do you want to wait, Rick?

How long do you want to wait?

SANTORUM: Until the security of our country is ensured. That’s what the job of the commander-in-chief is. And you make that decision — not the generals — you make that decision based on an analysis of understanding how virulent the threat of radical Islam is. And you confront that threat not just militarily, and importantly not just militarily. You confront it first by being honest with the American public about what this threat is. This president has sanitized every defense document, everything. There’s no — the — the word radical Islam doesn’t appear anywhere.

Why?

Because we are fighting political correct — we’re trying to fight this politically correct war and not being honest with the American public as to who the enemy is, how virulent they are and why they hate us and what we must do to stop them.

STEPHANOPOULOS: Governor Perry, we know you have differences with President Obama, but who’s got the better of this argument right here between Senator Santorum and Governor Huntsman?

PERRY: Well, I think that you have to — I would send troops back into Iraq, because I will tell you…

STEPHANOPOULOS: Now?

PERRY: I — I think we start talking with the Iraqi individuals there. The idea that we allow the Iranians to come back into Iraq and take over that country, with all of the treasure, both in blood and money, that we have spent in Iraq, because this president wants to kowtow to his liberal, leftist base and move out those men and women. He could have renegotiated that timeframe.

I think it is a huge error for us. We’re going to see Iran, in my opinion, move back in at literally the speed of light. They’re going to move back in, and all of the work that we’ve done, every young man that has lost his life in that country will have been for nothing because we’ve got a president that does not understand what’s going on in that region.

STEPHANOPOULOS: Mr. Speaker, do you agree, send back troops into Iraq right now?

GINGRICH: Well, no. But let me put it in context.

I was very honored today to have Bud McFarlane come to introduce me at our veterans rally. Bud was for five years Ronald Reagan’s national security adviser, and I worked with him in the ‘80s on the strategy to defeat the Soviet empire.

Here’s the key thing to remember. If you’re — if you’re worried about the Iranians in Iraq, develop a strategy to replace the Iranian dictatorship and Iraq will be fine. If you want to stop Wahhabism, get an American energy policy so no American president ever again bows to a Saudi king, and then you can put pressure on the Saudis, because you have enough American energy. Stop… [applause]

SAWYER: Governor Romney — Governor Romney, you’ve said that you would not send troops in right now, but give us a sense of the trigger. What would it take for you to send troops back in?

ROMNEY: It’s a very high hurdle. The decision to send our men and women into harm’s way is one which would made — be made with great seriousness and sobriety and…[crosstalk]

SAWYER: What kind of things?

ROMNEY: Well, you can’t begin to say what the specific circumstances would be, but it would have to require significant, dramatic American interests. You’d have to have a president that explained those interests to the American people, that also indicated how we’re going in. We’d go in with — with exceptional force. We would indicate what — how success would be defined, how we would define, also, when we’re completed, how we’d get our troops out, and what would be left behind.

The president didn’t do that in Libya. The president hasn’t done that anywhere. I find it amazing that we have troops in harm’s way around the world — and in Afghanistan right now, in Iraq in the first three years of this president’s term — he doesn’t go on TV and talk to the American people every month about the sacrifice being made by these men and women.

I find it extraordinary that — that a very few number of families are paying the price of freedom in America. So the — the hurdle to actually putting our troops in harm’s way is very, very high. And the — the test is America’s interests, our security interests. And they have to be involved in a very significant way to deploy our troops.

MCELVEEN: I want to give Congressman Paul a chance to weigh in here, because foreign policy is something that a lot of people think is your Achilles’ heel when it comes to getting elected. You have said that you wouldn’t have authorized the raid to get Osama bin Laden. You think that a nuclear Iran is really none of our business. How do you reconcile that, when part of your job as president would be to…[crosstalk]

PAUL: Well, I think — I think that’s a misquote. I don’t want Iran to get a nuclear weapon. I voted to go after bin Laden, so that, you know, takes care of that.

But, you know, this business about when to go in, I don’t think it’s that complicated. I think we’ve made it much more complicated than it should be. Yes, the president is the commander-in-chief, but he’s not the king. And that’s why we fought a revolution, not to have a king and decide when we go to war.

We would have saved ourselves a lot of grief if we only had gone to war in a proper manner, and the proper manner is the people elect congressmen and senators to make a declaration of war, and then we become the commander-in-chief, and we make these decisions.

But we went into Afghanistan. We went into Iraq. And now we’re in Pakistan. We’re involved in so many countries. Now they want to move on to Syria. And they can’t — there’s some in Washington now can’t wait until they start bombing Iran. We have to change this whole nature. You know, something happened this week I thought was so encouraging. And it reminds me of how we finally talked to the Chinese. I mean, they had killed 100 million of their own people, but we finally broke the ice by playing ping-pong.

But today, the — the American Navy picked up a bunch of fishermen, Iranian fishermen, that had been held by — by the pirates, and released them. And they were so welcome, it was just a wonderful thing to happen. This is the kind of stuff we should deal with, not putting on sanctions. Sanctions themselves are — always leads up to war. And that’s what we’re doing.

Eastern Europe is going to be destabilized if they don’t have this oil. And this just pushes Iran right into the hands of the Chinese. So our policy may be well intended, but it has a lot of downside, a lot of unintended consequences, and, unfortunately, blowback.

SAWYER: A final word on this from Senator Santorum.

SANTORUM: Well, Ron, if we had your foreign policy, there wouldn’t have been a fleet there to pick up the Iranian fishermen. And the fact is, we did have a beneficial relationship with picking them up, and we have a very great relationship, and which should be much better, with the Iranian people.

The Iranian people have come to the streets — have taken to the streets repeatedly and still do, in trying to overthrow their government. And we had a president of the United States who stood silently by as thousands were killed on the streets, and did nothing. Did nothing.

In fact, he tacitly supported the results of the election. Now Ahmadinejad announced right after the election polls were closed that he won with 60-some percent of the vote and the president of the United States said, well, that sounds like a legitimate election. Obviously a Chicago politician. [laughter]

And but that’s not what a president of the United States does. He doesn’t get up and condone this behavior and turn his back on the folks in the street. When I was in the United States Senate, I pushed to help those revolutionaries before the revolution, to give them resources, to make sure that we had the relationships so — because I knew and if you take polls, they do in Iran.

The Iranian people love America because we stand up for the truth and say — and call evil, which is what Ahmadinejad and the mullahs are, we call evil what it is. That’s why they admire us, because we tell the truth.

Now we just have to have a president that helps them to do what is necessary, which is to turn that regime out.

STEPHANOPOULOS: We have got to go to break. Much more to come, we’ll be right back.

[commercial break]

SAWYER: And we welcome you back. We want to tackle more on jobs right now, and specifically the ideas the candidates have, individual unique ideas for creating more American jobs, and specifically, Josh, asking about what we think created the age of American energy, which was infrastructure.

MCELVEEN: Infrastructure. And we have an example of that here in New Hampshire. If you traveled up I-93 from Boston, I-93 North, you probably went over what was a widening project that’s going on. We’re about $350 million away from getting this project completed. And a lot of people here think that this is a very important project to get done in terms of our regional economy.

So the question is, again, infrastructure. With the increasing demands on our roads and bridges, and the aging roads and bridges, how committed would you be — and we’ll start with you, Governor Romney — to invest — not so much as a stimulus package, but a true economic growth package on our infrastructure?

ROMNEY: Well, there are certain things that government can do to encourage an economy. And rebuilding an infrastructure that’s aging is — is — is one of those. We had in my state 550 structurally deficient bridges. We’ve got to improve our bridges, improve our roads, improve our rail beds, improve our air transportation system in order to be competitive.

But fundamentally, what happens in America that creates jobs is not government. It has its role. But by and large, it gets in the way of creating jobs. It’s taxed too much. It’s regulates too much. It has energy policies that keep us from using our own energy. It has trade policies which too often favor people who are taking jobs away from us. And so we’re going to have to have government change its orientation to be encouraging the private sector.

And fundamentally, what makes America the most productive and the — and the wealthiest nation of the major nations of the world, our GDP per capita. Our income per person in America is 50 percent higher than that of the average person in Europe. Why is that? It’s because of the entrepreneurial spirit of the American people, of the ability of Americans to innovate, to create.

We have a nation which is based upon opportunity and merit. We draw people here who seek freedom, and these people have built enterprises that employ and that make America stronger.

We have a president who has an entirely different view. He wants us to turn into a European-style welfare state and have government take from some to give to others. That will kill the ability of America to provide for a prosperous future, to secure our freedom, and to give us the — the rights which have been in our Declaration of Independence and our Constitution. I believe in an America that’s based upon opportunity and freedom, not President Obama’s social welfare state.

STEPHANOPOULOS: Speaker Gingrich, I know you agree with Governor Romney again on his views on President Obama, but how would your plans on job creation distinguish you from Governor Romney?

GINGRICH: Well, you’re talking about infrastructure?

STEPHANOPOULOS: Infrastructure. And more broadly, job creation.

GINGRICH: But — but — but let’s stick with infrastructure then, because I think it’s a very big, very important topic. You cannot compete with China in the long run if you have an inferior infrastructure. You’ve got to move to a twenty first century model. That means you’ve got to be — you’ve got to be technologically smart and you have to make investments.

So for example here, the Northern Pass project ought to be buried and should be along the states right of way. Which means you’d need these modern techniques to bring electricity from Quebec all the way down to Boston in a way that also preserves the beauty of northern New Hampshire. I would have an energy program designed to get us free from Saudi Arabia, Iran, Venezuela, two-thirds of the government revenue from that would go to debt reduction and to paying off the debt.

One-third would go to infrastructure, which would give you the ability to have an infrastructure investment program that would actually get us back on track and you look at places like the highways you’re describing, the bridges the governor just described. If you don’t have some systematic investment program, then you are not going to be able, I think, to compete with China and India.

STEPHANOPOULOS: Governor Huntsman, where is the money going to come from?

HUNTSMAN: We’ve got to earn our way forward. There’s no question about it. Governors learn how to pay the bills. In order to pay the bills, you’ve got to expand your economic base. And that’s a problem we have in the United States right now. We read about the jobs that have ticked upward in this country and we’re all very happy about that. We’re providing people more in the way of real opportunity.

But think of where this country would be, if during the first two years of Barack Obama you had — if you would have had a different president. I would have ripped open the tax code and I would have done what Simpson-Bowles recommended. I would have cleaned out all of the loopholes and the deductions that weigh down this country to the tune of $1 trillion, 100 billion dollars. We’ve got a corrupt tax code.

So you’ve got to say, how are we going to pay for it? We’ve got to stimulate some confidence in the — in the creative class in this country. Right now they’re sitting on their hands. And they’re not going to have a more optimistic view of our direction…

[crosstalk]

STEPHANOPOULOS: …the same amount of revenue as Simpson-Bowles — the Simpson-Bowles plan that — that was the commission appointed by President Obama. Would anybody else — anybody else on this stage agree with that?

SANTORUM: I’m sorry?

STEPHANOPOULOS: To raise the kind of revenues called for in the Simpson-Bowles Commission?

SANTORUM: No. No I wouldn’t. In fact our plan puts together a package that focuses on simplifying the tax code and I agree with Governor Huntsman on that. Five deductions. Health care, housing, pensions, children and charities. Everything else goes. We focus on the pillars that have — have broad consensus of this country in the important sectors of our economy, including our children.

The other side is the corporate side. Cut it in half, 17.5 percent. But I do something different than anybody else. I’m very worried about a sector of our economy that has been under fire. I come from southwestern Pennsylvania, the heart of the steel country, the heart of manufacturing. And it’s been devastated because we are uncompetitive. Thirty years ago we were devastated because business and labor didn’t understand global competitiveness and they made a lot of mistakes. They did — they weren’t prepared for it and we lost a lot of jobs.

That’s not what’s happening now. Our productivity gains, our labor force, their doing their job, they’re being competitive. But they’re running into a stiff headwind called government. And it’s government taxation, 35 percent corporate tax which is high — the highest in the world. It’s a tax that doesn’t easily offset when we try to export, which makes it even more difficult…

[crosstalk]

STEPHANOPOULOS: Everyone on this stage is for lowering the corporate tax.

SANTORUM: No one — no one wants to zero it out for manufacturers and processors, which is what I do because we are at 20 percent cost differential with our — with our nine top trading partners on average. And that 20 percent cost differential, that is excluding labor costs. So it is government taxation. Eliminating the corporate tax gets rid of a big chunk of that. It’s regulation. This administration is on track — we — I — I think it’s the Congressional Research Service, they look at regulations and they price the highest cost ones, ones that are over $100 billion. And Bush and Clinton, they were 60 on average per year under those two administrations. Last year under President Obama, there was 150 of those types of regulations.

[crosstalk]

STEPHANOPOULOS: …what’s wrong with the Santorum approach…

[crosstalk]

SANTORUM: …repeal every one of them and replace them with ones that are less costly or not replace them at all.

STEPHANOPOULOS: Why not go to zero?

ROMNEY: Why not go to zero? I — there’s no question it would be great not to have any taxes, but unfortunately we have to have taxes to pay for our military, to pay for the programs that care for those that can’t care for themselves, but our taxes are too high. Government at all levels during the days of John F. Kennedy consumed 27 percent of our economy, about a quarter. Today it consumes 37 percent of our economy.

ROMNEY: We’re only inches away from no longer being a free economy. And our Democrat friends want us to just keep raising taxes just a little more. Just give us a little more. Government is already too big. We have to reign in the scale of the federal government. And so we do need to have our employer tax rates brought down to be competitive with other nations. That’s about 25 percent. We also have to make sure that we give relief to people who need it most.

The people that have been hurt in the Obama economy are the people in the middle-class. And so I put in place a significant savings incentive, tax reduction. I eliminate any tax on savings from middle income Americans. No tax on interest, dividends or capital gains. But I look long term to do just what Jon indicated, which is to take Bowles-Simpson and to reduce the rates in our tax code, to reduce the number of exemptions and — and limit the amount of exceptions that can occur. At the same time, I don’t want to raise capital gains tax rates, as they do in Bowles– Simpson. But simplifying the code, broadening the base is the right way to go for our tax code long term. And immediately, let’s get some relief for middle-income Americans.

SAWYER: And, Congressman Paul, we hear over and over again people are hoping for a great vision for America once again, America on the move once again. Give us the great vision that is realistic given the financial situation, a realistic great vision for America.

PAUL: Well, it’s to restore America to our freedoms, restore America to our principles, and that is individual liberty and our Constitution and sound money. But in doing that, you have to understand economics. You can’t solve any of this economic crisis unless you know where the business cycle comes from and why you have bubbles and why — why — why they break. You have to understand that we’ve had a financial bubble that’s been going on for 40 years. It’s collapsing. Nobody quite recognizes it, but we’re in the midst of a real big correction.

And the only way you can get back to growth is you have to liquidate the debt. But instead of liquidating debt, what we’ve done is the people who built up the debt on Wall Street and the banks, we’ve had the American taxpayer bail them out. We — we bought it through the Federal Reserve and through the Treasury, dumped it on the American people. The middle class is now shrinking. And we don’t have jobs. But if you’re an individual or a businessman, if you’re consuming everything you’re earning just to finance your debt, you can’t have growth. So we have to liquidate debt. This is the reason I call for cutting spending, the only one that’s calling for real cuts. You have to have real cuts. That’s what the Republican Party used to stand for, but you can’t liquidate debt. You can’t — you can’t keep bailing out the debt. That’s what Japan has done for 20 years. And they’re still in their doldrums. We did it in the depression. We’re into this now for five years, and it has to end. It’s only going to end until after we understand the business cycle.

PERRY: There is a vision. I mean, Dr. Paul, there is a vision out there, and it’s to get America back working again. I mean, the — the idea that Americans have lost confidence in Washington, D.C., and lost confidence in Wall Street is a great example of where they want to go.

They want Washington out of their hair. They want less taxation, less regulation, less litigation. There’s a model for that in the state of Texas over the course of the last decade.

And if we will put those types of — of — of policies into place, we’re sitting on 300 years of energy in this country. Allow our federal lands and waters to be opened up so that we are the people who are developing domestic energy and we are not being held hostage by companies — countries that are hostile to America.

We can put this country back to work again in the energy industry, whether it’s — you know, any of the energy industry side, whether it’s solar or wind or oil and gas or coal. Use it all. Put the American people to work. Allow those resources off our federal lands, Dr. Paul, to be used to pay down the debt.

And I’ll tell you one of the things that can turn this economy in New Hampshire around is to pass the right-to-work law. And it will make New Hampshire a powerful magnet for jobs in the Northeast. [applause]

SAWYER: Governor Huntsman?

HUNTSMAN: Diane, you hit right on it, and that is, what is the vision for getting this country moving? We all have records, those of us who were governors, very specific job-creation record. I delivered a flat tax in my state. We became the top job-creator in the country. You can look at what Mitt did in Massachusetts. He was number 47.

But more to the point, I went to Lindy’s Diner in Keane and had a conversation with a guy named Jamie, who has a small motorcycle repair shop. And he said, when he grew up in Keane, it was bustling with activity. He said he had 30 different jobs growing up. He said there were four machine tool operations in that town. He said, I remember the excitement, the enthusiasm, and all of the opportunity.

And we had this conversation. I said, you know what? We are once again on the cusp of a manufacturing renaissance in this country, if we do it right. China is going down in terms of GDP growth from 8 percent, 9 percent, 10 percent to 4 percent or 5 percent, 6 percent. And as they go down in growth, unemployment goes up.

We have an opportunity to win back that manufacturing investment, if we are smart enough, with the right kind of leadership to fix our taxes. No one up here is calling for the complete elimination of all the loopholes and the deductions, where the Wall Street Journal came out and endorsed my tax plan. That’s what needs to be done, not tinkering around the edges.

If we can fix our taxes, if we can move toward a friendlier regulatory environment, this country can get back in the game again. We can rebuild our manufacturing muscle, and we can rebuild some of the job-training opportunities that we have lost over recent years.

STEPHANOPOULOS: Governor Romney, why not close all the loopholes, as Governor Huntsman is saying?

ROMNEY: George, let me step back from that. I know you want to ask that question. Nothing wrong with it. And I don’t want to be critical of the questions that — that you ask and the other interviewers ask.

But — but I think the — the real issue is the vision for this country. And I — I think people have to recognize that what’s at stake in this election is jobs, yes; and balancing the budget, yes; and dealing with our — our extraordinary overhang from our — our entitlements. We have to make sure they’re preserved, our entitlements, that is, so we don’t kill the future of the country. We’ve got a lot of issues what about.

But, really, this election is about the soul of America.

The question is, what is America going to be?

And we have in Washington today a president who has put America on a road to decline, militarily, internationally and, domestically, he’s making us into something we wouldn’t recognize.

We’re increasingly becoming like Europe. Europe isn’t working in Europe. It will never work here.

The right course for America is to return to the principles that were written down in first words in the Declaration of Independence, we were endowed by our creator with certain unalienable rights, among them, life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. We have the right in this country to pursue happiness as we choose and as people pursue education and work hard and take risks and build enterprises of all kinds, they lift themselves and don’t make us poorer, they make us better off.

The question is, are we going to remain an exceptional nation, a unique nation in the history of the earth?

That’s what’s at stake in this election.

We have a president that does not understand, in his heart, in his bones, the nature of American entrepreneurialism, innovation and work. And — and that is something which we’re fighting for in this election. I hope the people on the stage share that vision. But we must return America to the principles about — upon which it was founded if we’re ever going to have a strong balance sheet, a strong income statement, create jobs, but have a bright future for our kids.

STEPHANOPOULOS: Speaker Gingrich, you just heard Governor Romney…[applause] …make his case. He’s…[applause] You’ve made the case on several occasions that he’s not the man to carry that message for the Republican Party.

Why not?

GINGRICH: Well, look, I think that’s a good message and I agree with him. A — a little bit harsh on President Obama, who, I’m sure in his desperate efforts to create a radical European socialist model, is sincere. [laughter]

But, you know, I think “The Wall Street Journal” captured it the other day in their dialogue, when their editorial board met and they said I had a very aggressive pro-jobs program, zero capital gains, 12.5 percent corporate tax rate, 100 percent expensing for all new equipment to dramatically modernize the system, abolish the death tax.

And they said that, by contrast — this is their words, not mine — that Governor Romney’s program was timid and more like Obama. Now, I would think those are fighting words. And, frankly, if he wants to fight with “The Wall Street Journal” on that, I wouldn’t blame him.

But I do think there’s a difference between a bold Reagan conservative model and a more establishment model that is a little more cautious about taking the kind of changes we need.

SAWYER: And, Josh?

MCELVEEN: Senator Santorum, you just heard from the — both people on either side of you.

Enough substance there for you?

SANTORUM: Well, look, I — I like the vision. As far as — as far as substance, I agree with Speaker Gingrich. I don’t think Governor Romney’s plan is particularly bold, it — or is particularly focused on where the problems are in this country. And the governor used a term earlier that — that I shrink from. And — and it’s one that I don’t think we should be using as Republicans, middle class. There are no classes in America. We are a country that don’t allow for titles. We don’t put people in classes. There may be middle income people, but the idea that somehow or another we’re going to buy into the class warfare arguments of Barack Obama is something that should not be part of the Republican lexicon. That’s their job, divide, separate, put one group against another.

That’s not the — that’s not the language that I’ll use as president. I’ll use the language of bringing people together.

And I’ll also be able to show you that unlike some of the folks up here, that we have a consistent record of being the person to contrast ourselves on health care, for example. We’re looking for someone who can win this race, who can win this race on the economy and on the core issues of this — of this election.

And I was not ever for an individual mandate. I wasn’t for a top down, government-run health care system. I wasn’t for the big bank of Wall Street bailout, as Governor Romney was. And I — and I stood firm on those and worked, actually, in the coal fields, if you will, against this idea that we needed a cap and trade program.

So if you want someone that’s a clear contrast, that has a strong record, has a vision for this country that’s going to get this country growing and appeal to blue collar workers in Pennsylvania, in Ohio, in Michigan, in Indiana and deliver that message, that we care about you, too, not just about Wall Street and bailing them out, then I’m the guy that you want to put in the — in the nomination.

MCELVEEN: Governor Romney?

ROMNEY: My plan is a lot broader than just tax policy. The tax poli — policy I’ve described is — is entitled to help people in this country that desperately need help right now.

ROMNEY: There’s more to it than that. We have to open up markets for America’s goods, as the most productive people in the world, more output per person from an American than anywhere else in the world. We have to open up markets for our goods. We haven’t done that under this president.

Europe — European nations and China over the last three years have opened up 44 different trade relationships with various nations in the world. This president has opened up none.

We have to open up trade. We have to take advantage of our extraordinary energy resources. At the same time, we’re going to have to do something about the regulations in this country.

As a party, we talk about deregulation, what we’re really shorthanding is that we want to change old regulations that are crushing enterprise and put in place those that encourage enterprise. I understand how the economy works, because I’ve lived in it.

There are a lot of guys who have spent their life in Washington, have a very valid and important experience, but they have not been on the front line competing with businesses around the world. I have.

I know what regulations kill and which regulations help enterprise. And I want to use the expertise to get America working again. And I’ll come back to the point I made at the beginning. This is bigger than that issue.

This is really an issue — a campaign about the direction of this country. This is a choice. And by the way, if we don’t make the right choice this time, we may not be able to for a very, very long time. This is a critical time in the history of this country.

SAWYER: Governor Huntsman, vision for dealing with China, competing around the world?

HUNTSMAN: Listen, we have the most important relationship of the 21st Century with China. We’ve got to make it work. Of course we have challenges with them. We’ve had challenges for 40 years. It’s nonsense to think you can slap a tariff on China the first day that you’re in office, as Governor Romney would like to do.

You’ve got to sit down and sort through the issues of trade like you do with North Korea, like you do with Iran, like you do with Burma, and Pakistan, and the South China Sea. They’re all interrelated. And to have a president who actually understands how that relationship works would serve the interests of the people in this country, from an economics standpoint and from a security standpoint.

ROMNEY: I’m sorry, Governor, you were, the last two years, implementing the policies of this administration in China. The rest of us on this stage were doing our best to get Republicans elected across the country and stop the policies of this president from being put forward.

My own view on the relationship with China is this, which is that China is stealing our intellectual property, our patents, our designs, our know-how, our brand names. They’re hacking into our computers, stealing information from not only corporate computers but from government computers. And they’re manipulating their currency.

And for those who don’t understand the impact of that, I’ve seen it. I’ve seen it. And that is, if you hold down the value of your currency artificially, you make your products artificially low-priced and kill American jobs. That has happened here in this country.

And if I’m president of the United States, I’m not going to continue to talk about how important China is and how we have to get along. And I believe those things. They’re very important. And we do have to get along. But I’m also going to tell the Chinese it’s time to stop. You have to play by the rules. I will not let you kill American jobs any longer. [applause]

SAWYER: Under the rules, Governor Huntsman.

HUNTSMAN: I think it’s important to note, as they would say in China, that (speaking mandarin)…[crosstalk]… he doesn’t quite understand this situation. What he is calling for would lead to a trade war. It makes for easy talk and a nice applause line but it’s far different from the reality in the U.S.-China relationship.

You slap on tariffs, you talk tough like that. Of course you have, that has got to be part of it as well. But in the end, we get a tariff in return if we don’t sit down and have a logical, sensible conversation. And who does that hurt most? It hurts the small businesses and the small exporters are who trying to get back on their feet in this country in a time when this nation can least afford a trade war. [applause]

ROMNEY: I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again. The last thing China wants is a trade war. We don’t want one either. [crosstalk] But they sell us this much stuff. We sell them this much stuff. Tell me, who doesn’t want the trade war? They don’t want it real bad. And we’ve been listening for 10 years from people talking about how we can’t hold China to the rules of free and fair trade and if I=’m president I will hold them to those rules. And we’ll respect each other but we are not going to let them just run all over us and steal our jobs.

STEPHANOPOULOS: We’ve got to take a break. We’ll be right back with a final word. [applause]

ANNOUNCER: You’re watching live coverage from Manchester, New Hampshire, of the ABC News Republican Party Debate.

[commercial break]

SAWYER: We are back and so grateful for this debate tonight. And we thought we might just end on something personal. It’s Saturday night, again, as we meet.

STEPHANOPOULOS: So if you weren’t here running for president, Governor Perry, what would you be doing on a Saturday night?

PERRY: I’d probably be at the shooting range. [laughter]

SANTORUM: Instead of being shot at.

PERRY: Yeah.

STEPHANOPOULOS: Speaker Gingrich?

GINGRICH: I’d be watching the college championship basketball game.

[unknown]: Football game.

GINGRICH: I mean, football game. [laughter]

Thank you.

SANTORUM: I’d be doing the same thing with my family. We’d be huddled around, and we’d be watching the championship game.

ROMNEY: I’m afraid it’s football. I love it.

STEPHANOPOULOS: Football?

ROMNEY: Yeah.

PAUL: I’d be home with my family. But if they all went to bed, I’d probably read an economic textbook. [laughter]

HUNTSMAN: I’d be on the phone with my two boys in the United States Navy, because they’re a constant reminder of what is great about this nation and awesome about the emerging generation in this country. [applause]

SAWYER: And on that note, once again, we thank you all. Tuesday, the big primary in New Hampshire. And that is it for us here at Saint Anselm College in Manchester. And we want to thank all of you in the audience. And your families, once again, your families are here. And we salute all of you who have spent your Saturday night here with us, too. And we thank everybody here in New Hampshire for joining us.