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GOP Undercard Debate: Fiorina vs. Santorum
Posted by Ed Hudgins on 8/08, 1:17pm

GOP Undercard Debate: Fiorina vs. Santorum
By Edward Hudgins


August 6, 2015 ―If the winner of the kiddie-table GOP debate were rewarded a seat at the adult table, Carly Fiorina would be feasting on hot turkey with all the trimmings. And if opposition to economic liberty were to banish a candidate from the primary dining room, former Pennsylvania senator Rick Santorum would be sent to bed without his supper.


The main debate provided some verbal fireworks, especially surrounding Donald Trump. But Fiorina’s performance in the undercard debate could well influence both who participates in the next set of debates and what themes the candidates address


Three GOP factions


As the debates kick off we can evaluate the candidates in terms of three GOP factions. Are they establishment Republicans, simply seeking to tweak the failing welfare-regulatory state? Are they extreme social conservatives, who give priority to limiting liberty? Or are they libertarian/Constitutionalist Republicans who want to roll back the state and restore liberty? We can gauge whether they are sincere, competent, and intelligent rather than being simply spewers of soundbites. And we can gauge which appeals are promising for the advancement of liberty and which are not.


Fiorina’s tech appeal


Fiorina was one of seven August 6 “pre-debate” candidates who scored lower in the polls than the ten featured in the prime-time main event. She was credible in emphasizing that her experience as Hewlett-Packard CEO showed her understanding of economics, business, and technology. Of special note, she mentioned the need for a president who “understands bureaucracies, how to cut them down to size and hold them accountable.”  Fiorina is often criticized for cutting the workforce at the Silicon Valley tech giant. She’s making it a virtue. She’ll make the hard decisions. Would that the mismanagers of America’s auto companies had done that decades ago. They might have survived without the need for monetary infusions of American taxpayer blood.


Concerning Donald Trump’s popularity, Fiorina said what some other Republicans would acknowledge in the main debate, that “he's tapped into an anger that people feel. They're sick of politics as usual.” Her promise to shake up the status quo came off as more credible than other candidates who, after emphasizing their competence from years in politics, made the somewhat hollow claim that they are not part of “The System.”


As the former CEO of a top tech company, Fiorina knows overseas markets and many world leaders. So she’s by no means a novice who needs to bone up on the names of foreign capitals. She’s shown her competence as a hardheaded businesswoman. Indeed, she was paid a compliment by former Texas governor Rick Perry. He said concerning the Iranians, he would have “rather had Carly Fiorina over there doing our negotiation than John Kerry. Maybe we would've gotten a deal where we didn't give everything away.” True enough, though this is not a very high bar. The success of my four-year-olds in negotiating from me more candy than they certainly need shows they might best Kerry as well!


Fiorina hit many of the usual GOP hot-button issues, but her focus on economic opportunity was welcome. The one note she should have sounded more in her answers was her standard denunciation of the crony system that is corrupting the country.

All in all, while a social conservative, she sounded like she might fit comfortably in the libertarian/Constitutionalist camp.


Santorum’s social engineering


Rich Santorum, by contrast, is the poster child for extreme social conservatives. Indeed, the theme of his 2012 bid for the GOP nomination was “Faith, Family and Freedom.” In light of his agenda to limit liberty he should have replaced the word “freedom” with “force.” Back then Santorum failed as a Romney-slayer, so this time around he’s taking a new tack.


In the pre-debate, Santorum spoke in a code that marked him as both economically ignorant and no friend of free markets. He said he is “going to grow the manufacturing sector of our economy, so those 74 percent of Americans who don't have a college degree have a chance to rise again.” He wants “to create jobs and make America the number one manufacturing country in the world.” And he complained that illegal immigration is flattening, that is, holding down wages.


Santorum, like many extreme social conservatives, idealizes a past America in which working-class men—the women were apparently all at home raising the kids—labored away in factories making cars or steel, making high wages that make them middle class. But the portion of the non-agricultural workforce in manufacturing in America has fallen from 25 percent in 1970 to about 8.5 percent today. Economic value today is more than ever in brains, not brawn; it's in Silicon Valley, not in the Rust Belt to the extent that it remains rusty.


Santorum does not see his constituency in young entrepreneurs and tech achievers. Millennials who spearhead the new economy are socially liberal; 67 percent are for same-sex marriage. And about one-third have no religious affiliation. They are the antithesis for Santorum’s audience.


Like many extreme social conservatives, Santorum is a social engineer from the right. In this case, he wants to make the economy safe for those who can’t write computer code or start an Uber, at the expense rather than in addition to those who can. Some proposals Santorum voiced in the debate, like a flat tax, are not bad and are meant to appeal to the libertarian/Constitutionalist wing of the GOP. But Santorum is still the ultimate extreme social conservative.


Debates to come


Her strong performance in the pre-debate could boost Fiorina in the polls and propel her into future debates with the major candidates. Hopefully she’ll double down on the theme of an innovative future economy.


And hopefully Santorum’s backwards appeal will keep him in the political basement and show other candidates that such an appeal is radioactive.
Hudgins is a senior scholar at the Atlas Society.




*Edward Hudgins, The Republican Party’s Civil War: Will Freedom Win? 2014.

*Edward Hudgins, “What Carly Fiorina Brings to the GOP Agenda .”  May 6, 2015.

*Edward Hudgins, “Rick Santorum: The Most Anti-Reagan Republican.” January 5, 2012.

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