Former Speaker of the Florida House Marco Rubio debated Governor Charlie Crist on Chris Wallace’s Fox News Sunday and the difference in the candidates was glaringly obvious. Both Republican candidates approach the role of a senator differently—there’s a sharp contrast in perspectives on the duties of the federal government and on matters like the Stimulus. That contrast even applies to politicians the two admire.
Crist named Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) and Sen. Lindsay Graham (R-S.C.) as leaders he most admires.
Rubio named Sen. Jim DeMint, leader of the Senate Conservatives Fund. That fund has officially endorsed Rubio. DeMint, like Rubio, is very popular with grassroots fiscal conservatives.
Crist focuses on Republican Party spending, perplexing viewers
Crist’s overall approach to the debate was confusing considering the limited time to cover numerous issues. Crist does not do nasty well—his bearing and demeanor are more that of a gentleman. But repeatedly Crist hammered at Rubio over allegations about Republican Party spending, accusing Rubio of “public enrichment.”
But the funds in question aren’t public, they’re Party funds and Rubio addressed the issue weeks ago, accounting for spending. When questions about spending by the former Republican Party of Florida chair surfaced, Rubio told media he had reimbursed any questionable charges.
Rubio called Crist’s accusations “outrageous,” and stayed away from a vulnerability for the governor, public criticism over lavish spending on Crist's foreign travel, with much of that paid for by the taxpayer.
Crist repeated criticism over that at every turn and seemed chagrined when Wallace held off discussion about taxes. It was obvious the 40 minutes allotted didn’t allow candidates to talk about everything each considered important. Wallace acknowledged that.
Sharp divide on Stimulus
Crist, who faced public scorn for the famous “hug” with President Barack Obama, said he took the Stimulus money for Florida because it would “help the people of my state.”
Rubio retorted, “If it’s bad for America, it can’t be good for your state.”
Former Governor Jeb Bush said publicly that Crist’s support of the Stimulus was “unforgivable.”
Crist pointed out that during high unemployment, the Stimulus money provided $8.2 billion and created 87,000 jobs, including 20,000 teachers. The money however does not provide permanent funding and the per job cost, as evidenced by the figures, was astronomical, typical of massive spending projects the federal government undertakes.
Shocking many viewers, Crist also said he would have voted for the Stimulus. Three Republican senators voted for it.
Rubio said, “The Stimulus is a failure.” He said this pointed out the “critical difference” in the campaign—“I would have voted against it and fought against it.”
‘Start over’ on healthcare; divergent views on undocumented people in the country
Both candidates believe Congress should start over on the healthcare bill, in keeping with Republicans in Congress who want to “repeal and replace” the more than 2,000 page bill most in Congress did not read before voting on it. “We can’t afford it,” said Rubio.
On immigration, Rubio said the GOP is pro-legal immigration. But he said amnesty is not the answer for the millions in the country illegally, many of whom have overstayed their visas. Rubio said if you grant amnesty, “You will destroy any chance we’ll ever have of a legal immigration system that works here in America.”
Crist said the US must seal the border to make sure “we’re enforcing the law.” He said those already here should go through the application process but “they should not be advantaged.” In other words, they would go to the back of the line just as they would if they were coming here for the first time in a legal manner.
Crist’s approach was tried in the 1980s. Congress justified amnesty at that time by promising to seal the border. Securing the border remains a promise unkept and the population of undocumented individuals has mushroomed.
Most conservatives are concerned about the impact of amnesty on entitlement spending.
Entitlements and taxes
On social security, Rubio offered several methods for keeping the fund solvent. He said the best plan he’s seen has been advanced by Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wisc.) Like many who have not yet retired, Rubio said he believes social security cannot survive if the current path is kept—“it will not exist for us.”
Crist said it must be saved but advancing the retirement age “flies in the face of my fellow Floridians.”
But Ryan’s plan, ‘A Roadmap for America,’ suggests serious changes must be considered or “a looming shortfall would force either a 24 percent benefit cut or a 30 percent hike in payroll taxes.”
Ryan’s plan would protect benefits for Americans 55 and older. In keeping with what many conservatives want, Ryan’s plan also allows workers under 55 to invest 1/3 of social security taxes in personal retirement plans. Those accounts would be managed by the Social Security Administration but owned by the individual. Modest increases in the retirement age over the next century would be folded in—Americans’ life expectancy has increased by 20 years since Social Security was enacted.
Both candidates jousted over taxes. Crist criticized Rubio for suggested sales tax increases in a bill that never advanced beyond the Florida House. Crist said he signed into law the largest single tax cut in Florida history and he slashed spending.
However in counties like Duval, the tax decreases were pushed into a de facto increase by items like new garbage collection fees, stormwater fees and increased costs for vehicle registration and tags.
Ironically individuals can itemize property taxes as a federal tax deduction but you can’t list garbage fees or tag registration fees. Crist was in favor of a large increase on the cost of cigarettes, a tax that often hurts the lower income community. While critics often point to harmful effects from cigarettes, a tax is still a tax and smokers remain the only segment of individuals in American society who are taxed for a personal habit.
Rubio said his plan would have eliminated the property tax and moved to a revenue neutral sales tax, benefiting Floridians because 30 percent of the state’s sales tax is not paid for by Floridians.
Rubio thanks bloggers, independent media and talks about Israel
In a conference call with bloggers on Monday, Rubio acknowledged the 40 minute debate didn’t allow enough time for the candidates to talk about the critical issue of foreign policy. He pointed to the current administration’s recent public criticisms of Israel. He said if the Palestinians laid down their arms, there would be peace. “If Israel laid down their arms, there would be genocide.”
Rubio also said Iran’s nuclear capabilities constitute the “single greatest issue” on foreign policy.
In the call Rubio reiterated his stance on entitlement reform, saying Crist’s approach to cut waste and fraud would not fix the trend lines on entitlements.
Possibly realizing viewers were flummoxed by Crist focusing on Republican Party spending, Rubio said, “After 40 minutes of debate, we still had not heard a serious policy proposal from Crist.”
If the debate were scored, Rubio would be the winner. He came off as a determined conservative intent on “standing up to President Barack Obama” and reining in federal spending.
The overall impression from Crist’s performance was of a candidate resorting to personal attacks despite the fact there was ample substance in Crist’s gubernatorial administration for solid debate.
Crist denied he would run as an independent when Wallace asked him about the possibility in light of the large lead Rubio currently holds in polls. He said he would support the winner of the GOP primary August 24.
In the conference call, Rubio made it a point to thank bloggers and independent media, acknowledging their importance in covering his campaign from the beginning.
Rubio said when he got into the race 11 months ago, many did not think he could win. Others like The US Report saw a strong candidate who, with adequate messaging, could connect with the needs and ideas of Main Street. Polls suggest we were right.