Republican Party presidential contenders Mitt Romney and New Gingrich sharply criticized President Barack Obama on Thursday for what they believe has been a failed economic policy. During a CNN debate in Charleston, South Carolina, Romney, who is considered the frontrunner for the nomination, said, “This president is the biggest impediment to job growth in this country.”
The televised debate came a day after Texas governor Rick Perry ended his presidential campaign and endorsed former House speaker New Gingrich for the nomination. Gingrich, he said, is a “conservative visionary” who could beat Barack Obama in the general election.
To the right of Romney, Gingrich’s remaining opponent, former Pennsylvania senator Rick Santorum, polls between 10 and 15 percent in the early primary state of South Carolina whereas the former speaker has overtaken Romney in the most recent polls for a win.
Romney did emerge the victor from New Hampshire two weeks ago and rivaled Santorum for a first place finish in Iowa in early January. He has largely refrained from attacking his opponents in the nomination contest and reserved his strongest criticism for the incumbent president whom he accused of engaging in “crony capitalism” Thursday night. The former governor of Massachusetts champions lower taxes and less regulation instead of an activist industrial policy where the government picks winners and losers. “We have to open up markets,” he added. “And we have to crack down on China when they cheat.”
Despite his sensible, supply-side economic program, Romney has struck a populist chord with his rhetoric on China. During a previous debate, he said, “They simply cannot continue stealing our jobs” and vowed to raise tariffs on Chinese imports unless the country reversed its monetary policy which aims to keep the value of the renminbi low and Chinese products cheap.
Ron Paul, the libertarian congressman from Texas who advocates smaller government and a noninterventionist foreign policy, was the only candidate on stage to point out that outsourcing manufacturing to China profits Americans in the form of cheaper products. “So we shouldn’t be frightened about trade or sending money on,” he suggested.
Gingrich and Romney cited another potential for job growth — domestic oil and gas production. According to Gingrich, “there’s $29 billion plus of natural gas offshore” in South Carolinian waters alone. Romney criticized the president’s decision not to allow construction of the Keystone XL pipeline which would carry oil from tar sands in Alberta, Canada to the Gulf coast port of Houston.
Labor unions and Republicans both support the pipeline because it would provide temporary employment to thousands of American construction workers. The president says he hasn’t had ample time to study the environmental impact of building the pipeline although a permit for construction was filed as early as September 2008.
“While the price of gasoline has doubled, he said ‘no’ to the Keystone pipeline,” lamented Romney. “That’s the problem in America. Not the attacks they make on people who’ve been successful.”
Romney, a millionaire many times over, has seen his career as a businessman scrutinized by both Democrats and his Republican challengers. Gingrich in particular has questioned his record as a jobs creator and alleged that the investment company that Romney chaired between 1984 and 1998 in fact destroyed jobs when it acquired ailing companies only to strip them of their healthy assets and turn a quick profit.
Although Romney insisted that his company had helped create more than 100,000 jobs, he didn’t attack Gingrich rather the president whom, he claimed, is “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,” he said.
If he is the nominee, Democrats will probably try to portray Romney as a member of an elusive “1 percent” which, according to left-wing activist, owns the bulks of wealth in America to prevent the underprivileged “99 percent” from improving their lot.
Republicans and independents can participate in South Carolina’s primary election on Saturday. The next vote in Florida on January 31 will be closed to registered Republicans. All of that state’s fifty delegates will be bound for three votes at the national convention in Tampa in August to the candidate who wins a plurality of the votes there. South Carolina’s delegates, by contrast, are allotted proportionately among the candidates based on their share of the vote.