GOP DEBATE: Huckabee, Santorum, Fiorina Blast Dems

Huckabee Fiorina and Santorum

Thursday’s Republican “undercard” debate, with the three lowest-polling candidates, brought the expected criticism of President Obama’s handling of the economy and foreign policy, and the occasional comment about American morality being in decline.

The debate from North Charleston, S.C., televised on the Fox Business Channel, featured Mike Huckabee, the former Arkansas governor; Rick Santorum, former U.S. senator from Pennsylvania; and former Hewlett-Packard CEO Carly Fiorina. U.S. Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky boycotted the event because he was bumped from the mainstage debate, which takes place tonight at 9 Eastern time.

On the economy, they painted Obama as out of touch with ordinary Americans. “I wish I saw the country in the same place that the president presented it to be the other night in the State of the Union,” Huckabee said. “He talked about how great the economy was doing. And I guess for the people he hangs out with, it’s probably doing great.” He then talked about the layaway line at Walmart before Christmas and a woman he knows in Little Rock who works two jobs for a combined 15 hours a day.

Santorum disputed Obama’s statement in the State of the Union about the U.S. adding 900,000 manufacturing jobs during his presidency. “Manufacturing jobs have been lost in this country, 2 million of them,” he said. “The bottom line is that this president has done more to take jobs away from the hard-working people who are struggling the most.” (Note: FiveThirtyEight.com says it’s indeed true that the U.S. economy has added 900,000 manufacturing jobs since 2010, although millions were lost before that.)

Fiorina spoke of “record numbers of men out of work” (an accurate statement, according to FiveThirtyEight.com, but with many and complex causes) and women living in poverty. “Citizens, it’s time to take our country back,” she said.

Their solution for economic problems, pretty much across the board, is to change the tax code so as to better enable businesses, especially small ones, to create jobs. “I still support strongly that we get rid of the 77,000 pages of the monstrous tax code,” Huckabee said to applause, “pass the fair tax, supercharge this economy with the rocket fuel that happens with the consumption tax, and we don’t have to cut Social Security to any senior who has worked their lifetime for it.” Fiorina said her tax plan would cut the code to three pages.

On foreign policy, Santorum denounced the nuclear arms treaty with Iran, designed to prevent or at least delay the nation from acquiring such capabilities, saying it should “be torn up on the first day in office of the next president” as Iran has already violated it. Also, it was a poor deal to begin with, he said. “The president of the United States has put Iran on a path to a nuclear weapon,” he said.

The candidates contended that the Obama administration has not done enough to fight the terrorist group known as the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) or to counter other international threats. They further criticized Democratic presidential front-runner Hillary Clinton’s response to the attack on the U.S. diplomatic mission in Benghazi, Libya, when she was secretary of State.

Clinton came in for other critiques as well, with Fiorina calling both her and Republican front-runner Donald Trump exponents of “crony capitalism.” “Hillary Clinton sits inside government and rakes in millions, handing out access and favors,” Fiorina said. “And Donald Trump sits outside government and rakes in billions buying people like Hillary Clinton.”

She took a shot at Clinton’s marriage too. “Unlike another woman in this race, I actually love spending time with my husband,” she said.

The candidates also called for stopping illegal immigration and deporting undocumented immigrants: “Let's send six million Mexicans, Hondurans, Guatemalans, El Savadorians back into their country,” Santorum said.

And they denounced Obama’s executive order expanding background checks for gun sales. “I just find it amazing the President keeps saying’ the gun show loophole,’” Huckabee said. “There is no gun show loophole. I promise you I’'ve been to more gun shows than President Obama.” He said expanded background checks would not have stopped recent mass shootings and claimed that most of them happened in gun-free zones where a law-abiding gun owner could not take out the shooter.

There was little discussion of social issues, but toward the end of the debate Huckabee said, “There's got to be some leadership that not only addresses the monetary and military issues of this country, but the moral issues of this country. At the end of every political speech, most of us say, God bless America. But how can he do that when we continue to slaughter 4,000 babies a day?”

Huckabee reiterated his promise to protect the unborn under the Fifth and Fourteenth Amendments to the U.S. Constitution and said it would be a good idea for Americans to “unapologetically get on our knees before we get on our feet.”

 He did not mention LGBT issues, nor did the others explicitly, but Santorum took what could be read as a veiled shot when he talked about families. Discussing the challenges faced by children of single parents, he said the next president should use the “bully pulpit” to start “a national campaign to rebuild the American family and give every child its birthright, which is a mom and a dad who loves them.”

Find a transcript at The Washington Post’s website, and go here for FiveThirtyEight.com’s fact-checking and other commentary on the debate. And check in later for our coverage of the mainstage debate.

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