Former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum, who had momentum on his side after recent wins in Minnesota, Missouri and Colorado, needed a strong performance to solidify his standing, but he didn't get it and may slip a bit in the polls before Tuesday's primaries in Michigan and Arizona. Romney came up short of a knockout punch but carried the night by keeping Santorum on the defensive, with some help from Rep. Ron Paul of Texas.
Here are key excerpts from the transcript of the debate, annotated by David Morris, senior political editor for Kiplinger Washington Editors. Hover over blue, bolded text to see David's comments. You can also jump to sections using the links below.
JOHN KING, DEBATE MODERATOR, CNN ANCHOR AND CHIEF NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Thank you.
Our thanks to the Arizona State University Symphonic Chorale. That was fabulous.
Gentlemen, I want to ask you to take your seats. I'll take a moment now to explain to you how our debate will work.
I'll question the candidates, as well as we'll also take some questions from members of our audience. I'll follow up and guide tonight's discussion.
Candidates, we're going to try to make sure each of you get your fair amount of questions. And you'll have a minute to answer and 30 seconds for rebuttal and follow-ups. And if you're singled out for a particular criticism, I'll make sure you get a chance to respond.
Now we're going to have each of the candidates introduce themselves. And so we have more time to debate tonight, we're going to ask them to keep it short.
Here's an example. I'm John King from CNN. I'm honored to be your moderator tonight and I'm thrilled to be in a state that reminds us baseball season is just around the corner.
KING: Congressman Paul, we begin with you, sir.
REP. RON PAUL, R-TEXAS, PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I'm Congressman Ron Paul, a congressman from Texas.
I am the defender of the Constitution. I'm the champion of liberty. This shows the roadmap to peace and prosperity.
FORMER SEN. RICK SANTORUM, R-PA., PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I'm Rick Santorum.
And we have a lot of troubles around the world, as you see, the Middle East in flames, and what's going on in this country with gas prices and the economy. And I'm here to talk about a positive solutions that confront this country that include everybody from the bottom up.
FORMER GOV. MITT ROMNEY, R-MASS., PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I'm Mitt Romney.
And there was a time in this country when you knew that if you worked hard and went to school, and if you learned the values of America in your home, that you could count on having a secure future and a prosperous life. That was an American promise and it's been broken by this president.
I want to restore America's promise, and I'm going to do that --
ROMNEY: That's good enough. As George Costanza would say, when they're applauding, stop. Right?
FORMER REP. NEWT GINGRICH, R-GA., PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I'm Newt Gingrich.
And I've developed a program for American energy so no future president will ever bow to a Saudi king again and so every American can look forward to $2.50 a gallon gasoline.
KING: Gentlemen, it's good to see you again.
Let's get started on the important issues with a question from our audience.
Sir, please tell us who you are and state your question.
The Federal Deficit
(UNKNOWN): My name is Gilbert Fidler (ph) from Gilbert, Arizona, and I'd like to ask this question to all the candidates if I could.
Since the first time in 65 years our national debt exceeds our gross national product, what are you going to do to bring down the debt?
KING: Thank you, sir.
Senator Santorum, let's begin with you.
SANTORUM: Thank you, Gilbert.
I put together a specific plan that cuts $5 trillion over five years, that spends less money each year for the next four years that I'll be president of the United States. So it's not inflation- adjusted, it's not baseline-budgeting. We're actually going to shrink the actual size of the federal budget, and we're going to do so by dealing with the real problem.
And here's where I differentiate myself from everybody else, including, obviously, the president. I actually have experience on tackling the toughest problems that we have in this country, and that's the growth of entitlement spending.
Obviously, the first thing we need to do is repeal Obamacare. That's the one entitlement that we can get rid of.
And that's a couple trillion dollars in spending over the next 10 years. But there's bigger issues.
When I was born, less than 10 percent of the federal budget was entitlement spending. It's now 60 percent of the budget.
Some people have suggested that defense spending is the problem. When I was born, defense spending was 60 percent of the budget. It's now 17 percent. If you think defense spending is the problem, then you need a remedial math class to go back to.
Defense spending will not be cut under my administration, but we will go after all of the means-tested entitlement programs -- Medicaid, food stamps, all of those programs -- and do what we did with welfare.
We cut the welfare -- we cut spending on welfare, froze it and then we block granted it to the states and gave them the flexibility to run that program they way they saw fit with two provisos. Number one, there would be a time limit on welfare and a work requirement. We were going to say that poverty is not a disability. That these programs need to be transitional in nature. We need to do the same thing with Medicaid. We need to do the same thing with -- with food stamps. All of the other means tests of entitlement programs.
And unlike the Paul Ryan plan -- I see I'm out of time, but unlike the Paul Ryan plan, we also will deal with Medicare and Social Security, not 10 years from now. But we need to start dealing with it now because our country is facing fiscal bankruptcy.
KING: Governor Romney, I'm wondering if that answer satisfied you? Just in recent days you said this, quote, "If you want a fiscal conservative, you can't vote for Rick Santorum because he's not." Did he answer your questions there?
ROMNEY: Well I'm looking at his historic record, which voting for raising the debt ceiling five different times without voting for compensating cuts. Voting to keep in place Davis-Bacon, which cost about $100 billion over -- over 10 years. A whole series of votes. Voting to fund Planned Parenthood, to expand the Department of Education. During his term in the Senate, spending grew by some 80 percent of the federal government. But I -- but I want to respond to Gilbert's question, which I think is a critical one.
And that is as you -- as you look at this country, I'm a guy who has lived in the world of business. If you don't balance your budget in business, you go out of business. So I've lived balancing budgets. I also served in the Olympics, balanced a budget there. And -- and served in the states. And all four years I was governor, we balanced the budget. Here's what I'd do at the federal level, I would divide all of the programs into three major places for opportunity to reduce costs.
Number one, I'm going to go through every single program and ask if we can afford it. And if not, I'm going to say, is this program so critical that it's worth borrowing money from China to pay for it? And if not, I'm going to get rid of it. Number two, I'm going to take programs...
ROMNEY: ...I'm going to take programs that are important, but that could be better run at the state level and send them back to the states as a block grant and that included Medicaid and -- and housing vouchers and food stamps. These programs for the poor, to be run more efficiently and can be run with less fraud and abuse at the state level. And then finally number three, with what's left of government, I'm going to cut the employment by 10 percent. And I'm going to link the pay of government workers with the pay in the private sector. Government servants shouldn't get paid more than the people who are paying taxes.
KING: Senator, the governor singled you out. Take a few seconds.
SANTORUM: Well, the governor talks about raising the debt ceiling. There was a debt ceiling vote this summer and the governor was asked the question whether he would have voted to raise the debt ceiling ultimately and he said, yes. Because government has to pay their bills. We can't default ultimately. What happened the -- the 12 years I was in the United States Senate, we went from the debt to GDP ratio, which is now over 100 percent. When I came to the Senate it was 68 percent of GDP. When I left the Senate it was 64 percent of GDP.
So government as a size of the economy went down when I was in the United States Senate. Sure I had some votes. Look, I think we've all had votes that I look back on I -- I wish I wouldn't have voted -- No Child Left Behind, you're right, it lead to education spending. That's why I've said that we need to cut and eliminate No Child Left Behind and -- and education funding from the federal government, move it back to the local level where it belongs where parents and local communities can deal with that.
But if you look at my record on spending, on taking on entitlements, never having voted for an appropriation bill increase. You look at -- at my record of never having raised taxes. Governor Romney raised $700 million in taxes and fees in Massachusetts. I never voted to raise taxes. Governor Romney even today suggested raising taxes on the top 1 percent, adopting the Occupy Wall Street rhetoric. I'm not going to adopt that rhetoric. I'm going to represent 100 percent of Americans. We're not raising taxes on anybody.
KING: Governor, please quickly I want to bring the congressman and the speaker into the conversation, but respond.
ROMNEY: There were so many misrepresentations there, it's going to take me a little while. Number one, I said today that we're going to cut taxes on everyone across the country by 20 percent, including the top 1 percent. So that's number one. Number two, I said yes we should increase the debt ceiling in this last vote, but only if we have a cut, cap and balance provision put in place. Only in that case. And, therefore, I did not agree with the deal that was done in Washington. That was the wrong way to go.
And finally, Senator during your term in Congress, the years you've been there, government has doubled in size. You voted to raise the debt ceiling five times without compensating cuts in spending. In my view, we should not raise the debt ceiling again until we get compensating cuts in spending. A cut, cap and balance approach must be taken.
KING: Mr. Speaker...
KING: Mr. Speaker, join the conversation. Address Gilbert's question and if you so choose, address some criticism you've received on this issue from this state's senior Senator campaigning for governor Romney. He questioned your credentials on fiscal conservatism. He said when you were the speaker, earmarking became an art.
GINGRICH: Well when I was speaker, as I'm sure he remembers, we balanced the budget for four consecutive years, the only time in his lifetime. So I think that's a good place to start with Gilbert's question. We're meeting tonight on the 280th anniversary of George Washington's birth. You go back and look at the founding fathers, they'd have had very clear messages. Hamilton would have said you have to have jobs and economic growth to get back to a balanced budget. You're never going to balance the budget on the back of a highly unemployed country. And so I would be committed, first of all, to a program of jobs and economic growth.
Second, the energy issue is enormous. The leading developer of North Dakota oil estimated recently that, if we would open up federal land and open up offshore, you would have $16 trillion to $18 trillion -- not billion -- trillion dollars in royalties to the federal government in the next generation, an enormous flow which would drive down prices to $2.50 a gallon, would help us balance the budget and would create millions of jobs.
Finally, I agree generally with the need to reform government. I think that, if we were prepared to repeal the 130-year-old civil service laws, go to a modern management system, we could save a minimum of $500 billion a year with a better system. And if we then applied the tenth amendment, as Governor Rick Perry has agreed to head up a project on, I think we can return to the states an enormous share of the power that's currently in Washington, D.C.
KING: Congressman Paul, you've questioned the conservative -- fiscal conservative credentials of all these gentlemen but particularly this week Senator Santorum. You have a new television ad that labels him a fake. Why?
PAUL: Because he's a fake ... I find it really fascinating that, when people are running for office, they're really fiscally conservative. When they're in office, they do something different. And then when they explain themselves, they say, "Oh, I want to repeal that."
So the senator voted for No Child Left Behind, but now -- he voted for it, but now he's running on the effort to get rid of it. So I think the record is so bad, you know, with the politicians.
And, you know, nobody accuses me of not having voted for too much. They're always accusing me for not voting for enough. And I've been running in office, in office off and on for a good many years, and over all those years, I've never voted for a budget deficit. I never voted to increase the national debt.
As a matter of fact, there's only one appropriation bill I voted for, and that was for veterans. I assumed, from the 1970s on, that we were embarking on a very dangerous path, and we're involved in that danger right now.
So this idea of being fiscally conservative now that we're running for office and we're going to repeal something that we did before, I mean, this -- it loses credibility is what our problem is. So... (APPLAUSE) And -- and the one thing that I think should annoy all Americans is the voting for foreign aid? I mean, just think there are foreign aid packages that are huge, and when the member votes for it, they don't say, well, this money is going to A, B, C, because I love that country, but it's the principle of the way the government works. You vote for foreign aid because, for some weird reason, it's supposed to be good for America, but then it goes and helps all our enemies. That's what I disapprove of.
KING: Senator Santorum, respond quickly.
SANTORUM: Ron, The Weekly Standard just did a review, looking at the National Taxpayers Union, I think, Citizens Against Government Waste, and they measured me up against the other 50 senators who were serving when I did and they said that I was the most fiscally conservative senator in the Congress in the -- in the 12 years that I was there.
My -- my ratings with the National Taxpayers Union were As or Bs. They were very high from the Citizens Against Government Waste. I got a hero award.
I was a leader, as you know, on taking on tough issues, which is the entitlement programs, not just welfare reform, but I also worked on Medicare reform and Medicaid reform and also was a leader on trying to deal with Social Security.
And I did that not representing one of the most conservative districts in the state of Texas but in the state of Pennsylvania, with the second largest per capita population of seniors in the country.
And I can tell you those seniors really cared about Social Security. Why? Because all my rich seniors moved to Florida and Arizona. And...
... and what's left -- what's left in Pennsylvania is folks who relied on Social Security. And I was out there as a Republican senator, a conservative voting record, over a 90 percent conservative voting record from the American Conservative Union.
By the way, Ron, you ranked 145th in the bottom half of Republicans this year in a conservative voting record from that same organization.
We had a strong record in a tough state to be a conservative. If I can stand up in the state of Pennsylvania, which hasn't elected a Republican president since 1988, and have a strong principled voting record on issues that were tough in my state, senior issues, imagine now, as president of the United States, with a Tea Party movement and a conservative -- a riled-up conservative base, what we can accomplish in Washington, D.C. ...
KING: The Speaker raises an important point about looking forward, and I hope we spend most of the night doing that. But as you know, there's a lot of anger in the base of the party about some of the things that have happened in the past, and the Tea Party, especially.
Now, earmarks, the pork barrel spending, it's a tiny slice of the budget. I think we all know that. But if you talk to a Tea Party activist, they think -- an example, a gateway to corruption.
Senator, you have said there are good earmarks and bad earmarks. And you have talked about your earmarks in the past. Any that you specifically regret? And why have you criticized -- why do you think the money that went to Governor Romney for security at the Olympics, why was that a bad earmark?
SANTORUM: I didn't suggest it was a bad earmark. I voted for it and about half the money -- a little over half the money that went to the Salt Lake games.
But Governor Romney asked for that earmark. That's really the point here. He's out there on television ads right now, unfortunately, attacking me for saying that I'm this great earmarker, when he not only asked for earmarks for the Salt Lake Olympics in the order of tens of millions of dollars, sought those earmarks and used them, and he did as the governor of Massachusetts, $300 million or $400 million. He said, I would be foolish if I didn't go out and try to get federal dollars.
So the idea that somehow earmarks during the time that I was in Congress were this thing that drove up spending in Washington, D.C., if you actually look at it, as I said before, as a percentage of GDP, actually the deficits -- the debt went down. What happened is there was abuse.
When abuse happened, I said we should stop the earmarking process. But I did say there were good earmarks and bad earmarks.
We wouldn't have the V-22 Osprey, which was the most essential air platform for our Marines in particular in the war against the radical Islamists. We wouldn't have it if it wasn't for an earmark. That program would have been killed under George Bush 41. Dick Cheney, the Defense Department, wanted to kill that program, and many of us, including myself, stood up and made sure that was there.
Congress has a role to play when it comes to appropriating money, and sometimes the president and the administration doesn't get it right. What happened was an abuse of the process.
When that abuse occurred, I stepped forward, as Jim DeMint did, who, by the way, was an earmarker, as almost everybody else in Congress was. Why? Because Congress has a role of allocating resources when they think the administration has it wrong.
I defended that at the time. I'm proud I defended it at the time, because I think they did make mistakes. I do believe there was abuse, and I said we should stop it, and as president I would oppose earmarks.
ROMNEY: I didn't follow all of that, but I can tell you this -- I would put a ban on earmarks. I think it opens the door to excessive spending, spending on projects that don't need to be done.
I think there are a lot of projects that have been voted for. You voted to the "Bridge to Nowhere." I think these earmarks, we've had it with them.
ROMNEY: If Congress wants to vote in favor of a bill, they should take that bill, bring it forward with committees, have people say -- vote it up or down on the floor of the House or the Senate, have the president say yes or no, and move forward. But the earmark process is broken. There are thousands and thousands of earmarks, money being used inappropriately.
And I'll tell you this -- he mentioned coming to the Olympics, coming to the United States Congress, asking for support. No question about it. That's the nature of what it is when you lead an organization or a state.
You come to Congress and you say, these are the things we need. In the history of the Olympic movement, the federal government has always provided the transportation and security. So we came to the federal government asking for help on transportation and security.
I was fighting for those things. Our games were successful. But while I was fighting to save the Olympics, you were fighting to save the "Bridge to Nowhere."
KING: Quickly. (APPLAUSE)
SANTORUM: It's really interesting, Governor, because the process you just described of an open process where members of Congress put forth their suggestions on how to spend money, have them voted on individually, is exactly how the process worked. So what you just suggested as to how earmarks should work in the future is exactly how they worked in the past. So I suspect you would have supported earmarks if you were in the United States Senate.
... The issue is were they transparent? And the bottom line was, when I was in the United States Senate, there was transparency, and Congressman Paul, who is one of the most prolific earmarkers in the Congress today, is -- would tell you...
JOHN KING, DEBATE MODERATOR, CNN ANCHOR AND CHIEF NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Mr. Speaker, you were referenced by the governor, you first, then Congressman Paul.
Don't worry. We'll get to you, Congressman. I promise.
FORMER REP. NEWT GINGRICH, R-GA., PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Now, look, let me just say flatly all of you need to think about this because this is one of those easy demagogic fights that gets you into a lot of trouble. If you have Barack Obama as president and you have a Republican House, you may want the House imposing certain things on the president.
Now, when I was speaker, for example...
... and we had a liberal Democrat in the White House -- I actually want to reinforce what the governor said. I helped the Atlanta Olympics get the support they needed from the U.S. government to be successful. I thought it was totally appropriate to help the Atlanta Olympics. And I actually went to -- to your former governor and sat down with the people originally planning the Winter Olympics and said, look, this is what we did; this is what you need to do.
I think it was totally appropriate for you to ask for what you got. I just think it's, kind of, silly for you to then turn around and run an ad attacking somebody else for getting what you got and then claiming what you got wasn't what they got because what you got was right and what they got was wrong.
KING: Congressman Paul, answer Senator Santorum, please, sir.
REP. RON PAUL, R-TEXAS, PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I followed that and I... You know, there's reason for the confusion, because it's all Congress's fault. They're all messed up and they don't know what they're doing in Congress is the real reason.
But this whole idea of earmarking -- earmarking is designating how the money's spent. What a lot of people don't understand is if -- if the Congress doesn't say the way the money should be spent, it goes to the executive branch, and that's the bad part. If you were actually cutting, it would make a difference. But you don't want to give more power to the executive branch.
Even if I'm president, I don't want more power over that -- over that funding. That should be with the people and -- and with the Congress. But earmarking -- the reason we get into trouble is -- is the irresponsibility of Congress.
Take your highway funds. We're supposed to pay a user fee. If we pay our gasoline tax, we should get our fair share back. But what do they do? They take the highway funds and other of these trust funds and they spend this money overseas in these wars that we shouldn't be fighting. And then when the highways need building, then you have to go and fight the political system and know who to deal with and maneuver and try to get some of your money back.
But if you say you're against -- against the earmarking and fuss and fume over, the answer is vote against the bill. That is what I do. I argue for the case of the responsibility being on the Congress, but it's the responsibility of us who believe in fiscal conservatism to vote against the bill. We need to vote against the spending is what we need to do.
Auto Industry Bail Out
KING: Let's take another important economic question. This one comes to us from CNNPolitics.com, and you can see it in the audience up on the board here.
"Why was George W. Bush wrong in his efforts to save the auto industry and why was Barack Obama wrong to continue the effort?"
Senator Santorum, I want to go to you first with this question. You, like your friends on the stage tonight, opposed the auto bailout. Michigan votes on Tuesday, along with Arizona. We assume folks are watching there tonight. Address your answer to an auto worker who may believe strongly that he or she has that job tonight because of the help -- the bailout?
SANTORUM: I would just say to them that I in principle oppose government coming in and bailing out a sector of the economy or an industry with government dollars and -- and with government manipulation of that market, which is exactly what happened twice, in 2008 and 2009.
The first time it happened was the Wall Street bailout. On principle, I opposed the Wall Street bailout, even though I understand people -- reasonable people could disagree. I felt that having the government come in in such a major way and have a huge influence over the direction of that industry, that that would be damaging to what I believe is the best way to resolve these types of problems, which lets the market work, constructive capitalism, as Governor Romney was talking about in his days at Bain Capital, and destructive capitalism.
And that means pain. I understand that. But it also means limited government and allowing markets to work because we believe they're more efficient over time. I held the same consistent position when it came to the auto bailouts. I can say that with respect to Governor Romney, that was not the case. He supported the folks on Wall Street and bailed out Wall Street, was all for it. And then when it came to the auto workers, the folks in Detroit, he said, no. That to me is not a consistent, principled position. I had one. I believe in markets, not just when they're convenient for me.
ROMNEY: Nice -- nice try, but now let's look at the facts. All right, first of all -- first of all let's go back to the auto industry and -- and go back to 2000, I think it was 2008, President Bush was still in office and the three chief executive officers of the three major auto companies got in their private planes and flew to Washington and said, please write us a check. I think they wanted $50 billion. And I wrote an Op-Ed in the paper and I said, absolutely not. Do not write a check for $50 billion.
These companies need to go through a managed bankruptcy, just like airlines have, just like other industries have. Go through a managed bankruptcy...
ROMNEY: ...and -- and if they go through that managed bankruptcy and shed the excessive cost that's been put on them by the UAW and by their own mismanagement, then if they need help coming out of bankruptcy, the government can provided guarantees and get them back on their feet. No way would we allow the auto industry in America to totally implode and disappear. That was my view. Go through bankruptcy. When that happens, then the market can help lift them out. With regards to -- to TARP it's very simple, or -- or the Wall Street. Look, I don't want to save any Wall Street Banks.
I just don't want (sic) make sure we lose all of our banks. And like -- like President Bush at the time, I was concerned that if we didn't do something, there were some pretty high risks that not just Wall Street banks, but all banks would collapse. And like many other people -- many other economists, they were concerned that our entire currency system would go down. My view is this, we have to have industries that get in trouble, go through bankruptcy. Now, Senator you voted in favor of the bail out of the airline industry after 9/11.
I think that was the right thing to do. It was an emergency. You also voted for the bail out of the steel industry. I don't think I agree with that one, but I do believe that the right course for the auto industry was to go through a managed bankruptcy process and then to get help getting out.
KING: Governor let me ask you...
KING: ...you -- you mentioned -- you mentioned President Bush's position on the Wall Street bail out. If you talk to people in the Bush administration at the time, they say they would have preferred the structured bankruptcy route that you talked about, but that there was no private capital available. That nobody would give the auto companies money and that their choice they say at the time, was to either give the government money or have them liquidate.
ROMNEY: Yeah, it was really interesting. Because, you know, I wrote my piece and I said look, these companies need to go through managed bankruptcy. And the head of the UAW said, we can't go through managed bankruptcy. The industry will disappear if that happens. And the politicians, Barack Obama's people, oh no, we can't go through managed bankruptcy. Six months they wrote, I think it was $17 billion in checks to the auto companies. Then they finally realized I was right. They finally put them through managed bankruptcy. That was the time they needed the help to get out of managed bankruptcy.
Those monies they put in beforehand were -- it was wasted money. And number two, because they put that money in, the president gave the companies to the UAW, they were part of the reason the companies were in trouble. Giving these companies to the UAW was wrong.
SANTORUM: As -- as Governor Romney well knows, that the American government shut down the airline industry after 9/11. And the government by it's action stopped the airline industry from functioning and yes, as a result of government action, which I thought it was appropriate for government since we shut down the industry...
(CROSSTALK) ROMNEY: I agree with you.
SANTORUM: ...after the events of 9/11.
ROMNEY: I agree.
SANTORUM: But government didn't shut down the banks. They didn't shut down the financial service industry. So when you compare those, it's not apples to apples, Mitt and that's not a fair comparison.
KING: Mr. Speaker, come in on the conversation. It's a tough one. It's a tough one. It's a major American industry, in a time of trouble.
GINGRICH: It's not tough. First of all, there's a huge amount of the American auto industry that was just fine. BMW in South Carolina was terrific. Mercedes in Alabama was doing just fine. Honda in Ohio was just fine. So the -- Toyota was just fine. What we have is the United Auto Workers and a management system that had grown very, I think incapable of tough decisions because they were used to selling out to the United Auto Workers. And so they came in and said, oh we can't change. And this president on behalf of the United Auto Workers said, you're exactly right.
Now, the fact is, Chrysler is now Fiat. So when we talk about saving the American auto industry, let's be clear what they were doing. I think that they would have been much better off to have gone through a managed bankruptcy, I agree with Governor Romney. I think it would have happened. I think what would have happened is the UAW would have lost all of their advantages and the result was, what you had I thought was an unprecedented violation of 200 years of bankruptcy law by Barack Obama to pay off the UAW at the expense of every bondholder.
KING: Congressman Paul, as you join the conversation, the criticism of President Obama here, but I also want you to address the state's current Republican governor, Rick Snyder, who supports Mitt Romney, but that's irrelevant to this point. He says, "The bailout actually was something that really worked."
Is that Republican governor wrong?
PAUL: Well, you know, it's interesting when they argue that case.
First, I don't like the idea that you have good bailouts and bad bailouts. If bailouts are bad, they're bad, and we shouldn't be doing it.
But this argument about maybe one that works, you know, well, now that the bankruptcy or the bailing out of GM worked, I said that's sort of like if a criminal goes out and robs a bank, and he's successful, therefore you endorse what he did, because he's successful. But you have to rob people, you have to distort the law.
The government is supposed to protect contracts. They're not supposed to regulate contracts and they're not supposed to undermine contracts. And that's what we've been doing.
PAUL: In the housing bubble, we undermined contracts. And this is what we're doing here. So you want to respect the contracts.
A lot of people will accuse me of advocating a free market, that there's no regulations. Actually, the regulations are tougher, because you have to go through bankruptcy and you have to face up to this.
And it isn't like General Motors would be destroyed. Newt made that point there, that there were good parts of General Motors. But politicians can't figure this out. Then they serve the special interests, and then you have labor fighting big business.
I opt for the free market in defense of liberty. That's what we need in this country.
KING: All right....
FORMER SEN. RICK SANTORUM, R-PA., PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: There was a study that just came out about 10 days ago, two weeks ago, that listed 15 ways in which Romneycare was the model for Obamacare, everything from individual mandates, everything from -- from fines. Yours is different. You required businesses over 10 employees; Barack -- President Obama's is over 50 employees.
But there -- there's a -- and even the drafter of your bill, when they were working on Obama's bill, said in fact it was the model. So here we have, as Newt said, the real fundamental issue here is government coercion and government coercion when you give governments the right to be able to take your responsibility to provide for your own health and -- and -- and care, and give it to the government.
That's what Governor Romney did in Massachusetts. It would be a very -- very, let say it would be a difficult task for someone who had the model for Obama Care, which is the biggest issue in this race of government in control of your lives, to be the nominee of our party. It would take that issue completely off...
JOHN KING, DEBATE MODERATOR, CNN ANCHOR AND CHIEF NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Governor -- Governor, take 30 seconds to respond and then I want to move the conversation on.
FORMER GOV. MITT ROMNEY, R-MASS., PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Much longer than 30 seconds.
KING: I hope not.
ROMNEY: That's a -- that's a long -- that's a long -- that's a long answer. First of all, let's not forget that four years ago, well after Romney Care was put in place, four years ago, you not only endorsed me, you and Laura Ingram, and said and this is the guy who is really conservative and we can trust him. Let's not forget you said, that number one.
ROMNEY: Number two, under the tenth amendment, states have the right to do things that they think are in their best interest. I know you -- you agree with that. But let's -- let's point this out, our bill was 70 pages. His bill is 2700 pages. There's a lot in that 2,700 pages I don't agree with and let me tell you, if I'm president of the United States, I will repeal Obama Care for a lot of reasons. One, I don't want to spend another trillion dollars. We don't have that kind of money, it's the wrong way to go. Number two, I don't believe the federal government should cut Medicare by some $500 billion.
Number three, I don't think the federal government should raise taxes by $500 billion and, therefore, I will repeat Obama Care. And let me -- let me -- let me mention one more -- the reason we have Obama Care -- the reason we have Obama Care is because the Senator you supported over Pat Toomey in Pennsylvania, Arlen Specter, the pro- choice Senator of Pennsylvania that you supported and endorsed in a race over Pat Toomey, he voted for Obama Care. If you had not supported him, if we had said, no to Arlen Specter, we would not have Obama Care. So don't look at me. Take a look in the mirror.
KING: Senator please, quickly?
SANTORUM: So, okay Governor, let's -- let's get this straight. First off number one, you funded Romney Care through federal tax dollars through Medicaid. I know it well, it's called disproportionate share provider tax. About $400 million that you got from the federal taxpayers to underwrite Romney Care to make sure you didn't have to raise taxes right away. But of course you had to. Ask your governor, of the $8 billion of tax increases he had to put in place.
Yes governor, you balanced the budget for four years. You have a constitutional requirement to balance the budget for four years. No great shakes. I'm all for -- I'd like to see it federally. But don't go around bragging about something you have to do. Michael Dukakis balanced the budget for 10 years, does that make him qualified to be president of the United States? I don't think so.
SANTORUM: The bottom line is, what you did was you used federal dollars to fund the government takeover of health care in Massachusetts, used it as -- and -- and Barack Obama used it as a model for taking over this health care system in America. Why I supported Arlen Specter, number one because -- because Arlen Specter was a -- a Senator who was going to be the chairman of the Judiciary Committee at a time when the most important issue that was coming up in the next session of Congress was two to three Supreme Court nominees that were going to be available. And one, and maybe two of them, or maybe all three were going to be out of the conservative block. And Arlen Specter as chairman of the Judiciary Committee, we had a conversation.
He asked me to support him. I said will you support the president's nominees? We had a 51/49 majority in the Senate. He said I'll support the president's nominees as chairman. Every nominee Arlen Specter supported from the time he -- he took on Judge Forks and saved Justice Thomas. Every nominee he supported, passed. Why? Because it gave Democrats cover to vote for it and it gave Republican moderates cover to vote for it.
SANTORUM: And just -- no because he wouldn't have been able to give the moderate Republicans and the conservative Democrats the -- the leeway to then support that nominee, which is exactly what Arlen Specter did. He defended Roberts, defended Alito. We have a 5/4 majority on the court that struck down that case that you just talked about and is there as a guardian of liberty. And I did the right thing for our country.
KING: Let's move the conversation along -- let's move the conversation along and take a question from a voter down here in our audience. All right, Sir identify yourself and ask your question please?
QUESTION: Gentleman my name is Jerry Lott (ph) and I'm from Key Man, Arizona. It seems that Arizona has come under federal attack just for wanting to secure its southern border. What will you and your administrations do to fix the situation? To secure our border and to protect the American people?
KING: Congressman Paul, I want to go to you first on this one. You're from a border state. As you answer Gary's question, a recent federal analysis says the cost of secure fencing, which they have a good deal of the border along this state, would cost about $3 million per mile. Is that a good investment? Money well spent?
REP. RON PAUL, R-TEXAS, PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Probably not, but we can do a better job, and the best way to do it is forget about the border between Pakistan and Afghanistan and deal with our borders, put our resources on this border. This is what we need. But we need to change the rules. We reward illegal immigration. They get benefits, Texas hospitals, and, you know, schools are going bankrupt.
The restraints on the states, and Obama's restraints on the states to deal with it. Why is it if an illegal comes across the border and they go on private property, why isn't that trespassing? And why don't you have the right to stop it? So but there should be no mandates from the federal government about what you must do under the 9th and 10th. There would be essentially none.
But the federal government does have a responsibility for these borders. And I just hate to see all these resources -- I think that we should have much more immigration service on the border to make it easier -- it's hard to even get to visit this country. We're losing a lot of visitors and workers that could come to this country because we have an inefficient immigration service.
And then that invites the illegal. We have to deal -- we can't endorse the illegal, but the program today endorses the illegal problems. And a weak economy is always detrimental, too, because of the welfare state. We have welfare at home and some jobs go begging, we have jobs going begging in this country in the midst of the recession, has to do with the economy.
You can't ignore the economy. But also the welfare state, allowing immigrants to come over and then get the benefits -- if you subsidize something, you get more of. So there's a lot we can do and should do and certainly this president is not doing a very good job.
KING: Mr. Speaker, the fence has been a point of contention in the race. And one of your high-profile supporters, a gentleman who's been up here during this campaign, Governor Rick Perry of Texas, is here tonight. He said this: if you build a 30-foot wall from El Paso to Brownsville, the 35-foot ladder business gets really good.
You signed a pledge to construct a double fence. Why is Governor Perry wrong?
FORMER REP. NEWT GINGRICH, R-GA., PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: He's not wrong. They'd have to have two 35-foot ladders because it's a double fence. (LAUGHTER)
Look, the fact is I helped Duncan Hunter pass the first fence bill in San Diego when I was Speaker of the House. San Diego and Tijuana are the most densely populated border. It turned out it worked. It worked dramatically. Duncan and I would be glad to testify. He's former chairman of the national -- of the Defense Committee -- how much it worked.
However, it stopped. It stopped in part because there was a wetlands. It turned out none of the illegal immigrants cared about wetlands policy. Then you had to go and build around the wetlands, which we did. The further we have gone with the fence, the fewer the people have broken into California.
Now, the thing that's fascinating, though, John, is you quoted a government study of how much it would cost. That's my earlier point. If you modernize the federal government so it's competent, you could probably do it for 10 percent of the cost of that study.
The fact is --
GINGRICH: -- what I would do, I would -- I have -- I have a commitment at newt.org, I would -- to finish the job by January 1, 2014, I would initiate a bill that would waive all federal regulations, requirement and studies.
I would ask Governor Brewer here, I would ask Governor Martinez, Governor Brown, and Governor Perry to become the co-leaders in their state. We would apply as many resources as are needed to be done by January 1 of 2014, including, if necessary -- there are 23,000 Department of Homeland Security personnel in the D.C. area.
I'm prepared to move up to half of them to Arizona, New Mexico, and Texas. This is a doable thing.
KING: Governor Romney, the border security is part of the equation, what to do about whether it's 8 million or 11 million illegal immigrants in the country now is another part of the equation. And Sheriff Joe Arpaio, who's with us tonight from Maricopa County -- he's in the audience -- he told me --
KING: -- he told me this week here in Mesa -- these are his words -- "it's called political garbage, if you will, to not arrest illegals already in this country."
You've talked to the governor about self-deportation, if businesses do their job, asking for the right documents, the people will leave. What about arresting? Should there be aggressive, seek them out, find them and arrest them as the Sheriff Arpaio advocates?
ROMNEY: You know, I think you see a model in Arizona. They passed a law here that says -- that says that people who come here and try and find work, that the employer is required to look them up on e-verify. This e-verify system allows employers in Arizona to know who's here legally and who's not here legally.
And as a result of e-verify being put in place, the number of people in Arizona that are here illegally has dropped by some 14 percent, where the national average has only gone down 7 percent. So going back to the question that was asked, the right course for America is to drop these lawsuits against Arizona and other states that are trying to do the job Barack Obama isn't doing.
And I will drop those lawsuits on day one. I'll also complete the fence. I'll make sure we have enough border patrol agents to secure the fence. And I will make sure we have an E-Verify system and require employers to check the documents of workers, and to check E- Verify. And if an employer hires someone that has not gone through E- Verify, they're going to get sanctioned just like they do for not paying their taxes.
You do that, and just as Arizona is finding out, you can stop illegal immigration. It's time we finally did it.
KING: Senator Santorum, we had the conversation about the border and the fence. Governor Romney talks about E-Verify, making sure business is doing their part of the equation.
What about the individual? You said in our last debate employers should be sanctioned, as Governor Romney just said, if they hire illegal immigrants. About a quarter of all workers in private households are undocumented.
What about the homeowner who hires somebody as a household cleaning worker, as a nanny, perhaps? Does that person -- if you're going to be consistent, have enforcement across the board, should that person be sanctioned?
SANTORUM: I'm not going to require homeowners to do E-Verify. I think that's one step too far. But I think what we need to do is to give law enforcement the opportunity to do what they're doing here in Arizona and what Sheriff Arpaio was doing before he ran into some issues with the federal government, which is to allow folks to enforce the law here in this country, to allow people who are breaking the law or suspicious of breaking the law to be able to be detained and deported if they're found here in this country illegally, as well as those who are trying to seek employment.
This is enforcing not just upon the employer, but on those who are here illegally and trying to do things that are against the law, like seeking employment here.
KING: It's a tough policy question, obviously, and this state has been part of the driving force. It also becomes -- especially for four gentlemen who would like to be the next president of the United States, it's a difficult political question in the sense that the Latino population is the fastest-growing demographic in our country.
And some Republicans -- some Republicans -- Marco Rubio, for example, the senator from Florida that all of you have complimented, said -- could be a leading force in your administration if you're elected -- he said this recently. He says he worries that some of the rhetoric used by Republican politicians on this issue has been harsh, intolerable, inexcusable.
Mr. Speaker, is he right?
GINGRICH: I don't know who he's referring to, so I'm not going to comment in general on a statement. Is there somebody somewhere who's done that? Sure.
Was it also intolerable for President Obama to go to El Paso and make a totally demagogic speech in which he fundamentally -- no.
The great failure here -- I voted in 1986 for the bill which was supposed to solve all this, which Ronald Reagan solved -- signed. And in Reagan's diary, he says, I signed this bill because we have to get control of the border and we have to have an employer-sanctioned program with a guest worker program.
Now, all of us who voted for that bill got shortchanged on everything we were supposed to get. President Bush couldn't get it through. President Obama can't get it through.
I believe you cannot pass a single large comprehensive bill, the 2,700-page kind of bill you described. I think you've got to go one step at a time.
The first step is to control the border. I don't believe anybody who's here illegally -- and I talked last night, for example, with folks who are of Hispanic background from Nogales who are in the import-export business dealing with Mexico every day. They don't want a border that's closed, they want a border that's controlled, that has easy access for legality and impossible access for illegality. And that's the model that I think you can talk about in my community of any ethnic background in this country.
KING: Let's continue the conversation about the commander in chief question. We have a question from our audience, Sir?
QUESTION: Hi, my name is Ken Taylor (ph) from Wickenberg, Arizona and my question to all the candidates is, how do you plan on dealing with the growing nuclear threat in Iran?
KING: It's a pressing question at the moment. Mr. Speaker, let's go to you first on this one. I want to ask you in the context of the president's and this country's highest ranking military officer, the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs, General Dempsey told CNN this last week, quote, "A strike at this time would be destabilizing and would not achieve Israel's long term objectives." If you win this election, General Dempsey would still be -- would then be your chairman of the joint chiefs.
If the prime minister of Israel called you, said he wanted to go forward and questioned, Sir do you agree -- Mr. President do you agree with your chairman of the joint chiefs? Would you say, yes, Mr. Prime Minister, please stand down? Or would you give Israel the green light?
GINGRICH: Well, first of all this is two different questions. General Dempsey went on to say that he thought Iran was a rational actor. I can't imagine why he would say that. And I just cannot imagine why he would have said it. The fact is, this is a dictator, Ahmadinejad, who has said he doesn't believe the Holocaust existed. This is a dictator who said he wants to eliminate Israel from the face of the earth. This is a dictator who said he wants to drive the United States out of the Middle East. I'm inclined to believe dictators. Now I -- I think that it's dangerous not to.
GINGRICH: If -- if an Israeli prime minister, haunted by the history of the Holocaust, recognizing that three nuclear weapons is a holocaust in Israel, if an Israeli prime minister calls me and says, I believe in the defense of my country. This goes back to a point that Congressman Paul raised that we probably disagree on. I do believe there are moments when you preempt. If you think a madman is about to have nuclear weapons and you think that madman is going to use those nuclear weapons, then you have an absolute moral obligation to defend the lives of your people by eliminating the capacity to get nuclear weapons.
KING: But often...
KING: The American people often don't pay much attention to what's going on in the world until they have to, but this is an issue, this confrontation with Iran that is partly responsible for what we have seen daily at the gas pump. Prices going up and going up and going up. So I want -- Governor Romney come into the conversation, we'll continue it with everyone at the table. As we have this showdown, confrontation, call it what you will with Iran. Should our leadership, including the current president of the United States and the four gentleman here with me tonight, be prepared to look the American people in the eye and say -- and I want to hear everybody's plans, over the long run I think I can bring down the price of gasoline, or I can't if that's your plan.
But at the moment, we need to have a conversation about how as long as this continues, the prices are likely to keep going up.
ROMNEY: Look, the -- the price of gasoline pales in comparison to the idea of Ahmadinejad with nuclear weapons. Ahmadinejad having fissile material that he can give to Hezbollah and Hamas and that they can bring into Latin America and potentially bring across the border into the United States to let off dirty bombs here. I mean -- or -- or more sophisticated bombs here, this -- we simply cannot allow Iran to have nuclear weaponry. And -- and -- and this president has a lot of failures. It's hard -- it's hard to think of -- economically his failures, his -- his policies in a whole host of areas have been troubling.
But nothing in my view is as serious a failure as his failure to deal with Iran appropriately. This president -- this president should have put in place crippling sanctions against Iran, he did not. He decided to give Russia -- he decided to give Russia their number one foreign policy objective, removal of our missile defense sites from Eastern Europe and got nothing in return. He could have gotten crippling sanctions against Iran. He did not. When dissident voices took to the street in Iran to protest a stolen election there, instead of standing with them, he bowed to the election. This is a president...
(APPLAUSE) ROMNEY: ...who has made it clear through his administration in almost every communication we've had so far, that he does not want Israel to take action. That he opposes military action. This is a president who should have instead communicated to Iran that we are prepared, that we are considering military options. They're not just on the table. They are in our hand. We must now allow Iran to have a nuclear weapon. If they do, the world changes. America will be at risk. And some day, nuclear weaponry will be used. If I am president, that will not happen. If we reelect Barack Obama, it will happen.
KING: Senator Santorum, please?
SANTORUM: I agree with Governor Romney's comment. I think they are absolutely right on and well spoken.
These transcripts were provided by CNN and edited for conciseness. Caitlin Dewey produced this story.