The participants uniformly criticized Obama and official Washington for, in their view, not reviving the economy and for stunting its growth with too many regulations, overreach by the Federal Reserve and inadequate tax relief.
This time, the candidate with whom Romney had to share the spotlight was Herman Cain. The businessman has soared in opinion polls but faced a crush of scrutiny in Tuesday’s debate on an economic plan that he referred to again and again but that his rivals dismissed as overly simplistic and unrealistic. Cain countered that the simplicity of his “9-9-9” plan to gut the federal tax code is its virtue, and he used it to separate himself as a bold outsider in a field of politicians.
During a portion of Tuesday’s Washington Post-Bloomberg debate in which each candidate had a chance to ask another a question, four posed queries to Romney, acknowledging his position as the one to beat.
Meanwhile, Texas Gov. Rick Perry, who was looking to revive his struggling campaign, seized few moments. He stayed silent for long stretches in the debate. When asked how he would fix the nation’s sputtering economy, he said only that he would develop new energy resources. Even when pressed, he offered few specifics.
“What we need to be focused on in this country today is not whether or not we are going to have this policy or that policy,” he said. “What we need to be focused on is how we get Americans working again.”
At another moment, Perry quipped: “Mitt’s had six years to be working on a plan. I’ve been in this for about eight weeks.”
In one exchange, Cain, a former Godfather’s Pizza executive, challenged Romney to name all 59 points in his 160-page economic plan, suggesting that it failed Cain’s test to be “simple, transparent, efficient, fair and neutral” in contrast to Cain’s proposal.
But the former Massachusetts governor did not hesitate to make the case that the complexity of his plan reflects the complexity of the nation’s problems, and that he has the depth of experience, business know-how and ability to deal with those problems.
“I have had the experience in my life of taking on some tough problems,” Romney said. “And I must admit that simple answers are always very helpful but oftentimes inadequate. And in my view, to get this economy going again, we’re going to have to deal with more than just tax policy and just energy policy, even though both of those are part of my plan.”