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A Project of The Annenberg Public Policy Center

GOP Candidates Debate, Round 2

We examine the spin behind the quips and barbs


Claims, facts and figures flew at the second GOP presidential debate of 2008. Not all were true. For example:

  • Mitt Romney claimed he didn’t raise taxes when he was governor of Massachusetts, failing to note that he increased government fees by hundreds of millions of dollars and shifted some of the state tax burden to the local level.
  • Rep. Tom Tancredo of Colorado claimed scientific reports on whether humans are responsible for global warming are split 50-50, which isn’t close to being true.
  • Former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee praised a "fair tax" but failed to note that it would ease the burden on the richest Americans while imposing a stiff retail sales tax of perhaps 34 percent.
  • Former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani used more statistical dexterity to manipulate statistics, claiming adoptions increased 133 percent when he was mayor. Actually, they peaked and started a continuing decline.


The May 15 debate included 10 candidates for the 2008 Republican presidential nomination. It was sponsored by the Fox News Network and took place at the University of South Carolina in Columbia, S.C.

Here are the factual stumbles we noted:

Romney’s Misleading Tax Claim 
Mitt Romney said he "did not raise taxes" when he was governor of Massachusetts, when in fact he increased state fees by hundreds of millions of dollars:

Romney: I want to make it very clear that I’m not going to raise taxes. As governor of Massachusetts, I made it very clear there, and I did not raise taxes.

Technically, this is true, but it’s also misleading. Romney did not raise anything called a tax during his tenure as governor, but he did increase state revenues by raising various types of fees. In 2003, Romney doubled fees for court filings (which include marriage licensing fees), professional registrations and firearm licenses. Romney also quintupled the per gallon delivery fee for gasoline (money that is supposed to be for cleaning up any leaks from underground fuel tanks). All told, the fees raised more than $400 million in their first year. Romney also “closed loopholes” in the corporate tax structure, a move that generated another $150 million in increased revenue.

In addition, Romney cut local aid, a program whereby the state supplied revenue to cities and counties. In 2004, Romney cut nearly 5 percent, or about $230 million, from the local aid budget. The Massachusetts Municipal Association, representing the state’s cities and towns, said Romney’s cut "forced communities statewide to cut services and raise local taxes and fees." The exact amount of the local tax increases hasn’t been definitively tallied, but to some extent Romney avoided a state tax increase only by forcing increases at the local level.

Global Warming

During the debate Rep. Tom Tancredo of Colorado claimed that scientific studies were equally split on the existence of global warming and whether humans are responsible:

Tancredo: Okay. First of all, the whole issue of global warming, for every single scientist that tells you it’s happening and that it’s our fault — and they’ll stack up to here in this reports — I can stack up another group of reports that say just the opposite.

Actually, we find that an overwhelming majority of the scientific community agrees that global warming is taking place and that human activity is predominantly to blame. Most recently the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), overseen jointly by the United Nations Environment Programme and the World Meteorological Organization, released a report representing the work of 600 authors from 40 countries and 113 government representatives, saying:

IPCC: The primary source of the increased atmospheric concentration of carbon dioxide since the pre-industrial period results from fossil fuel use, with land-use change providing another significant but smaller contribution.

Also, the National Research Council, chief adviser to the U.S. government on science and technology, issued its own report as far back as 2001 that reads:

NRC: Greenhouse gases are accumulating in Earth’s atmosphere as a result of human activities, causing surface air temperatures and subsurface ocean temperatures to rise. Temperatures are, in fact, rising. The changes observed over the last several decades are likely mostly due to human activities, but we cannot rule out that some significant part of these changes is also a reflection of natural variability.

It’s true that there are dissenters to this consensus view. Among them are the Cato Institute’s Patrick Michaels, chief editor of the World Climate Report Blog, and the American Association of Petroleum Geologists. But the split is by no means 50-50 as Tancredo claimed.

How "Fair" a Tax?

Former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee praised a "fair tax" without noting what it actually would do: impose a stiff retail sales tax on all goods and services sold in the U.S., easing the tax burden on the richest Americans:

Huckabee: If we had a fair tax, it would eliminate not just the alternative minimum tax, personal income tax, corporate tax, it would eliminate all the various taxes that are hidden in our system, and Americans don’t realize what they’re paying.

Huckabee isn’t the only GOP presidential candidate endorsing the "fair tax" proposal. Reps. Tom Tancredo and Duncan Hunter are among the 60 House and Senate cosponsors listed by "Americans For Fair Taxation," which backs the proposal. Whether it is "fair" or not is of course a matter of opinion. The "fair tax" does propose a "prebate," which would soften its impact on low-income persons, in the form of a monthly check equivalent to the amount of tax paid up to the poverty level, which varies according to family size. But any sales tax also would lower taxes for those upper-income persons who save and invest large portions of income that would be taxed under current law — but not under the "fair tax."

In fact, President Bush’s bipartisan Advisory Panel on Tax Reform rejected the idea, saying it would substantially increase taxes for 80 percent of U.S. taxpayers while benefiting those at the top. The panel calculated that a sales tax would have to be set at 34 percent of retail sales prices to bring in the same revenue as the taxes it would replace, meaning that an automobile with a retail price of $10,000 would cost $13,400 including the new sales tax. Furthermore, the panel said, a monthly cash rebate to every American would amount to the largest entitlement program in history, costing approximately $600 billion to $780 billion per year and making most American families dependent on monthly checks from the federal government for a substantial portion of their incomes.

Giuiliani’s Adoption Escalation

Former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani escalated his claim about adoptions. In the first Republican debate he claimed that adoptions had increased 65 to 70 percent "when I was mayor," a claim we criticized as inflated and a classic case of misusing statistics to give a false impression. Unrepentant, Giuliani used an even larger number this time:

Giuliani: Abortions went down 16 percent when I was the mayor. Adoptions went up 133 percent during the eight years that I was mayor, compared to the prior eight years.

This time Giuliani was careful to state the time period, comparing his full eight years with the previous eight years. While the 133 percent figure may be accurate for that period, it gives a grossly misleading picture of what the statistics actually show. As we reported in our May 7 article, "Levitating Numbers," adoptions were rising sharply for several years before Giuliani took office. Then they peaked in his third year and declined in each of his last five years. In his last year adoptions were only 17 percent higher than they had been in the year before his first budget took effect, and they have continued to decline to the present time.

We’re not saying that Giuliani is responsible for reversing the upward trend in adoptions and sending it into a long slide; adoptions are influenced by many factors outside the control of any government. What we are saying is that Giuliani persists in using statistical trickery.

Giuliani Misquotes Giuliani

Giuliani claimed questioner Chris Wallace had misquoted him as saying some moderate Republicans were being "fundamentally irresponsible" for demanding progress in Iraq by September:

Wallace: Mayor Giuliani, in our interview the other day you said that congressional Republicans who say they must see progress by September are, quote, "fundamentally irresponsible," and that in effect they are giving a timetable for retreat to our enemies.

Is your commitment to winning in Iraq open-ended?

Giuliani: First of all, that isn’t exactly what I said. I was talking about the timetable for retreat that the Democrats passed in Congress, in which they did something extraordinary and that I’ve never heard of in the history of war, which is to give your enemy a schedule of how a retreating army is going to retreat. That was irresponsible, highly irresponsible.

But what Giuliani actually said, in his May 13 interview on "Fox News Sunday," was this:

Wallace (May 13): Now you hear some Republicans saying September. We’ve got to know by then. So, what would you say to those people?

Giuliani: Anybody proposing giving the enemy a timetable of our retreat is proposing something that is fundamentally irresponsible.

The record is clear: Giuliani’s use of the phrase "fundamentally irresponsible" was in response to a question about Republicans, not Democrats.  He also criticized Democrats for proposing a ‘timetable for retreat" in other portions of the May 13 interview, but not here.

Hunter’s Disputed Job-Loss Figures

California Rep. Duncan Hunter continued his crusade against trade relations with China with figures from a new study, though they are disputed. He said that “the latest study I’ve seen shows that we’ve lost 1.8 million jobs in the United States, high-paying manufacturing jobs, to China.” The study he refers to is from the Economic Policy Institute, a liberal think tank with ties to the labor movement. EPI’s figures have been criticized by the Cato Institute, a free-market think tank with libertarian leanings. Cato called EPI’s work “fundamentally flawed” and said it “ignores the dynamic effects of trade on U.S. economic growth [and] the beneficial effects of foreign investment.” We won’t try to referee this dispute or try to say whether 1.8 million is a valid figure or not, but we’ll merely note that it comes from a source that is hostile to current free-trade arrangements and is not an accepted fact.

Thompson’s Resurrected Emergency Stockpile

When pressed to name a single program he would eliminate to rein in federal spending, former Wisconsin Gov. Tommy Thompson meekly offered a program to stockpile medicine and supplies for disaster relief:

Thompson: Well, the first one I would eliminate is a program in the Department of Health and Human Services in CDC that deals with the stockpile. The stockpile does a great job, but there are some inefficiencies there that we’re able to make some efficiencies and make some changes in that would eliminate that program.

Thompson aide Tony Jewell told us later that Thompson was referring to the Strategic National Stockpile program, through which large quantities of medicine and medical supplies are stored for an emergency like 9/11 or Hurricane Katrina. The program’s 2007 budget is $593 million, a tiny percentage of the $2.7 trillion budget for fiscal year 2007. And it turns out, Thompson wouldn’t really eliminate it. Jewell said Thompson meant to say he would manage it more efficiently.

by Brooks Jackson, with Viveca Novak, Justin Bank, Jessica Henig, Emi Kolawole, Joe Miller, Lori Robertson and Stephen Simas

Correction, May 17: In the Summary portion of our original story we misquoted Giuliani as claiming a 113 percent rise in adoptions. He actually claimed a 133 percent rise, which we correctly quoted in the Analysis section.


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