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A Project of The Annenberg Public Policy Center

GOP YouTube Debate Flubs

Falsehoods, exaggerations and stumbles


The CNN/YouTube debate among Republicans lacked any talking snowmen, but we did note a few false and misleading statements by the candidates.

  • Romney claimed New York called itself a “sanctuary city” for illegal aliens. It didn’t.
  • Giuliani denied New York actually was a “sanctuary city.” But the nonpartisan Congressional Research Service has classified it as such, based on immigrant-friendly policies Giuliani still defends.
  • Huckabee claimed he would “abolish the IRS.” He failed to mention that he’d replace it with another big tax bureaucracy.
  • Huckabee said he had proposed to make children of illegal aliens eligible for Arkansas scholarships if they “had been in our schools their entire school life.” Actually, the proposal required only three years in Arkansas schools.
  • Giuliani was correct on two points: While he was mayor, New York snowfall went down and the Yankees won four World Series titles. He was joking, but his gag should remind citizens that it’s a mistake in logic to give mayors, or governors or presidents, all credit or blame for what happens just because they’re in office at the time.
  • Romney, claiming to be a “true suffering” fan of the Red Sox, said the team waited 87 years to win a World Series. They actually waited 86.


The Nov. 28 debate, which took place in St. Petersburg, Florida, was hosted by CNN and YouTube.com and moderated by CNN’s Anderson Cooper. The candidates participating were former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani; former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney; former Tennessee Sen. Fred Thompson; former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee; Sen. John McCain of Arizona; and Reps. Duncan Hunter of California, Ron Paul of Texas and Tom Tancredo of Colorado.

‘Sanctuary’ Semantics

Romney and Giuliani accused each other of willfully providing “sanctuary” to immigrants who are in the U.S. illegally. Both men exaggerated, though we find their denials are more strained than their accusations.

Cooper: Governor Romney, was New York a sanctuary city?
Romney: Absolutely. Called itself a sanctuary city, and as a matter of fact, when the Welfare Reform Act that President Clinton brought forward said that they were going to end the sanctuary policy of New York City, the mayor brought a suit to maintain its sanctuary city status.

Romney is simply wrong on one point: New York never called itself a “sanctuary city.” We find no instance where it did, and the Romney campaign has been unable to provide one.

However, a 2005 report by the nonpartisan Congressional Research Service (updated in 2006) lists NYC under the general heading of “Sanctuary States and Cities” and says it is among those that follow “sanctuary policies.” It lists the city among 32 that “utilized various mechanisms to ensure that unauthorized aliens who may be present in their jurisdiction illegally are not turned in to federal authorities.” But unlike some other cities on the CRS list, New York has never “called itself a sanctuary city,” and Romney was wrong to say that it did.

Giuliani also strained the facts when he flatly stated during the debate that New York “was not a sanctuary city.” Obviously, the CRS disagrees. New York indeed had a policy, which Giuliani defended during the debate, that forbade city employees from giving federal immigration officials the names of illegal aliens unless the immigrant was suspected of other criminal activity or turning the person over was required by law. That protection was granted by a previous mayor through executive order 124 in 1989 and renewed by Giuliani. However the city chooses to characterize its policies, they fit the description of “sanctuary” applied by neutral experts.

Giuliani stretched the facts when he accused Romney of employing illegal aliens at his home, which the mayor called “a sanctuary mansion.” And so did Romney when he said “I did not” have illegals working at his home.

Giuliani: At his own home illegal immigrants were being employed – (laughter, cheers, applause) – not – not – not being turned in to anybody or by anyone. … So I would say he had sanctuary mansion, not just sanctuary city. …

Romney: Mayor, you know better than that. …

Giuliani: You did – you did – you did have illegal immigrants working at your mansion, didn’t you?

Romney: No, I did not.

The fact is, as reported by the Boston Globe in 2006, several illegals worked at Romney’s home in Belmont, Mass., off and on over a period of eight years, sometimes working 11-hour days. They were, however, employed by a contractor, Community Lawn Service with a Heart, and not directly by Romney.

So, Giuliani was technically correct to say that “illegal immigrants were being employed,” since he used the passive voice and didn’t specify who did the employing. Romney could also argue that he was technically correct to say “I did not” have illegals working, since he didn’t employ them directly. The Globe, however, quoted a Guatemalan man as saying that during the years he worked at Romney’s home he occasionally got a “buenos días” from Romney or a drink of water from his wife, Ann.

Overall, the record reflects that both Romney and Giuliani have been more tolerant of illegal immigrants in the past than they now profess to be.

Huckabee’s IRS Sleight-of-Hand

Huckabee again claimed he would get rid of the IRS, a disappearing act that isn’t so easy as he makes it sound.

Huckabee: Anderson, the first thing that I would get rid of would be the Internal Revenue Service. We’d have a complete getting rid of a $10-billion-a-year industry. I’m not being facetious. If we enacted the Fair Tax, one of the most researched ways to revive our economic future. We will get rid of the IRS.

It is true that the Fair Tax would get rid of the agency that we now call the IRS. But, according to the bill Huckabee supports: “There shall be in the Department of the Treasury a Sales Tax Bureau to administer the national sales tax in those States where it is required.” So, Huckabee would “eliminate” the IRS by replacing it with a Sales Tax Bureau.

Furthermore, the new Sales Tax Bureau wouldn’t necessarily be much smaller than the existing IRS. According to the bipartisan Advisory Panel on Tax Reform, which studied the Fair Tax proposal extensively and rejected it: “The federal administrative burden for a retail sales tax may be similar to the burden under the current system” in order to ensure that the various states collected the tax in a systematic way. The panel went on to point out that the Fair Tax, which includes a cash grant to each taxpayer to compensate for its regressive nature, would also  require an entirely new type of bureaucracy to “keep track of the personal information that would be necessary to determine the size of the taxpayer’s cash grant.”

It’s true that the Fair Tax has been heavily researched, as Huckabee said. But most of the research that supports it was paid for by Americans for Fair Taxation – a group that advocates the idea.

Huckabee Scholars

Huckabee ran afoul of the facts when defending his failed proposal to make children of illegal immigrants eligible for state college scholarships:

Huckabee: I supported a bill that would have allowed those children who had been in our schools their entire school life the opportunity to have the same scholarship that their peers had who had also gone to high school with them and sat in the same classrooms. They couldn’t just move in in their senior year and go to college. … [It] said that if you’d sat in our schools from the time you’re 5 or 6 years old and you had become an A-plus student, you completed the core curriculum, you were an exceptional student, and you also had to be drug and alcohol free, and the other provision, you had to be applying for citizenship.

Actually, the bill Huckabee pushed for in his 2005 State of the State address did not apply only to “those children who had been in our schools their entire school life.” It required only three years in an Arkansas high school to be eligible. And students did not have to be “applying for citizenship,” but rather they had to sign an affidavit stating their intent to do so in the future. All students who apply for state scholarships must “certify that they are drug-free” and “pledge to refrain from alcohol” if they are under 21, just as Huckabee said. But they certainly don’t have to be “an A-plus student.” The state requires a solid “B” average (a 3.0 average on a 4.0 scale). And the state may reduce that to a 2.5 average if sticking with the higher requirement “would unduly reduce the number of low-income or disadvantaged students who would otherwise be eligible for the program.” That’s a C-plus average.

The bill passed the Arkansas House but failed in the Senate. Later, a pared down version that would grant illegals in-state tuition breaks, but not scholarship rights, failed two votes short of passage.

Post Hoc Hooey

The debate included a couple of lighter moments, when Giuliani jokingly claimed credit for reducing annual snowfall “dramatically” and for four World Series victories by the Yankees during his term as mayor of New York.

In a gag video, his campaign joked that King Kong roamed city streets before Giuliani became mayor, adding:

Giuliani Video: Rudy prevailed: crime down by half, taxes cut and annual snowfall dramatically reduced.

Later, Giuliani said:

Giuliani: [When] I was mayor of New York City, the Yankees won four world championships. … I wanted to put this in our reel, but they cut it out, so I’m going to get it in – and since I’ve left being mayor of New York City, the Yankees have won none.

It’s true that snowfall was less than average under Giuliani, though it’s a matter of opinion whether the difference is a dramatic one or not. According to the National Weather Service, between 1869 and 1993, the average snowfall in New York City’s Central Park was 28.2 inches per year. During Giuliani’s term (from January 1994 through December 2001), average snowfall was just 26.7 inches.

And the Yankees did indeed win the World Series in 1996, 1998, 1999 and 2000 – but have failed to do so since.

Giuliani is clearly joking here, but he illustrates a serious point that we think voters should keep in mind: Politicians don’t automatically deserve credit or blame for what happens while they are in office. Sometimes it’s just luck. It’s a logical fallacy to conclude a leader’s actions are the cause of what happens afterward. Logicians have named this the “post hoc ergo propter hoc” fallacy (literally, “after the fact, therefore because of the fact.”)

The fallacy is easy enough to see when Giuliani takes credit for a reduction in snowfall during his term. It’s more subtle when he takes credit for halving crime during his term – especially when he fails to mention that crime rates were already falling before he took office and that they dropped nationally as well. And we could say the same thing about, for example, attributing the longest economic boom in U.S. history to the fact that Bill Clinton was in office during most of it.

Curse of the Bambino Prolonged

 Romney claimed to be a “true suffering Red Sox” fan but got a basic fan statistic wrong:

Romney: Eighty-seven – 87 long years – we waited 87 long years. And true suffering Red Sox fans that my family and I are, we could not have been more happy than to see the Red Sox win the World Series.

Actually, the team won the World Series in 1918, and not again until 2004. That’s 86 years, not 87. Romney has lived much of his adult life in Massachusetts but was born in Michigan and graduated from college in Utah.

– by Brooks Jackson, with Justin Bank, Jess Henig, Joe Miller and Lori Robertson

Clarification, Nov. 30: Our original story may have left some with the impression that New York, and other jurisdictions, prohibited police from turning over the names of illegal immigrants to federal authorities under any circumstances. Rather, New York’s policy prohibited “a city officer or employee” from sharing such information unless disclosure was required by law or the immigrant was suspected of criminal activity, including trying to get public assistance with fraudulent documents. The executive order instructed law enforcement officers to “continue to cooperate with federal authorities in investigating and apprehending aliens suspected of criminal activity. However, such agencies shall not transmit to federal authorities information respecting any alien who is the victim of a crime.”


Congressional Research Service. “Enforcing Immigration Law: The Role of State and Local Law Enforcement.” Updated 14 Aug 2006.

Saltzman, Jonathan. “Illegal immigrants toiled for governor.” Boston Globe. 1 Dec 2006.

Linder, John. “H.R. 25 [109th]: Fair Tax Act of 2005.” GovTrack.us. 29 Nov 2007.

National Weather Service. Monthly & Seasonal Snowfall at Central Park. 1 Nov 2007. 29 Nov 2007.

President’s Advisory Panel on Tax Reform. “Final Report Chapter 9: National Retail Sales Tax.” 1 Nov 2005. TaxReformPanel.gov.

Huckabee, Mike, “State of the State of Arkansas Address, 2005.” 11 Jan.2005.

Arkansas 85th General Assembly, Session 1. “HB1525: Access to PostSecondary Education Act of 2005.

Red Sox, Boston. “Postseason Results.”