October 22nd, 2007
08:35 AM ET
13 years ago

GOP rivals defend their conservative credentials at debate

The GOP candidates on stage in Orlando.

ORLANDO, Florida (CNN) - The leading Republican presidential candidates intensified their fight over who has the true conservative credentials in sometimes contentious debate Sunday night.

A more aggressive Fred Thompson compared Rudy Giuliani’s social positions with Democratic frontrunner Hillary Clinton, and implied Mitt Romney once held more liberal stands than Senator Ted Kennedy.

Asked if Romney and Giuliani has convinced him they were consistent conservatives, the former Tennessee Senator said, “Well, we've got an hour and a half. Maybe they can work on it.”

Giuliani tried to turn the tables on Thompson, saying, “you know, Fred has his problems, too. I mean, Fred was the single biggest obstacle to tort reform in the United States Senate. He stood with Democrats over and over again. …Fred Thompson, along with very few Republicans, blocked tort reform over and over and over again. That is not a conservative position.”

Defending his own record a day after finishing near the bottom of a conservative voters straw poll, the former New York City mayor, said, “I think it was good conservative record. I think, in every case, you can always find one exception or two to someone being absolutely conservative or absolutely this or absolutely that, but I think I had a heck of a lot of conservative results.”

In another skirmish, Senator John McCain, R-Arizona, blasted Romney for claiming to be the only real Republican in the field. He said, “Governor Romney, you've been spending the last year trying to fool people about your record. I don't want you to start fooling them about mine. I stand on my record. I stand on my record of a conservative, and I don't think you can fool the American people. I think the first thing you'd need is their respect.”

Click here to see CNN's new political portal: CNNPolitics.com

Romney continued his criticism of Giuliani over spending and taxes, saying, “we're not going to keep Hillary Clinton out of the White House by acting like Hillary Clinton. Now, I'm proud of my record. Not just of the words, but of the record of the governor of Massachusetts. Like Mayor Giuliani I had a tough state to be running in. I was a conservative Republican in a very Democrat state. My legislature, 85 percent Democrat. We face a $3 billion budget gap. We solved it without raising taxes, without adding debt.”

Thompson joined the direct attack on Giuliani, criticizing his stand as mayor on immigration, abortion and gun control. He said Giuliani “sides with Hillary Clinton on each of those issues I just mentioned.”

Asked his concern over Romney’s record, Thompson said. “You've just got a minute?”

Meanwhile, after watching the top candidates in the Republican presidential field attack each other in the opening minutes of Sunday night’s debate, Mike Huckabee played above the fray.

Huckabee, left out of the early skirmishes between candidates running ahead of him in the polls, said as he was called on. “ Let me begin by saying, for the first time in about nine debates, I'm kind of glad I wasn't in on the first few minutes because it was all about these guys fighting each other.”

To laughter, the former Arkansas governor said, “I am more than content to let you let them fight all they want tonight, shed each other's blood and then I'll be ready to run for president because I'm not interested in fighting these guys.”

- CNN Political Desk Managing Editor Steve Brusk

Filed under: Florida • GOP debate
soundoff (131 Responses)
  1. Mary, Beaver, PA

    My, how things have changed since "Mr. Conservative" Barry Goldwater ran in 1964! Now, these so-called "conservatives" in the Republican party wouldn't have given him the time of day, since he didn't agree with government interference in the handling of so-called "family values" issues. When he died in the mid-90's, he went virtually unmourned by these so-called "conservatives." There is only one true conservative running, and that is Ron Paul. As I am a conservative in the tradition of Barry Goldwater, Ron Paul is the only Republican candidate I can support. The other candidates would follow their own "noble" neo-con tradition - imperialism abroad and the nurturing of hate, fear and division at home.

    October 22, 2007 08:30 am at 8:30 am |
  2. DT, Comstock Park, MI

    Stop vying to be the "most conservative" or "most liberal" candidate, guys and gals.

    Tell me what you, not your party, not your political action committees and lobbyists, not your donors, but YOU really believe. Tell me you'll really listen to the American people, and mean it. Tell me that you'll listen to your conscience as well, and use ethical/moral principals in governing the country. Finally, tell me that you'll restore checks and balances within our government, and that you'll abide by them, and the Constitution. At that point, I don't care whether you claim to be a Republican or a Democrat; you'll have my vote.

    October 22, 2007 08:37 am at 8:37 am |
  3. RB, from the bay state

    Romney has to be the biggest WIMP in GOP history.

    Hillary hasn't even been nominated and he's running around with his tail between his legs. Hey Mitt, are you really that afraid of this woman?

    Anybody that votes for him deserves what they get. Massachusetts got fooled big-time by this guy. I hope the rest of America wakes up before the right gives him the nod.

    October 22, 2007 08:38 am at 8:38 am |
  4. Louis, Trenton, NJ

    Come on! Congressman Ron Paul is clearly the most conservative. And that's among both Republicans AND Democrats. People, stop going along with whomever the mainstream media rams down your throats. Let's start thinking for ourselves here....

    October 22, 2007 08:46 am at 8:46 am |
  5. LaAngeloMysterioso - NYC

    Huckabee realizes the courts will not go with Christian conservative policy in denying a right to privacy. He's correct in asking for a Constitutional Amendment but does not realize that lower income for the working class lowers parochial school attendance which lowers participation at church.

    October 22, 2007 08:48 am at 8:48 am |
  6. St. Petersburg, FL.

    Questioning Clinton's dedication to national security, however, comma, is neither disgraceful nor "disingenuos"[sic] – it's a valid criticism of her political ideology.

    Posted By Ellis Wyatt, Los Angeles, CA USA

    Right, when we're SO much safer now with Republicans in the Whitehouse right now. Bush tried to sell our "security" to Dubai a few years ago to control our ports, remember that? hmm, didn't see this happening when the Clintons were in office. Now we see our nation's finest fighting force mired down in a country that did NOTHING to us and Putin in Russia is starting to get huffy because he sees how thin our forces are spread in the Middle East right now..if Republicans had listened when Clinton warned them on the way out that there was going to be a problem, 9/11 would never have happened. They had 9 months to do something before 9/11 happened but chose to do nothing. So don't talk about National security and Republicans in the same breath because I will laugh in your face and fart in your dinner.

    October 22, 2007 08:50 am at 8:50 am |
  7. Lynne

    You have the fire in the belly, to beat ole lefty Hillary!

    October 22, 2007 08:54 am at 8:54 am |
  8. Cal Netarts, Oregon

    These guy's remind me of a bunch of chickens. One pecks at a pile of sh.., and all the other ones come running to do the same. It doesn't matter if we elect a Democrat or Republican. This is a country of the rich, by the rich and for the rich. They all want to protect their special interests, lobbyists and loopholes, while the poor get poorer and the middle class becomes the camel with too mant straws on it's back. Israel wanted a king like every other nation around it. Maybe we should stop pretending to believe that this country is ran by the people and elect a king (or queen) once and for all. HILLARY FOR QUEEN! And God help us!!!

    October 22, 2007 08:58 am at 8:58 am |
  9. Rick, Ft Lauderdale, Fl

    Best way to prove you're "most cnservative"...get the wifey-poo on the school board, show up at church every Sunday, stand steadfast on your anti-gay beliefs, then go out and get busted for lewd behavior. No one will question where your "loyalty lies".

    October 22, 2007 08:58 am at 8:58 am |
  10. Ray Sarasota Forida

    There is nothing I fear more than one of the Republican conservatives being elected to complete the job Bush has done on the Constitution and individual liberties. Stu from Oregon has it exactly right when he says they're pandering to their base and failing to discuss the issues that are most important to the majority if Americans.

    October 22, 2007 08:58 am at 8:58 am |
  11. St. Petersburg, FL.

    Currently elected conservative Republicans have transformed a budget surplus into an obscene deficit; damaged this country's security by encouraging vital jobs to be outsourced overseas; broken any spirit of bi-partisanship; failed to discipline wrong doers in their own ranks; and assaulted our civil liberties with their rubber-stamp approach to dealing with the current White House occupant.

    We, as a country, can ill-afford to reward such extremisim by voting for more mindless conservatives.

    Posted By Bill, Streamwood, IL

    I have to agree with you on everything you said and I AM a Democrat. You see how sad things are for Republicans when a voter might change sides because of the disappointment his own party has shown him? We had a large surplus in our budget, the economy was going great when Clinton left office and there were no major wars, what happened as soon as Bush and his Administration took power? They gobbled up the surplus like it was Christmas candy while talking about being "conservative" out the other side of their mouths; they DID not punish their own corrupt senators like Tom Delay or Mr. Ney, OR the perverts like Mark Foley as well as Mr. Ashcroft for lying, yet Bush sat up there on national television and lied that he would punish anyone caught doing dirty in his Administration..sigh.. Bush tried to sell our national security (ports)to Dubai which is owned by Saudi Arabia, we all know there's no way for a terrorist to take advantage of that opportunity! and was rebuffed by Democrats and a few Republicans, just as Bill said, tried to destroy important parts of our constitutional rights and civil liberties. Why in the HELL would I want to vote Republican after 6 years of that crap?!

    October 22, 2007 08:59 am at 8:59 am |
  12. Will Lucas, Boone NC

    As a soon to graduate college political science major; I like many of my generation are completely disillusioned with the entire political process and events like this debate only go to reinforce that. Halfway through the debate when Romney or Giuliani was trying to argue how they were truely conservative and could actual beat Clinton I realized something. Put Bush up on the stage and he wipes the floor with all of them. Yes, George W. Bush arguably the worst president of all time is better than anyone the Republicans can offer save Ron Paul.

    I just don't understand how the American people could be so fickle and shallow. We have Giuliani cashing in on 9/11 at every turn which looked at even remotely closely reveals that he was in fact a terrible leader and his past led to the deaths of firefighters. On the other hand we have Romney who claims optimism and more of the same can save our country. I don't know which is worse. Never mind I do Giuliani is much worse.

    A couple weeks ago when I heard about Ron Paul making up 5 million dollars in the last quarter I actually got my hopes up. The fact that someone actually addresses the real problems that face our nation and doesn't waste his time pandering to groups with talking about abortion and gay marriage actually have a chance at becoming president is amazing. However, after watching this debate I realized that will never happen. The odds are just too stacked against logic and change. I would go so far to say that democracy we have isn't worth defending if that means we get to choose from Hillary Clinton and Rudy Giuliani.

    October 22, 2007 09:15 am at 9:15 am |
  13. Ellis Wyatt, Los Angeles, CA USA

    Terry, to repeat what I posted earlier, the proof – or lack of it – that Paul's polling data are padded significantly by propaganda-wanking leftists, will be in the proverbial pudding. We shall see how authentic these truly remarkable Paul poll numbers are in just about a year – since the standard Paul supporter is repeating the same petulant whine of "If Paul isn't nominated I'm picking up my ball and going home! Nyah!" Again, I predict his total write-in percentage will be a fraction of 1.

    As a lifelong Reagan Republican I'm not particularly thrilled with any of this lot, but I do not believe the United States – therefore Western Civilization as a whole – can survive another Democrat-Socialist Presidency. So we'll have to make do with another placeholder. Giuliani or Thompson would work for me; Romney is only Bush in a tidier package. Too bad Janice Rogers Brown is busy.

    October 22, 2007 09:16 am at 9:16 am |
  14. David Fields, Elkton, MD

    The Republican Party, or at least its politicians, are not conservative. The definition of Conservative is: "Holding to traditional attitudes and values and cautious about change and innovation." Yet all I hear from the Republican Party is how they want to Change America. How they want to aggressively Change the world!

    These are not traditional attitudes. These are not traditional values. Read almost any report about a member of the Republican Congress or Senate and all you hear is Change.

    Stop trying to Change things and start fixing what we already have!

    October 22, 2007 09:24 am at 9:24 am |
  15. Q. Christian Atlanta GA

    First and foremost let's clear the air. Republicans are afraid of Hillary Clinton because they know she can win the election - end of story. No more elaborate conspiracies on trying to select our nominee so they can trash her–that's BS. Remember the election of 2006. They were preaching heavy to their base saying they can't have Nancy Pelosi as Speaker because she will destroy the country. Last time I checked when I woke up America was still here. The next Republican attack came saying the Democrats in the Congress and in the Senate aren't doing anything for the country. Once again like sheep the American people believed them not being aware of the tiny little fact that they keep FILLIBUSTERING all of the Democratic initiatives. The Clinton machine CAN WITHSTAND ALL of the attacks. Let us not forget they wrote the book on countering attacks from their rivals.

    Democrats don't run scared. Don't believe the sliming. Do you honestly think Hillary Clinton didn't know what she was in for when she decided to run. This woman is PREPARED. Her political apparatus is PREPARED. She has been through the fire many many times. She is not afraid. All we need to do is back her at the polls and stop believing all the nonsense.

    Last week the unfounded allegation came out that Senator Clinton allegedly listened to intercepts of phone calls pertaining to
    political rivals. It amazed me how many Democratic sheep jumped on the bandwagon and immediately believed the story as fact without even hearing her side. We can't allow them to keep doing this to us. We can't allow our candidates to be swift-boated. Stand up and let them know we aren't going to take it –not this year - not any year.

    HILLARY 2008

    October 22, 2007 09:33 am at 9:33 am |
  16. Ellis Wyatt

    Greg in NYC hasn't condescended to post anything of substance here other than a one-liner about his Ivy League prominence (presumably in the interest of fashionable brevity,) so we'll have to assume he's an offended Democrat-Socialist. Survey sez?

    It's instructive for the rest of us to note the sheer quantity of posts here by leftists that consist entirely of ad hominem potshots. Since the bulk of leftwing philosophy is logically, ethically and pragmatically bankrupt, the schoolyard sneer is about all that's left to its vestigial and recidivistic advocates in the way of an argument. A little sad, and a little comical...

    October 22, 2007 09:34 am at 9:34 am |
  17. Greg, Chattanooga, TN

    The problem with Democracy is that half the voters have a below-average IQ.
    Posted By Terry, El Paso, TX : October 22, 2007 7:54 am

    And the other half blog (or respond to such) just to hear themselves blog

    October 22, 2007 09:35 am at 9:35 am |
  18. Frank

    The media is rigged and the electoral process is rigged. There is going to be a voting revolution before the next President is elected and hopefully before Cheney beats his war drum for the last time.

    Just look at the image that heads this article. They line up these candidates like the winners podium at the olympics
    even though the race isn't even halfway over. It is sickening what our democratic process has become. The people aren't going to take it much longer because we all know that everyone of those men on that stage are bought and paid for, with the exception of Ron Paul and they are playing the roles they were assigned. If Ron Paul doesn't win it will be the 3rd consecutive election that has been pre-determined before any patriotic American steps foot in front of any useless voting station.


    Get behind this man before you lose your country. Vote Republican in 2008.

    October 22, 2007 09:41 am at 9:41 am |
  19. john, Euless, TX

    I think the Hillary bashers need to give the American public more credit for actually being able to think for themselves instead of using fear to back the country into voting for any of the Republican candidates. People turn away from the Republican party because of the way they try to force their values, scare tactics and positions down everyone's throats. When it is all said and done, you can only look at each individual candidate (red or blue) and make the decision based on who will do the best job in the oval office. That person is Hillary Rodham Clinton hands down! It is sad that the Republican's cannot win approval ratings by being a good candidate but can only win approval by hating someone else. The Republican's and their sheep followers need to open their eyes and minds!!! HRC 2008!!!!!

    October 22, 2007 09:42 am at 9:42 am |
  20. onemom

    Interesting place to cut Huckabee's quote CNN. He said: “I am more than content to let you let them fight all they want tonight, shed each other's blood and then I'll be ready to run for president because I'm not interested in fighting these guys. (and here's what you left out) What I'm interested in is fighting for the American people, and I think they're looking for a presidential candidate who's not so interested in a demolition derby against the other people in his own party."

    October 22, 2007 09:42 am at 9:42 am |
  21. anna, Appleton, WI

    Is there a third party running for President because that's what we need!! Democrats want to raise our taxes and just spend spend spend. Republicans are too busy fighting amongst themselves and neither is thinking about what's best for our country. Therest of the world is sitting back and watching us. Bottom line, when it comes time to vote we need someone who not only cares about our people but also not be afraid to keep our country safe. If you think terrorism is going to disappear after President Bush is gone, you'd better think again!

    October 22, 2007 09:45 am at 9:45 am |
  22. J Houston, TX

    I love how strongly people embrace the word "change." I'm quite frankly happy with the status quo with the exception of the mismanaged war. Redouble our efforts there, do it right, lower my taxes, take away more entitlements...we're good to go.

    October 22, 2007 09:47 am at 9:47 am |
  23. Jeff Indianapolis

    They are directing attention to Hillary in a desperate attempt to keep the focus off Obama. The Republicans know if Hillary gets the nomination, they keep the White House, this is classic Rove strategy. I have voted Democrat or Independent since I gained the ability to vote. If Hillary wins the nomination I will vote Republican. I do not want to do this. Please Americans out there..Just go listen to any of Obama's speeches, please! Read anything he has written! Make an informed decision!

    October 22, 2007 09:49 am at 9:49 am |
  24. Flagship, Hartford , Connecticut

    Under Bush and his congress the National debt increased by 3.1 trillion dollars. Up 54%. This is how Republican Conservatives control our money. Clinton let 5 trillion (surplus)in the bank when he left. This is how they handle our money. If we vote a republican in office, we will be at war with Iran by ourselves!

    October 22, 2007 10:10 am at 10:10 am |
  25. J. McKinney SW MO

    Interesting how every one, on both sides, keeps attacking Hillary, rather than saying what THEY could do for our country. Hillary doesn't attack anyone–she states what SHE could do for our country. I wish the others would do that, so we would have some idea what they would do if they won. Hillary is the only one who seems to have a program. We are in deep dodo if anyone but Hillary gets elected. And I think all the other candidates, both dems and repubs, know she is the most capable, and most likely to win the election, which is why they are all attacking her.

    October 22, 2007 10:18 am at 10:18 am |
1 2 3 4 5 6