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Arizona GOP Debate: Issues that Matter to Our Generation

by Clint Akarmann | Stanford University

F Posted in: News and Politics P Posted on: February 23, 2012
GOP Debate Arizona

While the CNN GOP debate in Arizona may be over, it’s worth looking back at what the four remaining candidates (Mitt Romney, Rick Santorum, Ron Paul, and Newt Gingrich) had to say about issues that matter the most for young voters across the nation. Here is a handy guide to a few of the topics that took center stage in Mesa:


Rather than a question concerning recent revelations about Santorum’s past speeches, CNN’s John King opened the debate with a discussion of the nation’s debt. This led to a back and forth between Romney and Santorum, with Romney targeting Santorum’s votes to raise the debt ceiling while in the Senate. It was no surprise that the candidates pledged to cut federal spending, and Ron Paul’s trillion dollar plan certainly remains the most ambitious on the stage. However, no concrete details were offered on how exactly the federal government would be able to reign in its spending.

Occupy Movement:

This debate also saw Rick Santorum accuse Romney of using the “language of Occupy Wall Street” when Romney was describing that his tax plan would make the “1%” pay their fair share. The issue of income inequality remains one that many young people are concerned about today in the United States, and it was interesting to see how the GOP candidates had to tread that line carefully and avoid using the same “lingo” as the Occupy crowd.

Sticking Up for the Common Man/Woman:

While populism doesn’t often find its way into GOP debates, its biggest proponent so far has been Rick Santorum, who was labeled a “Supply-Sider for the Working Man” by The Wall Street Journal. In the debate, he criticized Romney for supporting the Troubled Asset Relief Fund (TARP) but rejecting the auto industry bailout. A clear message was sent that Romney was for Wall Street and not Detroit (i.e. Main Street).

Social Issues and Other Controversies:

Social issues continued to dominate the bulk of the debate coverage, with questions about contraception and back-and-forths about other religious questions overshadowing the “jobs, jobs, jobs” issue at times. Young voters were not seeing much discourse about issues that affected them directly, especially in the economic/education sphere.

Gas Prices?

A question about rising gas prices turned into an opportunity for Romney to talk about the U.S. relationship with Iran. Discussion over what to do in the Middle East followed, but no candidate was willing to dive into the tricky Syria question and come up with a sustainable approach to the problem.


Education finally took center stage when Santorum was grilled on No Child Left Behind, once a proud Bush accomplishment but now more like a stain on those who supported it in the past (as Santorum did in the Senate). However, there was no talk about rising college costs or ways in which to make the U.S. school system more effective as as whole.


On the whole, this was a strong debate for Romney, with Santorum managing to get some applause but struggling through some tricky questions. Ron Paul remained resolute in his defense for liberty as usual, while Gingrich failed to hit his talking points. ┬áThe former Speaker’s one-liners have seemingly lost their touch with the debate crowds. On the whole, it must surely have been a disappointment for young voters concerned about pressing issues of the day. Social issues played a large part in this debate, along with bickering about past records on earmarks and other legislation. Lost in the shuffle were any true solutions or novel approaches to the problems confronting our generation.

Clint Akarmann Clint Akarmann Clint Akarmann is a NGJ Editor and current freshman at Stanford University. He is interested in majoring in economics and enjoys following politics and current events while also spending time with his friends and family.

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