The Tea Party Questions Revealed... Not Much

Reporting on Politics and Policy.
Sept. 13 2011 10:24 AM

The Tea Party Questions Revealed... Not Much

Already forgotten in the post-GOP debate spin is the event's original hook. It was the first-ever Tea Party debate! What wild curveballs would these real conservative activists ask? The answer: They asked some pretty unsurprising questions, none crafted in ways that really tripped the candidates up.

David Weigel David Weigel

David Weigel is a Slate political reporter. 

This is the complete rundown of questions from Tea Party audience members.

How will you convince senior citizens that Social Security and Medicare need to be changed and get their vote?
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Asked in an open-ended way, this didn't really elicit answers.

What is your plan to balance the budget and get this spending under control so that my children's share of the debt is erased without compromising my retired mother's already tenuous financial future?
What would you do to get the economy moving forward? Do you have a plan? And, if so, what is it?
What is your position on the Federal Reserve? Should it indeed be audited and be held accountable by the American people?
My question is, out of every dollar that I earn, how much do you think that I deserve to keep? 
Would any of you be willing to support the fair tax? 

The question was about the idea of a national sales tax replacing the income tax. This actually did get an answer from Romney, who warned that "the way the fair tax has been structured, it has a real problem and that is it lowers the burden on the very highest income folks and the very lowest and raises it on middle income people." But that was just a tee-up for his stock tax answer.

Under what circumstances should a president sign an executive order? And how frequently should such an order be signed?
Health insurance is expensive because health care is expensive. What is your plan to reduce the cost of health care so that our insurance premiums and other related costs can also be reduced?
What would you do to remove the illegal immigrants from our country?
The United States has an abundance of coal, oil, natural gas and uranium. The American people have been told for decades that energy independence is a top priority. What will you do in your first 100 days in office to assure the American people that energy independence will finally become reality?

Only Cain actually tried to answer it: Gingrich started in with "Ithink we are at the edge of an enormous crisis in national security" and turned the discussion into one about foreign policy.

As the next president of the United States, what will you do to secure safety and protection for the women and the children of Afghanistan from the radicals?

This was an interesting way to put it, and it got an interesting answer from Perry on Afghanistan spending: "Is it best spent with 100,000 military who have the target on their back in Afghanistan, I don't think so at this particular point in time."

Overall, though, the effect of the Tea Party questioning was to anchor most of the debate on economics, with extremely favorable framing for the candidates, who didn't have to go into detail on their solutions. Quick: What was Perry's Social Security plan, beyond "having a conversation"?

David Weigel is a Slate political reporter.