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The GOP Presidential Debate in Charleston, South Carolina

The GOP Presidential Debate in Charleston, South Carolina

By CNN - January 19, 2012

Charleston, South Carolina

JOHN KING, DEBATE MODERATOR AND CNN CHIEF NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: We're live in Charleston, South Carolina. It's debate night after a dramatic day in the Republican race for president. Iowa declares a new winner. Rick Perry bows out. And 35 hours before the polls open here in South Carolina, we have a dead heat. The Southern Republican Presidential Debate starts right now.

(APPLAUSE)

ANNOUNCER: Welcome to the South, the heart of the Republican Party, where tradition lives.

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FORMER GOV. MITT ROMNEY (R-MA.), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: The strongest military in the world.

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ANNOUNCER: And values matter.

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FORMER SEN. RICK SANTORUM (R-PA.), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: We want a conservative on the ticket.

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ANNOUNCER: Tonight, the Republican candidates on stage in South Carolina for their final debate before the first-in-the-South primary.

Mitt Romney, the front-runner, going for another win, trying to close the deal with skeptical voters.

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ROMNEY: I will work to get good jobs back.

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ANNOUNCER: Newt Gingrich, on the rise, trying to harness conservative support as the field gets smaller.

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FORMER REP. NEWT GINGRICH (R-GA.), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I am the only candidate capable of stopping a moderate from winning the nomination.

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ANNOUNCER: Rick Santorum, with renewed momentum, after learning that he won Iowa after all.

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SANTORUM: We defeated Mitt Romney in Iowa.

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ANNOUNCER: Ron Paul, the insurgent, a powerful force in the first contests, with an army of young voters.

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REP. RON PAUL (R-TX.), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: We are dangerous to the status quo of this country.

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ANNOUNCER: Now, South Carolina is ready to put its stamp on the 2012 presidential race.

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(UNKNOWN): The president of the United States.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ANNOUNCER: Welcome to Charleston and the fight for the South.

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KING: From the North Charleston Coliseum, this is the Southern Republican Presidential Debate. Tonight, the four remaining Republican candidates are with us with their ultimate goal now in sight.

Welcome this evening. I'm John King. This is the final debate before the South Carolina presidential primary. That's on Saturday. Republican leaders from here in South Carolina, 13 other southern states in this audience tonight, along with members of the Tea Party Patriots.

Some of our audience members will get a chance to directly question the candidates. You can also take part in this debate by sending us your questions online. On Twitter, make sure to include the hash tag #CNNdebate. On Facebook, at Facebook.com/CNNpolitics. And of course as always, on CNNPolitics.com.

It's time now to meet the 2012 Republican presidential contenders. Joining us on stage first, the Texas congressman, Ron Paul.

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The former speaker of the House, Newt Gingrich.

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The former Massachusetts governor, Mitt Romney.

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And the former senator from Pennsylvania, Rick Santorum.

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Ladies and gentlemen, the Republican presidential candidates.

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Now, just before we came on the air tonight we recited the Pledge of Allegiance. Now please rise for our national anthem.

We're blessed tonight to have it performed by military cadets from The Citadel right here in Charleston, South Carolina.

(SINGING OF NATIONAL ANTHEM)

KING: That was fabulous. Absolutely fabulous.

I want to ask the candidates to get comfortable at their podiums, have our audience take their seats, while I tell you a bit about how tonight's debate will work.

I'll ask questions, as will some members of our audience tonight. I'll follow up and guide the discussion.

Candidates, I promise you, we're going to try to make sure each of you gets your fair share of the time and the questions. You'll have one minute to answer and 30 seconds for follow-ups and rebuttals. And I'll make sure you get time to respond if you are singled out for criticism.

Now let's have the candidates introduce themselves. We're going to ask them to keep it short. And here's an example. I'm John King from CNN. I'm rooting for the Patriots this weekend, and I'm honored to be your moderator this evening.

Senator Santorum, let's begin with you.

RICK SANTORUM (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I'm Rick Santorum, and I want to thank the people of the Lowcountry for their hospitality to my wife Karen and our seven children.

And I also want to thank the people of Iowa for a little delayed but most welcome victory there. Thank you to the people of Iowa.

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MITT ROMNEY (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I'm Mitt Romney. It's good to be back in South Carolina. I see many good friends here.

It's also great to be here with my wife and some of my kids. I'm married now 42 years. I have five sons, five daughters-in-law, 16 grandkids, and they're the joy of my life.

Thank you.

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KING: Mr. Speaker.

GINGRICH: I'm Newt Gingrich. I want to thank the people of South Carolina for being so hospitable. As a Georgian, it feels good to be back at home in the South, and I look forward to this evening.

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KING: Congressman Paul.

PAUL: Thank you very much. It's great to be here tonight.

I'm a congressman from Texas. I've been elected for 12 times. And also, I practiced OB/GYN for a 30-year period. I've also served five years in the military, and I'm the only U.S. veteran on this stage tonight.

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KING: You've met the candidates. It's time now to begin the debate, an event that has quite a dramatically different feel than just a few hours ago.

Just this morning, as Senator Santorum just noted, we learned he, not Governor Romney, won the Iowa caucuses. There were five podiums on the stage when the sun came up. Four now because of Governor Rick Perry's decision to drop out.

And just as Speaker Gingrich surged into contention here in South Carolina, a direct fresh character attack on the Speaker.

And Mr. Speaker, I want to start with that this evening.

As you know, your ex-wife gave an interview to ABC News and another interview with "The Washington Post." And this story has now gone viral on the Internet.

In it, she says that you came to her in 1999, at a time when you were having an affair. She says you asked her, sir, to enter into an open marriage.

Would you like to take some time to respond to that?

GINGRICH: No, but I will. (APPLAUSE)

GINGRICH: I think the destructive, vicious, negative nature of much of the news media makes it harder to govern this country, harder to attract decent people to run for public office. And I am appalled that you would begin a presidential debate on a topic like that.

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KING: Is that all you want to say, sir?

GINGRICH: Let me finish.

KING: Please.

GINGRICH: Every person in here knows personal pain. Every person in here has had someone close to them go through painful things. To take an ex-wife and make it two days before the primary a significant question for a presidential campaign is as close to despicable as anything I can imagine.

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My -- my two daughters -- my two daughters wrote the head of ABC and made the point that it was wrong, that they should pull it, and I am frankly astounded that CNN would take trash like that and use it to open a presidential debate.

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KING: As you noted, Mr. Speaker, this story did not come from our network. As you also know, it is a subject of conversation on the campaign. I'm not -- I get your point. I take your point.

GINGRICH: John -- John, it was repeated by your network. You chose to start the debate with it. Don't try to blame somebody else. You and your staff chose to start this debate with it.

(APPLAUSE)

Let me be quite clear. Let me be quite clear. The story is false. Every personal friend I have who knew us in that period said the story was false. We offered several of them to ABC to prove it was false. They weren't interested because they would like to attack any Republican. They're attacking the governor. They're attacking me. I'm sure they'll presently get around to Senator Santorum and Congressman Paul.

I am tired of the elite media protecting Barack Obama by attacking Republicans.

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KING: As I noted -- as I noted at the beginning, we have four podiums on this stage tonight, not five. And when he exited the race this morning, Governor Perry quickly and forcefully endorsed Speaker Gingrich. And in that remark, he said that, "No, Mr. Gingrich is not a perfect man." Senator Santorum, he said "none of us are." And he said he believes in his Christian faith that guides him to the value of redemption.

Speaker Gingrich doesn't believe this is an issue. Governor Perry says this is not an issue. I just want to start with you, sir, and go down. Do you believe it is?

SANTORUM: I've answered this question repeatedly throughout the course of this campaign. I am a Christian, too. And I thank God for forgiveness. But, you know, these -- these are issues of our lives and what we did in our lives. They are issues of character for people to consider. But the bottom line is those are -- those are things for everyone in this audience to look at. And they're going to look at me, look at what I've done in my private life and personal life, unfortunately.

And what I say is that this country is a very forgiving country. This country understands that we are all fallen and I'm very hopeful that we will be judged by that standard and not by a higher one on the ultimate day.

KING: Governor Romney?

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ROMNEY: John, let's get on to the real issues is all I've got to say.

KING: Congressman?

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PAUL: I think too often all of us are on the receiving ends of attacks from the media. It's very disturbing because sometimes they're not based on facts and we suffer the consequences. You know, sometimes it reminds me of this idea of getting corporations out of running campaigns. But what about the corporations that run the media? I mean, they're always...

(APPLAUSE)

And I think our responsibility, since sorting facts and fiction, the people have to sort this out. But I think setting standards are very important and I'm very proud that my wife of 54 years is with me tonight.

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KING: All right. As I said at the top of the debate -- as I said at the top of the debate, we'll take some questions from the audience. We've reached out to people online. We've also reached out to a number of votes, some who wish they could be here tonight, but can't be here tonight.

I want to turn to a question from one of those voters. Her name is Jane Gallagher (ph). She's from here in South Carolina. As all of you know, and as everyone in this audience in South Carolina knows, we're in a state with 9.9 percent unemployment. And Jane (ph) asked this question: List three or more specific programs that will put American people back to work?

Congressman Paul, I want to begin with you. Do you believe we need specific federal programs to put the American people back to work?

PAUL: Well, most of the things the federal government could do to get us back to work is get out of the way. I'd like to...

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I'd like to see the federal government have a sound currency. That creates a healthy economy.

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I -- I would like to see massive reduction of regulations. I would like to see income tax reduced to near zero as possible. And that is what we have to do. We have to get the government out of the way. We have to recognize why we have unemployment. And it comes because we have a deeply flawed financial system that causes financial bubbles. The bubbles burst and you have the unemployment.

Now, the most important thing to get over that hump that was created artificially by bad economic policies is to allow the correction to occur. You have to get rid of the excessive debt and you have to get rid of the malinvestment.

And you don't do that by buying the debt off the people who were benefiting from it. So we, the people, shouldn't be stuck with these debts on these mortgage derivatives and all. We need to get that behind us, which means the government shouldn't be doing any bailouts.

So most of the things to improve the environment is getting the government out of the way and enforce contract laws and enforce bankruptcy laws.

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KING: Mr. Speaker, come in on that point, as you address what you would like to do but also specifically the question, do we need federal programs?

GINGRICH: Well, there are three things that can be done at a specifically South Carolina level. There's one easy thing to do at a national level, and that's repeal the Dodd-Frank bill, which is killing small business, killing small banks.

(APPLAUSE)

That would help overnight.

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But three specifics. One, there's $29 billion-plus of natural gas offshore. In Louisiana, jobs for that kind of production are $80,000 a year. That would help us become energy independent from the Middle East. Part of the royalties of the natural gas could be used then to modernize the Port of Charleston and the Port of Georgetown.

Charleston has to be modernized to meet the largest ships that will come through the Panama Canal in 2014. One out of every five jobs in South Carolina is dependent on the Port of Charleston.

The third thing you could do, frankly, is fundamentally, radically overhaul the -- the Corps of Engineers. The Corps of Engineers today takes eight years to study -- not to complete -- to study doing the port. We won the entire second World War in three years and eight months.

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KING: A subset of the jobs conversation among the candidates in this state over the past week, Mr. Speaker, has been from you and from the now-departed Governor Perry, pretty sharp criticism of Governor Romney's tenure as the CEO of Bain Capital.

I want you to be specific. What do you think he did wrong that makes you question his ability as a president to create jobs?

GINGRICH: I think there are specific cases -- Georgetown Steel would be a case here, and a company in Gaffney, South Carolina -- specific cases where Bain Capital's model, which was to take over a company and dramatically leverage it, leave it with a great deal of debt, made it less likely to survive.

I think the governor ought to explain -- because it started because he cited his experience as a key part of his preparation for being president. And so I think the underlying model of that kind of investment, which is very different from venture capital, ought to be explained, and those cases ought to be looked at.

KING: Well, Governor Romney, let me give you a chance. Explain.

ROMNEY: Well, I hope I get a chance to talk about the topic you began with. We'll come back to the -- the direct attack from Speaker Gingrich in a moment.

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So let's go back and talk about first what you do to get the economy going. And of course we've spoken time and again about our tax code that's out of alignment with other nations. We've spoken about the fact that regulation is overwhelming us, that we need to take care of our energy resources and become energy secure. We have to open up markets. And we have to crack down on China when they cheat.

But I'd like to talk about something else that President Obama has been doing. He's been practicing crony capitalism. And if you want to get America going again...

(APPLAUSE) ... you've got to stop the spread of crony capitalism. He gives General Motors to the UAW. He takes $500 million and sticks it into Solyndra. He -- he stacks the labor stooges on the NLRB so they can say no to Boeing and take care of their friends in the labor movement.

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You go across the country with regards to energy because he has to bow to the most extreme members of the environmental movement. He turns down the Keystone Pipeline, which would bring energy and jobs to America.

(BOOING)

(APPLAUSE)

This -- this president is the biggest impediment to job growth in this country. And we have to replace Barack Obama to get America working again.

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KING: So -- so let's go -- let's go back. I'm glad you had that opportunity. I do want to go back, see if we can clear this up.

Now, the questions about Bain, many have been about the number. You have said 120,000 jobs that you can tie back to decisions you made at Bain Capital. I want you to take your time, sir, and do the math. Do the math and how you get to 100,000 or 120,000 jobs?

ROMNEY: I'll do the math, but let me tell you, I know we're going to get attacked from the left, from Barack Obama, on capitalism. I know that people are going to say, oh, you should only practice it this way or that way and think they know better than the private market.

My view is capitalism works. Free enterprise works. And I...

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... and I find it -- I find it, kind of, strange, on a stage like this with Republicans, having to describe how private equity and venture capital work and how they're successful and how they create jobs.

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But let me tell you the answer. We started a number of businesses. Four in particular created 120,000 jobs as of today. We started them years ago. They've grown well beyond the time I was there, to 120,000 people that have employed by those enterprises.

There are others we've been with, some of which have lost jobs. People have evaluated that since -- well, since I ran four years ago, when I ran for governor. And those that have been documented to lost jobs lost about 10,000 jobs.

So 120,000 less 10,000 means that we created something over 100,000 jobs. And there's some, by the way, that were businesses we acquired that grew and became more successful like Domino's Pizza and a company called Duane Reade and others.

I'm very proud of the fact that throughout my career, I have worked to try and build enterprises, hopefully to return money to investors. There's nothing wrong with profit, by the way. That profit --

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ROMNEY: That profit went to pension funds, to charities. It went to a wide array of institutions. A lot of people benefited from that. And by the way, as enterprises become more profitable, they can hire more people.

I'm someone who believes in free enterprise. I think Adam Smith was right. And I'm going to stand and defend capitalism across this country, throughout this campaign. I know we're going to get hit hard from President Obama, but we're going to stuff it down his throat and point out it is capitalism and freedom that makes America strong.

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KING: Senator Santorum, join the conversation, specifically to the initial question from Jane. What should the federal government be doing? And do you believe in specific programs? And I also want to ask you if you share the Speaker's concern about Governor Romney's tenure at Bain.

SANTORUM: Well, on the first question, I believe in capitalism, too. I believe in capitalism for everybody. Not necessarily high finance, but capitalism that works for the working men and women of this country who are out there paddling alone in America right now, who have an unemployment rate 2.5 times those who are college educated and feel that no party cares about them. Because you have the Democratic Party, and Barack Obama, and all he wants to do is make them more dependent, give them more food stamps, give them more Medicaid.

I was talking to a state official the other day in Iowa that told me that the state of Iowa is being fined because they're not signing up enough people on to the Medicaid program. This is what the answer is for the economic squalor that Barack Obama has visited on working men and women in this country, and it's creating more government programs and getting them more dependent on those programs.

We need a party that just doesn't talk about high finance and cutting corporate taxes or cutting the top tax rates. We need to talk about how we're going to put men and women in this country, who built this country, back to work in this country in the manufacturing sector of our economy.

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SANTORUM: And there's one candidate that has done that. I have done that. I've done that throughout the course of this campaign.

I talked about who (ph) we're going to target and make sure that we can be competitive. I was in Boeing today and I was up at BMW yesterday. South Carolina can compete with anybody in this world in manufacturing.

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SANTORUM: We just need to give them the opportunity to compete. And we are 20 percent more costly than our top nine trading partners, and that's excluding labor costs.

That's why I said we need to cut the corporate tax and manufacturing down to zero. We need to give manufacturers a leg up so they can compete for the jobs, half of which went from 21 percent of this country in manufacturing, down to nine percent. And we left the dreams of working men and women on the sideline.

We need to show that we're the party, we're the movement that's going to get those Reagan Democrats, those conservative Democrats, all throughout the states that we need to win to win this election, to sign up with us, and we'll put them back to work.

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KING: Let's stay on the economy and let's stay on the South Carolina experience all you gentlemen have had.

As you know, and as this audience reflects, this is a state incredibly proud of its military tradition and incredibly proud of its veterans. Many of those veterans who have served post-9/11, served honorably in Iraq and Afghanistan, are coming back to a terrible economy. Right now, the unemployment rate for post-9/11 veterans aged 18 to 24 is at 22 percent.

Congressman Paul, to you first, sir. Should the federal government be specifically targeting that part, our veterans coming back, saying the unemployment rate is so high among that sub group, that the federal government should offer tax incentives to employers or take other steps to help them to incentivize the economy to help them get jobs?

PAUL: To some degree, but you really want to make the environment -- the economy healthy for everybody and not designate special places. But to help them out to come back is probably necessary on some occasions now.

But we have to think about how serious our problems are here, because we face something much, much greater. After World War II, we had 10 million came home all at once. But what did we do then? There were some of the liberals back then that said, oh, we have to have more work programs and do this and that. And they thought they would have to do everything conceivable for those 10 million. They never got around to it because they came home so quickly.

And you know what the government did? They cut the budget by 60 percent.

They cut taxes by 30 percent. By that time, the debt had been liquidated. And everybody went back to work again, you didn't need any special programs.

So...

(APPLAUSE)

But the one thing, talking about concern about the -- the military and the veterans, I'm very proud that, you know, I get twice as many donations from the military, active military people, then all the rest put together.

(APPLAUSE)

So I am very concerned about them. I think where the real problem is, is we can create a healthy economic environment if we did the right things. Where the veterans really deserve help, both as a physician and as a congressman, is the people who come back and aren't doing well health-wise. They need a lot more help.

We have an epidemic now of suicide of our military coming back. So they need a lot of medical help. And I think they come up shortchanged. They come up shortchanged after Vietnam war, Persian Gulf war, and even now. They don't get care from the Veterans Administration.

(APPLAUSE)

KING: I think we all agree there's a generational challenge for the country with the brain injuries and the other injuries and the suicide, as you mentioned.

I want to stay on the economy for a minute, though. Senator Santorum, you started to shake your head. Again, specifically, it's a role of government question. Should the government be stepping in and saying we need to help this subgroup in the economy that's hurting, the veterans?

SANTORUM: Well, obviously, we have -- we have and should continue to have veterans preferences. People who went out and served this country should have -- should have preferences when it comes to job positions when they come back to work in this economy.

(APPLAUSE)

My dad and mom worked for the Veterans Administration. I grew up on a V.A. grounds, lived in an apartment in those -- on those V.A. grounds for the first 18 years of my life.

And I saw the -- the impact of the Vietnam war on -- on those veterans who came back. And they came back very damaged, not just -- not just with -- with physical wounds, but a lot of psychological ones. And that's, I'm sure, a very big part of the high unemployment rate that we're dealing with.

And we need to be much, much more aggressive. We have the president of the United States who said he is going to cut veterans benefits, cut our military, at a time when these folks are four, five, six, seven tours, coming back, in and out of jobs, sacrificing everything for this country. And the president of the United States can't cut one penny out of the social welfare system and he wants to cut a trillion dollars out of our military and hit our veterans and that's disgusting.

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KING: So, Governor, Governor, and then Mr. Speaker, Senator Santorum passionately makes the case. It also is a time, as all of you know, of very tough budget decisions the next president's going to have to make, setting priorities.

How do you do it? How -- what specifically do you do to help the veterans?

ROMNEY: Well, let's distinguish between what gets done at the federal level and what gets done at the state level.

In our state we found a way to help our -- our veterans by saying, "Look, if you're going to come back, particularly if you're in the National Guard, we'll pay for your education, college degree, both the fees and tuition. We give you a full ride."

And we also had a plan that said, "If you come back and you've been out of work for a year or more, we're going to put like a bonus on your back, which if anyone hires you, that bonus goes to them to pay for your training."

So we can encourage that to occur. But let's do it at the state level. Let's not have the federal government continue to extend its -- its tentacles into everything that goes on in this country. Let's take the...

(APPLAUSE)

Let's take the -- let's take the money that -- that we use to help people who have real needs and instead of having it all administered by the federal government, that thinks they know how to do everything, let's take that money, bundle up South Carolina's fair share and every other state's fair share, send it to them and say, "You care for your people in the way you feel best." Let's do that at the state level.

And I agree with what -- what Senator Santorum said with regards to our military budget. Right now for the president to be cutting $350,000 from our military budget, planning to cut another $650,000 -- $650 billion, excuse me, $350 billion, another $650 billion, a trillion dollars, his secretary of defense says that represents a doomsday scenario.

We've got an aging Navy. We've got an aging Air Force. They're planning on cutting our number of active duty personnel. They can't possibly keep up with the needs of our veterans.

It is absolutely wrong to balance our budget on the backs of our military. We need a strong military, so strong no one in the world would ever think of testing it. (APPLAUSE)

KING: Mr. Speaker, please come in. We're going to have -- we'll have some conversations about commander in chief. You have the floor now. Specifically veterans who need jobs.

GINGRICH: Let me just say two things about Congressman Paul's history.

The U.S. government did two dramatic things after World War II. They created a G.I. Bill, which enabled literally millions of returning veterans to go to college for the very first time. My father, who was in the Second World War, went to college on a G.I. Bill. So there was an enormous expansion of opportunity that enabled them to integrate into a new, emerging society.

The second thing they did is they dramatically cut taxes and the economy took off and grew dramatically and it absorbed the workforce.

So I would say we ought to both have a transition process for veterans to enable them to have a real advantage at getting a job when they come home, and we ought to have a very aggressive economic program of regulatory cuts and tax cuts and American energy so that the entire population is absorbed by getting back to about 4 percent unemployment, in which case virtually every veteran would have a very good job at the end of the transition period.

JOHN KING, DEBATE MODERATOR AND CNN CHIEF NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Let's turn to our audience now.

(APPLAUSE)

Let's turn now and take a question from down in our audience tonight. Go ahead, sir.

QUESTION: My name is Sonny Cohen (ph). I'm from Sevier County, Tennessee. My question to any of the candidates is: Do any of you sincerely believe that Obamacare can either be repealed or reversed in its entirety?

KING: Let me go first to Governor Romney on that one.

Governor, you had said you would do it on day one with an executive order that would free the states up to opt out, waivers essentially to get out of that program. I know your friend, the South Carolina governor might like to have that option.

Help me understand as you do that how would it play out? And what happens to those, someone with a preexisting condition for example, who now has coverage under the president's health care plan, or a young American, 22, 23, 24, who because of the changes in the law, can now stay a few extra years on their parents' health care? What happens to them when you sign that executive order?

FORMER GOV. MITT ROMNEY (R-MA.), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Well, first of all, the executive order is a beginning process. It's one thing, but it doesn't completely eliminate Obamacare. It's one thing I want to get done to make sure that states could take action to pull out of Obamacare.

But number two, we have to go after a complete repeal and that's going to have to happen...

(APPLAUSE)

... that -- that's going to have to happen with a House and a Senate, hopefully that are Republican. If we don't have a Republican majority, I think we're going to be able to convince some Democrats that when the American people stand up loud and clear and say, "We do not want Obamacare; we do not want the higher taxes; we do not want a $500 billion cut in Medicare to pay for Obamacare," I think you're going to see the American people stand with our president and say, "Let's get rid of Obamacare."

But we'll replace it, and I've laid out what I'll replace it with. First, it's a bill that does care for people that have preexisting conditions. If they've got a preexisting condition and they've been previously insured, they won't be denied insurance going forward.

Secondly, I'd allow people to own their own insurance, rather than just be able to get it from their employer. I want people to be able to take their insurance with them if they go from job to job.

So -- so we'll make it work in the way that's designed to have health care act like a market, a consumer market, as opposed to have it run like Amtrak and the post office. That's what's at risk...

(APPLAUSE)

... at stake here. Do we -- we -- we go back to this. Ours is the party of free enterprise, freedom, markets, consumer choice. Theirs is the party of government knowledge, government -- government domination, where Barack Obama believes that he knows better for the American people what's best for them. He's wrong. We're right. That's why we're going to win.

(APPLAUSE)

KING: Mr. Speaker, you heard the skepticism. This is a southern Republican voter, but he's skeptical. He knows how Washington works. He's watched Washington work. He's asking it be reversed in its entirety.

You -- you were the speaker of the House. You understand how this works. How -- how can it be repealed in this current political environment?

GINGRICH: Well, let me say first of all, if you've watched Washington and you're not skeptical, you haven't learned anything.

(LAUGHTER)

I mean, this -- this system is a total mess right now. Second, can you get it repealed in total? Sure. You have to elect a House, a Senate and a president committed to that. It has to be major part of the fall campaign. And I think that, frankly, on our side with any of us, it's going to be a major part of the fall campaign.

The American people are frightened of bureaucratic centralized medicine. They deeply distrust Washington and the pressure will be to repeal it. And a lot of what Governor Romney has said I think is actually a pretty good, sound step for part of the replacement.

I would always repeal all of it because I so deeply distrust the congressional staffs that I would not want them to be able to pick and choose which things they cut.

But let me make one observation. He raised a good example. Why is President Obama for young people being allowed to stay on their parents' insurance until 26? Because he can't get any jobs for them to go out and buy their own insurance.

(APPLAUSE)

I mean I have -- I have an offer -- I have an offer to the parents of America: Elect us and your kids will be able to move out because they'll have work.

(APPLAUSE)

KING: Senator Santorum, you heard Governor Romney and you heard Speaker Gingrich. Do you trust them if one of them is the Republican party's nominee and potentially the next president of the United States to repeal this?

FORMER SEN. RICK SANTORUM (R-PA.), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: The biggest -- the biggest thing we have to do is elect a president. I think Newt's right. The problem is that two of the people up here would be very difficult to elect on, I think, the most important issue that this country is dealing with right now, which is the robbing of our freedom because of Obamacare.

Governor Romney tells a very nice story about what his plan is now. It wasn't his plan when he was in a position to do a plan. When he was governor of Massachusetts, he put forth Romneycare, which was not a bottom-up free market system. It was a government-run health care system that was the basis of Obamacare, and it has been an abject failure. And he has stood by it. He's stood by the fact that it's $8 billion more expensive...

(APPLAUSE)

... than under the current law. He stood by the fact that Massachusetts has the highest health insurance premiums of any state in the country. It is 27 percent more expensive than the average state in the country.

Doctors -- if you're in the Massachusetts health care system, over 50 percent of the doctors now are not seeing new patients -- primary care doctors are not seeing new patients. Those who do get to see a patient are waiting 44 days on average for the care. It is an abject disaster. He's standing by it. And he's going to have to run against a president -- he's going to have to run against a president who's going to say, well, look, look at what you did for Massachusetts, and you're the one criticizing me for what I've done? I used your model for it. And then...

(APPLAUSE)

... then we have Speaker Gingrich, who has been -- who has been for an individual mandate, not back when the time that just was -- Heritage was floating around in the '90s, but as late as comments since 2008, just a few years ago.

He stood up and said that you should have an individual mandate or post $150,000 bond. How many $150,000 bond holders do we have here who can post a bond for their health insurance?

These are two folks who don't present the clear contrast that I do, who was the author of health savings accounts, which is the primary basis of every single conservative reform of health care.

(APPLAUSE)

I was the author of it back in 1991 and '92, 20 years ago. I've been fighting for health reform, private sector, bottom up, the way America works best, for 20 years, while these two guys were playing (inaudible) with the left.

(APPLAUSE)

KING: I want to bring Congressman Paul -- bring you into the discussion in just a moment. But Senator Santorum directly challenged the governor and then the speaker. Governor, you first.

ROMNEY: Well, so much of what the senator said was wrong. Let me mention a few of the things. First of all, the system and my state is not a government-run system. Ninety-two percent of the people had their own insurance before the system was put in place and nothing changed for them. They still had the same private insurance. And the 8 percent of the uninsured, they brought private insurance, not government insurance.

And the people in the state still favor the plan 3-1. And it certainly doesn't work perfectly. Massachusetts, by the way, had the highest insurance costs before the plan was put in place and after. But fortunately, the rate of growth has slowed down a little less than the overall nation.

And one of the things I was proud of is that individuals who wanted to buy their own insurance saw their rates -- when they were not part of a big group -- saw their rates drop by some 40 percent with our plan.

Is it perfect? Absolutely not. But I do believe that having been there, having been in the front lines, showing that I have compassion for people that don't have insurance but that the Obama plan is a 2,700-page massive tax increase, Medicare-cutting monster. I know how to cut it. I'll eliminate it. I will repeal it. And I'll return to the -- I'll return the power to the states, where the power for caring for the uninsured ought to reside constitutionally. Thank you.

(APPLAUSE)

KING: Senator Santorum, he says your facts are wrong.

SANTORUM: Well, they're simply not wrong. The fact is that, yes, you're right, Governor Romney. Ninety-two percent of people did have health insurance in -- in Massachusetts. But that wasn't private- sector health insurance. A lot of those people were, as you know, on Medicare and Medicaid. So they're already on government insurance, and you just expanded.

In fact, over half the people that came on the rolls since you put Romneycare into effect are fully subsidized by the state of Massachusetts. And a lot of those are on the Medicaid program.

So the idea that you have created this marketplace in -- with this government-run health care system, where you have very prescriptive programs about reimbursements rates. You have very prescriptive programs just like what President Obama is trying to put in place here.

You're arguing for a plan; you're defending a plan that is top-down. It is not a free-market health care system. It is not bottom-up. It is prescriptive and government. It was the basis for Obamacare.

(APPLAUSE)

And you do not draw a distinction that's going to be effective for us just because it was the state level, not the federal level.

(APPLAUSE)

KING: If you want, Governor, quickly?

ROMNEY: Sure, absolutely. First of all, as you probably know, Medicaid is not a state program.

SANTORUM: Of course it is. It's a state and federal program.

ROMNEY: Medicaid is as demanded by the federal government and it is -- it's a mandate by the federal government and it's shared 50/50, state and federal.

The people of Massachusetts who are on Medicaid -- I would like to end that program at the federal level, take the Medicaid dollars and return them to the states and allow states to craft their own plans. That would make the plan we had in Massachusetts a heck of a lot better.

My view is get the federal government out of Medicaid, get it out of health care. Return it to the states. And if you want to go be governor of Massachusetts, fine. But I want to be president and let states take responsibility for their own plans.

(APPLAUSE)

KING: Mr. Speaker -- it may seem like a while ago, Mr. Speaker, but Senator Santorum made the point, in his view, you don't have credibility on this issue.

GINGRICH: No, what he said, which I found mildly amazing, was that he thought I would have a hard time debating Barack Obama over health care. Now, in fact, I -- as Republican whip, I led the charge against Hillarycare in the House. As Speaker of the House, I helped preside over the conference which wrote into law his idea on health savings accounts. So I was delighted to help him get it to be a law.

And the fact is, I helped found the Center for Health Transformation. I wrote a book called "Saving Lives and Saving Money" in 2002. You can go to healthtransformation.net and you'll see hundreds of ideas, none of which resemble Barack Obama's programs.

So I'd be quite happy to have a three-hour Lincoln/Douglas style debate with Barack Obama. I'd let him use a teleprompter. I'll just rely on knowledge. We'll do fine.

(APPLAUSE)

KING: Senator, I want to bring Congressman Paul in. You're shaking your head. Quickly.

SANTORUM: The core of Obamacare is an individual mandate. It is what is being litigated in the Supreme Court right now. It is government, top-down, telling every business, every American what kind of health care you will have. That is the problem with Obamacare at the core of it, and the Speaker supported it repeatedly for a 10-year period.

So when he goes and says, I can, you know, run rings around President Obama in a Lincoln/Douglas debate, you can't run rings around the fact, Newt, that you supported the primary, core basis of what President Obama's put in place.

GINGRICH: Look, just one --

KING: Quickly, Mr. Speaker. The congressman's getting lonely down here. Let's go.

GINGRICH: Just one brief comment. Of course you can. I can say, you know, I was wrong and I figured it out. You were wrong and you didn't.

(APPLAUSE)

SANTORUM: Newt, you held that position for over 10 years. And, you know, it's not going to be the most attractive thing to go out there and say it took me 10 or 12 years to figure out I was wrong when guys like Rick Santorum knew it was wrong from the beginning.

(APPLAUSE) KING: Congressman Paul, you have the floor. Do you trust these men to repeal Obamacare?

REP. RON PAUL (R-TX.), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Thank you.

(APPLAUSE)

PAUL: I thought you were -- I thought maybe you were prejudiced against doctors and a doctor that practiced medicine in the military or something.

No, I want to address the question. The gentleman asked whether he thinks we can repeal Obamacare.

Theoretically, we can. The likelihood isn't all that good.

We can diminish some of the effect, but I'm more concerned about a bigger picture of what's happening. And that is, government involvement in medicine.

I had the privilege of practicing medicine in the early '60s before we had any government. It worked rather well and there was nobody out in the street suffering with no medical care.

But Medicare and Medicaid came in and it just expanded. But even when we had the chance to cut back on it, when we had a Republican Congress and a Republican president, we gave them prescription drug programs. Senator Santorum supported it. You know, that's expanding the government.

(APPLAUSE)

PAUL: So -- and most of them are bankrupt. Prescription drugs, they're not going to be financed. Medicare's not financed. Medicaid's in trouble. But nobody talks about where the money's going to come from.

Now, even in my budget proposal, which is very, very tough, because I'm going to cut $1 trillion the first year, but I try to really --

(APPLAUSE)

PAUL: Even though these programs should have never started but a lot of people depend on it, I want to try to protect the people who are dependent on medical care.

Now, where does the money come? My suggestion is, look at some of the overseas spending that we don't need to be doing.

(APPLAUSE)

PAUL: We have troops in Korea since the Korean War, in Japan since World War II, in Germany since -- those are subsidies to these countries. And we keep fighting these wars that don't need to be fought. They're undeclared. They never end. Newt pointed out that World War II was won in less than four years. Afghanistan, we're there for 10 years. Nobody says where's the money coming from?

We could work our way out of here and take care of these people with these medical needs. But we can't do it with the current philosophy of the government taking care of everybody forever on medical care, cradle to grave, and being the policeman of the world.

We will get rid of all this government program, unfortunately because we're going bankrupt and you're going to have runaway inflation, and our checks are going to bounce. And that's going to be a lot worse problem than we're facing tonight.

(APPLAUSE)

KING: All right.

Going to ask our candidates to stand by, our audience as well. We have a couple breaks tonight. We're going to take one of them now.

One candidate on this stage suggested this week that two candidates should get out of the race. One of them listened. We'll get the reaction from the other coming up.

And also coming up, this is just in. While we've been on the air having this debate, Speaker Gingrich has released his tax returns. He's put them online. We'll ask him what's in them when we come back.

(APPLAUSE)

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(APPLAUSE)

KING: Back in Charleston, South Carolina, and our Southern Republican Presidential Debate. Let's get back to questioning the four gentlemen who would like to be the Republican nominee for president and the next president of the United States.

Part of the political conversation during the crackling campaign in this great state this week, Senator Santorum, Speaker Gingrich said he thought it would be preferable for the conservative movement if one candidate, in his view, had a direct campaign against Governor Romney. He suggested -- said it was up to you -- but he suggested perhaps Governor Perry and Senator Santorum should get out of the race.

In suggesting that, he said this: You don't have, quote, "any of the knowledge for how to do something on this scale."

What do you say to that?

SANTORUM: Grandiosity has never been a problem with Newt Gingrich. He -- he handles it very, very well.

(APPLAUSE) And that's really one of the issues here, folks. I mean, a month ago, he was saying that, "Oh, I'm -- it's inevitable that I'm going to win the election. And it's I'm destined to do it."

I don't want a nominee that I have to worry about going out and looking at the paper the next day and figuring out what is he -- worrying about what he's going to say next.

And that's -- that's what I think we're seeing here.

(APPLAUSE)

For him to suggest that -- that someone who was tied for first and eventually won the Iowa caucuses and finished with twice as many votes as he did and finished ahead of him in New Hampshire, in spite of the fact that he spent an enormous amount more money in both those places, plus had the most important endorsement in the state, the Manchester Union Leader, and I was 10 points behind him a week before the election, and then finished ahead of him.

So I was 2-0 coming into South Carolina, and I should get out of the race?

These are -- there are not -- there are not cogent thoughts. I mean, and -- and let's just be honest.

(LAUGHTER)

(APPLAUSE)

I mean, Newt's -- Newt's a friend. I love him. But at times, you've just got, you know, sort of that, you know, worrisome moment that something's going to pop. And we can't afford that in a nominee.

We need someone -- I'm not the most flamboyant, and I don't get the biggest applause lines here. But I'm steady. I'm solid. I'm not going to go out and do things that you're going to worry about. I'm going to be out there. I'm going to make Barack Obama the issue in this campaign.

(APPLAUSE)

KING: Mr. Speaker, take some time to respond.

As you do so, what exactly did you mean, "doesn't have any of the knowledge for how to do something on this scale"?

GINGRICH: Well, it's a very simple question. How big a scale of change do we want in Washington? I started working with Governor Reagan in 1974. I helped with Jack Kemp and others the development of supply-side economics in the late '70s.

I participated in the '80s in an enormous project of economic growth and, with President Reagan's leadership, the American people created 16 million jobs. With President Reagan's leadership, the Soviet Union disappeared. I came back -- I spent 16 years on a grandiose project called creating a Republican majority in the House -- 16 years. And most of the Republican leaders in the House thought it was a joke. Even the night before the election, they thought it was a joke.

And we created the first majority. We then worked for two solid years, reformed welfare. Two out of three people went back to work or went to school. We ultimately became the first re-elected Republican majority since 1928.

We then went on to cut taxes for the first time in 16 years, the largest capital gains tax cut in American history. In the four years I was speaker, the American people created 11 million new jobs. We balanced the budget for four consecutive years, (inaudible).

You're right. I think grandiose thoughts. This is a grandiose country of big people doing big things. And we need leadership prepared to take on big projects.

(APPLAUSE)

KING: Quickly?

(APPLAUSE)

SANTORUM: I will give Newt Gingrich his due on grandiose ideas and grandiose projects. I will not give him his -- his -- his due on executing those projects, which is exactly what the president of the United States is supposed to do.

Four years into his speakership, he was thrown out by the conservatives. It was a coup against him in three. I served with him. I was there. I knew what the problems were going on in the House of Representatives when Newt Gingrich was leading this -- leading there. It was an idea a minute, no discipline, no ability to be able to pull things together.

I understand your taking credit for the 1994 election, and you did have a lot of plans. As you know, I worked with you on those, and we had meetings early in the morning on many -- many a week. And so we worked together on that.

But you also have to admit that this freshman congressman who wasn't supposed to win a race came and did something you never did, which is blew the lid off the biggest scandal to hit the Congress in 50 years. You knew about it for 10 or 15 years because you told me you knew about it. And you did nothing because you didn't have the courage to stand up to your own leadership, the Democratic speaker of the House, take to the floor of the Senate, demand the releasing of the checks that were being kited by members of Congress, risk your political career, risk your promotion within the ranks and do what was right for America. And that had more or as much to do with the 1994 win as any plan that you put together.

(APPLAUSE)

KING: Mr. Speaker, respond.

(APPLAUSE)

GINGRICH: You know, campaigns are interesting experiences for all of us. And each of us writes a selective history that fits our interest.

As a freshman in 1979, I moved to expel a member who was a convicted felon, for the first time since 1917, against the wishes of our leadership. In the page scandal in the 1980s, I moved and threatened to expel them unless they were punished much more severely, against the wishes of the leadership. In the late 1980s, I initiated charges against the speaker of the House, Jim Wright, at rather considerable risk for a back-bench member. In 1990, I opposed the president of the United States of my own party when he tried to raise taxes. I said I actually thought he meant "Read my lips," and I led the fight against raising taxes, against the wishes of my party's leadership.

I think, long before Rick came to Congress, I was busy being a rebel, creating the Conservative Opportunity Society, developing a plan to win a majority in the Congress. And if you talk to anybody who worked at the Congressional Campaign Committee from December of 1978 on, for 16 years, I worked to help create the Republican Party nationally to become a majority. I worked to create GOPAC to train a majority. Those are just historic facts, even if they're inconvenient for Rick's campaign.

(APPLAUSE)

KING: Governor Romney, you're raising your hand to come in the conversation. I want to let you in on the conversation, but also, as I do, you put an ad on the air paid by your campaign, not one of the super PAC ads, calling the Speaker an unreliable leader. Why?

ROMNEY: Well, let me go back and address first what you just heard.

What you've listened to, in my view, and the Speaker's rendition of history going back to 1978 and his involvement in Washington, is, in my view, a perfect example of why we need to send to Washington someone who has not lived in Washington, but someone who's lived in the real streets of America, working in the private sector, who's led a business, who started a business, who helped lead the Olympics, who helped lead a state. We need to have someone outside Washington go to Washington.

If we want people who spent their life and their career, most of their career, in Washington, we have three people on the stage -- well, I take that back. We've got a doctor down here who spent most of his time in the surgical suite -- well not surgery, in the birthing suite.

(APPLAUSE)

ROMNEY: But I think America has to make a choice as to whether we're going to send people who spent their life in Washington go represent our country or, instead, whether we're going to lead -- have someone who goes who's been a leader in the private sector and knows how the economy works at the grassroots level. Now, you asked me an entirely different question.

GINGRICH: It beats me. I don't know.

Where are we at, John?

(LAUGHTER)

ROMNEY: Let me tell you, one of the things I find amusing is listening to how much credit is taken in Washington for what goes on, on Main Street.

I mean, Mr. Speaker, it was -- you talk about all the things you did with Ronald Reagan and the Reagan revolution and the jobs created during the Reagan years and so forth. I mean, I looked at the Reagan diary. You're mentioned once in Ronald Reagan's diary.

And in the diary, he says you had an idea in a meeting of young congressmen, and it wasn't a very good idea and he dismissed it. That's the entire mention.

I mean, he mentions George Bush 100 times. He even mentions my dad once.

So there's a sense that Washington is pulling the strings in America. But you know what? The free people of America, pursuing their dreams and taking risk and going to school and working hard, those are the people that make America strong, not Washington.

(APPLAUSE)

KING: Quickly respond, Mr. Speaker.

GINGRICH: This is probably a fundamental difference in our background and our experience.

Under Jimmy Carter, we had the wrong laws, the law regulations, the wrong leadership, and we killed jobs, we had inflation, we went to 10.8 percent unemployment. Under Ronald Reagan, we had the right jobs, the right laws, the right regulators, the right leadership. We created 16 million new jobs.

We then had two consecutive tax increases, one by a Republican, one by a Democrat. The economy stagnated. When I became Speaker, we went back to the Ronald Reagan playbook: lower taxes, less regulation, more American energy, and 11 million jobs showed up.

Now, I do think government can kill jobs, and I do think government can create the environment where entrepreneurs create jobs. And the truth is, you did very well under the rules that we created to make it easier for entrepreneurs to go out and do things. You'd have been much poorer if Jimmy Carter had remained president.

ROMNEY: Let me just --

KING: Go ahead, quickly. ROMNEY: Let me just tell you, Mr. Speaker, you were Speaker four years.

GINGRICH: Right.

ROMNEY: I was in business 25 years.

GINGRICH: Right.

ROMNEY: So you're not going to get credit for my 25 years, number one.

Number two, I don't recall -- I don't recall a single day saying, oh, thanks heavens Washington is there for me. Thank heavens. I said, please get out of my way, let me start a business and put Americans to work.

(APPLAUSE)

KING: All right. Let me get out of the way for a second and go back out to our audience and take a question from an audience member.

Sir.

JOHN MARCOUX, RETIRED STOCK TRADER: John Marcoux from the great city of Charleston.

(APPLAUSE)

MARCOUX: Gentlemen, when will you release your tax returns specifically?

GINGRICH: An hour ago.

(LAUGHTER)

KING: Mr. Speaker posted his online an hour ago. We know that.

Congressman Paul -- we'll come down the line. Congressman Paul, I want to start with you.

We reached out to your campaign this week, and they said you would not release your tax returns. Why?

PAUL: Well, I hadn't thought it through. I don't have an intention of doing it, but for a different reason. I'd probably be embarrassed to put my financial statement up against their income. And I don't want to be embarrassed because I don't have a greater income.

(APPLAUSE)

PAUL: Now, I mean, it may come to that, but right now, I have no intention of doing that.

I think with our financial statements, congressional financial statements, I think you know more about me than I know about myself. That's how my wife found out so much about what we were doing, you know, from my financial statements.

No, we don't need -- I don't think people need that because nobody's challenging me, because I have no conflict of interest. And I don't even talk to lobbyists and I don't take that kind of money. So there's no conflicts.

(APPLAUSE)

JOHN KING, DEBATE MODERATOR AND CNN CHIEF POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Governor Romney, when will we see yours?

FORMER GOV. MITT ROMNEY (R-MA.), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: When my taxes are complete for this year, and I know that if I'm the nominee, the president's going to want to insist that I show what my income was this last year and so forth. When they're completed this year in April, I'll release my returns in April and probably for other years as well.

I know that's what's going to come. Every time the Democrats are out there trying their very best to -- to try and attack people because they've been successful. And -- and I have been successful. But let me tell you, the -- the challenge in America is not people who've been successful. The challenge in America, and President Obama doesn't want to talk about this, is you've got a president who's played 90 rounds of golf while there are 25 million Americans out of work, and -- and you've got...

(APPLAUSE)

... and while the price of gasoline has doubled, he said "no" to the Keystone pipeline. And while we've got $15 trillion of debt, he -- he said, "Look, I'm going to put another $1 trillion of debt for Obamacare." That's the problem in America, not the attacks they make on people who've been successful.

KING: But some of the questions about when you release your taxes have not come -- the president has raised them; his campaign has raised them -- you're right on that -- but so have some of your rivals up here. Speaker Gingrich has said you owe them to the people of South Carolina before they vote. Governor Perry made that point as well before he left the race.

Why not should the people of South Carolina before this election see last year's return?

(APPLAUSE)

ROMNEY: Because I want to make sure that I beat President Obama. And every time we release things drip by drip, the Democrats go out with another array of attacks. As has been done in the past, if I'm the nominee, I'll put these out at one time so we have one discussion of all of this. I -- I obviously pay all full taxes. I'm honest in my dealings with people. People understand that. My taxes are carefully managed and I pay a lot of taxes. I've been very successful and when I have our -- our taxes ready for this year, I'll release them.

KING: Speaker Gingrich, is that good enough?

FORMER REP. NEWT GINGRICH (R-GA.), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Look, he's got to decide and the people of South Carolina have to decide. But if there's anything in there that is going to help us lose the election, we should know it before the nomination. And if there's nothing in there -- if there's nothing in there, why not release it?

I mean, it's a very simple model, but he's got to decide. It's his decision and everybody's got to run their own campaign based on what they think is a reasonable risk. I have filed -- I released mine this evening. We also released the little small charitable foundation we have so people can see what we do and how we did it and what our values are.

KING: Senator Santorum, when will we see yours?

FORMER SEN. RICK SANTORUM (R-PA.), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Well, I do my own taxes and they're on my computer and I'm not home. So...

(LAUGHTER)

... and there's nobody at home right now. Until I get home, I won't get them. When I get home, you'll get my taxes.

(APPLAUSE)

KING: But you -- you did call on the governor to release his.

SANTORUM: No, someone asked me, "would it be OK for the governor," and I said "yes." I didn't think -- I don't think it's a big deal. I mean, if Governor Romney's told what his tax rate is. Mine's higher than that, I can assure you, but I can't tell you what it was. All I know it was very painful writing the check last April. That's all I can tell you.

(APPLAUSE)

KING: I want to -- Governor Romney, you mentioned the Democratic attacks. I want to ask you to go back in history a little bit. Back in 1967, your father set a groundbreaking -- what was then a groundbreaking standard in American politics. He released his tax return. He released them for not one year, but for 12 years. And when he did that, he said this: "One year could be a fluke, perhaps done for show."

When you release yours, will you follow your father's example?

ROMNEY: Maybe.

(LAUGHTER)

You know, I don't know how many years I'll release. I'll take a look at what the -- what our documents are and I'll release multiple years. I don't know how many years, and -- but I'll be happy to do that.

Let me tell you, I know there are some who are very anxious to see if they can't

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