February 23rd, 2012
01:40 AM ET

Truth Squad: Fact checking Wednesday's debate

CNN examines statements made by Republican presidential candidates during Wednesday night's CNN/Republican Party of Arizona debate in Mesa, Arizona.

Newt Gingrich criticized the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff for characterizing Iran as a "rational actor" in international affairs and defending the possibility of preventing an Israeli attack on Iranian nuclear sites

 The statement: "The fact is this is a dictator, Ahmadinejad, who has said he doesn't believe the Holocaust existed. This is a dictator who said he wants to eliminate Israel from the face of the Earth. This is a dictator who said he wants to drive the United States out of the Middle East. I'm inclined to believe dictators ... If you think a madman is about to have nuclear weapons, and you think that madman is going to use those nuclear weapons, then you have an absolute moral obligation to defend the lives of your people by eliminating the capacity to get nuclear weapons."

 The facts: Gingrich gives a fairly accurate summary of Ahmadinejad's greatest hits. The Iranian president, now in his second term, has indeed questioned the existence of the Holocaust, the genocidal Nazi campaign against European Jews, and talked about seeing the destruction of the state of Israel.

There's one catch, though: According to U.S. intelligence agencies, Ahmadinejad isn't the guy who would be making any decisions about whether to build nuclear weapons. They say that authority belongs to the Islamic republic's supreme leader, the Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. James Clapper, the U.S. director of national intelligence, told a Senate committee last week that any Iranian decision to build nuclear weapons "would be made by the supreme leader himself, and he would base that on a cost-benefit analysis."

Meanwhile, since winning a second term in Iran's hotly disputed 2009 presidential election, analysts say Ahmadinejad has been on the losing end of a power struggle with Khamenei's allies. And Iran's economy is being squeezed by international sanctions over its refusal to halt its nuclear fuel production and demonstrate the peaceful intentions of its nuclear program.

Tehran insists that it is enriching nuclear fuel only for civilian reactors. But in November, the International Atomic Energy Agency said it believed Iran had carried out some weapons-related research, and the agency says it's up to Iran to demonstrate that its nuclear program remains peaceful.

The verdict: Misleading. While Ahmadinejad's colorful public language has led to him being characterized as a "madman" in the West, as Gingrich put it, he's not believed to be the man who would make the critical decision about whether the Islamic republic would pursue the bomb.

Rick Santorum pointed out the growth of government benefits compared to defense spending

The statement: "When I was born, less than 10% of the federal budget was entitlement spending. It's now 60% of the budget. Some people suggest defense spending is the problem. When I was born, defense spending was 60% of the budget. It's now 17%. If you think defense spending is the problem, you need a remedial math class to go back to."

The facts: Santorum was born in 1958. At that time, two of the three major federal entitlement programs - Medicare or Medicaid - didn't exist, and Social Security had cut its first check only 18 years before.  The federal government spent $82 billion that year. Social Security cost $8.2 billion, 10% of that total.

By 2011, federal spending had grown to $3.6 trillion, and $2.1 trillion of it was "mandatory human resource programs," according to the White House budget office. That includes about $480 billion for Medicare, the federal health care program for seniors; $275 billion for Medicaid, which funds health care for the poor; and $725 billion for Social Security. With other programs such as disability payments, federal pensions and food aid included, those programs work out to 58.3 % of federal outlays.

Defense spending, meanwhile, went from about $47 billion in 1958, near the height of the Cold War, to nearly $706 billion in 2011, the 10th year of a "war on terror." But as a percentage of federal government outlays, it shrank from 57% to just under 20%.

The verdict: True, within a couple of percentage points, anyway. Santorum's statement accurately characterizes the changing ratio of U.S. spending over his lifetime, as federal insurance programs grew to take up a much larger percentage of the budget.

soundoff (246 Responses)
  1. CarolO

    The only time Gingrich scores is when he jumps on the press for asking something that is front page news. Santorum has been bible-plumping for a solid month about birth control but as soon as all their views were asked, Gingrich jumps in to back up Santorum. I think he must be hoping to be named as Santorums Vice. Ron Paul is too old to run for AARP and the other two are just whacked out, especially Santorum. Obama won this debate .......again.

    February 23, 2012 at 6:36 am | Report abuse |
    • Evangenital

      Right you are!

      February 23, 2012 at 8:08 am | Report abuse |
    • skekLach

      Really? If I recall correctly, a poll in Iowa last week asked if the election were held that day, who they would vote for in scenarios matching up each GOP candidate with Obama and the only one Obama beat was Gingrich. That guy who "is to old to run for AARP" had a 7 point lead on Obama. That's coming at a time when these 4 guys are bashing one another with all that they've got. They haven't even scathed the surface on Obama. What do you think is going to happen when the dirt is getting slung over Obama's name and he has nothing against the guy he's running against that we don't already know?

      February 23, 2012 at 8:58 am | Report abuse |
  2. stanchman

    yawn.. was there a debate last night..

    February 23, 2012 at 6:44 am | Report abuse |
  3. Dave - Phx

    Oh boy a debate about which candidate Jesus loves more...pathetic.

    February 23, 2012 at 6:49 am | Report abuse |
  4. Norman

    Could we please have a "fact" check to see if satan is really attacking the US? I'd like to know for sure one way or the other!

    February 23, 2012 at 6:55 am | Report abuse |
    • mike k.

      He was on the way but got sidetracked in the Maldives. Don't forget the toilet paper.

      February 23, 2012 at 7:15 am | Report abuse |
    • Hawk

      I can do that for ya! Fact Check: There are no imaginary, mythological beings attacking America. I have consulted the various mythological books and compared them with the facts and found that neither Satan, Yahweh, or Baphomet are attacking America. The Boogie Man is a possibility, but I'm still looking for evidence of his existence – and it doesn't look promising.

      February 23, 2012 at 8:01 am | Report abuse |

      I thought I heard something about a possible Godzilla sighting in New York harbor.

      February 23, 2012 at 8:05 am | Report abuse |
    • Hawk

      I think Godzilla got side-tracked by Mothra somewhere around Manhattan. No danger there. They usually head for Tokyo for Sushi afterwards.

      February 23, 2012 at 8:12 am | Report abuse |
  5. Johnson

    You should have fact checked Romney's claims for his term as Governor and as CEO of the Olympics. Both were greatly exaggerated. He was a rather poor Governor who raised fees on just about everything State Government could raise. Much greater increases than any tax increase would have been.

    February 23, 2012 at 7:01 am | Report abuse |
  6. noteabags


    Please compare how much people paid in taxes in 1958 with now. Taxes were much higher in 1958 and look how much better the economy was.

    February 23, 2012 at 7:11 am | Report abuse |
  7. coy4one

    Waste of time...none of these guys stand a chance to win a general election. Next!

    February 23, 2012 at 7:24 am | Report abuse |
  8. Bev

    i thought mitt was the winner we really need to get behind him now this country cannot take 4 more years of obama or our children will never have a chance

    February 23, 2012 at 7:27 am | Report abuse |
    • GBG

      Why? What has Obama done that is so horrible? The budget deficit? Look at the income tax revenue during Bush era compared to Obama. When Bush destroyed the economy the tax revenue shrunk as well, unfortunately he had committed the US to the spending already because of the wars and other things. If Obama were to spend 'in the black' our economy would go into a tail spin we'd never recover from.

      Yes domestic programs need to be examined. Why does medicare pay more for drugs than other countries do from the SAME manufacturer? Same for Health Insurance. We have to rein in that spending with an overhaul of the ENTIRE medical system of the US.

      February 23, 2012 at 7:48 am | Report abuse |
    • skekLach

      What has Obama done that is so wrong? You mean aside from illegally authorizing an unapproved unilateral attack against a country that posed no imminent threat to us (an action which he incorrectly accused George Bush of previously and denounced at that point), insulting the Supreme Court publicly, fighting tooth and nail to pass a costly health care law which the majority of the public disapproved of, not ending the war in Iraq until we were forced to via the deadline set during Bush's presidency, insulting a police officer for doing his job just because someone was crying racism, raising the debt nearly as high in 4 years as Bush did in 8, blaming everything on Bush instead of doing his job and working to fix the problems, blaming not fixing those problems on opposition from the opposing party, opening off-shore drilling and then doing everything he could to pin the blame on anyone else when the oil spill happened, breaking more promises than I'd care to count starting with closing Gitmo and transparency, and generally being an all around pretentious crybaby? Nothing I can think of.

      February 23, 2012 at 8:24 am | Report abuse |
    • Ozymandias71

      We had to deal with Bush for 8 years. *You* can deal with Obama for 8 years. I don't have any problems with that.

      February 23, 2012 at 8:29 am | Report abuse |
    • skekLach

      Hey, I didn't want Bush either. Regardless of party, I just want to get someone elected who at least has some idea what the hell they are doing. We keep electing these people to the office with barely any experience in politics, then acting so surprised that they don't know what they're doing. It's literally insanity.

      February 23, 2012 at 8:45 am | Report abuse |
    • Montana

      Problem with Obama is if we stay on his path- WE will be Greece in less than 3 years. Something has to dramatically and fundamentally change to avoid that. Obama shows no sign of changing except tp ramp up his failed economic policies.

      February 23, 2012 at 8:50 am | Report abuse |
    • Rosa Birmingham, AL

      I think OBama has done a pretty good job. Much better than any of these Republican clowns could do. If the GOP wins in big numbers this year you will see a real depression, their policies are just bad for everyone except the very few who they will benefit. At least Obama is trying to make things better for everyone while at the same time tackling the deficit in a rational way. As a famous vice president once said, deficits don't mater. This is especially true in a recession. Getting back on track should be number one, taking care of deficit number two. Oh and we are nowhere near becoming like Greece, get a grip on reality and stop watching Fox news.

      February 23, 2012 at 9:15 am | Report abuse |
    • skekLach

      The economy isn't going to get back on track if our debt keeps growing and growing. People are going to lose further confidence in our economy which is going to hurt it further and racking up more debt will probably lead to our credit rating being downgraded further. It's the very reason that Reagonomics worked in the 80's and not in modern times: people will only invest in the economy if they have confidence in it. Also, if you think Obama can handle the economy better than Ron Paul, then you have obviously never seen Dr. Paul talk about economics. He was warning us about all of these financial troubles a decade before they came to fruition.

      February 23, 2012 at 9:26 am | Report abuse |
    • Troy in Austin

      skekLach .... Yes nothing YOU can think o,f Fox lied about all of these things, and you repeat it.

      February 23, 2012 at 12:33 pm | Report abuse |
    • skekLach

      Oh, yes, the old "That doesn't fit in with my liberal ideas, so it must be propaganda spread by FOX news" card. Well, A. those things are all true and you can look it up yourself if you don't believe me and B. I don't even watch FOX News – it's the most partisan news source available and the most unreliable. I mainly use CNN for my news, while also searching on subject of interest through Google and if something seems incredulous, I check the facts on it. If you want to claim it's wrong, the how's about a little something to back it up?

      February 23, 2012 at 12:42 pm | Report abuse |
    • Doug from Seattle


      You're apparently not aware of the significant deficit spending that occured during Reagan's tenure that stimulated the economy! It certainly wasn't trickle down economics!!!!

      February 23, 2012 at 1:58 pm | Report abuse |
  9. Clarence

    All I learned last night is every candidate wants another war, especially with Iran, except for Dr. Ron Paul. If it's not Ron Paul who wins I'm voting for Obama.

    February 23, 2012 at 7:31 am | Report abuse |
    • GBG

      I agree. It's time other countries stepped up and did their share of world policing. Iran is trying to destabilize the entire region, so shouldn't the other Arab countries deal with them?

      February 23, 2012 at 7:51 am | Report abuse |
    • TRH

      They only other candidate that was NOT a neocon was John Huntsman and he's long gone.

      February 23, 2012 at 9:32 am | Report abuse |
  10. Truthiness

    For a fact checker it was a busy night. Not a single statement from any of the candidates was wholly true, except when ron paul called santorum a fake.

    The galling thing is that they get called not just on the fact that everythning they say is a lie, but they repeat the same lies every time. The republicon debate audience must be dumb as a box of rocks. Even faux news points out some of the lies, and they eat it up time after time.

    February 23, 2012 at 7:59 am | Report abuse |
    • skekLach

      If Obama was as honest as Ron Paul, he would have been on the Republican ticket in 2008 under the endorsement of George Bush.

      February 23, 2012 at 8:07 am | Report abuse |
    • Troy in Austin

      skekLach - again with the lies? R.P. couldn't get elected LAST time either!

      February 23, 2012 at 12:36 pm | Report abuse |
    • skekLach

      Troy, I'm not sure what your big problem with me is or what your problem with checking the facts is, but allow me to explain this simply. Obama has simply continued the Bush policies from the tax cuts to the interventionism to the wars to pushing the debt. When it comes to the most important issues, they are practically one in the same. As far as Ron Paul's electibility goes... He's garnered much much more support this cycle and came within 200 votes of beating Romney in Maine even. In Iowa and Ohio (both being crucial swing states) polls questioning voters on who they would elect if the general election was that day, Ron Paul BEAT Obama. Yes, he tanked throughout the trail in 2008, but you know who else didn't get the nomination in 2008? Mitt Romney. He seems to be doing fairly well though.

      February 23, 2012 at 12:52 pm | Report abuse |
  11. clarke

    It was center stage for mitt and Rick. CNN only focused on them, Newt and Ron seemed to be on a time clock. I think everyone should have equal time, not just the two posted boys.. So my question is was it a four sum debate or a debate between Mitt and Rick? So who won out the four, don't know , it was a two person debate.

    February 23, 2012 at 8:00 am | Report abuse |
    • DaveinSC

      Paul gets no press coverage because everyone knows his answer. Every question he gets asked takes 30 seconds to tell you,"It not the Federal government's job". DONE.

      February 23, 2012 at 8:57 am | Report abuse |
    • Alverant

      Yep DaveinSC, even when he's asked about something that clearly IS the federal government's job.

      February 23, 2012 at 3:04 pm | Report abuse |

    ROSANNE BAR for President! Time to move to Canada! 🙂

    February 23, 2012 at 8:06 am | Report abuse |
  13. bebe

    Why doesn't CNN fact check Obama and his gang of thieves

    February 23, 2012 at 8:10 am | Report abuse |
    • skekLach

      Just a guess, but I'm thinking it's probably because he wasn't in the debate.

      February 23, 2012 at 8:26 am | Report abuse |
    • Ozymandias71

      Trying to deflect from the REPUBLICAN debate, bebe? We see what you did there.

      February 23, 2012 at 8:37 am | Report abuse |
  14. stefan o

    What do people in America do on Sundays ?

    February 23, 2012 at 8:17 am | Report abuse |
  15. kevin

    @ all the kool=aid drinkers on this site . how about that 40.00 tax cut he gave you last week obama that is o it's going to pay for this it's going to pay for that . gas is 4.50 to 5.00 up 91% in 3yrs. FACT CHECK THAT CNN.

    February 23, 2012 at 8:48 am | Report abuse |
    • maniacmudd

      hehe, poor widdle con..... hehe...

      February 23, 2012 at 9:35 am | Report abuse |
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