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. Greyman

    And now come all the demands for the president to be fact-checked by the 'liberal' media, even though at this junction it's his potential challengers who'll draw more scrutiny. Never mind that his State of the Union speech was dissected by fact-checkers, but...oh no, every fact-checking organization out there is part of the insidious liberal propaganda machine....

    February 23, 2012 at 10:01 am | Report abuse |
    • Steve

      Go to Faux news and they are even more critical of the GOIP candidates and the truth. CNN to the right of Faux? What liberal media?

      February 23, 2012 at 10:35 am | Report abuse |
    • John C Finley

      Hey, why not check the Tampa Bay Times PolitiFact. It would be a good idea to get your info from more than just the "Conservative Media". Rush and Fox aren't the only source that I listen to.

      February 23, 2012 at 11:13 am | Report abuse |
    • streetdude66

      GREY-the constant whining on the right about a "liberal media" used to make people angry now we're merely amused. Rupert Murdoch, Hanniddy, O Reilly Beck Rush have all said when they got caught lying that no one should take what they say seriously because theyre just entertainers & what they say isnt supposed to be taken as serious, its supposed to be taken as entertainment. Now a days the whole world willl take the fact finding professionalism from the real stream media over the word of a bunch of self avowed liars. To argue that it isnt is to admit to being brain damaged

      February 23, 2012 at 11:45 am | Report abuse |
  2. kevin

    TEDDY TOY there are 650,000 miles of pipeline in the u.s .i do a lot of reading i never see any news reports of leaking pipes. buy the way tom paine did you go to the you tube video,s of reagan and obama .

    February 23, 2012 at 10:03 am | Report abuse |
    • Evskie

      If you took the time to google pipelines in America, yet close your statement with," but i havent seen any reports of them leaking". One must wonder why you didnt just google it. You would google one but just look around for the other shows your attempt to decieve. lmao

      February 23, 2012 at 10:27 am | Report abuse |
    • John C Finley

      Maybe you could try a search or even look up wikipedia. Re: "pipelines USA leaks breaks". Just from 2000 to 2009. OK?

      February 23, 2012 at 11:21 am | Report abuse |
    • mike hawk

      Wikipedia shows 59 pipeline leaks in the US since 2010. I don't know why you are not capable of simple internet searches considering how much you read. Perhaps it is a reading comprehension problem?

      February 23, 2012 at 12:25 pm | Report abuse |
  3. kevitroll


    February 23, 2012 at 10:03 am | Report abuse |
  4. mac


    1. Mandatory draft abolished. If it was like the 1960s/Vietnam War and Rick Santorum's and Mitt Romney's sons could be drafted into the army and sent ot Iraq or Afganastan, they'd have a different view of the military. Loved Romney's comment in the 2008 primaries when asked why none of his sons had volunteered for military service..."They're serving their country, they're working on my campaign." Another out-of-touch rich guy comment.

    2. The rich were paying much higher taxes and contributing more as a % of their income to the cost of government. In 1958 the top tax rates were about 70-90%. And guess what... the economy was doing well and jobs were being created.

    2. The cost of healthcare has gone through the roof so many more people can't afford it. And, unfortunately, the government pays for healthcare for many people, so....a big expense. Gosh, if only there was a way to reform healthcare to lower costs...hmmmm....have to think about that.

    3. People are living a lot longer, so we a larger group of people on Social Security and Medicare. And

    February 23, 2012 at 10:15 am | Report abuse |
  5. linda

    I wish there was a MODERATE, fiscally conservative, republican running. We just need to take all of the money out of politics. No more SuperPACs, no more backroom deals, no more lobbyists, no more congressional insider trading, etc.. We'd get much better candidates.

    February 23, 2012 at 10:23 am | Report abuse |
    • Darth Cheney

      That's wishful thinking because the GOP 'voterati' would never support a moderate. Neither Lincoln, nor TR, nor Eisenhower, nor even Nixon, Ford, Reagan or Bush 41 would have even a remote chance for the 2012 nomination. Lincoln openly questioned his faith and wouldn't have looked good on TV, and went to war with a group of people who advocated "states rights" on the surface to cover up a darker agenda. TR was a trust-busting, cutting-edge environmentalist who did not worship the Corporate God. Eisenhower, Ford, and Bush 41 were all too moderate across the board. Nixon proposed universal health care and enacted price and wage freezes. And Reagan walked away from his "pull yourself up by the bootstraps once he became educated in how things really need to work. Even Goldwater would be tarred today for his occasional moderate stances. And that's the GOP in 2012, solidly to the right of an avowed 1964 extremist...

      February 23, 2012 at 10:38 am | Report abuse |
    • Stacey

      I concur, Linda, there should be a cap for all candidates to use. If they are fiscally responsible, it would be a good indicator of their ability to build and maintain a budget. No candidate would be able to buy an election.

      February 23, 2012 at 10:57 am | Report abuse |
    • skekLach

      @Stacey – Actually, CNN has a thing stating finances and debt of the GOP candidates on their respective pages. I recall that Gingrich is in debt, Paul and Romney aren't and I can't remember if Santorum was.

      February 23, 2012 at 11:05 am | Report abuse |
    • caeser

      Each candidate that qualifies should get a specific amount of $ and say 5 commercial spots to back up his debate performance,and let the savviest candidate win.

      February 23, 2012 at 11:46 am | Report abuse |
  6. Shawn

    I wish all politicians and their mouth pieces would simply answer the questions they are asked, simply and straight forward. All I hear is the same talking/bullet point for any one subjuct. No answers just what the other guys does is wrong!! Also, I do have an issue with someone voting one way on a law[policy and then educating themselves or finding out additional info and making a different vote the next time. I dont want a perosn leading my country that is determined to make the same bad choice becuase they made it once before and dont want to characrterized as a Flip flopper.

    February 23, 2012 at 10:23 am | Report abuse |
  7. kevin

    @mac you have some good points but back in 1958 you did not have all the things you have in 2012 . all the hidden taxes on all goods and service,s they nickel dime you every day that adds up. go google taxes you pay the list is so long .

    February 23, 2012 at 10:27 am | Report abuse |
  8. kevin

    hey go read linda,s comment i could shear obama said that in 2007and 2008.

    February 23, 2012 at 10:31 am | Report abuse |
  9. Darth Cheney

    The winners will be separated from the losers in November, thank you.

    February 23, 2012 at 10:31 am | Report abuse |
    • John

      Nope. Not if you're referring to who among the Republicans will be the winner - that will get settled long before November.

      February 23, 2012 at 11:38 am | Report abuse |
    • John

      Not me.

      February 23, 2012 at 7:24 pm | Report abuse |
    • John

      That wasn't me.

      February 23, 2012 at 7:25 pm | Report abuse |
  10. Bud

    Kevin - You sound just like all of my Republican "friends" including one of my Senators and two of the five Representatives from our State.

    I'm sure I don't have to encourage you to keep it up, just usual Republicsn procedure!!!

    February 23, 2012 at 10:35 am | Report abuse |
  11. Truthbetold

    Listening to these idiots talk about Iran and foreign policy in general was terrifying. Ron Paul was the only one making any sense...and I'm not even a huge Ron Paul supporter.

    February 23, 2012 at 10:40 am | Report abuse |
    • skekLach

      You should look up a bit on more about what Ron Paul says in regards to various things. You'll find that he makes sense on a lot of things that almost no one else seems to. He just gets hurt by the Republicans thinking that he's too liberal and the Democrats thinking he's too conservative.

      February 23, 2012 at 10:58 am | Report abuse |
  12. JAJO

    So Santorum has a problem that we are spending more on making people lives better than on Weapons. I would rather spend money on the people than spend on defense more than required because when you spend that much on defense you need to do something with the Army and have to create wars if there aren't any around so instead of the army being there to protect you , it becomes a tool for attacking others which then caused a snowball effect of increasing terrorism against US and requiring a bigger army to attack even more countries.

    February 23, 2012 at 10:58 am | Report abuse |
  13. True to self

    When u fact check their long list of false statements during this election, a time comes when looking for the truth can be harder than finding a needle in a haystack & im still looking for a truthful canidate from the GOP base who can remotely challenge Obama.

    February 23, 2012 at 11:00 am | Report abuse |
    • skekLach

      You must not be looking very hard then, because Ron Paul has been there from the beginning.

      February 23, 2012 at 11:07 am | Report abuse |
  14. kevin

    @ tom paine , I know that is you with KEVITROLL THE OLD SAYING STICKS AND STONE,S WILL BREAK MY BONES BUT NAME,S WILL NEVER HURT ME . hey bud i live in ILL. we are 5.8. billon in debt guess who runs are state dick durbin jane s. jesse jackson jr. gov. quinn. blago before that and they are all DEMS. o one more thing OBAMA was hear too you dummy.

    February 23, 2012 at 11:08 am | Report abuse |
  15. Teacher Teacher

    If Rick Santorum wins the nomination it will be like a gift from God to the Democrats. Go, Rick, go.

    February 23, 2012 at 11:28 am | Report abuse |
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