GOP Candidates Take Tongs To Elizabeth Warren – And Save A Little for Each Other

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Geoff Diehl would vote to repeal Obamacare if he is elected to the U.S. Senate, while fellow GOP candidates John Kingston and Beth Lindstrom want changes in it but won’t commit to repeal.

Obamacare was one of a handful of issues that divided the candidates during an hourlong debate on Boston Herald Radio yesterday, during which they spent most of their time hitting Warren as extreme and preoccupied with running for president rather than serving Massachusetts.

Repeal-and-replace was a central theme of President Donald Trump’s campaign in 2016, but Republicans failed to do it last year.

“I would vote to repeal the national plan. I think health care is not a one-size-fits-all for the entire country,” Diehl said, calling for offering health insurance plans beyond state borders and making access to medical procedures available online so patients can see where they can get services more cheaply.

Lindstrom noted that national Republicans already tried and failed to replace Obamacare, and she called for a more cautious approach.

“We need to fix it. We need to stabilize it. That’s what’s important,” Lindstrom said. “What I think is the scary part, is Elizabeth Warren, and having her wanting to go to single-payer and socialist medicine, which I think would disrupt our whole health care industry here in Massachusetts.”

Kingston also sees universal health care as ominous. He called for changes in Obamacare, but didn’t specify.

“There are some fundamental problems with Obamacare. Sensible Democrats realize it. They don’t say it anymore, because the way that the party’s gone. Sensible Democrats realize it. Of course we realize it. And we need to fix a lot of things. But the bottom line is we have to give people sensible solutions over time, and not have the Left take us to nationalized health care, with, you know, trillions of dollars of cost piled onto the national debt, and taking our health care decisions to Washington. People despise Washington. Take your choice of a doctor to Washington? Absolute insanity,” Kingston said.

When pressed on how he would vote on a repeal, he said it would be tough to do.

“I think in the real world it’s going to be hard to actually get the whole thing unwound. It’s eight years on from when we started,” Kingston said. “… So it’s complicated, is the reality. Fixing, fixing, fixing is the right answer.”

The three candidates are trying to maneuver between a Republican electorate in the state that mostly likes Trump and a general electorate that mostly doesn’t. To win the primary next month will require garnering support from Trump voters who already can’t stand Warren, but to win the general election in November will require persuading voters hostile to Trump that Warren is so bad that she needs to be replaced.

Kingston, a businessman and philanthropist, strove for a middle ground on approach while still sounding conservative on principles.

“The right way to think about this in this state, is in order to win, you need to reach for American solutions. I’m in favor of solutions to the problems of broken Washington. They’re not necessarily Democratic, nor necessarily Republican, but they’re American solutions. And that’s the way I can beat Elizabeth Warren. I can stand against her extremism – as I said a minute ago, she’s dividing us at every turn. And the bottom line is solutions forward, pragmatism, getting the job done. That’s the way to get it done,” Kingston said.

“… I’m going to focus on values,” Kingston said. “And I’ve been advancing Republican values my entire life, and at every turn. And for me that’s strong national defense, it’s economic liberty, which means that we have a smaller government wherever possible, we cut taxes wherever possible. So I focus on the values, and then I’m going to bring people together across divides, like I’ve done my entire life, in order to advance these values in Washington.”

Kingston was a never-Trumper in 2016, even financially backing an anti-Trump third-party candidate. While that may help him in the general election, it may hurt him in the primary.

Diehl, a state representative from Whitman who is closely allied with Trump, touted his ties to the president as a plus for the state if he is elected senator.

“Having supported the president in 2016, that gives me the opportunity to have a seat at the table that Massachusetts currently doesn’t have,” Diehl said.

Lindstrom and Diehl mostly left Kingston alone, but occasionally lit into each other. Lindstrom attacked Diehl four times, drawing sharp responses.

Lindstrom claimed that Diehl, who is in his fourth term in the state House of Representatives and once ran unsuccessfully for a special election for state Senate, is a career politician working his way up the political ladder. She also questioned his electability, given his ties to the president, who is deeply unpopular in Massachusetts.

“I think that you have to look at the lay of the land in Massachusetts,” Lindstrom said. “… And so with Geoff, with the blind loyalty to Donald Trump, that’s what I’m saying, is that he cannot win against her. We have to put the best person to go against her in the fall.”

Diehl said he has disagreements with the president, citing as an example the administration’s initial proposal last year to eliminate local property tax deductions for federal income taxes. But he didn’t walk away from Trump.

He defended his record in public service, and questioned Lindstrom’s, pointing out that when she served as secretary of consumer affairs under former Governor Mitt Romney she significantly raised fees for government licenses and other items.

Lindstrom noted that when Romney became governor in 2003 the state had a huge deficit, and she said many licensing fees at the time had stayed the same even though the cost to the government of providing the services had gone above the fee level.

“I’m very proud that he didn’t raise taxes. He raised fees,” Lindstrom said. “But you know what? It doesn’t surprise me that you’re going, really, against Mitt Romney. Because back in 2008 … while we were trying to elect Mitt Romney, you were voting for Joe Biden. You’ve been a Democrat up until 2008. So it doesn’t surprise me.”

Diehl has acknowledged voting in Democratic primaries before he first ran as a Republican in 2008, but says he voted for Republicans in general elections.

Lindstrom’s defense of fee increases triggered the sharpest exchange of the debate. Diehl said that when state legislators raised the state’s gas tax in 2013 it wasn’t to pay for roads but rather to use the money for other government projects.

“Government can do more with less. And unfortunately for you, you bought into the idea that you had to raise fees, because government needs to get bigger and bigger. We already have Elizabeth Warren that wants bigger government and more taxes. We don’t need to have you down there in Washington making those type of decisions,” Diehl said.

“No,” Lindstrom responded. “Governor Romney raised those fees to cover the cost of the services, and still they were the lowest in the country.”

Earlier the candidates were asked whether current Governor Charlie Baker has moved too far left since getting elected. None of them took the bait, and all expressed support for Baker.

But Trump divided the candidates. Asked if they would vote to re-elect Trump president in 2020, Diehl and Lindstrom said yes, but Kingston hedged.

“Look, early innings still, we haven’t even gotten to the midterms,” Kingston said. “… We’re going to get to the midterms and we’re going to figure it out.”

The three candidates mostly agreed on policies and on their disdain for Warren, who is finishing her first six-year term as U.S. senator and in the most recent public polls held a 30-point-plus lead over all three Republicans in her bid to win re-election in November.

Diehl hit the hardest, while responding to a question about Trump’s recent press conference with Russia President Vladimir Putin.

“You know, Russia is not the old Soviet Union. And so to me, the bigger threat is someone like Elizabeth Warren,” Diehl said. “… Elizabeth Warren, there’s a big problem. You heard her recently on CNBC, talking about how she wants to tax us somewhere between 50 percent and 90 percent. She seems to be the new Communist regime here in the United States, wanting to make government so big, whether it’s trying to take over health care, free education, all of that coming at a price tag, with health care, of $32.6 trillion.”

Later, after Kingston chided Diehl for comparing a domestic opponent with a foreign adversary, Diehl called his description of Warren as a Communist “facetious with Liz Warren, on her policy.”

All three expressed support for Trump’s border wall, and all three hit Warren for her call for abolishing U.S. Immigration and Custom Enforcement, known as ICE.

“This is a crazy sprint to extremism that is so far out of step with the will of the people of Massachusetts,” Kingston said. “People in Massachusetts, sensible Democrats, independents, and Republicans, all know that we need to stand behind those who enforce our laws.”

Lindstrom noted that ICE was created after the terrorist attack of September 11, 2001, when various federal functions were moved around.

“And they’re responsible for two things, the enforcement and also some homeland security investigation. So which of those two things does Elizabeth Warren want to get rid of? That would be my question,” Lindstrom said.

Diehl linked Warren’s position on ICE with state legislators who want Massachusetts to be a sanctuary state.

“What’s next, are we going to say that we should get rid of the Drug Enforcement Agency? Any federal agency that Elizabeth Warren doesn’t like, we should just abolish?” Diehl said. “In my opinion we need to strengthen ICE, give them more tools and resources.”

Diehl framed Warren’s attack on ICE as an attack on law enforcement.

“With Elizabeth Warren undercutting their efforts by calling for the abolition, you’re empowering criminals,” Diehl said. … “We need to make sure that Elizabeth Warren is out of the office because she is advocating to undermine law enforcement, at a time, at a time when law enforcement officers, in my opinion, whether it’s Yarmouth, Weymouth, Falmouth, are being shot at because criminals are starting to feel like politicians and judges are on their side and not on the side of law enforcement.”

Lindstrom condemned Warren’s recent criticism of the American justice system.

“What is really important, when you have Elizabeth Warren going around this country, and she, you know, calls the whole justice system, from front to back, racist. It’s just her rhetoric,” Lindstrom said.

Lindstrom said that while separating children from their parents at the border shouldn’t happen, detaining illegal immigrant families while keeping them together is appropriate.

“I think what the president is trying to do is basically follow the law, and stop sending the message to the rest of the world that it’s easier to come here illegally than legally,” Lindstrom said.

Asked about the U.S. Supreme Court, all three appeared to express support for Judge Brett Kavanaugh, Trump’s nominee to replace recently retired Justice Anthony Kennedy. Many observers say Kavanaugh will swing the court to a first-ever 5-4 majority to reverse the 1973 Roe v. Wade decision that legalized abortion throughout the nation.

Lindstrom disputed that prediction, while also saying that a judge’s possible position on abortion wouldn’t be a deciding factor for her in deciding whether to vote to confirm a nominee.

“I don’t think there should be a litmus test. But also, I think Elizabeth Warren is creating this hysteria over Roe vs. Wade. And I do not believe that it would be overturned. I think that this is the leftist play to be able to not have this nomination go through,” Lindstrom said.

Diehl praised Kavanaugh.

“With Judge Kavanaugh, you’ve got someone who is a strict constitutionalist. I look forward to his nomination,” Diehl said, adding about abortion:  “I would not have a litmus test when it comes to the nominees being put in front of us.”

Kingston said judicial nominations shouldn’t be political footballs the way they are now.

“We’re politicizing the choice of judges in Washington, and that’s the problem. What we need to do is find people who will interpret the law faithfully, and not make it a political matter,” Kingston said.

“And so the president puts forward a good nominee. And as long as they’re people of good character, good judgment, sound application of the law to the facts, then … as senators, we have to actually approve them,” Kingston said. “Now that’s in contrast to the extremism of Senator Warren. Senator Warren, within seconds of Kavanaugh being advanced, said ‘I’m in opposition to him.’ And that’s just not the right way to go.”

Warren is widely considered a candidate for the Democratic nomination for president in 2020. Diehl suggested that Warren pays more attention to her coming national campaign than to the interests of Massachusetts.

“The day she was elected she put Massachusetts in her rearview mirror,” Diehl said.

He used as an example the recent grounding of a fishing fleet in New Bedford because of a federal agency’s regulatory ruling, which he said cost the economy tens of millions of dollars and local fishermen the ability to make a living.

“She could have been involved in helping them right away. But instead, she goes out to Ohio to stump for a governor. … She’s been to Nevada, an early-voting state. She’s of course been on The View several times in New York City. She goes anywhere and everywhere she can to make sure that she is the face of the progressive Left for the Democrat Party for 2020. And that’s not working for Massachusetts,” Diehl said.

Kingston differentiated Warren from prominent Massachusetts Democrats of the past.

“You really struggle to figure out something good to say. Principally because she’s not here doing things for us,” Kingston said. “… Think about the Left in the old days. Ted Kennedy. Tip O’Neill. We didn’t like them ideologically. But you could never doubt the fact they were working for Massachusetts all the time. Now their solutions may not have been our solutions. But at least they were working for the state. So it’s hard to come up with something that she’s actually done for the state. I can’t think of anything.”

A not-for-profit organization affiliated with Kingston owns a modest number of shares in Boston Media Networks, the company that operates New Boston Post.

The primary is Tuesday, September 4.