Republicans engage in Europe-bashing before Iowa scrum

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Battling for attention ahead of their first election showdown, leading Republican presidential candidates have taken turns accusing one another and President Barack Obama of 'European socialism' and opposing further US financial help for the struggling eurozone.

Declarations of shared values are a habitual feature at almost every meeting and historical commemoration featuring European and American leaders. At the EU-US summit in Washington in November, Obama spoke of "Our common values, our common belief in the rule of law, in democracy, in freedom, in a free market system – all those things bind us together".

But in their bids to prove their right-wing credentials, many Republican candidates are portraying Europe not as a kindred continent, but as the kind of dystopian society the US might become should the wrong person win.

Mitt Romney, the former Massachusetts governor and the best-funded Republican candidate, was typical of the trend. While campaigning in Iowa (see Background) he said: "President Obama wants to make us a European-style welfare state, where instead of being a merit society, we're an entitlement society, where government's role is to take from some and give to others."

"What I know is if they do that, they'll substitute envy for ambition, and they'll poison the very spirit of America and keep us from being one nation under God", he said.

Romney made steady gains in polls leading up to the Iowa Republican caucus – a showcase event for presidential candidates – and enjoys support in the party establishment.

'European socialism'

Romney, who speaks French, has himself been accused by fellow Republicans of favouring 'European' policies. In particular, many consider his 2006 reform of the Massachusetts healthcare system to be similar to Obama's own federal-level health package, which is widely attacked by the party.

Speaking in Iowa in September, Texas Governor Rick Perry attacked Romney as "the model for socialised medicine that has been tried before and it didn't work … It failed miserably whether it was in Western Europe or in Massachusetts."

Romney was also attacked last month when, speaking to the Wall Street Journal, he praised the Swiss healthcare system and expressed openness to a value-added tax, an important revenue source for European governments.

This prompted the presidential campaign spokesperson of Newt Gingrich – who in the 1990s was a congressional leader who famously clashed with President Bill Clinton – to say of Romney: "The fact that he's willing to look at European socialism shows just how far out of the conservative mainstream he is."

No US bailout of eurozone

Republican candidates have also blasted Obama administration efforts to ease the eurozone crisis through the International Monetary Fund and the US Treasury.

Speaking to Italian newspaper La Stampa, Romney said, "The United States must take care of its own crisis, and won't give a dollar to save Europe."

Other Republicans have voiced similar views. Ron Paul – a physician known for his libertarian views – has denounced the US Federal Reserve's cooperation with other central banks to inject liquidity into the European market.

"The Fed is behaving much as it did during the 2008 financial crisis, only this time instead of bailing out politically well-connected too-big-to-fail firms, it is bailing out profligate government spending," Paul  said in November.

Last month, lawmakers in Congress, including 26 of 47 Republican senators, proposed bills that would block the use of US contributions to the IMF in European bailout packages. The IMF receives 17.7% of its funding from the US.

"It's time to stop the bailouts," Republican Senator Jim DeMint said at the time. "After years of mimicking European big government spending, America has lost our AAA rating with a debt of over $15 trillion that's larger than our entire economy."

Background

Republican presidential candidates compete for their party's nomination by winning caucuses and primary elections in the states and territories. There are eight declared Republican candidates vying to challenge President Barack Obama in the November general election.

The first contests are to be held in Iowa (3 January) and New Hampshire (10 January) are important opportunities for individual candidates to differentiate themselves, potentially giving them the momentum necessary to win the nomination. The final primary elections will be held in June.

Voters in these elections tend to more politicised than the country at large. As a result, candidates will often present themselves as more extremist during primary season before adopting more centrist rhetoric for the general election.

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