Watching the CNN/Union Leader/WMUR Republican Presidential debate last night at St. Anselm College in Manchester, NH was an exercise in futility. Futile in that you never really had the chance to see much daylight between the candidates. Some of this is due to having seven candidates on stage. It is hard to get substantive replies from the candidates when they are limited to 30 second responses. The debate was already too long – 2 hours (yes I know Lincoln and Douglas would roll in their graves over that comment) so extending the time wasn’t the option outside of cutting questions.
Which wouldn’t have been so bad as much of the problems with this debate lie with the moderator – CNN’s John King. He cut answers off, put words in the mouths of candidates, and asked asinine questions. Then when candidates were asked different questions it makes it more difficult to contrast the candidates. The “This or That” questions were ridiculous. I don’t care that former Minnesota Governor Tim Pawlenty likes Coke over Pepsi, or that former Speaker Newt Gingrich likes American Idol compared to Dancing with the Stars (I would have answered neither). But asking the former CEO of Godfather’s Pizza if he likes deep dish or thin crust… really? Hello…deep dish, duh.
All of these are obviously important pieces of information to help us determine who we should support for the Republican nomination. Ok not really, but seriously to those who want to do away with the Iowa Caucus and New Hampshire Primary being first and go to primaries being held on the same day – you really want to use debates such as these to be the primary means to vet candidates?
No thank you, we need to dig deeper than that because the overriding theme of last night’s debate is “less government, lower taxes, cut spending.” Who were last night’s winners and losers?
I think Congresswoman Michele Bachmann did very well. She took the opportunity last night to announce her candidacy, and after missing the South Carolina debate getting primetime media coverage like this was good for her. She positioned herself as a leader in repealing Obamacare pointing to bills that she sponsored. When Newt Gingrich had said, “we need to appeal Dodd-Frank,” Bachmann followed up with “I introduced the repeal bill to repeal Dodd-Frank.” She also pointed to her leadership on not raising the debt ceiling. She was energetic, and I think people who don’t know who she, she gave them a good introduction. She gave solid answers with every question she was asked. She seemed to have the most energy and spunk, which for those who know Bachmann that is no surprise at all.
Former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney looked polished, but the biggest thing he had going for him is that his opponents didn’t really take the opportunity to attack his record and policies. Former Senator Rick Santorum went easy on him when he could have pointed out his flip-flopping on abortion. Former Governor Tim Pawlenty had the biggest missed opportunity. He could have pointed out the flaws with RomneyCare, but punted when he was asked to explain his “ObamneyCare” remark. Now I believe Romney’s answer on RomneyCare was weak, but nobody really challenged him on it. Romney, in my opinion, didn’t really say anything remarkable, but what he has going for him is that he just looks and sounds so Presidential which is why he did well last night.
Rick Santorum and Tim Pawlenty did well, but in a crowded field they didn’t really say anything that made them stand out. Actually the most memorable moment for Pawlenty is for what he didn’t do – go after Romney. They didn’t hurt themselves which in a crowded debate like the one last night, sometimes that is the most you can hope for.
I’m still waiting to hear substantive answers from Herman Cain. I keep hearing speech talking points in his answers. I thought this debate with the focus on the economy could have been a home run for him, but there wasn’t anything he said that really stood out to me.
Congressman Ron Paul was the only candidate to bring up monetary policy which he did on at least two (maybe three occasions). That was very good. Any ground he may have gained on that I think he lost with his Afghanistan and foreign policy remarks. Some I’m sure disagree with me on that, but it is the albatross that will keep him from the nomination. I have always believed that his position on Islamic terrorism is naïve, and he didn’t change my mind last night.
Former Speaker Newt Gingrich I thought gave some good answers (his remarks on immigration being one), but I kept thinking (and I’m sure others were thinking as well) that his campaign was falling apart. He didn’t hurt himself, but he didn’t shine either. I think he really needed to shine after the rough start he has had. While he gave some thoughtful answers I just don’t think he connected with voters. I could be wrong on that. I’ve intentionally not read anything about last night so I haven’t seen any focus groups or commentary.
Overall I would have to give the night to Michele Bachmann to this sleeper of a debate mainly because she showed up and demonstrated the spunk and feistiness that people have come to expect from her.