Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Republican Debates

A few thoughts on the GOP Primary Debate from last night. I have watched most of the primary debates and tend to enjoy them. There is certainly a problem when you have so many candidates, none of them really have time during a debate to flesh out their arguments or the details of their policy proposals. Still, over time you get a good sense of who they are and what they'd like to do. Last night's debate was a little different because it was hosted by Bloomberg network, a financial network that is almost unknown (and apparently not carried by many cable and satellite companies). They weren't' trying to make it a ratings bonanza, and the result was that the debate was a little more cerebral than some of the others have been, which I thought was a good thing. They also made the entire two-hour debate about the economy, not getting into any questions on foreign policy, immigration, or social issues (though Santorum managed to bring up how some social issues are tied to the economy).

I really liked the 'round table' format much better than the podium format. Seating the candidates close to each other where they have to look each other in the face really changes the tone of the debate. I thought the moderators did a good job trying to get to the root of the issues rather than trying to orchestrate pro-wrestling style smackdowns between various candidates.

Just about everyone turned in a good performance last night. Mitt Romney had a good night, not because he was so great on the issues, but because he did a good job judo flipping the arguments that were levied against him. You just kind of got the feeling that the other candidates don't know how to mount an ideological attack on Romney... probably because none of them are very ideologically grounded. Plus Romney is very good at debate. For instance, when Herman Cain went after Romney for not having a simple plan to deal with our issues, it is hard to find fault with Romney's counter argument that the issues we face are going to require a multi-faceted solution and that a simple plan just can't cover all the bases. Romney judo-flipped Cain's question and made Cain look a bit naive. Look, I'll never vote for Romney in the primary, but I think he may just be the best debater on the stage.

Herman Cain had a good night overall. He realized the debate was about the economy and he has the most easily explainable plan to deal w/ the economy and he hammered on it from beginning to end, through a hailstorm of criticism. He certainly has the most personality of anyone on the stage, and comes off as likeable, sincere, and smart... that's a tough combination to pull off in politics. His biggest problem is that he does appear to be politically naive at time; he spent all night harping on his 9/9/9 plan only to have Santorum completely burst his bubble by asking for a show of hands from the audience on who would support a national sales tax. Not a single hand went up. If Cain's biggest selling point is a plan that cannot get any support, then let's face it, his campaign is already over.

Bachman had a good night, her best since Perry's entry in the race. Santorum had one of his better performances, and had the hands-down best comment of the night when he spoke about how our increasing poverty levels are entwined with the breakdown of the American family. The problem I have with Santorum is that he honestly believes the government can and should fix that problem. It can't and it shouldn't. Huntsman did OK but is too moderate and too often he seems like he's the only one who gets his jokes.

Ron Paul was Ron Paul, and was in his element in a discussion mostly about economics... of course Ron Paul in his element is only attractive to probably about 20% of the Republican base, so he didn't gain any ground. I did agree with his ridiculing Herman Cain over picking Alan Greenspan as a model Chairman of the Fed, and pointing out that all of the candidates support a Federal Reserve that is highly likely to bring us right back to our current monetary situation.

The big looser of the night was Rick Perry. He just continued to fade. I think the round table format hurt him by making it more difficult for him to throw bombs and forcing him to focus more on giving detailed answers to questions, which he just didn't seem prepared to do. Perry has a great record in Texas, but he has a hard time successfully claiming credit for it... about half the time when he tries, his claims blow up in his face. He's just not that great of a debater and it continues to hurt him in a primary race that is being defined by the debates. He is set to release some policy proposals over the next week, and has the potential to be a real game changer for him. Time will tell.

Newt was good, but a few times he seemed to stray off into answers that were circular and navel-gazing in nature. I love a good thinker, and Newt is certainly that, but sometimes it seems like thinking is all he's able to do. Still, he adds a lot to these debates and I hope he stays in them for awhile yet.

I'm always amazed at how conservatives get attacked for not having any ideas, or for all marching in lockstep with one another. You'll see many more conflicting ideas, representing a wider range of philosophy, tossed around during these debates than you saw during the Democratic primaries in 2007. That is one good reason to watch the debates. However, a strong front runner who I feel comfortable with has simply yet to emerge, and time is running short. Will be interesting to see how this plays out over the next few months. Stay tuned.

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