Tuesday, June 14, 2011

GOP Debates: Round 2–New Hampshire

Last night, the leading declared contenders for the GOP nomination for President squared off in New Hampshire. If you missed it, you’re not alone. The only people that tune in for debates like this in the middle of June the year before the election are people that are paid to do so, political junkies like me, and people with money to drop.

If you’re interested, you can find my thoughts on the first debate here.

The night had some clear winners and losers, and some people who got stuck in the mud in the middle. Overall, I was impressed. Even the weakest of the candidates had some good moments. And, just to be balanced, I don’t think anyone was pitch perfect through the entire night.

The strongest performance of the night was by Congresswoman Michele Bachmann (R-MN-05). She was solid from beginning to end, only stumbling a little bit on the follow-up question on gay marriage (she’s for a Constitutional amendment, and for states rights—that’s not impossible, but it is confusing). Maybe a couple of her answers seemed a little over-rehearsed, and she dropped to talking points once or twice, but that’s nit picking. I was impressed with her, as I always am when I see her interviewed.

She had the strongest performance, but she wasn’t the “winner”. Last time I thought former Governor Tim Pawlenty (R-MN) had the strongest performance, but Herman Cain (R-GP) might have been the winner, due to making himself known. Similarly, I think former Governor Mitt Romney (R-MA) was the winner last night. As the perceived frontrunner, what he has to do is show up, look Presidential, not screw up, and not get hammered too much by the other candidates. He cleared that bar easily. He had a couple of weaker answers, but  think you’d have to be a conservative policy wonk to really catch that. In short, he showed why he’s the frontrunner.

The biggest losers of the night were CNN, the moderator John King, and former Governor Sarah Palin (R-AK). I thought during the first debate that Palin really needed to be there. Last night that felt even more true. The field is starting to look set now, and those in the field are going to be gaining momentum and attention from those with money and political pull. She’s starting to hurt her chances by not declaring. A lot of this is true for Governor Rick Perry (R-TX) as well, but I think all of the Texas references last night help him a bit. Texas is about the only thing keeping America’s economy afloat at the moment, and that’s hard to hide.

As for CNN and King, neither should be allowed to ever do a Presidential debate again. The format was awful, not giving candidates time to answer detailed policy questions with the necessary details. King was rude and annoying, constantly interrupting with “uh” to get the candidates moving or back on topic, sometimes before they’d finished a single sentence. I could deal with all of that, though, but there were subtleties that were even worse. The entire debate seemed designed around protecting President Barack Obama (D-USA) and Mitt Romney. There were very few questions on topics that harm either of them. What about jobs, inflation, foreign wars, $4 gas, cap and trade, energy subsidies, and entitlement reform? There was one question early on about the Ryan plan, and another directed at Pawlenty regarding his ObamneyCare statement this weekend. I know having 7 people there makes it challenging, but surely it’s possible to better than that. The debate was painful to watch, and not because of the candidates.

Speaking of which, here’s a friendly word of advice to GOP Presidential candidates. I know all about President Ronald Reagan’s (R-USA) 11th Commandment, and I know that we need to make this election a referendum on Obama, but unless you want Romney to be the nominee, you’re going to have to take some shots at him as well. And when the moderator gives you a nice slow pitch right down the middle of the plate, you need to hit that one out of the park. Yes, I’m talking to you, Tim Pawlenty. Why couldn’t you back up your ObamneyCare statement? Surely you had to expect a question about this? Awful. Truly awful.

As much as I was impressed with Pawlenty during the first debate, his performance last night, especially during the first hour, was a huge disappointment. He did seem to gain strength as the night wore on, something he shared with former House Speaker Newt Gingrich (R-GA-06), and Herman Cain. I thought all three stumbled early, but picked up in the second hour. Newt fumbled again discussing his position on the Ryan plan. He needs to figure out how to answer this question, or just drop out.

Cain’s biggest problem, though, wasn’t himself, but that for long periods of the night, he was basically ignored by King and the questioners. I think former Senator Rick Santorum (R-PA) also suffered from this to a lesser degree. What I saw of Santorum impressed me much more than last time around. He seemed much more relaxed and composed. I just wish I’d seen more of him.

Ok, have I left anyone out? Oh yes. My statement about Congressman Ron Paul (R-TX-14) from last time still applies. He was Ron Paul. Brilliant about some things and frighteningly scary about others. Fortunately for him, since the debate topics shied away from foreign policy to such a degree, he didn’t get as many chances to show just how scary he can be. In fact, on most of the domestic policy questions he made good points and good sense. His one answer on Social Security and Medicare may have been the right one “shut them all down”, but it’s not going to win over many voters, even in the GOP.

Overall, I was impressed with the field. Any of these people would be a great improvement over the current occupant of the White House. I have some more thoughts on the candidates themselves, but that’s a topic for another post.

If you missed the debate or just want to watch it again, here’s the vid, courtesy of The Right Scoop.

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