Yes, I know. I missed round 4. Actually, I didn’t. I just haven’t blogged on it.
As always, the videos are at the end.
I’m going to approach things a bit differently this time.
First I want to congratulate CNN and Wolf Blitzer. This was by far the best designed and moderated debate so far. I was worried at the beginning with their opening montage and introductions, but once they got to the meat, it was enjoyable to experience. My only significant gripe is that I don’t think former Governor Mitt Romney (R-MA) and Governor Rick Perry (R-TX) should be next to each other. CNN put them there and quite often went to a camera shot that had both of them on screen while one was talking. Made it often look like they were the only two there.
For the first hour I was generally happy and amazed. Every single candidate, even former Governor Jon Huntsman (R-UT) and Congressman Ron Paul (R-TX-14) impressed me at some point. For the first time I really felt that we have a great group of candidates here. Some people had problems with former Romney going after Perry on Social Security, but I didn’t. As I keep saying, the frontrunner(s) will remain the frontrunner(s) unless you go after him (them). Romney made some good points, too, although I think in the end he lost on the exchange, because Perry was prepared with a great one-liner about Romney’s book.
Perry seems to be following the President Reagan (R-USA) playbook. He has lots of good zingers and one liners. I don’t think he has quite the delivery of Reagan, but he’s not bad. But he needs to be better on substance. When he gets away from his strong suits, and from his one liners, he stumbles a bit. This will come in time. I’m sure he’s been in a few debates as Governor of Texas, but he’s not faced the caliber of candidates or the level of intensity of the scrutiny that he’s facing now.
Unfortunately, the second hour we returned to earth. Huntsman and Paul lost me completely. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again. I really don’t want to see Ron Paul at any more debates. He makes the entire GOP look bad. Also, Perry and Romney hit some issues that weren’t their bread & butter ones and they also stumbled.
But Romney and Perry were the two frontrunners going in, and they’re still the two frontrunners. No one made any significant movement in their direction. I’m not sure if they really changed much amongst themselves either. I think they both made some good points, and both occasionally struggled. I’m hearing on my Twitter feed that Romney looked awful, and that he had the best performance, which leads me to believe that I’m right, that nothing really changed between them last night.
Now to the rankings. I’m going to start at the bottom and work up this time.
Ron Paul: Titanic level disaster. Vote him off the island. Now.
Jon Huntsman: He’s just way too far to the left. He has some good ideas about some things, but he’s a traditional politician. A twentieth century one. You’ve heard me rip on twentieth century politics before.
These two were so far below everyone else that they deserve special mention. Everyone else did at least a passable job, just not spectacular.
Former Senator Rick Santorum (R-PA): I’m going to say he’s next. I’ve mentioned every single time that Santorum is either great or awful during debates. It’s because he’s combative and thin skinned. I think he’s been working hard on fighting his tendencies here, and I give him credit for that. Unfortunately, that means that he’s coming across much more subdued. He had a passable performance, but completely non-memorable.
Herman Cain (R-GP): Cain has been steadily improving at the debates. He’s obviously been putting in quite a bit of work. If he’d been as good in the first debate as he’s been in the last two, he may have made some noise. Perhaps he still will. I was very impressed with Cain last night. The only reason he’s down so low on the list is that others have raised their games as well.
Rick Perry: I really don’t have much of a problem with the Gardasil issue. He admits it was wrongly handled, which puts him miles above Romney who still thinks RomneyCare is a good idea. However, I also don’t have any problems with anyone attacking him on it, as long as they stick to facts. He’s absolutely perfect on Social Security, but he’s definitely left himself open for attack here and we’re going to see more scenes like what we saw last night with him and Romney. However, I’ve said before that he’s weak on illegal immigration, and it’s true. He’s very weak here and his answers on this issue were not reassuring. At all. I had him first earlier in the night, but he dropped to fourth in the second hour. And illegal immigration is a big part of why.
Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich (R-GA-06): Frankly, Newt should be first or second, and it’s not his fault he’s not. While CNN overall did a good job last night, they still had a problem with letting candidates disappear for large parts of the night. That’s got to be hard to avoid with so many people up on stage. It certainly happened to Newt. He disappeared for long periods. But when he was on screen, I liked what he was saying and I liked his delivery. Probably one of the most impressive nights he’s ever had, when he was visible, and I’m on record as saying he’s the candidate I would least want to debate.
Mitt Romney: There’s really not much difference between any of the top 4. I put Romney above Newt because he didn’t disappear and above Perry because I thought he was a bit less uneven in his performance. His highs weren’t as high as either Perry or Newt, but his lows weren’t as low either. However his attempted attack on Perry and the Texas economy fell completely flat. He knows he needs to attack Perry on something, and fiscal issues are his best bet, but he’s going to have to come up with a better plan than “Four Aces”. Probably Romney’s worst moment in any of the debates so far.
And the Oscar goes to…
Congresswoman Michele Bachmann (R-MN-06): She’s up here because she treated last night like a marathon. Unlike others who went for some quick hits early and then fell flat, she stayed in focus the whole evening. She’s obviously found an attack point on Perry that she likes in Gardasil. While I don’t agree with her position on it, she shows quite a bit of passion and is believable. And there are a lot of people out there who share her viewpoint. But she was good to very good in every single answer she gave last night, if I recall correctly, and unlike the rest, actually improved as the night went on. Her one fault is that she’s very talking point oriented, and sometimes goes to the talking point instead of actually answering the question. I’ve noticed this every single debate. That’s not altogether surprising. Most politicians do this. It’s surprising that in this field she’s the only one who does it consistently. Having said all of that, this was the Michele Bachmann we saw earlier this year, who has all but disappeared since then. I’d love to see more performances like this. She still almost certainly won’t get my vote, but last night performance is what I’ve always hoped to see from her.