Tonight 7 hopefuls vying for the GOP nomination for the presidency of the United States squared off at St. Anselm College in New Hampshire. All seven of the hopefuls were not shy to blast Obama for his mismanagement of the economy.
For the first hour most of the debate, with questions from the audience and by remote from around New Hampshire centered on jobs and the economy. This was the number one issue on the minds of the Republican voters in New Hampshire.
It took about an hour to move off the topic of the economy and on to the usual social issues of abortion and gay rights. Final in the last thirty minutes the focus mover to U.S. foreign policy.
I watched the entire debate and thought John King of CNN did an admirable job of directing the audience questions to the various candidates. He kept any personal or editorial comments to a very minimum.
The seven hopefuls did a fairly good job of introducing themselves to the American public with John Huntsman being absent. When a question arose as to the influence of the Tea Party Michelle Bachmann responded with a strong defense of the Tea Party movement and you could hear the Geist of Sarah Palin breathing down her neck.
There were several memorable comments such as Michelle Bachmann officially announcing her candidacy and Newt Gingrich defending his comments regarding Paul Ryan’s proposed budget. All of the candidates said they would repeal ObamaCare, but Newt Gingrich gave the best answer. He said that a Republican president could not do it alone and he would need at least 12 Republican senators and 30 more Republican House members. In this sense Gingrich was facing realism.
Newt Gingrich, whose campaign imploded last week when virtually his entire senior strategy team resigned, did not mention the controversy. He exhibited a defensive tone from the outset of the debate, and at times lectured the debate moderator, John King of CNN, for how he characterized the responses.
Mr. Gingrich came into the debate facing continued criticism for appearing several weeks ago to speak against Representative Paul Ryan’s proposed budget plan that would convert Medicare into a voucher system allowing seniors to buy their insurance in the private market.
Asked to address that criticism, Mr. Gingrich said his comments, against “radical change” on either side of the aisle, had been taken out of context. He said he supported Mr. Ryan’s budget as “a general proposal.”
But he seemed to repeat at least some of his critique. “If you’re dealing with something as big as Medicare and can’t have a conversation with the country where the country thinks what you’re doing is the right thing, you better slow down,” Gingrich said.
Ron Paul was his normal Libertarian self with his comments about the currency and the Federal Reserve. He also made no bones about immediately withdrawing our troops from Iraq, Afghanistan and Libya and to stop bombing Yemen. When referring to the other candidates similar views, but with the caveat of deferring to the advice of the commanders in the field Paul responded by stating that as president he was the commander-in-chief and he would make that decision.
One comment Paul gave to the question on Gay Marriage struck me and the audience with approval was that rights are for individuals not groups and it should be up to the states to decide marriage policies.
All of the candidates drew loud applause when the said they supported New Hampshire’s attempt to enact right to work legislation with Gingrich taking John King to task for attempting combine the issue of government unions with the right to work. Newt was pretty strong on this issue.
Michelle Bachmann came across feisty and direct, in the manner of Sarah Palin. She did not give evasive answers and got a rousing round of applause from the partisan audience when she said Obama was a one-term president. When queried by a Republican committeeman and activist about the possible deleterious effect of the Tea Party on the Republican Party she responded with a clear and concise answerer. She stated that as chairperson of the Tea Party caucus in the house she had the utmost respect for those Americans who wanted constitutional government with sound fiscal management. She also chided that the Republicans needed the support of the Tea Party, fiscal conservative, social conservatives, traditional Republicans and independents if they wanted to defeat Obama and capture the Senate.
Herman Cain gave direct and short answers to the questions directed at him and the follow up responses to those of he other candidates. He showed himself as a true conservative willing to give direct, to the point answers. Cain, like all the candidates believes the free market is the only way to create jobs
Tim Pawlenty labeled Obama a "declinist" who views America "as one of equals around the world," rather than a special nation. He said "If Brazil can have 5 percent growth, if China can have 5 percent growth, then America can have 5 percent growth," he added, shrugging off criticism that his own economic projections were impossibly rosy. Paul chimed in on this one by adding we could 10% or 15% percent growth if allowed the free market to take over the economy and got rid of the numerous and odious government regulations, especially from the EPA, that were crippling our growth.
Tim Pawlenty, a former governor of Minnesota who remains largely unknown to many Republicans across the country, highlighted his blue-collar roots as he sought to introduce himself as a leading alternative to Mr. Romney. He coined a new word a day before the debate — “Obamneycare” — a term aimed at criticizing both Mr. Romney and Mr. Obama in a single breath.
But when the debate got under way, Mr. Pawlenty exhibited far more restraint and declined repeated attempts to explain the word or issue a face-to-face challenge to Mr. Romney. He joined other candidates throughout the evening in reserving the brunt of their criticism for Mr. Obama, rather than their fellow Republicans.
Pawlenty gave some good responses to the questions asked, but did not seem to come across with as much passion and Bachmann, Paul, Cain and Santorum. If he wants to advance his candidacy he will have to prove to the American people he has the vision and passion for the job.
When asked about the choice of a running mate in the 2008 election Pawlenty took it as an opportunity to praise Ms. Palin, who has a loyal and motivated following. “I think Governor Palin’s a remarkable leader,” he said, going on to criticize Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr. as “wrong on everything.”
But Palin’s absence created an opening for Representative Michele Bachmann of Minnesota, who is similarly well-liked by grass-roots Tea Party Republicans — and whose supporters have sought to present her as more substantive and better rooted in policy than Ms. Palin.
Rick Santorum gave a fairly good representation of himself as a fiscal and social conservative. He did, however, disagree with Paul on the issue of U.S. bases around the world and the bombing of suspected terrorists in Yemen and the war on terror. All agreed Libya is an an example of an administration with no cohesive foreign policy or a clear definition of our national interests.
Finally we come to Romney, the candidate who is leading in the polls and the one with the most to lose. While leading in the polls in New Hampshire his support is said to be a mile wide but only an inch deep. When asked about the auto company bail out he replied the auto bailout was a mistake, and said more generally, "Instead of thinking in the federal budget what should we cut, we should ask ourselves the opposite question, `What should we keep?"'
Romney was poised and measured in his responses. He is a propfessional politician and knows how to dance around some of the issues and not dive into the deep end of the pool like Bachmann, Gingrich and Cain. Probably did not damage himself, but I doubt if he picked up any support from the Tea Party.
Ms. Bachmann made maximum use of her appearance, taking the unique step of using the occasion to formally announce she was running for president — until then she had only set up an exploratory committee — and to introduce herself as “a former federal tax litigation attorney,” as a businesswoman and as a mother and foster parent.
On Monday she seemed solid on her feet as she, for instance, criticized the United States’ role in the NATO intervention in Libya as failing to forward “any vital American interest.”
If Ms. Bachmann had any competition for the Tea Party vote, it came from former Senator Rick Santorum of Pennsylvania, who said in response to a question, “I think the Tea Party is a great backstop for America.”
Mr. Santorum is perhaps best known as social conservative and has sought to establish himself as having a broader set of interests and skills in this early going during the campaign. Asked about his views on the separation between church and state, Mr. Santorum said “We get along because we know that we — all of our ideas are allowed in and tolerated. That’s what makes America work.”
Enjoying newfound cachet this year because the Tea Party movement has taken well to his libertarianism, Ron Paul repeated his calls to end the Federal Reserve and cut military spending. But in that sense, he was a familiar presence.
Seeking to usurp Paul’s role of 2008 as an unexpected voice was the former chief executive of Godfather’s Pizza, Herman Cain. Cain, however, struggled when John King questioned him about his past statement that "a lot of Muslims are not totally dedicated to this country” and that he would not appoint a Muslim to his cabinet without knowing his or her dedication to the Constitution.
Mr. Cain said he was uncomfortable “because you have peaceful Muslims and then you have militant Muslims, those that are trying to kill us.” He added, “I was thinking about the ones that are trying to kill us, number one.”
Mr. Romney said, “I think we recognize that the people of all faiths are welcome in this country. Our nation was founded on a principal of religious tolerance.”
All in all it was a good debate and the people who took the time to watch learned a little more about the GOP hopefuls. The next debate will be a joint CNN and Tea Party Express sponsored venture in Tampa this September. While suffering criticism from the elites it should be a bang up affair if all of the GOP candidates show up.
As to who won this debate I say no one. I viewed that as getting-to-know-you affair akin to the end of Act I in La Boehme. What we saw was an introduction to each candidate who has thrown their hat in the ring. Now the elite pundits will pontificate on who won or lost and will begin picking their horses to win, place and show. There will much written on the candidates and the left wing press will be digging up dirt and publishing rumors, innuendos and half-truths about the candidates they fear the most — like Sarah Palin.
As I mentioned I look forward to the next debate in Tampa and I hope John Huntsman will be there. We should learn more of the candidates by then so we will have a better context in which to frame their answers.