"In the course of any given year, Congress votes on taxes, medical care, military spending, foreign aid, agriculture, labor, international trade, airlines, housing, insurance, courts, natural resources, and much more. There are professionals who have spent their entire adult lives specializing in just one of these fields. The idea that Congress can be competent in all these areas simultaneously is staggering." — Economist Thomas Sowell
Tonight there will be second televised debate between potential GOP candidates for president in 2012 on CNN. Here are a few things to watch for:
The Tea Party Debate: Bachmann vs. Cain
Congresswoman Michele Bachmann and former Godfather's Pizza CEO Herman Cain are rivals for the affection of Tea Party and evangelical voters. Each boasts a charismatic style and a focus on hot button issues. They will vie for the support of the GOP grass roots so as to mount a challenge to front runner Mitt Romney. Bachmann will use her key role in pushing spending cuts in Washington to rally fiscal conservatives while Cain will tout his outsider status — the only candidate never to have been in Washington - to rally backing.
Bachmann and Cain vs. Palin
Just because Sarah Palin will not be at the debate as a candidate, doesn't mean she won't attend as a Geist! The former Republican vice presidential nominee will be closely watching how Bachmann and Cain do at appealing to her own political base as she weighs whether or not to jump into the race. With Gingrich struggling and Huckabee out, the odds of a Palin candidacy have improved. For their parts, Bachmann and Cain will try to fill the vacuum themselves so that the former Alaska Governor stays out of the contest.
Gingrich vs. Himself
Newt has to use this debate to regain the ground he lost with his shaky announcement week and the recent resignation of virtually his entire staff. He has to excel at the medium designed for him: a candidate debate. Newt's most significant asset is his ability as a debater. He must shine to overcome his missteps and stay relevant to the race.
Romney vs. Expectations
Eventually, the nomination race will probably boil down to Mitt Romney vs. one other candidate. So far Romney has climbed to the nomination by stepping over the corpses of candidates who already have dropped out, might drop out, and likely won't run: Mike Huckabee, Donald Trump, Mitch Daniels, Mike Pence, Sarah Palin, and Newt Gingrich.
But in the debate, Romney must stand alone against the rest of the field and prove that he deserves to tower over them. He has to earn his first round bye with a solid performance. He needs to shed the flip flop image of the past, get over the opposition his RomneyCare law in Massachusetts arouses among the base, and show the kind of Reaganesque presidentially he has displayed on the stump lately.
Pawlenty vs. the Ghost of Mitch Daniels
Another ghost will be at the debate — Indiana Governor Mitch Daniels. Before he abruptly dropped out of the race (after most assumed he would run), Daniels had co-opted most of the political running room former Minnesota Governor Tim Pawlenty had hoped to occupy himself. Daniels' skill in pushing labor relations reforms in Indiana and advancing an education reform agenda had captured the enthusiasm of much of the Republican establishment. These honchos, who would have backed either Jeb Bush or New Jersey Governor Chris Christie, were set to rally to Daniels.
But with Mitch out, Pawlenty has had trouble occupying the vacated slot, he has been accused by the conservative press as being too “vanilla.”. His Minnesota record wasn't nearly as good as that of Bush in Florida, Christie in New Jersey, and Daniels in Indiana and his personal style lacks the flamboyance of a Christie. Pawlenty has to kindle enthusiasm or risk losing his slot to another governor — like Rick Perry of Texas — or another Minnesotan like Bachmann.
Santorum and Huntsman to Get Noticed
Neither former Pennsylvania Senator Rick Santorum nor ex-Utah Governor Huntsman has gotten much attention yet. They need to use the debate to shine and attract their share of voter support. Like Mike Huckabee did in 2008, these early debates can offer candidates a chance to shine and move up in the standings. Remember, Huntsman was in the Obama administration as ambassador to China and he may have some unique insights on the Chinese economy.
Ron Paul vs. Common Sense
I don’t much agree with Ron Paul’s Libertarian philosophy on some issues I don't agree that we should legalize drugs, suspend the war on terror or promote same sex marriage. Paul's nutty positions consign him to the real fringe of our politics. But there are plenty of voters out there on the fringe and this debate is his chance to harvest a bunch of them.
Watch he tenor of the moderators on CNN. See if they try to sandbag any of the debaters or if hey add little snide comments to their questions.