"In selecting men for office, let principle be your guide. Regard not the particular sect or denomination of the candidate – look to his character." —Noah Webster
It is always a risky to endeavor attempt to determine the winners and losers in a political debate. Unless you are an absolutely committed independent with no political philosophy whatsoever it is impossible not to allow your personal bias to influence your decisions.
As this was a debate aimed at Republicans and conservatives the potential presidential candidates in last night’s Iowa debate were speaking to the Republicans and conservatives who would support them in their run for the nomination. This is why it makes really no sense to read or listen to the left-wing pundits with their assessments. Their bias will not allow them to honestly evaluate how the candidates will play with the Republicans and conservatives. They have no stake in the game except looking for the weakest candidate, a candidate Barack Obama could defeat next November.
With this in mind I will venture my evaluation of each candidate’s performance in the Fox News televised debate from the campus of Iowa State University at Ames, Iowa last night.
Before I begin I want to say that each candidate said things I agreed with and each candidate said some things that left me wondering or even in total disagreement with. There are no perfect candidates for every voter. We all have biases and personal preferences as to what we want to see in a candidate and how we would like them to perform. We also have two issues confronting us. The first issue is principles and plans as to what they would do if elected. The second issue is could the beat Obama in a general election.
In 2008 many of us conservatives did not believe John McCain could beat Obama in either a head to head debate or win the general election. We thought Romney was a more viable candidate. We were proved right on both counts. This year we need a candidate with principles we believe in and candidate that beat a weakened Barack Obama. So here we go.
I will begin with the candidates I believe were the winners in he debate.
Again, he went unscathed. The closest anyone got to landing a blow was when Pawlenty meekly said that "ObamneyCare" was a "fair" description of Romney's Massachusetts health care plan that ObamaCare was modeled after. As the frontrunner, Romney focused his attacks on Obama and presented his plans on how he would revive the economy. He was on cruise control and came out a winner solely because nobody put a dent in his frontrunner status.
Romney danced eloquently around some of the social issues like gay marriage and abortion, issues that appeal to some of the more evangelical conservatives, but will not ring well with the general electorate. He focused on jobs and the economy, two issues that are foremost in the minds of American voters today, and issues that make Obama very vulnerable.
I thought Romney gave a good response to Chris Wallace’s question regarding mandatory health care when he explained the difference between what is allowed in the Federal Constitution and what is left to the states and the people under the Tenth Amendment when he asked Wallace if he ever read the constitution of the State of Massachusetts.
Romney displayed a little more passion than last year, although it was controlled passion. He looked “presidential” and will probably get the nomination even if he loses in Iowa.
Romney is not in the Iowa Straw Poll so we will not know what impact the his debate performance had on he people of Iowa who will be paying $30 dollars to cast a vote in the poll.
Bachmann came prepared for Pawlenty's attacks on her. She said Pawlenty once said the "era of small government is over" and compared Pawlenty to Obama. She highlighted her opposition to raising the debt ceiling and fighting to preserve the light bulb, an issue deal to conservatives. And while Pawlenty attacked her for her lack of executive experience and her inability to accomplish anything in Congress, Bachmann did nothing to hurt herself going into the Straw Poll, so she has to be declared a winner. She had some few gaffes — like saying Obama got a blank check for $2.4 trillion — but she also answered a question in which she was asked if she would be "submissive" to her husband's wishes if elected President with poise and class. Republican voters this cycle want someone who is pugnacious, and Bachmann showed plenty of pep going into the Straw Poll.
I thought Bachmann’s response to the gay marriage and health care issues were a bit inconsistent when it came to the Tenth Amendment. On one hand she wanted a national marriage amendment yet on the other hand she wanted the national health care (ObamaCare) repealed. I believe both are state issues and should be treated as such.
Gingrich, in response to the moderator's admonition to not regurgitate talking points, excoriated the questioner for asking "gotcha" questions and focusing on process and campaign minutiae. This was reminiscent of the Reagan moment when he said “I paid for this microphone.”
Gingrich then gave the debate performance of the night. He railed against the Super Committee created to find spending cuts. He said Congress should be called back in to session now. He urged Americans that the presidential election is 15 months away and they should put pressure on lawmakers to repeal legislation like Dodd-Frank, Sarbanes-Oxley, and ObamaCare that he feels are destroying jobs.
He spoke convincingly on issues of Americanism such as making English the official language and reminded everyone why it was conventional wisdom that debates would be Gingrich's strong suit. His campaign appearances in Iowa in recent weeks have generated buzz and excitement and this debate performance went a long way in potentially reviving his campaign. Many Republicans and supporters may want to see Gingrich in the campaign just so he could be in every debate, which will give him many more opportunities to have more moments in which he could potentially convert into actual votes next winter.
Gingrich, probably the best informed of the candidates on history, the Constitution and the legislative process, would mop the floor with Obama if he ever had the chance to debate him. Newt is quick with facts and has a passionate way to take on the lack of knowledge from his opponents. He will probably not get the nomination, but it sure would be fun to watch him square off against old hope and change.
These are the candidates, that although they made a few good points did not advance their candidacy and, in my opinion, set themselves back a few steps.
Pawlenty's campaign is riding on the Ames Straw Poll for its revival. And though he attacked Bachmann in this debate by attacking her opposition to ObamaCare and TARP, noting, "if that's your view of effective leadership with results, please stop, you're killing us," Pawlenty seemed like a candidate with prepared sound bites who was just trying too hard.
He spent too much time attacking his fellow Minnesotaian on the parochial issue of the cigarette fee and the pro-life bill. Most people are not familiar with this Minnesota issue and probably don’t care. If there were a group of people watch the debate with those Frank Luntz clickers in their hands I am sure the lines on the graph would have taken a nose dive during this tittle soap opera. He got lost in the minutiae of a local issue that seemed petty and childish.
Later in the debate, when asked again to challenge Romney on "ObamneyCare," all Pawlenty could say was he felt that criticism was "fair." Voters want someone assertive. And Pawlenty came off as unsure of what type of candidate he is or where his campaign is going. Nice guys and their consultants who care what Washington, D.C. elites think of them often do not finish first. Team Pawlenty may be proof positive of that. Pawlenty just does not generate much passion in the voters. My fear is that he is another John McCain.
Tony Lee of Human Events claims Paul as one of the winners. He says:
“During the first two debates, Paul seemed to be a man trying to moderate some of his image. Not this time. Paul was the old Paul. He spoke convincingly and forcefully on the debt and on fiscal issues. He was professorial at times. On foreign policy, he railed against America's overseas adventures, was wobbly on Iran (Santorum had to remind him that Iran was a bit different from Iceland). Was there a method to his madness? Perhaps. Paul is in contention to win the Straw Poll on Saturday, which then cannot be dismissed. It could shake up the race, and Paul may have been banking on the old Paul galvanizing the supporters that can push him over the top on Saturday. Would foreign policy moderates and hawks go to the Straw Poll for him? Probably not. If Paul ends up winning the Straw Poll, in large part due to his strategy at the debate of going back to the old, unfiltered (some would say more unhinged) Paul, then the move will have turned out to be even more brilliant, at least in the short term.
Paul does have another thing going for him. It is true the Republican Party has moved toward him on both domestic and foreign policy. His campaign is much more organized than it was in 2008. Young voters, especially those with a more libertarian bent, are as attracted as ever to his ideas. If Paul wins the Straw Poll, he will have to be talked about as a legitimate contender for the nomination.”
I totally disagree with Mr. Lee. To me Ron Paul sounds like an angry Libertarian. He looked old and at times rambled in his response. His response that states could impose slavery if they wanted was 100% off base. Evidently he ignored the 13th Amendment. His total laissez-faire Ayn Rand brand of Libertarianism will not resound with many Republicans or conservatives, especially his position on drugs and national defense.
He made sound points on the economy and the Federal Reserve. He had a strong cadré of passionate supporters in the audience and his presence at the Straw Poll is well financed and loaded with passionate volunteers. To me Paul looks like an old, angry Libertarian. Perhaps his best role, if a Republican is elected, is Secretary of the Treasury.
Huntsman seemed uncomfortable and unsure. Perhaps it was symbolic he was in Iowa, for he is not going to compete in the Caucus and his supporters had a debate watching party in New Hampshire, the state which will determine the fate of his campaign. He pieced together material from his stump speeches but did not give viewers a clear reason why he was running. His voice rotated between sounding forceful when repeating rhetoric and trembling when he was substantive. It was weird.
On questions ranging from his support of civil unions and immigration, he came away looking like a politician who didn't directly answer the questions. He cited his conservative record in Utah and described the dour state America is in, which can be core elements of a campaign theme. During one exchange, Huntsman said that he would soon have substantive policy proposals up on his website. The candidate, like his campaign, seems to be a work in progress. It's early in the game, there's still time for Huntsman to gain traction, particularly in New Hampshire, but Huntsman needs a thesis statement fast.
He would be vulnerable to Republicans on two issues. One is that he served in the Obama administration as ambassador to China and the second is the jobs his company exported to India and China. Being ambassador to China probably can be turned to a positive in that he can claim extensive knowledge of the Chinese and their economic and military goals. The exporting of jobs will not bode well. At times I think he is more a moderate Democrat than a conservative Republican.
These two candidates had some good points to make But, I believe they did not advance nor damage their chances.
Cain highlighted his business background, admitted he has learned a lot about the Palestinian "right of return" and Afghanistan since the last debate. He said Americans "need to learn how to take a joke" in reference to comments he made about how an electric barbed-wire fence was needed in response to when President Obama mocked Republicans on immigration. Cain didn't hurt himself but he did nothing to vault him back into the conversation.
I like Cain’s philosophy on economics and like Romney is the only candidate in the mix with a sound business background. But, unlike Romney, who was a governor, Cain has little experience in politics. While his board room expertise is desirable government does not work like a corporate board room where profit and growth are the driving factors. No matter what the outcome there should be place for him in a Republican administration.
Santorum was convincing on why the 10th Amendment does not allow states to redefine marriage, among other things and even attacked Rick Perry by name. But to our detriment he wasn't asked questions most of the night. When addressed, Santorum delivered convincingly so his performance certainly did not hurt him, but he did nothing to make him stand out enough to generate momentum.
These are the Republicans much discussed but not in the race. They are 800 pound gorillas in the room.
As first reported by CNN's Peter Hamby, Perry will formally announce his candidacy Saturday at the RedState Gathering in Charleston, South Carolina. He will be at the front of the pack when he enters the fray, and it was evidenced by Cain calling him a "politician" and Paul referring to him as "status quo."
As governor of Texas he has overseen a lot of growth in his state and espouses solid conservative principles. His recent prayer event created a lot of controversy, but the evangelical conservatives loved it. We have not heard how he would deal with many of the issues so he will have some catching up to do.
The same can be said for Sarah Palin except she is the 8,000 pound mama grizzly, whose bus was rumbling toward the Iowa State Fair, which she will attend today. While other candidates took jabs at Perry, none of the candidates even said anything that could be interpreted as a jab at Palin, again reinforcing the strength of her supporters and the formidable candidate she would be if/when she enters the presidential race. And many signs point to her doing exactly that.
She has been coy and has taken about every sling and arrow he left can deliver. In some ways she seems to be indestructible and her supporters are vast and passionate. She has run in a national race as the vice presidential candidate with John McCain and should know the game by now.
I do not believe either Bachmann or Palin cold win a national election against Obama. I believe they could better serve the Republic by running for the Senate in their respective states. Palin could run for the retiring seat of Arizona’s John Kyl in 2012 and Bachmann could easily defeat the moronic and incompetent Al Franken in 2014 or Amy Klobuchar in 2012. The 2012 date may be too soon if she continues her presidential run and the changes to defeat Franken are much better.
Political analyst Michael Barone sarcastically observed, "some 15,000 to 25,000 Iowans in a state of 3 million will travel to Ames and pay a $30 fee that may determine who will be president of a nation of 311 million." Actually, the poll is by no means the final determinant in the race, and the caucus isn't until Feb. 6, 2012, but a poor showing in the poll might eliminate a candidate or two.