In a short hour and a half, made up of minute responses and thirty second followups, the GOP candidates once again took the stage to answer questions from semi-respectful moderators. In a debate most looked forward to by Ron Paul fans, Paul received very little time. We have seen pretty much all there is to be seen about candidate style, and many of these questions were repeats. So here are the winners and losers:
Mitt Romney won this debate. His answers were calming, yet clear and determined. He portrayed the very stature Americans are looking for in a Commander in Chief, and he highlighted American Exceptionalism. This area is a strong suit for Mitt, and one that does not involve any sort of past flip flops or policy changes. His answers should give him a bump among social conservatives who are inspired by terms like American Exceptionalism.
Newt at one point had to school the moderators on war versus criminal law. In some ways this debate seemed frustrating for Newt, but that is an aspect of him his followers often like to see. Newt brings the fight to the moderators and to the left and usually wins. Many of his answers were right on, but others were somewhat vague. One thing that Newt will lose points for is how loosely he called for covert operations in countries like Iran and Syria. This is something Newt has brought up as a policy in debates and speeches in the past, but is something better left unsaid.
Jon Huntsman did well in the debate. The question on a tradewar with China is a favorite of most media moderators because it gives them a chance to toss Huntsman an easy softball. Foreign policy hits many of Huntsman’s strong points without touching many of the issues that conservatives hate him for. It won’t matter though, Huntsman is done.
Santorum did pretty well. He has the unfortunate bad luck of being a candidate on the back end of two long wars and sharing a policy that sounds eerily like Bush’s. On the other hand, Santorum seemed to be saying that we need to keep funding Pakistan and being their friend because they have a Nuke. True or not, Santorum is not going to win American hearts saying implying that we must borrow from China to pay off Pakistan to be our friend.
I have a feeling that media moderators purposefully cut Paul’s debate time short on debates like this to get his supporters riled up. Get ready, we are going to hear about that for the next week or so. Paul didn’t do bad for most of the debate, but some of his stances are really not correct. The idea that the United States must capture a citizen who has declared war on the United States and bring them in to face civilian court, or that non-uniformed terrorists have any sort of rights under US law is wrong and violates precedent. Gingrich and Perry were absolutely right on those counts. Paul’s supporters were being their typical selves in the debate as well, to the point where the mods had to admonish them to be respectful. They are another liability of Paul’s with the overall GOP.
Herman Cain reminded me a lot of Rick Perry in recent debates. Without 9-9-9 to fall back on, Cain was slow in responses, vague, and seemed as though he would happily defer to a future self, surrounded by knowledgeable generals and advisers. That’s great, but that is not leadership. In that respect, Huntsman showed up Cain, and even Gingrich, when he said if a nuke was loose in Pakistan he would secure it. Cain really did not give a performance that screamed “I am a leader”. Instead, each response sounded like “How can I answer this without ruining my campaign”.
Michele Bachmann continues to be unimpressive and unmemorable. She scored some points rebutting Ron Paul, but seemed to spend most of the night trying to get the moderators to let her respond to other candidates. She also seemed to get less time. However, I will give her a great deal of credit for her answers on ways to trim military spending without hurting the military.
Rick Perry still doesn’t debate well. And once again he found himself as the butt of several jokes, made both by the moderators, himself, and Senator Graham. Perry’s idea of zero based budgeting for foreign aide is a great idea, but the only reason it’s his is because he got to say it first. Gingrich and Romeny both articulated it better when Perry was done.
But allow me a Newt Gingrich moment to say this. The real loser was Barack Obama. The candidates made it clear, once again, that every single one of them would run foreign policy better than Obama. Several drove home the point that Obama had a range of good choices and bad choices and made all the bad ones and none of the good ones. The only ambivalent candidate who actually seemed to end up on Obama’s side for some things was Ron Paul. This is one of the aspects of Newt Gingrich’s leadership because he has focused these debates on defeating Barack Obama, and when Newt sets the tone the other candidates usually follow.
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