As always, the video of the entire debate is at the end.
Most of the GOP hopefuls squared off in Ames, IA last night for our third Presidential Primary debate. Like last time, the good news for many of these candidates is that very few people were likely watching. Because there wasn’t much good news in this debate other than that.
Last time I said that former Governor Mitt Romney (R-MA) was the “winner” but didn’t have the best performance. As the perceived front runner, he just has to look Presidential and not screw up. This time he was both the winner and had the best performance. His first three answers were fantastic, easily the best of the candidates. I felt that he started slipping a bit when asked about his record on taxes. Sometimes Romney reminds me of a used car salesman, and this inner voice in my head starts saying “I don’t believe what you’re saying”. That happened on that answer. And I think that answer was the tipping point for him. He was considerably less impressive after that, including flailing as usual on defending RomneyCare. And later in the debate he seemed to become the invisible man. Still, that’s a win for him. If he’s invisible it’s because no one is going after him. And if no one is going after him, he’s still going to be the front runner.
Former Senator Rick Santorum (R-PA) had his best debate by far, and at times really shone. I’ve said this now many times and it’s still true. When Santorum is good, he’s great. And when he’s not good, he’s terrible. As usual, we saw a little bit of both last night. The good news for Santorum is that for once we saw more of the good side than the bad side. I admire him for standing firm on his pro life credentials, but his no exceptions at all stance is not going to win him many votes. Still, if he’d been like this in the first two debates, the race might be a bit different. Now, though, it seems like too little too late. My big peeve with the Senator is that I believe he’s too thin skinned. And he allowed that to cause him to lose his patience with Congressman Ron Paul (R-TX-14) and Fox News’ Chris Wallace last night.
Now, it gets tricky. Other than those two, I don’t think anyone did a very good job last night. Herman Cain (R-Godfather’s Pizza) was probably the next best, but still stumbled on foreign policy, particularly Afghanistan. Wallace went after him on Cain’s statements on Muslims, and I don’t think Cain helped himself any with his answers. He clearly showed that he’s not Presidential material. I should copy-paste that last sentence. I may use it often from here on out in this post.
I guess I’d have to go with former House Speaker Newt Gingrich (R-GA-06) for the next best performance, but he bickered far too much with Chris Wallace, claiming that the debate questions were “gotcha” questions. I think they were questions these candidates are going to be asked many times over the next 15 months, and they better have good answers for them. His bit on calling Congress back to repeal Sarbanes-Oxley, ObamaCare, Frank-Dodd, the Super Committee, and a few others fell completely flat for me. And he mentioned it twice. The second time it more than fell flat, it annoyed me. Good ideas, but we need to be honest in these debates. Most of those proposals would struggle to exceed 40 votes in the Senate right now. You can forget about 60. I’ve said this before about Newt as well. He’s a great idea man. He’s the guy you want in your company to sit around and come up with new directions for the company. But you don’t want him running it. You need someone else to say “Good idea, Newt, but…no.”
Former Governor Tim Pawlenty (R-MN) probably comes next, but his performance, especially the first hour, was dismal. In fact, he lost my support. I was very impressed with him after the first debate, not so much after the second, and he’s fallen off the map now. He and Congresswoman Michele Bachmann (R-MN-06) went after each other with ferocity and bitterness. It wasn’t pretty on either side. People had differing impressions of who pulled down whom, but both came out of it looking awful. Not saying he couldn’t change my mind again, but right now, I’m in search of a candidate. And I’m not looking towards MN to find one. When he wasn’t bickering with Bachmann he looked ok, but not the guy I remember from the first debate. His best moments last night were like the guy he was in the second debate. Not good.
Next, former Governor Jon Huntsman (R-UT). All it says by having him sixth is that the other two below him were completely terrible. There’s nothing that Huntsman says that endears him to me or makes me want to vote for him. I’m sure he was a decent governor for Utah, but there’s no doubt that he’s a big government Republican, and I don’t think he’s ready for a larger stage. Not Presidential material.
I guess I’d put Ron Paul in seventh, but again, only because he wasn’t quite as bad as Bachmann. His foreign policy ideas are frankly scary. He’s a big L libertarian, and an isolationist. And last night he was even less solid than usual on domestic policy. I think when he expresses his ideas on a national stage it hurts the entire party. He either makes us look foolish, or he hands talking points to the left. Sometimes both. I’d honestly prefer it if he were not at any future debates.
Apparently winning these debates is not a good thing. I thought Pawlenty won the first, and looked bad in the second. I thought Bachmann was the clear winner of the second and looked horrible last night. In fact, I’d go as far to say that it was one of the worst debate performances I’ve ever seen. Her bickering and sniping with Pawlenty was not useful, and really her best moment was when answering an absolutely ridiculous question by Byron York on whether she’d submit to her husband as President. The question obviously caught her off guard (as I think it did to us all), but she kept her cool, responded, made some nice key points about love, marriage, family, and children, and generally made York look like a doofus for even asking it. Bachmann has been polling well, but I believe it’s more because the “anybody but Romney” crowd has jumped on her bandwagon, not because she has much strong support. I think when Governor Rick Perry (R-TX) enters the race, and if former Governor Sarah Palin (R-AK) enters, she disappears.
I’ve said both of the last two times that I thought Palin, assuming she runs, was hurt by not being there. Last night was the opposite. For both her and Perry, it was good to not be there last night. They didn’t get pulled down into the mud, and will get the stage to themselves for a while this weekend.
I think in general the candidates all made two significant mistakes. None of them really went after Romney. I keep hammering on this. He is the perceived front runner. If you don’t go after the front runner, he will remain the front runner. Second, there was almost no mention of President Barack Obama (D-USA). Obama needs to be center stage at all of these debates. In fact, they should add an extra empty podium just for him. He’s the person all of these people are running against. They need to show his faults and make clear distinctions between what he’s done and what they would do.
The bottom line? The only candidate that was there last night that can win the GOP nomination was Mitt Romney. The others are wasting their time and ours. Our GOP nominee will be one of Romney, Perry, or Palin, and you can bet the farm on that.