Thursday, September 8, 2011

Opinion: The MSNBC Republican Debate

I recorded the Republican candidates’ debate last night at the Ronald Reagan Library and was able to give it one run-through before departing for other pastures.  My thoughts on the performances:

Does it seem ironic to you that MSNBC, associated with such luminaries as Keith Olbermann and Chris Matthews, is hosting an event at the Reagan Library?  Isn’t that like al Jazeera moderating a conference of the College of Cardinals?  Moderators Brian Williams of NBC and John Harris of Politico were particularly focused on getting some news grist-for-the-mill friction between the candidates, and immediately bore down on the new and sudden front-runner Rick Perry.  Williams was as smooth as you would expect him to be but was clearly a creature of the liberal network, strangely abjuring questions that dealt with the economy or foreign affairs in favour of ones that would more likely have the candidates mix it up.  A telling moment for me was when he became annoyed at the audience’s positive reaction to the subject of capital punishment, and repeated the question to Perry as if he couldn’t believe the first answer.  Harris was more aggressive and challenging, clearly focused on Perry throughout, and even appealed to the other candidates, each in turn, to take on Perry and Romney as well.  He questioned Perry about the low rate of health care coverage in Texas but ended it with a declaration that it was indefensible.

The debate pointed out more clearly that the contest is quickly becoming a race between Romney and Perry.  Perry’s first time at bat was a good performance, no flubs or gaffes that I’m sure many people were hoping for, but could have been somewhat more polished.  This is likely due to the fact that he has been distracted by the devastating wildfires sweeping through Texas, and I expect that his true style will quickly emerge once he picks up the rhythm as the others have before him.  He remained true to form in maintaining a gentlemanly respect for the candidates, not opening an attack against anyone, but ready with a sharp counter-attack once someone tried to take him on, such as his retort that Dukakis created more jobs in Massachusetts than Romney.  His answers were more halting in defending health care and education in Texas, but I expect that is a one-off.  He did make a good point about how well minority students did in Texas, contrasting them with students in forced-union states that spend more on education budgets.  His best performance came with his defence of capital punishment, his explanation of the HPV inoculation controversy, his characterisation of Social Security as a Ponzi scheme, and his defence of the frontier with Mexico despite the intransigence of Obama.  He deflected the use of his book as an attack device by saying that we should pass up the historical analysis in favour of ideas that can fix the problems.

Romney was as smooth as ever, perhaps smoother.  He clearly has a relaxed and commanding performance on stage and he is well rehearsed.  He looks and acts like a president (sometimes eerily so – he often comes across as a Stepford candidate) and he delivered some adequate points.  His defence of his Romneycare is progressing nicely, but he still can’t explain it away, and it will continue to haunt him.  He dodged the bullet on his support of the idea of man-made global warming.  His plan appears to be to maintain his position and hope that Perry trips up.  He repeated his veiled reference to “career politicians” (i.e., primarily Perry), and avoided the riposte that if Perry can be so successful as governor, then the idea of a career politician probably isn’t so bad.  Romney is a one-term governor, and is not therefore a career politician, but it’s not from lack of trying, having failed in a senate run in 1994 and pulling out in the presidential run in 2008.

As for the rest of the panel, we saw lack-luster performances from Santorum and Bachmann, but Santorum was at his best in speaking of his role in welfare reform.  Paul repeated his role as the crazy uncle in the attic, though he wasn’t as over-the-top as he was the last time when he was practically shouting his answer about the possibility of Iranian nuclear weapons: “Who cares?!”

Gingrich turned in a sterling performance in reprising his role as the scourge of the moderators, scolding Harris for trying to turn the candidates against each other.  But he was also funny and comfortable too, emphasising his support of the Reagan tax cuts and declaring that we should return to more stringent citizenship tests for immigrants seeking to be naturalized, particularly teaching them American history, and, while we’re at it, we should return to teaching our history American children too.

Hunstman turned in his best performance to date, reminding us that he had a successful jobs creation history in Utah (though I’m not sure to what extent he can claim credit), and he is the best able to confront the looming problem of China, having been ambassador, and he can do it in Mandarin.

Cain was perhaps the most entertaining and enjoyable to watch, and brought sound and significant ideas to the table, including his 9-9-9 plan for revenue reform (reduce income tax to 9%; reduce corporate tax to 9%; initiate a 9% VAT or national sales tax), and his idea to adopt the plan that Chile used so successfully to reform their social security system.

1 comment:

  1. Love the alJazeera/College of Cardinals quip. Agree that Cain was the most entertaining, and that his taxation and National Income Retirement plans (based on that currently in use in Chile) both make a lot of sense. Doubt he will secure the nomination, but would love to see him as an Economic Advisor. I would have said Secretary of Commerce, but I would also like to see most of that department; NOAA being the only element salvageable.


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