I’ve returned this morning to watch the debates from last night, and to post my impressions.
The first major target of the evening, while still coming out of the starting blocks, was Herman Cain (the front-runner de jour) and his 9-9-9 plan. A good portion of the comments were from all of the candidates who are starting to take a serious look at the plan, and while they have their parochial motives, they are nevertheless finding some questions that need to be answered. Anything of that sweeping magnitude would have to have some major vetting. Cain maintained his composure but he was clearly on the defensive. His answers were constrained by the time element of the debate, but he was struck between two inadequate responses: 1) “read the analysis” (I suspect their staffs have been doing that too, Herman), and 2) “apples and oranges”, which he kept repeating as some sort of defensive incantation. Mitt Romney’s direct questioning of Cain was particularly effective. Cain later lost some major points in trying to explain away his comments about whether (or not?) he would negotiate with terrorists over a hypothetical captured American soldier (a la Netanyahu and Galit). This again exposed his seriously weak spot in foreign policy.
The other major target of the evening, finally, was Romney. His main antagonists were Santorum, Perry, and Gingrich, with Santorum leading off the interrogation. (Well, maybe that’s not the best term, because ‘interrogation’ implies an ability of the target to occasionally respond.) Santorum is a bright guy and is doing a fairly good job of sealing off the social conservative angle for himself, but he was again entirely too combative with his verbal virtual feeding frenzy in going after Romney, effectively preventing an answer due to the sheer volume of the argument, then declaring that Romney’s time was up. Gentler souls must conclude that Santorum has the mean streak of a bully – he must moderate that tendency lest he lose whatever support he still has.
Gingrich landed an early hit on Romneycare with his current example of a small business being fined $3000 for having an insurance policy that the state bureaucrats felt was inadequate, despite insufficient guidelines, but Romney was able to link Gingrich to mandates during the tussle over Hillarycare. A point for both, but it isn’t often that somebody scores on Gingrich. Cooper invited Gingrich to follow up on his comments from the last debate about Romney’s $200,000 limit on cutting capital gains taxes, but he missed the opportunity. He could have skillfully pointed out that limiting a break to those who earn less than $200K gives Romney the advantage of claiming that he addressed the problem, when in reality these people typically earn no capital gains, thus it is a political manoeuvre that has no real meaning.
As for Perry, this was his best showing so far in the debates since he joined the race. He has taken a page from Newt Gingrich’s book of style by giving answers that will best benefit him, exemplified by the exchange between him and Anderson Cooper later in the evening when Cooper tried to have him adhere more precisely to the question at hand, and Perry replied “You get to ask the questions. I get to answer them like I want to.” (The style hasn’t been limited to Gingrich, and the wandering answers have been used by them all.) Perry was clearly loaded for bear and looking for an opening, showing a steady progress from his early slow start in the debating arena, and he knows that he has some lost ground to make up. He did a good job of that last night.
Perry struck hard at Romney with the resuscitated story of Romney’s illegal alien groundskeepers at his Belmont estate. The story was thought to have been forgotten to death during the last presidential run for Romney in 2008, but it wasn’t sufficiently finished in the minds of many. While some questions may linger there, Romney’s answer (after expressing ignorance of the topic – hard to believe) included his appeal to his supervisor of the crew to make the problem go away because “Hey, I’m running for office for Pete’s sake.” While Perry’s earlier statement that he can’t be bought for $5000 was inelegantly phrased, Romney’s has the ring of political window-dressing.
Romney’s riposte was to bring up – again – the canard that Pastor Jeffress included the charge that Romney’s Mormonism is a cult while introducing Perry at an earlier event, whereupon Perry praised the introduction. It has been clearly established that the charge is not true, even to the point that Anderson Cooper again explained, mere seconds before, that Jeffress’ comment was made after the speech, in a conversation with a reporter. Perry clearly stated that he disagreed with Jeffress once he was told of the remark. Nevertheless, Romney made the same accusation with a move, Al Sharpton-like, to have Perry continue to disparage the remark and apologise more deeply for something with which he had nothing to do. Perry did not fall into that trap and he repeated his disagreement with Jeffress’ views. Romney diminishes himself by trying to play the victim of religious persecution.
Bachmann made no mistakes with her points, but her style is becoming increasingly grating. Several times she attempted to join the fray and you could hear her off-camera trying to get Cooper’s attention, with, “Anderson! Anderson!” You could easily visualise her with her hand raised, jumping up and down in place. Her appeal to mothers at the end appeared rehearsed and manipulative, excluding men from worries about jobs and housing. Finally, unless she is focused, she has a whiny tone to her voice that nonetheless creeps in far too often, and her few standard lines are becoming stale. I cannot imagine that her numbers are going to improve.
Ron Paul continued to be his usual crotchety self, starting off down the path of a reasoned argument before crashing into the ditch of barely-controlled paranoia.
Winners? No one really, but Perry showed some marked improvement. Losers? No one, but Cain and Romney took some hits.