Thursday, January 19, 2012
And then there were four: Newt, Mitt, Rick & Ron go at it again, this time for most, if not all, of the marbles.
FIRST BREAK: things are pretty heated between the four. Everyone's voice seems to be keyed up just a touch, especially Santorum who is really going at both Gingrich and Romney. He's doing a great job selling himself as the "true" conservative but Gingrich and Romney both overshadow him in personality and in - how should I put this - their sense of Destiny. Paul is almost a spectator, not a participant, but I'll bet he will be the last one of the three remaining to drop out.
SECOND BREAK: Newt: "you're right (Rick) I am grandiose. This is a grandiose country." Rick responds by b*tching about Newt not yelling loud enough about the House bank scandal. Newt's really laying out his history as an insurgent and a planner with the long view. Great stuff. Now Mitt's talking about his private sector experience, especially about DC's tendency for taking credit for job creation: great line - "I never spent one day thinking 'Thank God for Washington.'" Romney also does well on the tax return issue, essentially saying I'm not going to do anything just to play along with Democrat class warfare nonsense.
SOPA & PIPA get kicked around a bit. Newt and Mitt both criticize the bill. Ron says he was the first Republican to oppose it and makes a pitch about needing a civil libertarian who can work with coalitions. Santorum says, sure the bill is bad, but we need something to protect against piracy, and then says "where did this idea that everything on the internet must be free come from?"
Everyone's been really on-point, and on fire in this segment. No f*ck-ups or stumbles, although Romney ended a long point by asking "what was the question, again?" Luckily, John King couldn't remember either. Even Ron Paul has been quick and to the point.
THIRD BREAK: this is one of those debates with questions from the audience. Unlike past debates which featured plants, snowmen, and gay soldiers, these questioners look like actual Republican voters. Questions relate to repealing Obamacare, dealing with illegal immigration, and other topics of actual interest. The immigration question sends Newt off on his five bullet points, plus another pitch for local boards to decide on whether a 25-year illegal can stay in the country. Like the janitors, he's put a lot of thought into this.
Great sequence on the pro-life question. Newt accuses Romneycare of paying for abortions. Romney draws himself up and mutters about people questioning his integrity, says abortion isn't mentioned in the bill. Santorum brings down the house when he points out that "health care" is always interpreted by the courts to include abortion, and Romneycare makes no effort to carve out an exception. Romney responds with a list of pro-choice legislation he vetoed.
Note: when CNN tries to move on the crowd begins chanting "Paul! Paul!" Appreciative chuckles from "our constitutionalist" who offers his medical history and then makes a call to change morality, not laws. Still, Paul's pro-life credentials are solid, something that is an underreported aspect of his appeal. He also effectively slaps down Santorum, who chides Paul for voting against pro-life legislation. Paul: "I think abortion is murder, and laws against murder are a matter of state law, not federal." These two are actually fighting each other harder than the others are fighting amongst themselves. And Paul, all 100 lbs. and 75 years of him, is getting the better of the exchange.
FINAL THOUGHTS: I don't mean to be insulting, especially after the graceful manner in which he bowed out of the race, but Rick Perry's absence from the debate really raised the tone of the proceedings. I thought all four candidates performed at a high level, although no one quite achieved the instant iconic status that Newt managed last Monday.
Mitt Romney showed a lot more fire and energy tonight compared to Monday night when he seemed besieged. His promise to "shove capitalism down Barack Obama's throat" was about as much red meat as you're ever going to get from him, but it was a good line. He was most effective in defending his business experience, which makes me think that his Bain record is not going to be the giant killer of liberal imaginations.
Newt Gingrich had another great night, kicking things off with a blunt "No" when asked if he would like to discuss his ex-wife's appearance on ABC News. He defended himself and his career as ably as anyone could (and, frankly, no one else is going to help him to do so). You have to love Gingrich's confidence and larger-than-life persona. He hasn't won anything yet (and has been running behind Santorum) yet everyone is acting like this is a Romey-Gingrich contest.
Rick Santorum has run a fantastic campaign, given his limited resources, and if this were 1996 or 2000 he would be running away with it. No one else has as consistent a record as a conservative. More important, no one else has been simultaneously appealing to social cons, fiscal cons, and security hawks. His only problem is no one can quite imagine his being the nominee, let alone becoming president.
Ron Paul was as effective in debate as I have ever seen him, no doubt because none of the questions focused on national security matters. Not that this stopped him from repeatedly saying we should stop fighting "all these wars." He repeatedly got the best of Santorum, who was riding Paul all night. He even showed a rare human side, saying his one regret was he lacks the speaking skills to be a truly effective advocate for his cause. (yes, and you might also want to tone down the "we should have arrested Bin Laden" stuff) I also liked when he said he wouldn't release his tax returns because he would be too embarrassed when everyone saw how little he made as compared to Newt and Mitt.
It goes without saying that, for all the complaining about the weak field, that these four put on a tremendous performance, forcefully advocating Republican and conservative positions of one degree or another. Ron Paul has been derided as "crazy." Both Gingrich and Santorum have been called "extreme" at various points in their careers. Romney is, of course, a member of the Evil Rich. But, honestly, I don't see how anyone could watch their presentations and conclude that they were part of some kooky fringe. Each of them, in their way, were advocating for free markets, free people, the rule of law, fiscal responsibility, and above all respect for the Constitution. It's heartening to think that such values will have a strong advocate no matter who wins the nomination (all four of these guys are ready). But, it's depressing to think how hard they'll have to work to beat the Democrats who oppose everything we hold dear.