Unite for Freedom
Tonight's debate came at a pivotal moment as the candidates vying to become the Republican challenger to Barack Obama in 2012 fought to keep ground and in some cases remain relevant. For the first time in the cycle, the candidates stepped up to the mic and bluntly called out their competitors. Unlike the horrendously boring love-ins that proceeded it, this debate was fun to watch and relatively informative, at least in regards to the character of the candidates themselves. We learned that Michele Bachmann is capable of sticking up for herself and didn't crumble when put under pressure from Pawlenty who, as was painfully clear during his altercation with Bachmann, isn't much more clever or factual than the average 8th grader when on the offensive. We also learned that Gingrich, while discredited as a serious contender by every bastion of sanity in the media, has an effective message and hasn't given up pushing it. Otherwise, we've learned that Jon Huntsman is proud of his record and that, after roughly an hour into the debate, that Rick Santorum was in attendance. The breakdown:
Regardless of what you think about Mitt Romney, one must give credit where credit is due. No one avoids criticism like Romney. Aside from a half-hearted, tepid jab from Pawlenty on "Obamneycare" and the size of his yard, the front runner emerged from the discussion virtually unscathed. Romney managed to get away with letting the other candidates beat on each other whilst saying virtually nothing. From the perspective of being a front runner, this is certainly something that he can mark down as a victory.
It's been a rough campaign for Gingrich. Going into tonight, his campaign was bleeding staffers and he was by and large the most unpopular Republican on stage. However, Gingrich channeled his frustration and unleashed it on two easy targets: congress and the media. He bluntly deflected questions regarding his campaign 'shake-ups' (to use a gentle term) reiterating that he is running on ideas and accusing the FOX moderators of deploying "gotcha" questions in order to distract viewers from the issues on hand. He also came out strongly against the debt ceiling "super committee" calling it "as dumb an idea as any Washington has ever come up with". Both of these points drew much deserved applause. Romney may have won the debate in terms of political savvy, but Gingrich unquestionably won in spirit and there wasn't a candidate on the stage tonight that more desperately needed a victory, if only even of a moral nature. For better or worse, Gingrich 2012 is still alive.
What Bachmann showed tonight is that she's stronger and more quick witted than people give her credit for. Throughout the night, she was confronted with criticism's from both Pawlenty and Santorum, but managed to come out classy and collected in all regards. This is important because Bachmann battles with a media created image that she is mentally unstable and not of a proper personality for the Presidency. The more eloquent and collected she remains under pressure, the harder this image is to drive into people's minds and thus far, Bachmann has done a magnificent job of proving that she can at least act and sound Presidential.
Yes, he was there and I think it was a shame that he was neglected for most of the debate. Rick Santorum is a well spoken guy with strong conservative principles and an unshakable integrity. Unfortunately, tonight may have been the curtain call on his campaign. He's been working hard in Iowa and there's no telling how well he will do in Ames, or even the caucus, but I think it's fair to say that the moderators gave Santorum the shaft tonight, at a time that his campaign was in desperate need of standing out. For what it's worth, he was the only candidate to come out in support of cutting the corporate tax to 0%.
As usual, Cain came out with a blunt and to the point conservative-populist message, getting in the line: "America needs to learn how to take a joke!", also exclaiming to applause that if businesses chose to pay higher dividends to their share holders with the additional capital generated by a removal of the tax on repatriated earnings rather than create jobs with it, that it's okay because "it's their money!". As a conservative, its reassuring to hear someone treat the idea of letting all people, rich and poor, have the freedom to do as they please with their money. Cain is definitely the candidate most strongly selling the pro-growth agenda, and for that he should be commended and praised.
"I stand by my record. I'm proud of my record.", this is more or less all that Huntsman managed to say in two hours. Perhaps I'm being harsh, but Huntsman's performance tonight was a vague, uninspiring, train wreck. The reality for Huntsman should be clear at this point, which is that he is a thousand miles away from what Republican voters want and a million miles away from what the Republican Party needs.
As one would expect at a college campus, the Ron Paul supporters were present and verbally accounted for. His mantra was typical (America needs to "mind its own business" in regards to Iran, return to the gold standard, support state's rights, etc). While I strongly disagree with him in regards to Iran, I enjoy having Ron Paul in the debates. He always serves as a conservative time keeper of sorts. In a way, his mere presence pushes the envelope on just how far the mainstream candidates will take conservative principles. This is something to admire and appreciate.
If Huntsman was a train wreck, Tim Pawlenty was a plane crash. Pawlenty was simply outclassed in every area this evening, at one point even eliciting groans from the audience. His comments were snotty and immature, at one point he blamed Bachmann for the passage of TARP, Obamacare, and the stimulus by suggesting that she was ineffectively leading the fight against these things in congress, concluding this deluded dialogue by saying “If that’s your view of effective leadership with results, please stop, because you’re killing us.”. In terms of policy, it was all awkward vagaries from that point forward. He made a weak jab at Romney regarding the connection between Romneycare and Obamacare. At the end of the night, Pawlenty looked petty and nervous and, above all else, unpresidential.