Last night was the second debate in the race for the Republican nomination for president. And even though the perceived "frontrunners" were in attendance for the first time, the debate was missing an important voice because of an unreasonable exclusion of former New Mexico governor Gary Johnson.
I'll break down what I thought of each candidates (in no particular order) performance followed by an overall summation of the debate:
Rick Santorum: Came off as less brash or hawkish than the last debate, though still probably the most hawkish out of all the candidates on the night. He knows what constituents he is pandering to--the pro lifers, anti gay marriage, Islamaphobic, etc. crowd. Basically, he is going after the Huckabee constituency, which is generally made up of people who believe the government should dictate morals to those over whom it governs. He is a staunch supporter of states' rights, except when it comes to abortion or marriage. At least he's consistent in that respect. But to believe this guy is Tea Party when he was a part of the same Republican coalition that was rejected in '06 by the independents that switched over to the GOP in '10 is laughable. Last time I checked, there was nothing "small government" about voting in favor of a Medicare Prescription Drug Benefit. Thank goodness he can pass that off as a mistake now. Even though the question is then begged, if he made mistakes while in office before, why wouldn't he make some crucial ones as POTUS? Grade: D
Michelle Bachmann: Good performance, I believe. Not many better ways to kickoff a presidential campaign. From a subjective perspective, it was a little disconcerting to hear some of her policy stances. Going into this debate, I must admit that my knowledge of Bachmann's record was limited. For example, her support of a constitutional amendment to define marriage between a man and a woman illustrates to me that her concept of liberty is limited. While Ludwig von Mises (as per the article featured in the Wall Street Journal) may be one of her economic influences (which is great by the way), she is neglectful in extending Mises's, and similar economists', view of liberty even further. Also, it's quite easy now to declare Mises to be one of your influences but when your voting record shows otherwise (notably a vote in favor of TARP and a general 100% Bush voting record), then the truthfulness of her proclamation must be questioned. Another issue that I found irksome was her attacking Obamacare on the basis of its effects on Medicare. This is the major problem for Republicans on Obamacare. If you're going to disagree with it on its constitutionality, mainly the individual mandate, then stick with that. Don't argue that it's endangering one entitlement with another. Entitlements are altogether wrong so arguing that one entitlement is going to be damaged, which by itself isn't a bad thing, and therefore Obamacare should be repealed is fallacious and disingenuous. Grade: B
Newt Gingrich: I think the main focus for Newt going into this debate was damage control. With his blunder concerning the mild and timid Ryan plan a few weeks ago and mass exodus of political consultants last week, I think his main goal was to come off as the same, well spoken statesman that he has always been. In that respect, I believe he succeeded. When it came to addressing that very issue of dubbing Ryan's plan "right wing engineering," I thought he handled himself well by making the point that if the American people aren't with you, you should slow down and explain it better. It's a valid point. Doing otherwise results in a "We have to pass the bill so you can find out what is in it" mentality. Now, Republicans may not like to concede this moral and rational point, but it's a valid one nonetheless. Even a President Ron Paul would take the time to explain to the uneducated why the Departments of Education, Labor, Health and Human Services, etc. must be cut before doing so. Granted he would indeed do so, but he would first take time to explain his actions. I believe that is the same point Gingrich was making. The only real point he made that was probably off base was his apparent defense of Cain's Islamaphobic statement that he would have to test the loyalty of any potential Muslim who might work for him. His general point might have some validity, but the entire premise that you would be interviewing someone for a job who you don't know well enough to totally discount the possibility of him being a terrorist is a little troubling. On foreign policy, like the other establishment candidates, he sounded much more like an Old Right or Howard Taft Republican than the neoconservatives that dominated the debates four years ago. Grade: B-
Mitt Romney: I am not sure how he came out of this debate so unscathed. The amount of times RomneyCare was even mentioned was negligible. How many times were the words "individual mandate" even said? Maybe twice? That's unbelievable for a Republican primary in which the Tea Party will be playing a HUGE role. The entire foundation of the growth of the Tea Party was in opposition to Obamacare, which is founded on the individual mandate. So that was quite perplexing. That aside, I believe Romney handled himself well. On foreign policy he sounded quite different than he did four years ago. Could one imagine Romney saying four years ago next to McCain and Giuliani that we shouldn't be caught up in the civil wars or nation building of other countries? Probably not. When it came to the question as to when/if he would withdraw troops from Afghanistan/Iraq, he basically said he'd leave that up to the generals. Well, I would think he'd know that the entire reason why the executive branch was set up was so that it would act as a civilian counterbalance to the military generals who would otherwise be more likely to go to war. I guess further education in that respect is needed for Romney. Grade: B+
Tim Pawlenty: As if on queue, Pawlenty illustrated the exact lack of gumption I stated was the problem with his economic plan in my previous post. When pressed on his dubbing of "Obamneycare," he backed off and showed a complete lack of resilience in standing up to the attack on Romneycare, on which Obamacare was based. It can be seen as nothing more than a political stunt. I think Pawlenty wants to keep his options open. If he does badly in the early primaries and drops out, he probably wants to keep the possibility of presidential candidate Romney picking him as his Vice President available. An attack on Romneycare would lessen that possibility. Another big problem in his substance was his insistence on everyone knowing that he appointed "conservative" judges to the courts in Minnesota as governor. Oh, dear. Pawlenty should take notes out of the McCain playbook. While running for POTUS, McCain reiterated that he would have no litmus test for his judicial nominees. Now, what he meant by this wasn't that he was leaving open the possibility of nominating a pro choice judge but that positions that are perceived as "conservative" in the mainstream media, like the issue of abortion, are objective truth in the eyes of the law. So, by deeming judicial nominations as "conservative," Pawlenty is basically endorsing activist judges, just not the kind he doesn't like, and saying that his views on legal matters are ideologically grounded instead of legally objectively founded. Grade: F
Ron Paul: Did very well, as expected. Does he come across as "presidential?" Well, that depends on your definition of presidential. If your definition is one in which the person is right on every issue, straight talking but still intellectual, and consistent, then yes. But if your definition is one in which he's not right on every issue but talks well or "looks" like a president, even though his record doesn't match his rhetoric, then no. It's amazing what a difference four years makes. When asked about foreign policy and Paul derailed the failed Bush/neoconservative policies of the last decade, which has continued under Obama, there was almost nothing noteworthy about it as the other candidates accepted his argument civilly and even sounded as if they agreed with him to an extent. But four years ago, he couldn't make statements like the ones he made without being branded an "isolationist" or "appeaser" by hawks like McCain or Giuliani. Also, of note, is that Paul was seemingly the only candidate that understands that he would control the military not the other way around when it comes to withdrawing troops from overseas. Grade: A
Herman Cain: I don't know where to start. I never understood his jump in the polls before and if he doesn't go down to 0% after that performance then people are either (a) extremely disenfranchised or (b) duped by simple rhetoric that lacks substance. Cain supported TARP and chastised free market "purists" while doing so. His racist, Islamaphobic attitude is nothing short of appalling. And his complete lack of substance in foreign policy is startling. Are people really that easily swayed by comparisons of the economy to a car engine? Or are they just making a point in saying they'd rather have a nincompoop as president then the establishment types? Future polls will help make that determination. Grade: F
Verdict: A much more civil debate than I expected. Much more leeway given to Romney and his healthcare package. Much more civility in Paul's stance on foreign policy. The apparent morph from neoconservative foreign policy to more Old Right foreign policy is only a good thing. It's no wonder why Bill Kristol wants the imperial Marco Rubio to run for president; no other candidate seems to be the kind of jump-the-gun hawk that neocons like Kristol prefer.
Mitt Romney and Michelle Bachmann may have been the "winners" of the debate but it is quite clear that when it comes to constitutional stances on economics, foreign policy, and everything else, Ron Paul is winning the debate.