Advancing a Free Society

Debate Thoughts

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Wednesday night’s Republican presidential debate – “Your Money, Your Vote” – was advertised as two hours of talk (technically, 110 minutes, with commercial interruptions) solely on the economy.

That made sense, seeing as the latest candidates’ klatch was held in Michigan (Oakland University), the home of 11.1% unemployment and, conversely, the nation’s second-best economic record based on a decline of only 7.4% since 2008, according to the Bloomberg Economic Evaluation of the States (you can click here to download the report).

This marked the GOP’s 10th such get-together of the still-young political season (actually, there have been 11 events if you include Saturday’s Cain/Gingrich “Lincoln-Douglas” debate – here’s a link to all 17-plus hours of Republican debate fun).

Incredibly, there’s another debate scheduled for this Saturday, at Wofford College in Spartanburg, S.C. (topics: foreign policy/national defense).

After that, the candidates face off in Des Moines on Nov. 19 (a two-hour “family discussion”), the nation’s capital on Nov. 22 (same topics as Wofford), then three more assemblies in December before anyone actually goes to the polls to start winnowing the field.

And when the calendar flips over to 2012: seven more Republican presidential debates are tentatively scheduled for the first 53 days of the new year (plus two more in March, if there are enough candidates left by then to constitute a debate quorum).


As for what transpired Wednesday evening in Rochester Hills, Michigan:

  1. How Romney Piloted Auto. Mitt Romney was raised in Bloomfield Hills, a 20-minute drive southwest from the debate site. His father was a Michigan governor and CEO of American Motors; the son kicked off his 2008 presidential campaign in Dearborn. Talk about a natural “in”. But if Romney winds up as the GOP nominee, he faces a challenge in Michigan (a comfortable Obama win in 2008; a narrow Kerry win in 2004). Before the debate, Democrats released an ad blasting Romney for opposing the bailout of GM and Chrysler (here’s the candidate’s New York Times op-ed). How did Romney approach the topic on Wednesday night? He didn’t seek wriggle room out of his earlier stance. That bodes well for his long-term prospects.
  2. Attack Dogs or Herman’s Hermits? Let’s say you’re in the back of the Republican pack. Because you’re starving for attention, do you a take a bite out of Herman Cain, knowing that your assault will be splayed across the cable new channels? Jon Huntsman did so, three days before the debate. But a national stage and a Republican audience are different animals. Given the opportunity to say he’d fire Cain for the alleged behavior, Romney didn’t take the bait (smart politics – though he should have turned the question on the media Gingrich-like). Though in the middle of the stage, Cain wasn’t much of a presence in this debate. More on that below.
  3. Aye, Newt? Which brings us to the concept of a new non-Romney surge by someone all but written off earlier this summer. First Michele Bachmann, then Rick Perry, and then Herman Cain. Why not Newt Gingrich’s turn to shine in the spotlight (granted, that spotlight seems to have the lifespan of a flickering 10-watt bulb)? The former Speaker’s stock is up, literally, in Iowa. Pundits like Dorothy Rabinowitz think he has a legitimate shot at the nomination. And each debate brings a convenient media foil – in this one, CNBC’s Maria Bartiromo, who for repeatedly found herself trapped in test exchanged with Gingrich. If Gingrich managed a top-three finish in Iowa and is still a factor at the end of January, he has these debates to thank for reanimating his campaign.

Final thoughts:

  1. It took all of five minutes and the second question of the night for CNBC’s John Harwood to stray from the economy-only script and ask Romney about his core credibility with core Republicans – and not long after that, questions about the Cain allegations. This is why the political media rankle: the World Series is long over; reporters still want to engage in insider baseball.
  2. I’d pay good money for a couple of hours of the hypertensive Jim Cramer squaring off against the quizzical Ron Paul or the circumlogical Cain. The over-under on Cramer’s head exploding: 10 minutes.
  3. Winners: Romney, for sounding the most reasonable and realistic; Gingrich, who’d be the next Republican nominee if this were a moot-court competition, not a popular vote; all participants, for easing off the personal attacks. Losers: Cain, whose “9-9-9 plan” was absent most of the night; Perry, who couldn’t think of all three federal agencies he’d like to abolish (he was “reaching for” the Department of Energy, he later told us); CNBC’s moderators, for not pushing back at Gingrich’s media-bullying tactics.

Ten debates down.

Another 15 to go?

(photo credit: This Year's Love)