I made a semi-serious New Year’s Resolution not to discuss or even read about the presidential campaign until Labor Day. I didn’t quite live up to that resolution, but I have managed to steer clear of the discussion far more than I would have thought possible. So tonight was the first of the presidential debates that I have seen. Below are my thoughts on how each of the candidates fared.
One general comment: the debate moderators were horrendous. It seemed that about half of the questions were addressed to Rick Perry, and just about less than half to Mitt Romney. In fact the first ten minutes were essentially just a sparring match between the two. The most embarrassing part of the evening was when they trotted out a newscaster from Telemundo just to ask a question about immigration. Just awful.
Newt Gingrich: I just can’t quit you. Seriously, Newt tonight reminded me why I so admired him over a decade ago. His responses were eloquent, he was forceful, and he was simply spot on when it came to policy. His admonition to the moderators that this shouldn’t be an attempt to have Republicans squabbling was impressive though a bit forced as well. Still, I have to give the man credit for an impressive performance.
Mitt Romney: He’s a good debater. That’s all there is to it. He didn’t stumble, nor did he make any particular insightful comments. However, his disgusting bit of demagoguery on the social security issue – where he essentially implied that Rick Perry was going to crawl into senior’s bedrooms and steal their social security checks – was reprehensible. His adviser continuing to attack after the debate only adds fuel to the fire. I’ve never been one to suggest that I wouldn’t vote for Mitt were he the nominee, but things like this force me to reconsider.
Rick Perry: He stumbled badly on the global warming question – not that he was wrong, he just responded poorly. He also stumbled on a few other questions, but generally was able to recover quickly. Oddly enough his best answer came on an issue where he was supposed to be at his weakest: immigration. Not a strong performance by any measure, but nothing that will do irreparable harm.
Rick Santorum: I have to admit I was mildly disappointed with Santorum. As I said I haven’t seen the other debates, but I’ve heard highlights of Santorum’s responses, and he’s been good. He wasn’t as strong here, though he still gave good responses on the few questions where he was allowed to actually talk. His response to Brian Williams’ “You’re a Catholic but also a Republican, so why do you hate the poor?” question was as good a response as I’ve ever seen. His categorization of opponents of the Libyan escapade as isolationists was one of the low points of the debate, however.
Michelle Bachmann: I have been critical of her before, and had very low expectations. I have to admit she was pretty good. She expressed a lot more detailed knowledge of the issues than I’d come to expect of her, and she offered more than platitudes. A good showing.
Jon Hunstman: Zzzzzzz. Oh I’m sorry, I nodded off there. For the guy who’s been painted as the smartest guy in the room he was actually the vaguest and least substantial of the candidates on the stage. He offered nothing but platitudes – seriously, Michelle Bachmann offered more substance than Hunstman. This has nothing to do with ideology. He was simply a bore, and a bore with nothing to say.
Herman Cain: I’ve also been very critical for some of the remarks that Cain has made in the past, but he was very good tonight. In fact he may have been the most impressive person on that stage other than Gingrich. He displayed much greater understanding of the issues than he has in the past, and most of ideas were common sensical. A pleasant surprise.
Ron Paul: He turned the immigration discussion into an attack on the war on drugs. Okay. He then suggested that the proposed border fence was a way to keep Americans in – you know, just in case we all had a hankering to run south of the border in case we wanted to improve our lot in life. No, seriously, he said that. And he meant it. As more than one commenter (including my wife) has suggested, he’s the crazy uncle you have to endure at Thanksgiving dinner.
All in all, I think most of the candidates did very well.