At this point in the GOP nomination process, the debates are mostly irrelevant and tend to feature all of the candidates presenting themselves as the opposite of the current administration. Tonight was no different. There was very little learned about the stances of any of the potential nominees, but here are my thoughts on a few of the candidates, and the discussions that occurred tonight:
First, Mitt Romney is crushing Rick Perry head to head. In the three debates in which Perry has participated, he has come off as less conservative than he was expected to be and very inconsistent in his explanations of his record as Texas governor. Romney is still trying to defend RomneyCare as a positive for the state, but has partially deflected criticism with the HPV mandate and illegal immigration. My prediction is that of the two, Perry will drop out before Romney.
Second, Rick Santorum has gone on offense and has, in my opinion, gained the most from these debates. The pundits say he cannot win the nomination, and it is true that he has a lot of ground to make up, but Santorum has been articulate, consistent, and very unafraid of taking on the front runners. I don’t see him being around by Super Tuesday, but keep your eye on him in future election cycles.
Third, Michele Bachmann, Jon Huntsman, Gary Johnson, and Newt Gingrich were all non-factors tonight, all for different reasons. I think Bachmann did herself irreparable harm with the comments about the HPV vaccine following the last debate. While she is a solid conservative in just a few years as a Congresswoman, the presidential race is not hers, at least for now. Jon Huntsman is not as articulate as Romney and will go nowhere as long he (Romney) is in the race. Newt’s problem is that he has been in government too long and has endorsed some questionable policies (environmental and health care, for example). Speaker Gingrich may have been a good nominee in almost any other election year, but not 2012. Gary Johnson, honestly, was lucky to be in the debate, so had nothing to lose. Still, I don’t think many more people are going to know who he is tomorrow compared to today. His claims to balance the budget and veto bills are nice, but realistically, he won’t get the chance to do either.
Fourth, Herman Cain is like the fan favorite on the football team who isn’t as talented as the blue chip, but outworks everyone. All of his ideas and positions are solid, he doesn’t make mistakes, and if only he had the political experience as some of the other candidates, we wonder what could have been. Two things are hurting Herman Cain the most: first, he was completely unknown to most Americans before these debates began, and second, he supported TARP. He does deserve kudos for his wit and his air of comfort. But for his campaign to go anywhere, he will have to engage in some pretty innovative marketing, which will cost a lot of money.
Finally, Ron Paul managed to refrain from committing suicide tonight, unlike in the Tea Party debate. He spoke eloquently of freedom and responsibility and had, I believe, the best line of the night. Concerning abortion and the morning after pill, Paul said that only the character of the people will solve that problem. While Ron Paul has plenty to like about him, his positions on foreign policy are inexcusable, and have cost him the slim chance he ever had to win the nomination.
Overall, I am encouraged by all of their stated intentions to shrink government, empower individuals, and return to the Constitution. The fact that we are having this discussion shows how far we have come from the fear that so many conservatives had about our country just a few years ago. The candidates on stage tonight were articulating views heard around the country. They can now feel confident talking about limited government, instead of trying to meekly defend it. We, the people who have spoken up against big government, have given them that power, and if we continue, it will be morning in America for a long time.