The Fox/Google Republican debate was held in Florida Thursday night and it turns out Gary Johnson is still running for President. Yes, the New Mexico governor is far more notable for his stance on legalizing marijuana than his Presidential aspirations – a fact his team should probably have noted before they allowed him to appear on television in a patterned tie that displayed psychedelic effects under the glare of the cameras. Gary Johnson doesn’t seem like a bad guy. He seems sort of smart. But also, kind of high. His lazy speech and obvious nerves gave the impression of a buttoned-up, paranoid stoner. His stance on education was appropriately Republican and Johnson has an attractive air of sincerity about him. But also, he may have been high.
The debate threatened to be the Romney/Perry show in the beginning as the Fox moderators devoted ample time to spirited back and forth between the two candidates. Thankfully they moved on after about 30 minutes and were able to provide quite a generous amount of time to most of the other candidates from that point on.
Rick Perry looked tired. His wrinkles seemed deeper and he even looked smaller in his high collared shirt and long suit jacket. He didn’t seem like he really wanted to be there at that debate. He stammered at times and began to repeat himself, especially on health care. His foreign policy answer was a bit drawn out and difficult to follow. It almost seemed as if he lost his place at one point. Perhaps he is still smarting from his collapse in the second half of the last Republican debate. Where Perry was the strongest, as usual, was on states’ rights. Perry even skillfully turned a question about his rumored rift with George W. Bush into a monologue on his strong support of states’ rights. It was his strongest moment in an otherwise lackluster performance. Perhaps the only other bright spot for Perry came when he defended his stance on the Texas “Dream Act”, refusing to back down from his obviously unpopular (among conservatives, at least) view. The crowd seemed to appreciate that and offered applause.
Romney had strongest showing yet. He may have been emboldened by Perry’s poor performance in the last debate. He was well rehearsed, but loose. Romney gave the best explanation of Romneycare he has offered to date, touting it as a states’ rights issue and breaking it down against Obamacare. It may not be enough to erase the blemish, but it was a solid explanation and he made sure to assert that Obamacare is bad law and should be repealed. Romney stopped short of guaranteeing a repeal, but he did guarantee waivers to all 50 states immediately. Romney is hitting his stride and beginning to sound like he’s laying out a general election platform. I didn’t even notice his hair tonight, so that says a lot.
Herman Cain garnered the most touching moment of the debate when Chris Wallace alluded to Cain’s recovery from cancer. The audience offered a long, heartfelt applause to the man who had survived Stage IV colon and liver cancer. Cain’s big, genuine grin as he thanked the crowd actually put a little lump in my throat. You go, Herman! Cancer is stupid and I’m glad you kicked it’s ass. Cain had another strong showing, although it is quite obvious that he remains weakest on foreign policy. He did try his best to let everyone know that he has a clear vision on Israel, and wants America to be as clear as possible when making it clear to other nations that we clearly stand behind our clear allies. Clearly, Cain is still searching too much when it comes to foreign policy questions, but he is so strong on other issues, he seems able to make up for that shortcoming. Cain took every opportunity to mention his 9-9-9 plan, as he has been doing consistently over the last few debates. The plan is perhaps his greatest policy strength at the moment.
Michele Bachmann looked solid, but seemed to shy away from directly attacking Perry, which many expected her to do tonight. The upcoming Florida straw poll will determine whether or not that was the right thing to do. While she made sure to highlight her strong conservative values, she may have made a fatal mistake by choosing not to aggressively attack what many see as her biggest obstacle right now – Rick Perry .
Jon Huntsman was able to sound almost human in this debate. Perhaps it was the amount of time he had to speak. Thursday’s debate was the most time he has been given in a debate thus far. Mentioning that he feels his family of seven children has been like a “clinical trial” at points did nothing to dispel me of the suspicion that Huntsman is actually very sophisticated alien technology. But his daughter has juvenile diabetes so you see, he’s human. Huntsman did seem the most animated he’s been through this whole process. The only problem with Huntsman is that, no matter how human he seems, he’s still Jon Huntsman. It will be hard for him to overcome…himself.
It was another strong showing for Newt Gingrich. In this debate Newt came off less as “cranky Uncle Newt at family Thanksgiving” and more like “Jovial, witty Grandpa at Christmas time”. He actually seemed warm at points, and even stirred up a few laughs. As usual his answers were biting, provoking and intelligent. His only low point in this debate is that he kept reminding viewers how old he was, and how he is such a part of the past in this country. His goal was to highlight his history and his experience, but it came off as reminder that he is perhaps too connected to the “old” politics, and this is the “tea party” era. It was another great performance for ultimate cabinet pick Newt Gingrich.
Honestly- and I’m being completely serious- I forgot Gary Johnson was even there until someone asked him a foreign policy question. So, it turns out he was actually there, and his answer was quite logical and intelligent. Also, he may have been high.
Rick Santorum debated with the passion and sincerity of a man who seems like he knows he has nothing to lose. Santorum was straightforward, passionate and very engaged. Much to the delight of the audience he stood clearly and strongly against the repeal of DADT, Obama’s attitude toward Israel, and benefits for illegal immigrants. It seems unlikely that Santorum can win this nomination, but he hasn’t yet proven that he will lose it either. He has made quite an impressive comeback during the two most recent debates and it will be interesting to see if he can maintain this momentum.
Ron Paul has clearly been through all of this before. He speaks like a man who knows his platform by heart, and is inherently comfortable with it. His answers were true to the libertarian position and as usual, the Paul fans were rolling deep in the debate hall. Paul’s best moment may have come when he was asked to expound on his (somewhat) bizarre statement regarding a border fence working to keep Americans in rather than simply keeping illegal immigrants out. Wallace asked Paul if he noticed many Americans rushing to take their money and leave the country. It could have turned into another tin-foil hat moment for Paul but instead he turned it into a chance to explain that indeed, many Americans are taking their money and investing elsewhere because of stifling government regulation and taxes. It was a skilled turn-around, but then he went on to talk about data banks and tracking illegals meaning every body will be put in data banks one day (pssst…Google already does that. That battle has been lost). Ron Paul proved why he’s lost two previous Presidential bids – Ron Paul is simply too libertarian for the Republican Party, and nowhere does that show more than his foreign policy opinions.
The closing question wasn’t the worst “fluff” question we’ve seen to date (that honor would be reserved for CNN’s “This or That”) – Who would you choose from this stage to be your running mate? Newt refused to play the game, as usual, but did so with a rare showing of light-heartedness. Relatively speaking, of course.
Bachmann declined to pick one opponent as well, instead taking the opportunity to speak directly to conservative voters and highlighting her qualities as a strong, true conservative candidate. Bachmann obviously knows her base.
Perry wanted to mash Gingrich and Cain together in some bizarre, sicko, The Fly-ish experiment. Well, he really just wanted to combine their personalities, but Romney rightly pointed out that it was a disturbing image, nonetheless.
Romney refused to answer either, but used the time to remind viewers that the real objective is to defeat Obama, and he would be just the man to do that – LAYING OUT HIS GENERAL ELECTION PLATFORM.
Gary Johnson, who really doesn’t seem like such a bad guy, chose Ron Paul. So…there’s that. Also, he said his neighbor’s dog made more shovel ready jobs than Obama had, which was a DIRECT ripoff of a joke Rush Limbaugh told earlier that day. I happened to be listening to Rush on Thursday afternoon when he joked that his new puppy had created more shovel ready jobs than Obama. Maybe Johnson just forgot where he heard it originally and thought he could get away with the joke as his own. Because he was high.
Paul deferred until he is a member of the top tier of candidates.
Santorum said he would pick Newt.
Cain acknowledged that it was just a game but said he’d play anyway, to the delight of the audience, who laughed and applauded. He chose Gingrich. The audience liked that too.
Jon Huntsman used his time to tell people that he still has a chance to win.
The overall debate format was a success. Chris Wallace, Bret Baier and Megyn Kelly were good-natured, provoking and flexible. Google did an excellent job of highlighting their products and technology while integrating them into the format. I was particularly impressed with the way they used search engine results to bring to light what viewers and voters were searching for, topic-wise, and which candidates were getting the most interest. The “word clouds” were a very good illustration of results, placing the most searched words in “cloud” like formation and enlarging the words in order of popularity. The audience really responded to each result. One of the first results revealed two of the trending searches were for “marriage” and “marijuana”. Apparently there were a lot of lonely stoners watching the debate.
Romney was the clear winner in the Fox/Google debate. He stood out and looked confident. Cain and Santorum came a close second and third. Now all the candidates head into the much heralded Florida straw polls this weekend looking to place strong. We may see some big changes in the field coming after the results are tallied.