Tuesday night saw the latest GOP debate as the Washington Post teamed up with Bloomberg TV (it’s a channel; I looked it up) to present the first exclusively economic debate of the primary season. Charlie Rose was fairly benign as the moderator of the literal round table debate. The candidates sat at a large table and spoke face to face instead of the typical podium format.
Conservatives and Republicans across the nation were paying particular attention to this debate for several reasons. This marked the first debate for Herman Cain as a viable frontrunner since his explosion in the Florida Straw Polls nearly two weeks ago. Many were anxious to see how his newly minted “top-tier” status would change the dynamics. This promised to be Cain’s strongest debate, as many recognize he is quite experienced in matters of business and economics. Cain did not disappoint. As predicted, his economic shorthand was appealing and seemed to resonate in the crowd – or at least as much as one can tell, since Rose and company refused to allow the crowd to clap or cheer. Why does Bloomberg TV hate fun, I wonder? Cain’s 9-9-9 plan has come under some fire in recent days as impractical, but the beauty of that plan is its simplicity and sound-bite ready alliteration. It’s a slogan -something voters and viewers can remember easily. Cain managed to mention 9-9-9 twice in the opening thirty seconds of the debate. He took every opportunity to mention it thereafter. Other candidates mentioned the plan. Cain even had the moderators saying “9-9-9”. Now that’s branding! At one point the whole debate began to seem like the 9-9-9 show, which I thought was rather brilliant on Cain’s part. He may not have the political experience and temerity of a Romney, but as the former CEO of a pizza company, Cain knows the importance of branding.
Mitt Romney had a typically strong showing. It is obvious Romney knows what he is doing. He is extremely politically experienced, he understands the primary circus and he knows the rules and how to play the game. He is almost a campaign machine, but without the outward mechanics of a Jon Huntsman. There was nothing particularly moving or interesting about what Romney had to say in the debate. His answers were pretty standard Romney fair, but the ease with which he answered every question and every challenge was almost disturbing. His strategy was nearly flawless. Clearly Romney understands Perry is falling and Cain is surging. He chose not address Cain directly, but vaguely targeted Cain’s tax plan and economic focus. The one opportunity he had to ask a question to another candidate, he used to address Michele Bachmann. One might have expected him to take it to Cain, but Romney seemed to understand to do so would only serve to acknowledge Cain’s legitimacy and give him more time to highlight his own plans. Well played on Mitt’s part. I’m sure his hair was proud.
Perry did nothing to improve on the dismal performances of the last two debates. It seemed a round table discussion might suit him more, but faced with very little time from the moderator, Perry seemed to wither. His answers were warmed over and repetitive and he looked almost lost at times. Perry has waned in the debate process. The best President isn’t always the greatest debater, but Perry may not have a chance to prove that if he continues to slide. He’ll need to show significant improvement next week if he wants to win over new support.
Michele Bachmann was in her element as she spoke about Obamacare and the crushing regulatory burden small businesses face. Her background as tax lawyer for the IRS informs her opinion of the economic crisis we face and it shows. She is rightly passionate about the need to repeal Obamacare and the horrors that are actually outlined in the bill. Both she and Newt Gingrich took the opportunity to point out that the “Death Panels” concern is very real and should be taken very seriously. That being said, every time Bachmann spoke she continued to make it clear why she would make a better fighter in the House. Nothing is more important to the health of this country than the repeal of Obamacare and Bachmann knows more about the legislation than almost any politician out there. Conservatives seem to recognize that. Although Perry has dropped significantly, Bachmann hasn’t yet earned back the voters he siphoned off in the first weeks of his candidacy. It would be surprising if her campaign survives until the first primaries in January.
Newt Gingrich is the smartest man alive. Even his jowls are smarter than most people. He should be working in any administration that comes to pass in 2012. He adds a sense of gravitas and accountability to the GOP field. He is not a great Presidential candidate, but he sure is a joy to watch, and I think it’s been good for conservatives to have him present during this process.
After a great showing in the last debate, Rick Santorum was once again relegated to the redheaded stepchild status. He was hardly heard from and had to fight his way in once or twice to even be seen. Santorum is fantastic on social issues and clearly he is a committed conservative. He was the only candidate to (rightly) point out that the breakdown of the American family is one of the biggest reasons for economic failure in this country. It’s hard to imagine Santorum fairing well in a general debate against Obama. He is not nearly strong willed enough. He’s nice. He seems like a good man. He does not seem like a strong personality, and that will be vital in the upcoming elections. Still, he always makes good points and the crowds seem to enjoy his perspectives.
Jon Huntsman was there. I’m tired of talking about him and his robotic candidacy. This guy is not anywhere close to any Republican’s dream candidate. He’s about the only person in the race who would hands down lose a head to head election against Obama. I’m sure he was a good ambassador but he’s a terrible candidate and he needs to take his tools and his software package and his IT doctors back to Utah. He has a record there.
Ron Paul hates the Fed. Also, Ron Paul loves Austrian economics. Ron Paul is raising a lot of money as I type this.
It seems that Mitt Romney is the man the mainstream media has anointed as the next Republican candidate for President. While there is a raging debate among conservatives as to the validity of that position, one thing is for certain – the man knows what he is doing. He is nearly unbeatable in the debate setting. He is unflappable and even charming at times. It will be very, very difficult to beat Romney on the debate floor. Those vying for his status will need to find other ways to challenge him. Romney wins the Post-Bloomberg debate. Cain comes in right behind him. And for as confident as Romney looked Tuesday night, there can be no doubt that he is looking over his shoulder at the tea party candidate, Herman Cain.
Bloomberg TV gets an honorable mention tonight for proving to the public that it actually is a real channel. You can find it on cable…somewhere.