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[Michael Smith]
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May 06, 2011

Frank Luntz' Focus Group: Cain Won

And, for these folks at least, it was a decisive win.

Although I thought Cain did well -- no mistakes, sounded plausible, sounded measured and serious -- I did not see the knockout blow these folks seemed to.

I think Republican primary voters have a tendency to go ga-ga for black candidates. In 2000 and 2004, Alan Keyes had a small but vocal and passionate vanguard of supporters, despite being flaky and odd.

Cain has not much at all in common with Keyes -- Cain could plausibly win an election and plausibly serve as president. Keyes could plausibly serve as the guy who freaks me out at post office. But there is this Cuckoo for Cocoa Pols thing going on to.

My boy, Pawlenty, did about the same, except his first answer (to the debate's first question, which is just about what half of the debate's viewers even saw) wasn't sharp or strong. I believe it was about crediting Obama for the bin Ladin kill, and while there was nothing wrong with it, there was also nothing especially right with it. Santorum, answering the same question moments later, had a stronger answer.

Later in the debate, Pawlenty became a little animated and forceful and shed his image as milquetoast. A little.

But the facts are the facts -- the viewing public seemed impressed by Cain, not Pawlenty. And Pawlenty was really banking on a breakout performance here. Instead, Cain broke out.

Santorum actually did pretty well, and I say that begrudgingly, because I don't see him as a genuine, plausible candidate. But based on his answers: He did well.

Ron Paul continued with his RISing and falLING manner of SPEAKing SOUNDing like a donKEY obsessed with GOLD. I have to say I find his method of debate completely unproductive. Paul is offering a series of non-mainstream ideas. Rather than break these down and make a good case for why someone inclined to oppose them should reconsider, he just sort of claims it's all common sense and speaks in rehearsed applause lines, which his supporters dutifully clap for, but which aren't persuading anyone not already persuaded.

Some of Ron Paul's libertarian ideas could, possibly, gain traction. But only if they're argued rather than just asserted. If his presence here is to make a case for a libertarian, limited government, well, make that case! Just rattling off his conclusions isn't making that case. He really needs to ask what his mission is here, and if his method of achieving that mission is plausible.

Gary Johnson really failed entirely, as he came off as Ron Paul as played by Jm. J. Bullock. His answers tended to lack persuasiveness and he brought his own odd mannerisms to the table.

The moderators were terrible because they weren't moderators. Chris Wallace tried to play gotcha with Pawlenty twice, once over his prior support of cap and trade, and once over Minnesota's coming deficit, and on both occasions he seemed overly Inquisitorial, and in both cases Pawlenty pretty effectively rebutted the question. (Well, in the case of cap and trade, he just blunted it, by confessing it was simply a bad idea that he was now embarrassed to have had. Chris Wallace's premise that Pawlenty wasn't being straight about how much he'd supported it was flatly wrong, and I don't know where Wallace was getting that premise from.)

What's Juan Williams doing on the panel? Oh yeah, to ask questions about evolution and intelligent design, something most Republicans would rather not be asked about. Given that this is a Republican primary and all candidates will have the same punt answer on the question, and few voters will make any sort of decision based on similar punt answers, why was it asked? It does not clarify things for Republican voters.

It's just asked because 1, this is a liberal obsession, and 2, it can be used against the candidates later in a general election.

So ask it later.

Why do we have liberals on the panel at all? I don't have to tell you that liberals will not be permitting a single conservative moderator, even one as respected as Brit Hume, to ask questions of any of their candidates -- or to ask questions of either candidate during the nominee-vs.-nominee debates in the general election season.

Lastly, this form of "debate" is not a debate. It's weak. It's just a joint Q&A appearance where the journalists, as usual, pitch gotcha questions designed to make them look clever or "tough."

A debate would consist of three broad sections -- Foreign Policy and War, Economy and Taxes and Jobs, and Social/Moral Issues. Then just let each candidate answer about broad issue categories, and allow them to ask each other questions. The moderator (and we only need one) should just be there to insure the keep on point, do not filibuster, and do not unduly monopolize camera time. (Although there is a component here that's important -- a candidate's ability to command the floor and make his voice heard. But let's not have it turn into a shouting match, eh?)

This whole idea continues to be perpetuated -- that it's journalists, rather than candidates, who are clever enough to poke holes in the candidates' positions and make them squirm.

What, none of the candidates is smart enough to do that? You don't think these guys are on the ball enough to study an opponent's position and pop a loaded question about it?

On this point, the moderators can do an additional service by having their researchers do instant internet searches and article reading to call true or false on candidates' charges; candidates, fearing a "misleading" ding, will tend to make their assertions more defensible and closer to a neutral reading of the record.

But for the love of God, please let us dispense with this journalistic vanity that they're the only ones expert enough in policy and politics to intelligently question these candidates.

These are professional politicians, most at the very top of the game. (And also, Ron Paul.) I think they know something about policy and politics and clever questions, too. Maybe not so much as a brilliant journalist, but of course that's a standard few of us mortals can actually reach. But we can at least try to achieve such exalted heights.


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posted by Ace at 10:52 AM

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