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August 12, 2011

Impressions From Last Night's Debate

On the debate itself:

I was a little more down on it than most. The first hour was fine as far as these things go (not very usually) but the second hour seemed to go off the rails with candidates bitching about time, crazy social issues (Will Bachmann be submissive to her husband? But no questions on entitlement reform? Really?) and way too much Ron Paul.

Reporters always want to get more questions in and that's understandable. Personally, if you're going to have 8 candidates, I think fewer questions with longer answers and a chance for interaction would serve voters better.

The Candidates:

Mitt Romney- Again, he wins by not losing. No one really laid a glove on him in a way we haven't seen before. Either you buy Mitt or you don't but nothing that happened last night was likely to change your mind. When you're comfortably in front (for now) in the polls, you chalk that up as a win an move along.

Tim Pawlenty- The guy has been dead man walking since he the New Hampshir debate where he refused to back up his "ObamnneyCare" hit.

He's been going after Bachmann lately and he did have to own up to those shots simply because he couldn't run away like Brave Sir Robin twice. As I predicted however, it cost him dearly.

He's now the guy who will take on a woman face to face but not another guy. Also, he's the second leading squish in the race behind Romney but he's willing to trash the tea party favorite. That is not a good place for a candidate.

Attack is not his natural posture and it shows. Skillfully attacking an opponent without muddying yourself is a valuable political skill and one Pawlenty just doesn't seem to have. He's by turns too timid and too strident. He hasn't found the sweet spot in taking on other candidates.

On paper Pawlenty should be a strong candidate. Yes he has some deviations in his record but everyone does who has a serious record. He's got experience and he is willing to layout some relatively bold plans (which is what primary voters say they want, right?). As I said to Ace last night on Twitter, Pawlenty just doesn't have that "it" factor. You can't define it but like porn, you absolutely know it when you see it.

I think Pawlenty wanted to be "Mitt without Mitt's baggage". So far people are willing to take Mitt, baggage and all. That leaves Pawlenty without a niche of of support and a rationale for his candidacy.

Michele Bachmann- She was the revelation of the New Hampshire debate. To my mind she didn't build on that. I'm not sure how she could have honestly but she really didn't have to. She's on the radar and doing well in Iowa now so to some degree like Mitt, she wins by not screwing up.

I think Pawlenty's attack on her as someone who talks about leading fights but never winning them is legitimate but not likely to resonate with anyone who is already supporting her. She's a movement candidate, not a record based candidate.

I do think her talk of leading all these fights is a bit silly and will come as a surprise to a lot of Republican voters who never heard of her until about 3 months ago but unlike the fools at PolitiFact, I get political rhetoric and positioning. It's not court testimony under oath and it's not a scientific experiment that can be proven one way or the other. She's appealing to people who are more interested in the perfect fight than an imperfect victory here and there. That's a legitimate strategy and she's playing it well.

After those three it was a bunch of "why exactly are they there" candidates.

Newt Gingrich- What we learned is he doesn't like "gotcha questions" even when they really aren't. He came prepared to evade an unpleasant question, why did your campaign team implode? with an attack on the press. It got him some applause and notice. Mission Accomplished.

Herman Cain- He's what he's been throughout the campaign, engaging, funny and honest. Oh and woefully unprepared to be President. He spoke a lot about the things he's learned on issues like Afghanistan and the Mideast throughout the course of the campaign. Learning is good but for Cain it's been more like "introduced for the first time to some pretty obvious things". His early South Carolina momentum has pretty much run its course.

Ron Paul- He's still Ron Paul. That's not a compliment.

Rick Santorum- This is a guy that should be a serious candidate but he's just not. I don't know if it's his social conservatism or what that terms some folks off but he's just not there.

He had a few good lines, mostly when taking a whack at Ron Paul's Pinata of Foreign Policy Stupidity. He was most effective in countering Paul's disinterest in Iran's drive for nuclear weapons.

Santorum also landed a good shot by pointing out it's Iran that executes gays for being gay. Considering all the crap he takes about his stance on gay rights and same sex marriage, it was a good reminder to people that supporting traditional values in the American context isn't exactly the same as what happens in other places around the world and maybe the Dan Savage fan boys should think about that.

Again, Santorum given his command of the issues and conservative record should be more of a factor but he's just not. Personally, I can't forgive him for supporting Arleen Specter over Pat Toomey but that's just me, I doubt that's an issue in Iowa.

And that wraps up the field. Of course, the 800lbs gorilla not in the room was Rick Perry. We'll see how that plays out starting tomorrow.

Who did you guys like or not like last night?

(Oh wait, I'm told someone named Jon Huntsman was also on the stage. I can't vouch for this myself but I'll go back and check the tape.)

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posted by DrewM. at 12:00 PM

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