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September 08, 2011

About Last Night's Debate

What in the world are the GOP candidates thinking letting MSNBC and The Democratic Daily Newsletter (aka Politico) host these things? This was nothing more than an effort to get as many soundbites of Republicans knocking each other as possible.

You know who won the night? Our very own Ben who noted during the live blog a mysterious absence of certain topics.

notice the debate moderators are staying away from every issue Obama is failing at, the economy, jobs, and spending

It was nothing more than an exercise in ignoring Obama and minimizing any benefit a candidate might be gaining. If Perry or Romney started to score too many points it seemed like inevitably the next question went to Ron Paul or Jon Huntsman who could be counted on to be buffoonish and attack traditional conservative stances.

As Ben Domenech summed it up nicely it in his excellent daily email blast "The Transom" (which you can subscribe to here).

I wonder if Brian Williams and John F. Harris honestly believe the debate was between them, ordained as neutral arbiters, and the Republican field – not between the candidates on the stage. Williams’ repeated needling of Ron Paul was a particularly absurd rabbit hole, but it was Harris who wasted the most time, chasing after Perry on scooplet after irrelevant scooplet, hoping desperately for some kind of gaffe. There were more questions asked about an old never-implemented HPV policy than about job creation – zero questions, by my count, were actually asked on that score.

Here’s the point: debates within Republican primaries ought to be about informing Republican voters what candidates believe, and why. Instead, we get all the insight of the New York Yankees sitting for a press conference with a bunch of die-hard Red Sox fans. (“The next question is for Mr. Jeter from Twitter user @MickeyfromNatick…”) A Republican voter would come away from that debate with no clear perspective on what the frontrunners plan for Iraq and Afghanistan, Defense spending or the Eurozone collapse. On the central fiscal issue dividing conservative and moderate Republicans – the conflict between the push for austerity and pro-growth tax cuts – there were no questions asked at all. There was nothing of note asked regarding President Obama’s speech today, perhaps an indication that not even Harris or Williams can pretend it matters.

And bringing in the guy from Telemundo to ask the immigration questions? Boy that was subtle, hey let's try see if they have the guts to be racist to the Hispanic guy's face!

It was also appalling racism on the part of two liberal news organizations.

If the guy from Telemundo is enough of a journalist to be included at all, why not include him on the panel and let him ask anything he wants? Are NBC and Politico saying Hispanic journalists need to stay in the immigration ghetto and let the big (white) boys handle the hard stuff? Seems like it. Just imagine if Fox News had pulled that kind of stunt. The howls of outrage coming from Media Matters for America and every other liberal nitwit would be non-stop (and well earned). But MSNBC? Silence.

And don't even get me started on the post debate panel featuring every liberal they could find including noted race baiter Al Sharpton. Spin we much!

I had issues with the South Carolina forum held on Monday but if you really want to get at information useful to Republican voters and get a sense of a candidates ability to think and engage on issues, then you need to go more in that direction. Candidates come out one at a time and have to talk and think. I kind of liked letting Jim DeMint and Robert George ask the questions. Steve King was useless but no more so than Brian Williams.

Take the basic format and tweak it a bit. Build a panel which includes a sitting or recently retired Republican politician (someone in Congress or a Governor), a conservative academic and a conservative opinion journalist that question and engage the candidates one at a time. It would be a far more informative way to spend our time than the soundbite factory stuff we saw last night. I'm far more interested in the ideas these people have, their experience and their plans to get their agenda enacted than I am their ability to produce or not produce talking points and per-planned attack lines on cue. If you want to see that stuff, go to the aquarium and watch the dolphin show, at least they get a fish when they perform correctly.

Just because Williams and the dude from Politico have "Journalist" on their business cards doesn't mean they are any better at getting information than anyone else. In fact, the evidence is quite to the contrary. The sooner the GOP gets this, the better off we'll all be.

As for how they fared in the dog and pony show...

Rick Perry was...uneven. Yes, let's be charitable. His AGW answer was simply awful. The name a scientist bit was cheap but Perry should have been able to lay out his reasons for questioning AGW. He came off as a talking point machine who didn't know why he opposed it for anything other than political reasons. I'm not saying that's who he is but it's how he came off. His staff needs to get him some talking points on CERN and Roy Spencer at Alabama-Huntsville.

He also needs to make it crystal clear that he's not talking about messing with Social Security for anyone on or near it. He's in big trouble if he can't make that argument.

Overall, I give him a pass since it's his initial dip in the pool but he needs to do better. Part of the problem of getting in late is you don't have time to do previews in small town Iowa, you're going right to Broadway. And when your the national leader by double digits out of the gate, you need to make sure you meet expectations. Perry simply didn't last night. It's not fatal by any stretch but it's...something to keep an eye on.

Mitt was Mitt. He's much better than he was 4 years ago and can give and take a shot now. He's also made it clear with his Social Security attacks on Perry that he's taking a page out of the Democrats playbook. It's worked for them in the past, it could work for him now.

All along I thought Mitt wanted a big field to fracture the conservative vote so he could piece together a coalition of everyone else and win by a plurality, along the lines of McCain in '08. While I still think that's his goal (Run Sarah Run! is his deepest wish), it's clear he's willing to take Perry head on. He's not going to try and out conservative him since that's folly but rather he'll try and make Perry look too extreme and raise electability questions. Think of Kerry/Dean in '04, Democrats fell in love with Dean but in the end Kerry won because he made Democrats think it was too risky to run Dean. I'm sure Mitt will love being compared to Kerry but I think after last night, that's going to be the dynamic.

As for the rest, meh.

Newt was awesome. After Monday in SC and last night he's my very, very distant second choice. Yes, I know all the reasons that's insane and stupid and crazy and I don't care. Everyone is flawed and if Perry implodes, screw it, I'll take brilliant crazy Newt in a suicide run for the nomination over Mitt. Don't bother telling me all the reasons that's wrong. I know them, I just won't care at that point.

All the others....remember that week Michele Bachmann was the hot ticket? That was weird, right? She did have a good line about why the media's favorite 10:1 spending to tax hikes thing is a sucker bet for the GOP. It was the only useful invocation of Reagan all night.

In short, bad format, not a stellar night or an awful one for Perry and if Perry turns out to be the second coming of teh Fred, I'm going to need a strait jacket.

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posted by DrewM. at 10:46 AM

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