Thoughts on the debate
I saw the first 90 minutes of the GOP debate tonight and it was very lively and interesting. All the candidates had good moments, even candidates I’ve dismissed before, such as Santorum, and even the candidate I detest, Paul. Even the ridiculous Huntsman made a comment that earned applause. As I said after the first debate last spring, this is a party with spirit and intellectual life in it, and it looks like a winning party.
While there were many interesting and even exciting moments, the two that stood out the most were both damaging to Perry. The first was in the first exchange of the night, when Perry was asked what he would so to increase employment, and he just bragged about Texas. He made it sound as though he was running for another term as the governor of Texas, not for president of the United States. (CBS News puts it more critically: “Perry didn’t seem to have a response and resorted to speaking in generalities.”) Romney came next, and he crisply and forcefully enunciated what he would do as president. His answer was vastly better than Perry’s, and I must say that Romney—normally seen as too soft, plastic, and eager to please—looked like the alpha male in that exchange. For once he seemed like a leader and not like an overly solicitous manager.
The second of the two most interesting moments in the debate was when Perry was challenged on his support for in-state tuition for illegal aliens, and he stood firm as a rock for that policy against the attacks of both Romney and Santorum. Santorum was very effective in underscoring the fact that Perry was supporting a special favor for illegal aliens—a favor adding up to almost $100,000 for a four year college education. Perry didn’t waver. He made it clear he’s a stand-up man for illegal aliens. His honest devotion to his hyper-liberal position on illegal aliens made for the kind of clear confrontation of ideas that one rarely sees in these contests, and that was exciting.
A note on Bachmann: she made the strongest statement of any of the candidates about ending illegal immigration and getting the illegals who are here to leave through enforcement of existing laws. Also, her dealing with the HPB vaccine was much clearer and better than her previous statements on that issue. She looked more relaxed and confident than last time, though she needs to get rid of her habit of smiling her charming smile after every answer, no matter how serious and grave the topic. She appears to be climbing out of the hole in which she put herself in her disastrous TV interviews following the last debate.
With so many questions and so many answers by so many candidates, it would take a vast discussion to do justice to the debate and what it means substantively as well as in the horse-race sense. But to sum up: Romney was the big winner of the night, and Perry was the big loser. Perry seemed tired.
It was also evident, not for the first time, that Romney is very intelligent, significantly more intelligent than Perry. That doesn’t mean that Romney would be a better president than Perry. I’m just sayin’.
As for the the format, it worked very well, and the Fox reporters were effective. Chris Wallace only made a superior silly-head of himself once, and Megyn Kelly, notwithstanding her constantly smiling, kewpie-doll face, unnaturally sharp chin, and unnaturally wide eyes, was not overly distracting and did a decent job, mainly because her questions were short and to the point.