Airtime for the backups

Aside from Tim Pawlenty, going into last night’s debate I think most pundits considered these to be second tier candidates. After last night, I will admit that the perception that most of these candidates don’t have a viable shot probably hasn’t changed. However, there were clear winners and clear losers. Here is my take on the debate, which at times will be blunt and harshly honest:

Tim Pawlenty

Pawlenty demonstrated why he is a top tier candidate. He was professional, studied, and Presidential. He took clean shots at Obama and did not make missteps. However, his answer to Cap and Trade may come across to the base as a weak answer. Cap and Trade is already widely unpopular with the TEA party and conservative right. It is almost as unpopular as humbling yourself before the media and admitting a mistake. I think it was the best answer Pawlenty could give, but it highlighted that unfortunate decision to initially support Cap and Trade. Pawlenty’s other disadvantage coming into last night was that everyone expected a polished performance. He will be judged at a higher standard. I was pleased to see Pawlenty show some charisma and get the crowd motivated. However, when it came to charisma, Pawlenty was not the candidate who stole the show.

Herman Cain

Cain provided the night with a dose of Donald Trump charisma mixed with Sean Hannity conservatism. Cain was unequivocal and commanded the stage. He was a crowd pleaser who handled each question without a gaffe or misstep. I think Cain’s performance brought many conservatives to believe that he could be the conservative answer to the straightforward, no nonsense approach that Trump had become so popular for. My prediction is that we will begin to see Trump wane in popularity now that the birther issue has run its course and Cain stands to benefit. We will see if Cain can capitalize on his performance.

If Cain’s popularity does grow, he will need to find answers to a lot of questions on issues that have not seen the light of the mainstream media yet. For example, Cain defended his support of the Fairtax by mentioning the concept of a “prebate” paid to every family at the beginning of the month for essentials. But is Cain prepared to face scrutiny on the prebate idea? The IRS paid out billions in fraudulent stimulus checks as a one time deal. Kiplinger says that the IRS estimates that 25% of earned income credit payouts were incorrect and fraudulent. Can the government cut a check to every family in America at the beginning of every month without an Internal Revenue Service, individual tax returns, and massive fraud? Also, getting rid of the IRS sounds nice, but who is going to make sure businesses remit the fairtax and prebates are paid out without a revenue department in the government? Perhaps we will see in the course of this primary if Cain is running on answers or populism.

Rick Santorum

Santorum did a good job as a whole, and will appeal to the same conservatives that Bush appealed to. The question is if Santorum can position himself as more likely to win than Obama. Santorum’s message resonates with social conservatives, and he made it clear last night that his message hasn’t changed. Will conservatives vote for Santorum? While presenting himself as a solid candidate, he did not say anything last night that distinguished himself or rocketed him into the top tier. Santorum’s win for the night was the fact that he showed up, while Gingrich, Huckabee and others did not. But he is still overshadowed by other conservative heavyweights, including Gingrich, Bachmann, Huckabee, and now Cain.

Ron Paul

Paul hasn’t changed since 2008. While he says many things that make sense to conservative constitutionalists and libertarian Republicans, Paul still comes across as the enemy of all things Democrat and Republican. This is great for wooing independents and libertarians, but will not win Paul the Republican primary. For most of the night, I felt myself agreeing with and cheering Paul, but he will once again be the martyr of the protectionist, states rights conservatives. They understand what Paul is saying, they just can’t figure out why non-Paul Republicans don’t. Here’s a hint, Ron Paul still comes across as abrasive, obnoxious, and anti-Republican. This man could be President if he could figure out how to sell himself and explain why what he believes would actually work. I spent a good part of the evening asking myself why Republicans don’t support Ron Paul, but the answer is the same as last time he ran. He is an uncompromising and radical philosopher campaigning in a world of soundbites, and soundbites are not kind to Ron Paul.

Gary Johnson

Picture a more abrasive and whiny version of Ron Paul, but without the name recognition. With Ron Paul in the race, who needs Gary Johnson? He did not distinguish himself, except to come down on the traditionally liberal side of Iraq, Afghanistan (supported it before he was against it), and drugs. His “cost/benefit” approach to drug legalization portrayed a dollars above principles approach to policy. Whether his views on the cost benefit of the war on drugs are right or wrong, such a calloused approach to a moral question will not win him a conservative majority. Johnson only made matters worse by dismissing the conservative majority in the Republican party as unnecessary in the primary and guaranteed to be loyal in the general election. He should ask John McCain if Republicans need social conservatives to defeat Obama.

Johnson’s moment of charisma showed itself in the form of scolding the moderators for not asking him enough questions, a move that screams “I am unpolished, second tier, and everyone knows it but me”. He will find his frustrations at not being taken seriously will continue to grow, mainly because he is not a serious candidate.

Summary

After last night, I think Herman Cain moved up, Santorum, Paul and Pawlenty remained unchanged, and Johnson moved down. Gingrich was probably hurt the most by not showing up, Romney was hurt the least. Gingrich could have used the exposure and chance to showcase his debate skills. Romney sofar has seemed to transcend any primary activity in early polls as an assumed front runner by most whether he shows up or not. Mitch Daniels was probably the most unfairly represented absentee at the debate itself. In the end, the only lasting effects of this debate will be a bump for Herman Cain.

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2 Responses

  1. I have followed Herman Cain since he first showed interest in considering a run for president. Herman is a conservative, knowledgeable, intelligent, charismatic corporate leader who would be an outstanding and winable contender for President on the Republican ticket.

  2. I believe your assessment is spot on Ike.

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