Thanksgiving Family Forum Review

The GOP candidates faced something Saturday night that they haven’t seen in a long time, a friendly moderator.  In a round table discussion without buzzers, all but one of today’s contenders shared personal stories, tears, and their faith.  It was a very personalizing debate where Americans got to see these candidates discuss the issues facing family values voters.  So here is the official review:

Newt Gingrich opened up and shared a real personal side of himself with the audience.  He personalized the healthcare debate in a way that would make pro-Obamacare liberals rethink centralized health planning.  He also was the most genuine in sharing his failures with the crowd.  His failure and the resolution of turning his life around through God’s help is exactly what resonates with this crowd. He presented solutions on judicial activism without betraying a sort of militant anti-homosexuality that will be a turnoff to some states rights conservatives who shy away from a marriage amendment, but in a way that should satisfy pro-amendment conservatives who see the courts stampeding over states rights on marriage.

Rick Santorum had a chance to connect with audiences and take enough time to overcome some of the perception of irrelevance that comes with mainstream media consumer based debates.  This will help him especially in Iowa where social conservatives are searching to an anti-Romney with a clean record.  Santorum helped his changes in Iowa, although even if he wins in Iowa he will probably not take any other states.

Herman Cain played to his strength: being real.  Although there are questions about Cain’s foreign policy know how and tax plan, one thing that has made him endearing to Republicans is his realness and his ability to connect on that personal level.  He may have harmed himself though when as a failure he pointed out that he spent too much time working to the top of the corporate ladder and not enough time with his family.  That is a regret that will not resonate with most Americans, and for those who it does it will not be seen as a good thing.

Michele Bachmann did well, but was once again forgettable.  Her answer on schools was good by itself, but was a shadow of answers given by other candidates.  She must find a way to distinguish herself if she hopes to be relevant again.  Perry tried to make himself relevant, but his tax plan was trumped by Gingrich’s flat tax.  Santorum has not been able to make himself relevant again.  Bachmann’s best shot recently at making herself relevant has been apparent support for a $10 surtax on all Americans to make sure everyone is paying something in.  That is not a defining plan that will rocket her back to relevance.

Ron Paul was able to be personal and share his faith, which is important for him among social conservatives.  However, it may also be damaging among libertarian voters.  Paul showed support for DOMA, which will hurt him with libertarians.  His advocacy for moving issues like gay marriage to the church and family are admirable, but naive like his foreign policy.  Paul does not seem to understand the militancy of some liberal homosexual groups.  Paul also hurt himself with his greatest failure, suffering sports injuries that kept him from playing football in highschool.  Honestly, if someone told me that in a job interview I would probably only continue the interview out of politeness.

Rick Perry had a typical bumbling debate performance.  At one point he said “We’ve all heard that saying…” and I was afraid he might forget what it was.  When he talked about his greatest failure, I think he was saying he impregnated his wife (possibly not his wife at the time?) and had to drop out of veterinarian school.  Overall, unimpressive.

The biggest loser was Mitt Romney.  Mitt will not win this election with just the establishment and fiscal conservatives.  This was a must attend debate if he hopes to win over any social conservatives of family values voters.  Then again, if Mitt could not stand toe to toe with these candidates on family values, perhaps it is best that he didn’t show up.

Other no shows, Gary Johnson, Fred Kargar, Buddy Roemer, and Jon Huntsman.  Let’s be honest, who cares.

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Seven Versus One

The debate is over and there is a clear loser.  Whether by pact or we just got candidates this good, Obama was the only one with a target on his back last night.  Even Pawlenty wouldn’t take the obvious bait to attack front runner Mitt Romney.  The result was a debate of seven on one, and the One wasn’t there to defend himself.

The other loser in last night’s debate was CNN’s John King who amidst annoying grunts failed to turn the candidates on one another.  Even when he tossed Palin’s name out as an easy target for Republicans seeking to moderate, the response came from Tim Pawlenty and it was perfect.  Joe Biden has failed in every aspect as a Vice President, his views on Iraq were completely wrong, and Sarah Palin would be a better president than Biden or Obama.

Can Bachmann break through media created stereotypes?

The candidates handled tough hot button issues amazingly well also.  The shining example here was Michelle Bachmann who deflected an easy gotcha by making it clear that the role of the President and the role of the states in determining the fate of gay marriage is not equal.  She provided a balanced states rights view, while promising to protect the states from the courts if it came to that.  The other good answers on gay marriage were Ron Paul, leave it to the church and get government out, and actually Rick Santorum who explained that a constitutional amendment would require the approval of 75% of the states, something opponents rarely mention.  Cain appeared to struggle the most on the muslim staff question.

While there were no clear winners, I believe this debate showed two classes of candidates.  Michelle Bachmann led her class of fired up TEA Party approved candidates fighting for principled social and fiscal conservatism with unmeasured attacks against Obama and willingness to take heat for their views if deemed controversial.  Cain is included with this group, although he appears now more as a TEA Party candidate who jumped in feet first and now is searching for substance beyond catchphrases and buzz words.  He did not find that moment last night.  Ron Paul’s anti-establishment libertarianism may catch up to him this year when all the Revolution liberals realize that he does not support any federal entitlement programs.  Santorum failed to set himself apart as anything but a sacrificial lamb for 1st term George W. Bush style conservatism.  While they all performed well, Bachmann outshined this group.  Given the TEA Party’s success in 2010 and their conservative appeal, I would not write this group off.

The other group becoming apparent are the “intellectual”, restrained conservatives in Mitt Romney, Newt Gingrich and Tim Pawlenty.  Their answers would not pass a soundbite test, but they were clear, well thought out, and flawless.  At the same time, these three touted socially conservative views and credentials which should make each one palatable for any Republican voter.  Newt was in a tough place and would need to be the only shining candidate last night to pull his campaign out of the rubble.  His performance was near flawless and enough to start the rebuilding process, but not good enough to bring him in from the dog house.  And while he may be right about ensuring that America is on board with the Paul Ryan plan, he is sure to take more heat for some of his comments last night.

Tim Pawlenty was perhaps the closest thing to a winner last night.  He made a great case for his pro-life record, perhaps settled some social conservatives with his call for his stance on homosexuality, connected with union and blue collar America, and magnanimously skipped a golden opportunity to play John King’s game and trash the front runner.  While the left-wing media rakes Pawlenty over the coals for his choice, conservatives should take a much closer look at a candidate who knows the enemy.

Mitt Romney will remain the front runner after last night.  The campaign has been nearly effortless for him sofar, and he made no mistakes that would cause him to lose his front runner status last night.  But he shouldn’t get too comfortable.  With Huntsman entering the race and with Rick Perry and Rudy Guiliani mulling Presidential runs of their own, the space Romney and Pawlenty occupy could get real crowded real quick.

In the end, the field last night did what they had to do.  They stayed focused on the economy and Obama.  They did not bite on questions obviously designed to turn them against each other and other Republicans.  They agreed with one another publicly and showed that any one of them is better than and can beat Barack Obama in 2012.

Is Trump Trustworthy?

We’ve heard it before. In fact, our current President stood before the nation and told us that he believed that marriage was a union between one man and one woman. Since then, Obama has stirred controversy by refusing to defend the current law on the books that defines marriage that way. In fact, before the ink was dry on the administration’s statement that they would no longer defend DOMA in court, prop 8 opponents in California had quotes from the statement prepared in a lengthy legal document requesting a stay in the implementation of Prop 8.

Pandering is the ancient art of politics. John Kerry supported the war before he was against it. Many have accused Mitt Romney of pandering. After all, he ran on a pro-choice platform in Massachusetts and then wrote Romneycare. He may have excuses and explanations, but in the end conservatives will have to decide if they are willing to trust Romney on social issues and healthcare.

Conservatives will have to make the same decision with Donald Trump. Trump recently came out in opposition both of gay marriage and civil union benefits. Already he is getting a lot of flack for the choice. One gay activist called him “an extreme bigot” for his marriage position.

Trump has also changed his stance on abortion, now choosing to go pro-life.

So can social conservatives trust Donald Trump? As noted in previous posts, Trump has supported Democrats like Rahm Emanuel financially. Trump’s daughter was recently seen at a pro-gay marriage reception in New York.

Trump knows whose palms to grease and who to support to be successful in his business. That makes an easy explanation for his history. But it should also be a warning sign to social conservatives. Is Trump truly a social right winger? Or is the social right wing his latest acquisition?

Trump’s move may be genuine, but the 2012 Republican electorate is turning out to be one of the most cynical, untrusting and judgmental crowd the right has seen in a long time. And justly so. George W. Bush’s last couple years in office ruined his conservative legacy, and McCain was no Reagan.

My prediction: Trump is not going to convince the social conservative base of the Republican party.

Rick Santorum Challenges Republicans To Stand Up For DOMA

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Former Pennsylvania Senator and 2012 Republican presidential hopeful Rick Santorum is on the offensive against Republican’s who he feels have been relatively silent regarding the Obama administrations recent statement that it would no longer defend the Defense Of Marriage Act in court. Santorum, a favorite of social conservatives, says it’s no surprise that the Republican leaders haven’t done more since the administration announced earlier this week it was reversing its position on defending DOMA. DOMA says states can refuse to recognize the same-sex marriages and civil unions performed in other states. The law defines marriage as being between a man and a woman.

“It is a reality that the media, not just the mainstream media but even quote-unquote conservative publications, like Fox, they tend to write rather negatively about people who stand up and fight for marriage,” Santorum said. “They describe it in terms of bigotry, in terms of discrimination, in terms of (being) homophobic. As a result of that, people stay away from it. They don’t want to be cast in that light by the media. And besides, we all have friends who are gay. I have friends who are gay. But they respect the fact that they disagree with them on policy,” said Santorum as he was on his way home from spending several days in Iowa, home to the first presidential caucuses.

“It’s very disappointing,” Santorum said Friday in an interview with USA TODAY. “Here you have a president of the United States who’s walking away from his constitutional duty to defend the law of the country.”

Santorum has specifically called on House Speaker John Boehner to appoint a counsel representing the House of Representatives to take up the issue and argue the cases in court. Boehner spokesman Michael Steel said the speaker “is reviewing the situation with other congressional Republicans and all options are under discussion.”

If Santorum decides to make a run for the GOP nomination it is clear that he will be taking a strong national stance on social issues. Stances which could gain him votes should a Mike Huckabee campaign fail to materialize. If it will appeal to enough voters, who seem focused on jobs and the economy, will be the big test for the former Seanator.

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