Final Republican Presidential Debate Before Iowa Sees Many Homeruns and Few Strikes

Bookmark and Share    The final debate before the Iowa Republican Caucuses proved to be a mature, substantive exchange of views that allowed voters to get a good sense of each candidate’s political instincts.  Each one executed strong, solid performances, which validated their place on the stage and in this race.

Of course some performed stronger than others and from my vantage point, the strongest was Newt Gingrich, who at times found himself in the hot seat.

During the second twenty minute segment of the debate, Newt drew a great deal of criticism for his having made $1.6 million in consulting fees from FreddieMac.  On this issue, Rep. Michele Bachmann repeatedly condemned Gingrich’s business transaction with FreddieMac as an ultimate example of influence peddling.  To this Newt charged that Bachmann simply did not have her facts straight and reiterated the fact that he did not participate in any lobbying activities that could be construed as examples of improper influence and conduct.  While Gingrich’s need to defend his consulting for FreddieMac did account for his most uncomfortable moment, the rest of the night was his.

Newt’s finest moment came when he lambasted President Obama in an eloquent and stinging rebuff of the President’s opposition to the Keystone pipeline project.  On that issue Newt pulled off a successful triple play as he ingeniously tied Obama to a failed domestic energy, jobs , and national security policy.   Newt began his response to the Keystone XL oil pipeline project question in a most amusing , selfdeprecating manner while simultaneously mocking his closest rival in the nomination contest, Mitt Romney.

He began his answer by stating that since he has often been accused of  speaking too bluntly, he was “watching his words” and “editing” himself before answering that question.  He then added:

“I’m very concerned about not appearing to be zany,”

The phrase refered to remarks made by Mitt Romney who had earlier in the week refered to Newt as “zany”.

From there, Newt proceeded to hit several home runs during the night with proposals designed to restrain extraneous power of the judiciary,  and continued with strong  calls to put an end to  immigration lawsuits against Alabama, Arizona, and South Carolina and  and a particularly rousing call to cut off federal funds to sanctuary cities.

With a mix of Humility, humor, and history,  Newt produced what was probably his strongest performance yet and at the very least, helped stem any recent fall in the polls he has seen since last week.

Also pulling off a strong debate performance was Mitt Romney.

Mitt scored some high points with creative characterizations of Obama policies such as his “pretty please” foreign policy and references to Obama’s record job creation as something which suffers because the President has not lived in the real world and how “to create a job it helps to have created a job” .

Romney had his own share of discomfort when Chris Wallace pressed him on his changing positions on abortion and gay marriage.  But Romney responded by admitting that while his position on abortion had evolved to that of a pro-life belief he argued that  he has alweays been a supporter of the sancticy of marriage to be that of a union between a man and a woman, and that as a Governor he has done nothing but work to preserve both the sanctity of marriage and life.

Beyond that brief exchange that had Mitt on the defensive, the rest of the night saw him deliver one of debate appearances of the season.

While Gingrich and Romney stood out, the rest of the field was strong but unspectacular and did not achieve the type of results they needed to catapult them in to any kind of game changing position.

Rick Santorum was smooth and professional but unremarkable.

Rick Perry overcame his image as an incompetent debater and had some scripted but well delivered funny and memorable lines including one comparing himself to Tim Tebow, the second year NFL quarterback who draws criticism for his strong Christian faith and praise for his strong come from behind string of victories on the field.

Jon Huntsman was again, just there.  While nothing he said was counterproductive,  he seems to remain stuck in neutral.

Michele Bachmann was on her game but she essentially came out of this debate as the negative candidate.  Her relentless attacks on Gingrich, particular when she tried to claim that Newt was an enemy of the unborn, seemed to at times be overboard, and a display of far fetched examples of political stretches of the truth.  While she held her own and demonstrated herself to be a consistent conservative, she probably hurt herself more by  coming across as overly aggressively in a contest where voters are beginning to believe that the most important thing is to beat Barack Obama, not necessarily another Republican.

Place goes to Ron Paul.

Paul had a consistent positive pitch when it came to his sincere faith in fiscal conservatism and purity.  However he lost the bulk of Republican primary voters when he was pressed on his dangerously ignorant foreign policy and national security views.  This was especially the case when Ron Paul basically denied the dangers of Iran and of their potential capacity for the utilization of nuclear weaponry.  It was here that  Rick Santorum, once again,  unleashed a powerful rebuttal to Paul’s incompetence in the area of the federal government’s primary constitutional responsibility.

Overall, the debate was probably more entertaining than informative but it did give voters a glimpse at the potential strengths and weaknesses of each candidate in these final few days leading up to the Iowa Caucus.

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Iowa Debate Saw Candidates Take Off the Gloves, Romney Trip Himself Up and Newt Prove He Can Go the Distance

Bookmark and Share   Before we go in to the details of the debate, let us first hand out a few awards based on each debate participant’s performance:
 

The Awards

 
Candidate with the Worst Debate MomentMitt Romney;
 
Romney’s attempt to prove that Rick Perry was wrong about Mitt’s past position on a federal healthcare mandate, prompted Mitt to make a bet of $10,000 with Perry over the issue.
 
Candidate with the Best Debate MomentNewt Gingrich;
 
When Newt was asked to defend his remarks about Palestinians being an invented people, he launched in to an articulate discussion about there being a need for a leader who will speak the truth.  He added that it was about time we called the Palestinian leaders what they really are…”terrorists” and stated, “Reagan believed in the power of truth. I’m a Reaganite, I’m proud to be a Reaganite, I will tell the truth,” .  Gingrich’s response on this issue demonstrated a sense of resolve and boldness that many voters find refreshing and appealing.
 
Candidate with the Best Defense LineNewt Gingrich;
 
When Mitt Romney tried to characterize Newt as a career politician Newt defended his record by looking at Mitt and telling him that the only reason he is not considered a career politician is because he lost to Teddy Kennedy in 1994.  In this case Newt proved that the best defense is often a good offense.
 
Most Aggressive CandidateMichele Bachmann;
 
Bachman coined the name “Newt Romney” when during one answer she repeatedly refereed to Gingrich and Romney in a line of attack that classified them as political insiders who were weak on conservative issues and flip flopped on everything from a federal healthcare mandate to global warming. 
 
Candidate Who Was the Most Appealing to Iowa’s Important Evangelical Vote: Rick Santorum;
 
Rick Santorum took every possible opportunity there was to give answers that allowed him to wrap up   his responses up with references to values and the importance of a traditional family.  Santorum did this better than either Perry or Bachmann, and while the other candidates on the stage addressed charges thrown at them, Santorum successfully courted evangelicals and appealed to this very important and powerful Iowa Caucus voting bloc.
 
Worst Overall PerformanceMitt Romney;
Romney had hoped to put Newt Gingrich on the defensive, but instead, Newt successfully kept Mitt on the defensive, and for the first time in these debates, Romney looked and sounded a bit rattled at times.  Romney also failed to achieve any of the things he needed to in this debate such as shore up his conservative bona fides.  But what really earned Mitt last place in this debate was his $10,000 bet.  It is a bet that he lost even though he wasn’t taken up on it and it will come back to haunt him in the months ahead.
 
Best Overall PerformanceNewt Gingrich;
 
Gingrich took the heat and proved he can take it.  He remained calm, cool, collected, and quick-witted, turned several attacks on him in to lines that he successfully used against his opponents, and demonstrated that he has some of that discipline that many claim he lacks.  Overall, Newt did all  he could in this debate.  He looked presidential, demonstrated that he can handle attacks, and did nothing that could have hurt him.
 

 The Debate

 In what was one of two critical debates before voting in Iowa commences in 24 days, the Republicans presidential candidates put the focus more on one another and less on the issues.  Instead of the candidates focussing on how they could affect the issues, the candidates used the issues to affect the frontrunners chances of winning. 

Most focussed on of all was Newt Gingrich.  Newt was tarred and feathered by his opponents for interpretations of his past positions on healthcare mandates, his approach to the explosive Israel vs. Palestine debate, marital infidelity, and his careers in and and out of politics. But the former Speaker of the House held his own and corrected mischaracterizations of his record by Romney, Perry, and Bachmann, setting the record straight concerning Ron Paul’s interpretation of the consulting that Gingrich did for Fannie Mae, and when it came to his personal life, admitting that he made mistakes and had to repent for those mistakes.

Gingrich’s personal life, specifically in the case of marital infidelity, came to the forefront after moderators asked the other candidate’s to address subtle innuendos in various campaign ads which tout their stable, longstanding marriages and suggest that their marriages are a sign of their good character, while the affairs of Newt are sign of his lack of character.

Many of the candidates admitted that Newt’s failed marriages were in fact signs of Newt’s serious character flaws and to his credit, Rick Perry showed some courage when he spoke words in front of Newt’s face that others would have only said behind his back.   The Texas Governor said;

“I’ve always been of the opinion that if you cheat on your wife you’ll cheat on your business partner, so I think that issue of fidelity is important,”

Mr. Perry the went on to say;

“It’s a characteristic of which people look at other individuals, whether it’s in their business lives, or in their personal lives, or picking someone to serve in public office for them.”

On this issue, after all his rivals had their say, Newt agreed it was a legitimate issue and simply admitted that he has made mistakes and asked God to forgive him.  He then went on to state that he hopes that now as a 68  year old grandfather,  people will judge him on his entire record.
 
“People have to measure who I am and whether I’m a person they can trust,” he said.
 
As the new king of the Republican hill, Newt took most of the punches, but in doing so, he also proved that not only can he withstand them, he can pack  a good “issue based” punch of his own.
 
When a question about a recent statement Gingrich made about Palestinians being a made up people, Congressman Ron Paul was the first to pounce on Newt and said of the statement; 

“That’s just stirring up trouble,”

He then added;

“This is how we get into so many messes. I think it just fails us on a little bit of diplomacy.”

Romney also tried to take advantage of what he had hoped would be an opportunity to make Gingrich seem irrational,  He told the assembled Republicans that “we’re not going to throw incendiary words into a place which is a boiling pot.” Romney then went on to imply that Newt was a bombthrower.

But attempts to nail Newt to cross on that issue failed, and in the end Newt handled the question about his statement in a wat that won him the debate.  He stated that he was merely doing what Ronald Reagan used to do, which was to have the courage to tell the truth no matter how unpleasant.

“Reagan believed in the power of truth. I’m a Reaganite, I’m proud to be a Reaganite, I will tell the truth,” he said.

While Newt took the heat, withstood it, and won the debate, former frontrunner Mitt Romney was not nearly as nimble in defending himself as Newt Gingrich was and to make matters worse, he had his first major debate stumble of this election. It was a stumble caused by Mitt’s mouth forcing him to trip over his own feet.

When trying to prove to Rick Perry that he never never supported a federal mandate  regarding the issue of healthcare, Romney turned Perry, put out his hand, and bet the Texas Governor $10,000 that he was  wrong.

Way to go Mitt!

After three years of going sans tie to prove that he was in touch with the average voter, he successfully pulled a stunt that proved to those voters that he lived in a world that was not anything like their’s.  Few Americans can fathom making a spur of the moment bet for $10,000 just to prove a point.  For his part, Rick Perry did not shake the hand extended to him by Romney for such a bet.   Instead Perry said he was “not a betting man”.  Romney reacted with a shrug and throwing up of his hands as if to indicate, he won because Perry was not  willing to put his money where his mouth is.  But in truth, it was Romney who lost many points for that stunt.

Romney’s $10,000 bet not only gave voters the impression that he had a much more carefree attitude with finances than they do, he also demonstrated that he is out of touch with their plight during these tough economic times.

While his opponents on the stage did not immediately pick up on Romney’s gaffe and run with it, you can bet (pun intended) that there is now a race going on to see which one can turn the moment in to an ad and use it against Romney.

As for the rest of the candidates on the stage, Perry had a few decent moments and no embarrassing moments, but a few awkward ones.  Ron Paul was Ron Paul and he did little to demonstrate that was either more electable or more competent than any of his rivals.

Michele Bachmann and Rick Santorum did however perform quite well and make some powerful points that proved themselves  to be the most consistent conservatives on the stage.  That will go a long way in insuring that they remain viable alternatives to Gingrich and Romney in the remaining three weeks of the campaign  leading up to the Iowa Caucuses and it is safe to say that after last night’s performance by Santorum and Bachmann, not only will undecided voters be considering the two of them, the two of them can and will pick up any support that Romney and Gingrich ose in the coming wakes.  That means that you should not be surprised to see one or both of them finish far better than expected when the Caucus is over.

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Trunkline 2012: Sunday Election News Review – 11//13/11

Bookmark and Share   Sunday’s summary of campaign news takes you through Saturday night’s presidential debate, new polls, Occupy protester’s plans, and more. 

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In the Third Debate, Romney Wins,Cain, Gingrich and Santorum Shine. Rick Perry Bombs.

Bookmark and Share    Before we get in to the details, while White House 2012 is happy to provide you with one opinion of last night’s debate, we are also happy to provide you with both a complete transcript of the debate which can be found here and with a complete video version of the debate which is below this post.   Also, take the White House 2012 poll and let us know who you think won last night’s debate.

Now for the assessment;

With nine candidates and over 20,000 questions submitted by American voters, as one White House 2012 reader put it, last night’s Republican presidential debate was more of a Q and A than a debate.  Still, the forum did provide the opportunity for some engaging, albeit brief exchanges.  While most of those exchanges and some of the longest ones too, were between frontrunners Mitt Romney and Rick Perry, others like Rick Santorum also took advantage of the those exchanges, land some punches, and score some points……….at Rick Perry’s expense.

Insofar as winners and losers go, if there was a winner, it would have to be Mitt Romney.  Not so much for the quality of his answers,  but for his performance and ability to use the rules of the debate to his advantage and his main rivals disadvantage.  One such example was Romney’s presence of mind while under pressure, to deny Rick Perry the chance to counter any of his verbal punches, by not mentioning Perry by name. 

One of the debate rules was that if a candidate referred to you by name, you would have 30 seconds for rebuttal.  On issues such as Social Security and immigration, while Romney laid into Perry’s record quite extensively, he would go so far as to look straight at Perry, but never mentioned him by name.  At the same time there, was no misunderstanding who he was talking about.  But Perry was left leaning against the ropes and unable to fight back.

As for Romney’s answers to the questions he was asked, the former Massachusetts Governor made no mistakes and never once departed off of the conservative line.  Throughout the debate, Romney offered decent answers that no conservative could have a problem with.  On that score, since he walked away from this debate without giving any Republican a reason to vote against him, he most certainly wins.  The only area in which Romney failed was his passing up of the chance  to break new policy ground and  prove himself to be a bold leader who will think outside of the box and be the anti-establishment hero that many are looking for.

 At the same time, not ony did Perry miss the chance to become that bold hero many are looking for, he walked away from this debate with less than he had when he first walked on to the stage.

At times, Perry seemed lost for words and when he tried to throw some body blows to his critics, he missed.  Such was the case when after Rick Santorum stated that he found Governor Perry to be soft on illegal immigration.  To that charge Perry could only say, “I’ve got one question for him. Have you ever even been to the border with Mexico?”

To which Santorum replied simply “Yes”.

For Perry, Thursday’s debate took him two steps back, not one step forward.  This was especially the case on the issue of illegal immigration.  On that Perry  threw out a remark that will leave a negative impression of him in the  minds of many conservatives for quite some time. 

When he and Mitt Romney engaged in debate over Perry’s approval of offering discounted in-state tuition rates for the children of illegal aliens,  Perry claimed  “If you say that we should not educate children (illegal immigrant children) who come into our state for no other reason than that they’ve been brought their through no fault of their own, I don’t think you have a heart,” .  That remark seemed to cross a line, and not one with just the other candidates on the stage, but with the millions of conservatives in the American listening audience.  For many, it was the type of liberal attempt to make one feel guilty for the justified logic behind their own position.  Perry’s answer was a strange spin on another famous Texans attempt to be a “compassionate conservative”. however, while Perry’s slant on that phrase may have been compassionate,  it was not conservative.

But neither Rick Santorum or Mitt Romney let Perry get away with his claim.  In fact Romney swung a home run right over Perry’s head on the issue. 

“I’ve got be honest with you, I don’t see how it is that a state like Texas — to go to the University of Texas, if you’re an illegal alien, you get an in-state tuition discount. You know how much that is? That’s $22,000 a year. Four years of college, almost $100,000 discount if you are an illegal alien go to the University of Texas. If you are a United States citizen from any one of the other 49 states, you have to pay $100,000 more. That doesn’t make sense to me.” , said Romney.

But illegal immigration was not Perry’s only weakness last night.

Tell us who you think won the presidential debate

Right off the bat, Perry was asked about the number one issue in America today…….jobs. When asked where his jobs plan was? Perry answered, “Well, you will see a more extensive jobs plan.”    Sorry buddy, but telling voters that the dog ate your homework does not cut it in the real world.  Perry just looked stupid on that one. 

So we have our winner of the debate and the loser of the debate.  What about those in between?

Michele Bachmann had a few strong but routine answers but essentially, she was just there.

Ron Paul was Ron Paul.  While his cheering section hooted and hollered at his every word, his words were the same as usual and lacked the explanation of how he could successfully apply his libertarianism to government. 

Performing better than Paul, was former New Mexico Governor Gary Johnson.  Despite being a Republican libertarian who is little known, Johnson was able to do something that Paul could not.  he was able to point to actual accomplishments.  At times, he even provided answers that put him on an equal footing with some of his better known opponents such as Romney and Perry.  When asked why he would be a better choice as a libertarian-Republican than Congressman Paul, Johnson replied I’m not going to presume to make that assumption” , but he then went on to  to distinguish himself from Pau quite well……… 

“I would like to say that I do bring a unique perspective to this stage. I started a one-man handyman business in Albuquerque in 1974 and grew it to over 1,000 employees. I have run for two political offices in my life: governor of New Mexico and reelection. I promise to submit a balanced budget to congress in the year 2013. I promise to veto legislation where expenditures exceed revenue. And if anybody doubts my willingness to veto bills, I think I vetoed more bills than any governor in the history of the United States. I think I vetoed more bills than all the other governors in the country combined.  Add to that, throwing out the entire federal tax system and replacing it with a consumption tax, the fair tax, which would absolutely reboot the American economy because it does away with the corporate tax to create tens of millions of jobs in this country.”

Johnson’s answer was strong and compelling.

In the  case of Newt Gingrich, he proved once again that he is ideologically the most true conservative and the most savvy.  But he did not distinguish himself as the one who could best institute his conservative concepts into government and he failed to overcome his biggest hurdle…..electability.   Interestingly though,  based on a question asked about picking a running mate from among those on the stage, most of the candidates chose Newt to be their wingman.

Herman Cain had a solid performance but not one that was strong enough to push those at the top of the field out of his way.

Perhaps the saddest performance came from Jon Huntsman. 

As in his first debate appearance, Huntsman tried to be funny, but as he waited for burst of laughter to ring out whenever he reached his punchline, crickets were heard.   It was very uncomfortable.  And to make matters worse, he really offered nothing worth while.  The most he seems tohave for us are boilerplate answers with hands extended outwards and a stiff delivery of bad attempts at humor.

All in all, given the understandable parameters of the type of debate we were presented, it was a worthwhile gathering that gave at least a brief sampling of the type of president each candidate would be or try to be.  However it set nothing in stone.  While Romney won, he has still not provided those who doubt his conservative credentials with the confidence they need to become believers.  While he did not say anything that conservatives can be unhappy with, he also did nothing to inspire them.  What will be interesting though is to see how much of a difference this debate has on Romney’s popularity among Independents.  In many state primaries, Independents and even Democrats are allowed to vote in the G.O.P. contest.   Being dissatisfied by President Obama, many of these Independent could show up at the Republican primaries to support the candidate that  they believe is most capable of beating the President. 

In that sense, I believe Romney helped himself immensely.  He certainly came off as one of, if not the most electable candidates on the stage.

Perry’s poor performance, while being a setback, was certainly not enough to knock him out of the race.  He is still very much in the race.  However, he must really be on his A game in the coming weeks.  He also needs to go in to the next debate much more prepared than he was for this one.

As for the others, they are essentially doomed to linger around the the back of the pack.  I think Michele Bachmann peaked with her straw poll win in Iowa and the rest is downhill from there.  Herman Cain will be able to hang in, but hanging out in the bottom tier is about all he is likely to do.  The only thing I believe we can expect from Huntsman is his withdrawal from the nomination contest.  Ron Paul is mired in the middle where he will remain not dead, but not exactly living either.  You might say that he is comatose. 

Were it not for an inability to raise money, I would have to say that after his debate performance, Rick Santorum would be able to emerge as a strong alternative candidate.  He is spirited and passionate, does not come off as scripted and is satisfactory to the G.O.P. base.  But money talks and Santorum just can’t raise enough money to really be heard. 

That leaves us with Newt Gingrich. 

I still can’t write Newt off.  He has great potential and the rebirth of his campaign that will occur when he unveils his new Contract with America could be very attractive to voters.  But even if that is so, Newt will still have an extremely high hurdle to jump in proving that Newt Gingrich, the man, is as good as Newt Gingrich’s  ideas.  If he can somehow prove that the messenger is as good as the message, he could give Romney and Perry a run for their money that will be expensive and exhausting. 

Now, the awards………..

Most Memorable Lines

Funniest Line of the Night:

“My next door neighbor’s two dogs have created more shovel ready jobs than this President.” 

 – Gary Johnson

Sharpest Attack Line of the Night:

“He [Rick Perry] doesn’t want to build a fence. He gave a speech in 2001 where he talked about bi-national health insurance between Mexico and Texas. I mean, I don’t even think Barack Obama would be for bi-national health insurance.” 

-Rick Santorum

 Most Sarcastic Line of the Night:

“I spent my life in the private sector. Not in government. I only spent four years as a Governor. (Turns head, looks at Rick Perry and says) I didn’t inhale” 

-Mitt Romney

 Most Logical Line of the Night:

“…sex is not an issue.  It should not be an issue. Leave it alone.  Keep it to yourself, whether you’re a heterosexual or a homosexual.”

-Rick Santorum

Next Most Logical Line of the Night:

“….but I believe that it is fundamentally wrong to give people money for 99 weeks, for doing nothing.  That’s why we had welfare reform.”

-Newt Gingrich 

Worst Line of the Night:

 “If you say that we should not educate children (illegal immigrant children) who come into our state for no other reason than that they’ve been brought their through no fault of their own, I don’t think you have a heart,” 

-Rick Perry

Best Line of the Night:

“It’s important to remember, this month, in the Reagan administration, September 1983, we created 1,100,000 new jobs. Obama’s socialist policies, class warfare, and bureaucratic socialism, we created zero in August.”

-Newt Gingrich 

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And here is the debate in its entirety:

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