WASHINGTON, September 8, 2011—The only thing that this debate had in common with the rest of the Republican debates was that the moderators did not moderate, and that Ron Paul walked away as the only candidate to provide any substance…once again.
Anyone who thinks that the media doesn’t like to pick and choose candidates should watch the first ten minutes of the debate at the Reagan Library. The moderators saw fit to abandon the rules immediately and allowed Rick Perry and Mitt Romney to fire jabs at each other and waste precious debate time. While it may have been fun to watch the two establishment candidates rail against each other, it only diminished the integrity of the entire debate that supposedly had six other people. Once the dust settled, other candidates began to chime in.
As he has in all three of the previous debates, Rick Santorum became more irrelevant as the debate went on. He spoke of his ability to “get things done” and that he could help perpetuate bipartisanship to accomplish this goal. Unfortunately, anything that Santorum wants to get done is probably not good policy. When asked about the creation of the Department of Homeland Security, he professed support for the agency due to lack of information sharing between other intelligence organizations. Apparently he thought that adding another bureaucracy would be helpful. Probably his most laughable statement of the night was his contention that President Obama was too timid about going into Libya. One has to wonder how he thinks bombing another country without a declaration of war, or even permission from Congress could be considered timid. The irony was lost on most people when Santorum accused Huntsman and Paul for being isolationists due to their foreign policy views, and yet most of the other candidates were supporting a fence across the US-Mexican border.
Once again, Newt Gingrich took issue with the debate moderators and with their line of questioning. He refused to answer what he thought was a divisive question over healthcare. The former Speaker further went on to say that Republicans should stay united and get behind whoever the nominee was in order to beat Obama. After watching this exchange one might think that Gingrich wanted all eight candidates to get into a circle and sing Kumbaya. Gingrich seems to be forgetting that the whole point of the primaries is for voters to decide who the best candidate is for the nomination.
Herman Cain released yet another one of his short lived plans for jump starting the economy. This one he called the 9-9-9 plan. He also emphasized that programs such as FEMA or Homeland Security should be fixed and would not acknowledge that many of those programs should be abolished all together. While Cain seems to be trying harder, he just doesn’t seem to be articulating his ideas very well without confusing people, and it is definitely showing in the polls. One wonders if he even understands his own economic plans.
Jon Huntsman remained a forgotten man in his second debate. Although he challenged Romney and Perry on their records in Massachusetts and Texas respectively, this was no different than what Bachman or Paul did in the debate. He most likely alienated some conservatives with his talk about evolution and global warming. Neither of these issues will matter during the campaign, so it remains a mystery why the former Governor of Utah even brought them up. One area that Huntsman should receive some credit is when he made the statement that our troops should be brought home from Afghanistan.
More and more, Michele Bachmann is proving that she is not equipped to handle a grueling campaign. After the Iowa Straw Poll, she needed to follow up with a knock out debate performance and she was nothing more than a footnote. The only attack the Congresswoman could mount against Rick Perry was to piggy back onto Ron Paul’s criticism of Perry who used an executive order to force HPV vaccines onto 12 year old girls. Probably the most revealing answer she gave during the debate was on her foreign policy philosophy. After stating her disapproval with Obama’s war in Libya, Bachmann was then asked if she disagreed with the foreign policy of the Bush administration; a question that she could not seem to give a straight answer to.
Mitt Romney was, as always, polished, well spoken, and lacking any substance whatsoever. While he was able to steer the conversation away from his Massachusetts healthcare plan, the voters definitely have not forgotten about it. Romney also didn’t do himself any favors when he spoke of the 47% of people in this country who don’t pay taxes. Although he stated that he didn’t want to increase taxes on anyone, Romney expressed regret that almost half of the country didn’t pay their full share. Governor Romney is coming dangerously close to Joe Biden’s position that it’s patriotic to pay one’s taxes. After the fray between Perry and Romney was over, the former Governor of Massachusetts halfway removed himself from the presidential debate and would only attack Obama’s positions. If red meat is the only thing Romney can offer, then he can kiss goodbye any chance of regaining the status of Republican front-runner.
If Rick Perry wants to stay the front-runner in this race, then lukewarm performances like the one he had in his first debate will not fly. This was one of only a handful of debates that he has ever participated in, and it showed. When Perry was required to actually debate, he stumbled more than a few times, and was not able to reflect criticism very well. When Congressman Paul asked him about his support for Hilarycare, Perry was not able to give a very good response and was only able to deflect that attack by bringing up Paul’s exit from the party in 1987. Even when Perry was right, he showed little conviction in any answer other than his strong support for the death penalty. His statement against Keynesian economics came out of left field. If he had ever expressed concern over Keynesianism before, he sure was quiet about it. This first debate was a bust for Perry.
Although he did not receive nearly as much time as the so called front-runners, Ron Paul was the only substantive candidate on that stage. As always, Paul’s arguments against a powerful federal government were well received by the debate audience as they always are. On the immigration issue, Congressman Paul was the only candidate with enough sense to realize that the problem can’t be solved unless one looks at the cause, such as special benefits that immigrants receive. He also made the clever argument that if Republicans were against healthcare mandates, then they should be just as philosophically against mandates such as the minimum wage. While other candidates may have received more attention from the media and the debate moderators, none of them were able to refute any of Paul’s claims about the economy or civil liberties. Dr. Paul, once again, had something that none of the other candidates had; substance.
Conor Murphy is a graduate of Virginia Commonwealth University with a degree in political science. As a former radio talk show host on WVCW, Conor hosted two popular shows, Murphy’s Law and Son of the Revolution. You can read more of his columns in The Political Pro-Con at The Washington Times Communities.
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