So a miracle happened last night and somehow I was able to actually watch the GOP debate while it was going on and neither Ben10 (my kids' favorite) nor So You Think You Can Dance (my wife's favorite, as is just about any reality show that is on) entered into the picture at all. This is something that happens about as often as a full solar eclipse so I'm grateful, especially because I really did enjoy watching the debate last night, which was unexpected. Anyway, I thought I'd jot down some of my thoughts of how the different candidates fared in the debate and my general impression of them as candidates. Just so you know, my critique will be based solely on impressions of the candidates at the debate and will not draw on any of my preconceived notions (of which, I have many). Also, many of my comments may be highly superficial in nature as, for the most part, there was little difference between what the candidates said. After all, they are all gunning for the same electorate, the conservative activists who tend to vote in primaries.
Romney: The clear winner of the debate. His style was the most Presidential and I could see him going toe to toe with Obama in a debate and wiping the floor with him. The only issue I had with him, and it was minor, was that he looked like he not only aged in the last few years, but it looked like he rotted. It was as if he were Dorian Grey and someone accidentally damaged his portrait. Am I being too mean? Don't we all age? Yes, we do. But it's important that we don't come across as a bunch of senior citizens looking to battle the youthful Obama, like we did last election. Youthful vigor wins elections and has for much of the last 50 years (Obama over McCain, Clinton over Dole, Clinton over Bush, etc.). You might think Reagan was an exception but given how wimpy Carter came off as, Reagan actually seemed more vigorous despite being older.
Pawlenty: A bit of a letdown early on. As many others have noted, he should have gone in for the kill earlier on, in a sincere and principled way. I think he probably had too much advice earlier on about not going too negative and how people might be put off by that. Unfortunately, his Rube Goldergesque explanation of his Obamneycare comment (which he was implying was only a criticism of Obama) made him seem insincere and wimpy. And I now he could have done so much better with just a few tweaks as he did have a much better debate later on when he had warmed up a little and killed some of the butterflies in his stomach. The only other issue I had with him was that I kept wondering if he had a spray tan. He is from Minnesota, he doesn't have to be tan!
Bachmann: She is definitely a star and her debate performance was great. She was much more polished and confident than anyone else on the stage other than Romney. I liked it when she said she was running for President of the United States so wouldn't try to meddle in state affairs. The only thing I didn't like was when she kept saying she took in 23 foster kids. I know she is trying to sound generous, which I am sure she is. But for me and other east coasters, I think it just comes across as weird and perhaps a bit creepy. I don't know why but it does. I also wasn't a huge fan of the hair, which looked like it had 10 cans of hairspray and seemed hard enough to repel bullets. I was also surprised by the giant crows feet around her eyes, that might be a function though of the 6 inches of makeup she was wearing for the debate as I've seen her before and they weren't so pronounced (hey I said some of my comments would be highly superficial)
Paul: I normally don't like Ron Paul, but I did enjoy his performance at the debate. He, of course, focused on the fundamental problems with big government. Of course, the National Journal said he continued to be a fringe candidate because he was bringing obscure topics like "monetary policy" into the debate. I'm sorry, monetary policy is obscure? Maybe for you English major reporters but not for anyone who cares if the government is printing money and continuously devaluing the dollar for the last ten years. Anyhoo, the only critique I have for Paul's performance was that he kept referring to the "church" as a substitute for government. Couldn't he have said non-profit community organizations or something? Maybe try to be a little more inclusive? Libertarians are a small enough minority, now he has to bring religion into it?
Santorum: He did okay in the debate but I couldn't get over a couple of things. First, his nose looks way too small for his face. Did he have some sort of weirdo nosejob? He kind of has this Michael Jackson thing going on, at least to my eyes. Also, he always looked like he was in pain every time he said something. I mean, if he can't answer a fluff question like "Leno or Conan" without looking extremely constipated, he has a problem.
Gingrich: He did a wonderful job I thought, other than his wishy washy response to the Ryan plan question. He was generally confident and highly intelligent. Based on the debate by itself, I'd say he has a shot. But based on the fact he is kind of a whacko and extremley inconsistent, I don't think so.
Cain: A cartoon character of a candidate. I really could make no sense of his answers to the "will you have a Muslim in your cabinet" question, they would make sense for a little bit and then he would contradict himself. I think he could get the nomination of the Rent is Too Damn High Party. I think I liked the idea of him much more than what I saw last night.
At this point, I think Romney looks like he will be very tough to beat in New Hampshire. I also think that unless Pawlenty can become more confident I think he might lose Iowa to Bachmann, who is a much more exciting speaker. Anyway, we'll see what happens at the Ames Straw Poll in a couple of months, it should be interesting! Other than these three, I don't see anyone escaping the single digit range in primaries.