I have to say I thoroughly enjoyed last night's debate, perhaps because everyone seemed much more honed and serious this time, or maybe it's just because Rick Perry is in the fray (in the previous debates I often would be disappointed that the only one that seemed Presidential was Romney, who to me is the Dorian Gray of the GOP). Given the proceedings, I do think it would have received higher ratings than any meaningless speech given by our not-so-impressive current President.
One thing I didn't like was the fact that Brian Williams was there asking such stilted questions. He even opened the debate with a summary of polling which said that most people blame W for the current economic mess. Was W on stage? What does that have to do with anything? It just proves that (MS)NBC is completely unfair and unbalanced. Then when he was trying to shame Perry over executing murderers, it got really ridiculous. It was great to see Perry win that battle, hands down. Anyway, below are my thoughts on how the candidates did at the debate last night. Some I definitely liked more than others but I would vote for anyone of them over Obama (please remember that if you think I've insulted your personal favorite):
Rick Perry - I think he won because he didn't lose. He answered many of the questions with confidence and really gave the impression that he has the experience to govern this great nation (unlike Obama who had zero experience coming in). However, he did have some moments where I think he could have done much better. First, he came out guns blazing, attacking Romney for the first part of the debate. It came across as a bit too negative, especially since many people have probably never seen him before and this might be their first impression of him. A little more Reagan charm and a little less Texas bushwhacker would have been better. Also, the hosts kept hounding him on Texas having so many uninsured and having relatively low test scores and I kept waiting for him to answer those questions with the actual truth (and he finally did so, reluctantly, near the end of the debate). I would have liked an answer like "Texas has a lot of immigrants, both legal and illegal, for whom English is a second language and for whom getting employer based health insurance is an impossibility. They have rightfully been drawn to Texas due to its growing economy but that has hurt some of our rankings, especially against states with a more homogeneous population." He could then spout off statistics about how things are constantly improving in Texas. Would that have been so hard? I think that would have shut up the wonks at MSNBC. Perhaps though he just didn't want to blame anyone for some of the low rankings in Texas, which is understandable. Then, I also didn't like his deer in headlights look with regards to the global warming question. All he has to say is "first there is still disagreement about whether there is global warming and then amongst those that believe in global warming there is disagreement as to whether it is caused by man or by the sun, as a recent paper in Nature attested. If it's caused by the sun, what is the point of crashing our economy?" That would quiet his critics pretty quickly. People are making hay with his Social Security comments, but I won't criticize him over them as he was speaking the truth. I also liked his bit about how it's time we started telling people the truth about our problems. That seemed like a quite mature and Presidential response to Romney's criticism of his ponzi scheme comments. So on the whole, it wasn't perfect but there were no major gaffes that would torpedo his run and he did come across as quite electable and at this point, he just has to run as an electable non-Romney to win the nomination.
Mitt Romney - When I first saw him I suspected that he might have also had some sort of dermal filler or botox treatment prior to the debate as he actually did look much younger than in the previous debates.I thought he did reasonably well and on debating points he probably won this debate, as he did all the rest. I thought he ably jousted with Perry, pointing out that he didn't have the benefit of no income tax and Republican majorities throughout his government in Massachusetts like Perry did in Texas. He pretty much did the best he could with what he had to work with. His defense of his private sector experience (only on MSNBC would he have to defend that!) was very well done and he came across as someone who could fix our problems. Unfortunately, there were points where I had to cringe a little. First, his defense of Romneycare is still not the best and he isn't that convincing. Then there was his attack on Perry over his social security comments. Was he saying it's not a ponzi scheme? If not, what is he smoking? I realize he was gunning for the senior vote here but it did make him look a lot less conservative than what was the impression from the rest of the debate. I also didn't like his answers on immigration. Go after the employers who hire illegals? Really? So now private businesses have to do the government's work for them and if they don't they are fined or raided? That just doesn't sit right with me. Just secure the border and make sure illegals don't get any sort of local, state or federal assistance. That is what the government should do, not go after businesses. Anyway, he came across as definitely Presidential material but I just don't see how he does well outside of the northeast and Michigan (where his dad was Governor).
Michelle Bachmann - I was amazed how she was completely ignored for the first part of the debate. Now that she isn't polling as high as she was, it's like the media doesn't even care about what she says or thinks. I thought her best moment was when she pointed out that you can't executive order Obamacare away. That is not how legislation works and it is going to be a tough battle. And if we don't succeed, we are stuck with it forever. Very powerful, and chilling. Unfortunately, that was probably the only moment when you thought she might be better at governing than Perry. She mentioned that she introduced legislation to repeal Obamacare. So what? What does that get you? I remember when I was an intern at the National Taxpayers Union I read a bill that wanted to give a teddy bear to every child in America. Introducing bills isn't hard, getting them passed is.
Jon Huntsman - I actually liked him at the beginning of the debate when he focused on his record, which is admittedly quite conservative. I also liked his comments on legal immigration as that is definitely something that needs reform. It seems our current policy lets any poor peasant who can hop across a river into this country but we are denying entry to PhD's who can actually start businesses and be an immediate net positive to this country. He lost me though when he started talking about global warming. It reminded me that he supported cap and trade would have been disastrous for the economy, possibly even more so than Obamacare.
Rick Santorum - I'm really warming up to him. He sounds like a true conservative who can actually get things done (and even compromise) and contrary to my initial impressions, seems very electable. Too bad he has no momentum in his campaign, though that can change. It would be nice if they actually gave him more speaking time at the debates, at least as much as Ron Paul.
Ron Paul - As always, a mix of entertainment and blathering. Kudos though for mentioning the silver dime buying a gallon of gas. Our fiat currency is a travesty, and I really can't argue with him there. I also though that as a long time libertarian he should have had a better answer to the food inspection question (he actually didn't seem to have one other than to say "the markets can do that". I would have suggested that you could have different inspection companies out there grading food. As people get used to the different quality standards they might tend to buy food approved by one or the other. That is what orthodox Jews do after all with regards to kosher food. The government doesn't decide what is kosher, private groups do and some are considered more strict than others. So some will buy a food with any kosher symbol on it and others will only buy certain ones. Isn't that how things could work for food in general? As we know he doesn't have a chance, these debates are a great time to actually educate people on libertarianism. He dropped the ball a little on that one.
Newt Gingrich - Still the smartest person there with a great ability to articulate why we believe what we believe. Also, his mastery of legislative history is quite impressive and I am a firm believer that those who do not learn from history are condemned to repeat it. If I didn't know he was batsh*t crazy, I'd be all for him.
Herman Cain - I do like him but he is so unelectable I don't really pay attention to what he says. Though I do like his mentioning of the Chilean model for social security reform, in which their social security became their 401k. But I have to wonder why they include him in the debates and not Gary Johnson who was actually a former Governor of New Mexico? Is the kooky libertarian spot already taken by Paul?