Friday, January 20, 2012

Thoughts on CNN's GOP Debate in South Carolina and Predictions for the Primary

While entertaining at times due to the back and forth, in ways it was a waste of time as I really don't see a winner from it.  As they say on Wall Street when the market closes unchanged, it was a waste of a clean shirt.  You can see that it was indecisive just based on the variety of different conclusions people left with.  Some, like Mark Halperin, think Newt won (the left of center commentator gave Newt an A+) because of his ability to defuse the ex-wife bomb left on his front steps by ABC just days before the all important South Carolina primary.  Others, like Dick Morris, think Rick Santorum won because of he was able to lay punches on both Newt and Romney.  The Hill didn't really see a winner either.  I always felt that to win a debate you really have to have memorable lines that people want to re-watch a few times and send to friends, winning on points doesn't really get you anywhere.  Newt was able to rejuvenate his run in the debate earlier this week (was it just earlier this week?  It seems forever ago already) because he actually had several memorable lines in one debate that really energized the base.  Judging by what I have seen today, the only thing that will stay with people is Newt's smackdown of John King for broaching the subject of his ex-wife as the first question of the debate (interesting that his second wife is the subject of a question but Iran, Iraq and Afghanistan are completely absent, way to go CNN!) but there was little after that.  Although personally another moment that will live in my head is Romney's sinister laugh when asked whether he would release his tax returns like his father did (he released 12 years worth but he probably didn't have complicated tax evasion schemes). 

In order for there to be a winner, someone has to have their mind changed about a candidate.  While I'm sure there will be a voter here or there who will switch, I think they will be scattered and will go in different directions.  Some will be turned off by Romney's evasion with regards to his tax returns.  Others will be turned off by Newt because of some of the attacks he sustained from Romney and Santorum (though I don't think this will be major.  The way Newt blows up is by saying something offensive in the debate which he didn't do.  Nor was there any focus on some of the issues that have tripped him up in the past, Freddie Mac, judicial supremacy and his criticisms of Bain).  And some people will be turned off by Santorum's manner in the debate.  He seemed to learn all the wrong lessons from Newt's rise, fall and rise again.   Yes, Newt because popular by going on the attack, but not when he was attacking fellow Republicans.  It was by attacking the liberal establishment and Obama and defending conservative values.  Santorum did land some punches but he looked snide and grating while doing it.  Not the best way to get people to actually vote for you.  Also, if you take a look at his attacks on Newt during the debate, many were really unfair.  While attacking Romney he seemed to bring lots of facts, while attacking Newt he pretty much got personal and petty.  Here are some examples that I gleaned from the transcript:

Santorum:  And then -- (cheers, applause) -- then we have Speaker Gingrich, who has been for an individual mandate, not back in the time that just was -- Heritage was floating around in the '90s, but as late as -- comments (since/in ?) 2008, just a few years ago, he stood up and said that we should have an individual mandate or post a $150,000 bond. How many $150,000 bondholders do we have here who can post a bond for their health insurance?

These are two folks who don't present the clear contrast that I do, who was the author of health savings accounts, which is the primary basis of every single -- (cheers, applause) -- conservative reform of health care. I was the author of it back in 1991 and '92, 20 years ago. I've been fighting for health reform, private-sector, bottom-up, the way America works best, for 20 years, while these two guys were playing footsies with the left.


You held that -- Newt -- Newt, you held that position for over 10 years. And, you know, it's not going to be the most attractive thing to go out there and say, you know, it took me 10 or 12 years to figure out I was wrong, when guys like Rick Santorum knew it was wrong from the beginning.

There are a few things wrong with this.  First, Santorum was in favor of the individual mandate at one time as well, so he doesn't exactly have clean hands and didn't know it was "wrong from the beginning" (unless he just admitted to lying in 1994).  Second, Obamacare is more than the individual mandate, otherwise Obamacare wouldn't have been 2,000 pages long.  It is a whole host of regulations that will warp our healthcare system, the individual mandate is just one.    Third, there is a big difference between saying something in a speech and actually implementing it.  Romney implemented a socialist healthcare system in Massachusetts, Newt defeated one while he was in office.  I don't think anyone doubts that Newt will do everything he can to get rid of Obamacare. 

Now for another one:

SANTORUM: Grandiosity has never been a problem with Newt Gingrich. He -- he handles it very, very well. (Cheers, applause.) And that's really one of the issues here, folks. I mean, a month ago, he was saying that, oh, I'm -- it's inevitable that I'm going to win the election and it's -- I'm destined to do it.

I don't want a nominee that I have to worry about going out and looking at the paper the next day and figuring out what is he -- worrying about what he's going to say next.

And -- and that's what I think we're seeing here. (Applause.)

For him to suggest that someone who was tied for first, and eventually won, the Iowa caucuses and finished with twice as many votes as he did; and finished ahead of him in New Hampshire in spite of the fact that he spent an enormous amount more money in both those places, plus had the most important endorsement in the state, the Manchester Union Leader; and I was 10 points behind him a week before the election and then finished ahead of him, so I was 2-and-0 coming into South Carolina -- and I should get out of the race -- these are -- these are not cogent thoughts.

I mean, and -- and -- and -- and let's just be honest. I mean -- (cheers, applause) -- I mean, Newt's a friend, I love him, but at times you just got to -- you know, sort of that, you know, worrisome moment that something's going to pop. And we can't afford that in a nominee. We need someone -- I'm not the most flamboyant and I don't get the biggest applause lines here, but I'm steady. I'm solid. I'm not going to go out and do things that you're going to worry about. I'm going to be out there and I'm going to make Barack Obama the issue in this campaign. (Cheers, applause.)

If the GOP nominee shouldn't be someone we have to worry about saying something that we have to worry about, that pretty much means Santorum can't be the nominee either.  Let's not forget some of Santorum's goodies like believing that contraception could be banned by the states, blaming radical feminism for the fall of the American family or shockingly blaming liberalism in Boston for the church child molestation scandal or equating homosexuality with bestiality. Just those quotes alone probably offended about 75% of the population.

And he seems to be either purposely obtuse or dangerously full of himself if he doesn't know why Newt called on him to quit.  There are some very logical reasons.  First, Santorum only won Iowa because he spent 90 days on the ground there, more than any of the other candidates by a country mile.  He literally bet the farm on it as he spent almost no time anywhere else.  That razor thin win helped him get a bounce in New Hampshire but now he is in danger of coming in last in South Carolina and Florida.  There just really is no realistic path to victory for him at this point. Chances are he will be out of money soon.  It's easy to not have money when focusing on a state like Iowa, it is much harder when you have to deal with multiple contests at the same time.  So Newt's thoughts are very cogent.  It's Santorum who has delusions of grandeur.  His only hope is for Newt to drop out of the race while I think Newt can still win with Santorum in the race as he will probably only be garnering 5% or less of the vote in short order.

SANTORUM: I will give Newt Gingrich his due on grandiose ideas and grandiose projects. I will not give him his -- his -- his -- his due on executing those projects, which is exactly what the president of the United States is supposed to do. Four years into his speakership, he was thrown out by the conservatives. There was a coup against him in '03.

I served with him. I was there. I knew what the problems were going on in the House of Representatives, and Newt Gingrich was leading this -- leading there. It was an idea a minute -- no discipline, no ability to be able to pull things together. I understand you're taking credit for the 1994 election, and you did have a lot plans. As you know, I worked with you on those, and we had meetings early in the morning on many -- many a week. And so we worked together on that.

But you also have to admit that this freshman congressman who wasn't supposed to win a race, came and did something you never did, which is blew the lid off the biggest scandal to hit the Congress in 50 years. You knew about it for -- for 10 or 15 years because you told me you knew about it. And you did nothing, because you didn't have the courage to stand up to your own leadership, the Democratic speaker of the House, take to the floor of the Senate, demand the releasing of the checks that were being kited by members of Congress, risk your political career, risk your promotion within the ranks and do what was right for America -- and that had more or as much to do with the 1994 win as any plan that you put together.

There are usually two types of executives, detail oriented operations guys and those with vision.  Sometimes you can get both in the same one but that is very rare.  The operations oriented executives look at what is feasible today and go for it.  They are great at turning around a company but not necessarily taking it to the next level.  Romney is one of these guys and to an extent, so was Jimmy Carter (he was very focused on the details of government but forgot the turning around part).  On the other side you have the visionaries.  In this category you have people like Thomas Jefferson and Ronald Reagan.  The reason I think visionaries win in the end, especially as President, is you can always delegate the actual execution of a plan, it is very difficult to actually delegate vision.  And if we ever needed a guy with vision, it is now.

On the house banking scandal, come on.  Does he actually expect us to believe Newt is someone who stays quiet and just goes along to get along?  Even at 68 years old he is a bomb thrower who doesn't care who he offends.  Give me a break. 

SANTORUM: And -- and you have Speaker Gingrich, who -- who believes there needs to be a legal pathway. That's where President Obama's position is. I think we need a -- again, just like health care, we need a clear contrast, someone who can say, look, we -- I have always been for making sure that the law is enforced, and enforced fairly. I'm -- I -- I grieve for people who have been here 25 years and maybe have to be separated from their family if they -- if they were picked up and deported.

We definitely want to tackle the illegal immigration problem but I think it is unrealistic to be too draconian about it, just realistically.  The more hard core you get on immigration, the easier you make it for Obama to win with less than 40% of the caucasian vote as you chase Latinos over to the Democrats.  Newt actually has a nice middle ground.  Both strong and humane, like Reagan.  Personally, I'm willing to give a little on immigration if it means no Obamacare, a strong defense, lower taxes, lower regulations and a conservative Supreme Court.

So now I wanted to finish by doing something dangerous, actually trying to predict what is going to happen tomorrow, as if I'm any good at it or even objective.  I think there is a chance that people are going to be very surprised by how much Newt wins tomorrow.  The Monday debate provided Newt with a few "I'm paying for this microphone, Mr. Green" moments.  The debate which helped save Reagan in 1980, occurred right before the NH primary and, because it was so close to the primary, the polls were still showing a close race.  He ended up winning with 50% of the vote versus only 23% for George H.W. Bush, who was the front runner in the polls just a matter of days before that.  Besides the momentum from the debate, Newt also has seen, in just the last few days, Rick Perry, Sarah Palin, Jim Robinson, Michael Reagan and Pamela Geller endorse him (or at least tell SC voters to vote for him).  Conservatives seem to be finally coalescing around one candidate as they realize this is probably their last chance to defeat Romney.  I also wouldn't be surprised to see some people who don't usually vote come out for Newt given the importance of this race.

I think that barring a complete collapse, Romney will finish second.  But you never know.  His armor is not as shiny as it was a week ago since it now appears he didn't win Iowa and people are seeing a glimpse of the attacks that will come at him in the general (plus the fact he seems to have uninspiring responses about his private career, his wealth or even his taxes). Plus, in 2008, he came in 4th with only 15% of the vote, just behind Fred Thompson.  The battle for third is harder to call but I think it will go to Ron Paul.  There is just such a large Tea Party conservative wave that is going to Newt that I think Santorum will probably finish in the low teen's at best.  I think he realizes it as well as it explains his grating behavior last night.

Anyway, that and a dollar gets you a donut.


  1. EXCELLENT! I would love to cross post at PolitiJim.

    It made me think of a thought I had earlier. First you have the whole Nixon/JFK thing where Nixon won on the radio (substance) and JFK won the image battle. Although Morris and others felt Santorum won, I was really wondering if most people felt the same way not being hyper-policy guys. The PPP poll showed that 60% of voters watched the debate and they were breaking 2 to 1 for Newt. So I'm not sure he did.

    The other point is that Newt has quintupled his exposure and persuasion because the John King answer has been replayed a gazillion times on TV, twitter and the "email" networks of South Carolinians. Romney had a much less ripple in his "capitalism is great" answer but can any one name a single similar moment for Santorum?

    I am taken back to polls that showed 70% of the American people for Ollie North after his Iran Contra testimony that turned to 30% after a month of brainwashing by the media. You just can't get the power and intelligence of Newt's response out of your mind.

    And at the end of the day, unless Newt is FOR ObamaCare or something, the average voter who has just tuned in this week is going with what the SEE and FEEL. It shouldn't be that way but if so - the reverberation of Newt's responses is enough for people to go - "yeah, he can handle this job."

    1. Thanks for the kind words Jim. Feel free to crosspost it or any other post if you like it.

    2. By the way, great points of the debate. I think on Friday night I got the sense that Newt won the debate because Newt's response to John King was getting a dominant amount of discussion.

      On to Florida!