Saturday, January 21, 2012

Thursday's Debate: An Analysis of South Carolina one Candidate at a Time

I'm two days late with this, but that's only because as of this writing, I have literally just finished watching my TiVoed recording of the South Carolina debate between the remaining candidates.

We began the primary season with seven candidates. A Minnesota Congresswoman, a CEO, a former Speaker of the House, a former Governor, a current Congressman, and a former Senator. Now,with the developments happening as they have, we have been reduced to four. Herman Cain was ousted after sexual harassment charges proved he didn't have what it took to stand against the smear machine that attacks all candidates that go through this process. Michelle Bachmann shot herself in the foot with her Gardasil comments, but was really taken out of the running when Rick Perry came in blustering about how he was the ideal "Not Romney".

Now we are left with four: The Speaker, the Senator, the Congressman, and the former Governor. Each of these has, whether through luck or skill, has proven that they have staying power of some kind or another. As regular readers know, I've thrown my support, meager as it is, behind Newt Gingrich in the event of losing both Bachmann and Cain. Each of the candidates in the SC debate gave a strong showing, in my opinion. Even Ron Paul, who normally comes off as naive on foreign policy, seems to have gained some footing this time around, though that may have largely been due to the fact that the moderator, John King of CNN, stuck mostly to domestic policy questions with Paul, where admittedly he shines, but more on him later.

First, let's start with what was clearly the highlight of the debate, Newt's utter lambasting of John King for bringing up the recent interview ABCInformer held with his ex-wife Marrianne. I posted the video of the exchange in my last post, and have to admit that every time I see it, I get a tingle. Now, don't go comparing me to Chris Matthews or anything. I'm well aware of Newt's foibles, but when any politician does what he did there, standing up against the unmitigated gall of the MSM to bring personal information to bear in a presidential debate against a conservative contender for president while at the same time actively protecting Barack Obama from so much as the slightest bit of honest criticism about his record. Many are saying that that response won Newt the debate, and I was initially inclined to agree with them until I realized I was letting my support for Newt blind me to the other candidates' responses to the questions being asked.

Governor Romney did well for himself, though there were some awkward moments when the question of tax returns came up. When asked point blank by King whether or not he would release the returns, he said specifically "when my taxes are done for this year, then I'll release them." This was after a bit of wishy-washy flip-flop sounds coming out of his mouth as he attempted to dodge the issue. Makes me wonder why he's waiting. Could he have something to hide? Or does he just not want to deal with the hassle of filing taxes while he's running for the highest office in the land? I don't know, and only time can answer that riddle.

Rick Santorum FINALLY went on the offense in the debate, blasting the other candidates on all things from tax policy to abortion. His strongest argument, I believe, was when he spoke out as the only "truly pro-life" candidate in the race. This, I think, was Santorum finally flashing his social conservative cred in the hopes of getting the same kind of support he had in Iowa. It may or may not work, but if it doesn't Santorum will have to reconsider his run for the White House and back either Gingrich or Romney. But what does that mean, "truly pro-life"? Does it mean that he's the only one who's worked towards protecting unborn children while working in Washington? I don't know. Newt is pro-life as well,  but Santorum, in perceiving a weak spot, tried to hit Gingrich in the chink in his armor and, I believe missed the mark. Just because Newt made a few decisions not in line with what Santorum sees as pro-life doesn't mean Newt cares any less about the unborn. Whether this will hurt Santorum or not remains to be seen, but the news buzz around the net and blogs suggests that the race may be all but over for the former Senator. Personally, I'll wait for the results to actually come in before I make that prediction.

Romney seemed less like the flip-flopper everyone says he is and largely remained consistent with his responses to King's questions, as well as the other candidate's challenges. Baine Capital didn't directly come up to rear its ugly head, which was fortunate for Romney, and when King asked about his economic views, Romney answered. After hearing him speak, I think Mitt, from an economic standpoint, would be a decent president. The major problem I have with his tendency to change his mind. Governor Romney did well for himself overall, though there were some awkward moments when the question of tax returns came up. When asked point blank by King whether or not he would release the returns, he said specifically "when my taxes are done for this year, then I'll release them." This was after a bit of wishy-washy flip-flop sounds coming out of his mouth as he attempted to dodge the issue. Makes me wonder why he's waiting. Could he have something to hide? Or does he just not want to deal with the hassle of filing taxes while he's running for the highest office in the land? I don't know, and only time can answer that riddle.

Consistency is Mitt's main weakness, and remains so, which explains why his support has stayed steady rather than rising or falling significantly during his run for the nomination. People appear too reluctant to swing his way, and as such, have gravitated towards the other three candidates in more or less equal portions. To that end, our next stop: Texas.

Specifically Texas Congressman Ron Paul. Paul has a reputation as a staunch Constitutionalist, and it is well deserved. The man reportedly has never voted to raise congressional pay, never voted for an unbalanced budget, and has voted consistently in line with his views all through his time in Washington. Domestically, he's everything you could want in a presidential candidate, from his desire to return us to the gold standard to his ideas on cutting back on foreign aid and to as he put it "stop subsidizing" other countries by using our military to defend them when they should be defending themselves. All in all decent ideas that have merit. But where Paul falls short is foreign policy. In dealing with other countries, Paul specifically stated in the last debate that we needed a "Golden Rule" premise when dealing with countries like Iran. This is the kind of foreign policy that will likely get more Americans killed than anything else, since just because we leave other countries alone, it doesn't mean they're going to leave us alone.

Finally, we come to Newt Gingrich and his performance. While trying to remain objective, I do still believe that Newt won the debate, and reminded me a bit of old footage of Ronald Reagan talking to the press. The main difference was in tone of voice. While Reagan would talk OVER the press and deflect unwanted questions with a well placed joke, Newt made it clear that he was most certainly not going to take any of King's guff, and brought the hammer down on the issue immediately.. You've all probably already seen the footage, so I won't go into it here, but I found that Newt's tone for the entire exercise was set by that one exchange. A lot of people deride Newt for his boastful attitude, but name me one candidate that had a backbone and DIDN'T sound (at least a little) like an arrogant gasbag. Even Reagan had those moments, most notably when he walked away from the table in Iceland when the Soviets tried to use diplomacy to kill SDI. Or how about this little gem from his speech at the Berlin Wall? A bit arrogant of him to call out Gorby like that, no? Well, to some it certainly was. That doesn't mean Reagan was a bad president. In fact I argue that it made him a better one, since whatever arrogance he possessed likely helped him in his decisions to walk away from the table and tell the Soviets to "tear down this wall".

Sorry about that. Got a bit off topic.

Back to Newt's debate performance: He did well, long story short. His answers were clear and concise. He defended his record with the steel spine a president needs, and he stood by previous statements he made. That, in my view, is why I'm declaring Newt the winner. He proved that he can stand the heat, and that's what we're going to need. Someone who's been through the fire before with a proven record of success.

Way to go, Newt. Way to go.