By Craig Robinson
A more complete slate of Republican presidential candidates debated in New Hampshire last night. Mitt Romney, Newt Gingrich, and Michele Bachmann joined Tim Pawlenty, Rick Santorum, Ron Paul, and Herman Cain in the second major debate of the 2012 Republican presidential campaign.
For the most part, all the candidates did rather well. No candidate made a major blunder that will dominate the news coverage of the event. The debate questions and format seemed a little strange at times, and CNN’s John King spent most of his time making odd sounds to cut candidates off when they had exceeded their allotted time to speak. Still, the debate provided Republicans with a great opportunity to rate the candidates as they all debated on the same stage.
It’s difficult to claim who’s a winner and who’s a loser since many of the candidates are still in the early phases of their campaigns. Making it even more difficult are the other obstacles that certain candidates must overcome. Here is a breakdown of last night’s debate.
Newt Gingrich – The Survivor
For all intents and purposes, Newt Gingrich’s campaign for the Republican nomination was over when his entire staff quit last week over the direction and structure of his campaign. Despite the ominous sign that his massive staff exodus sent, Gingrich vowed to move forward with his campaign.
Last night’s debate was a life or death event in terms of Gingrich’s campaign. The former House Speaker provided some interesting and honest answers to many questions. Gingrich was obviously in his element last night. The bad news for him is that the hole he is dug for himself is so deep that there are not enough debates to allow him to climb out.
While he survived to fight another day, last night’s debate is nothing like the New Hampshire Debate in 2007 where McCain was able to get back on his feet. Gingrich is far form being a national frontrunner and needs to do well in a state like Iowa. He can’t do that without a staff and a commitment to actually campaign across the state.
Michele Bachmann – A Great Introduction
Having interviewed Congresswoman Bachmann a few times, I’ve always walked away impressed and surprised at how well she does at staying on message. Bachmann was true to form last night. While her announcement at the beginning of the debate was a little odd and out of place, Bachmann proved that she belongs on the stage with the rest of the candidates.
Like Gingrich, Bachmann had a lot on the line since she has yet to formally announce her candidacy. A bad debate performance could made her announcement much more difficult as it would have provided the media with ample ammunition to use against her. Having performed well, everything seems to lining up well for Bachmann. Now she needs to spend a little time on the campaign trail.
Herman Cain – Momentum Lost
The more complete slate of candidates on the stage last night hurt Cain more than anyone else last night. Bachmann is probably the major factor in contributing to that, but Cain’s momentum has slowed dramatically since the first FOX News debate in South Carolina. Cain avoided making the same mistakes he made in with being interviewed by Wolf Blitzer a week ago, but the damage is done. Cain has some great one-liners, but lacks the depth of the other candidates.
Mitt Romney – Hopes The Are All This Easy
Romney has to be ecstatic with how this debate went. As the frontrunner in the national and New Hampshire polls, Romney was the candidate with the target on his back. In many ways Romney has Tim Pawlenty and CNN to thank for getting through the debate without getting roughed up. Pawlenty was given a softball question about healthcare and he failed to swing at it despite raising the issue days earlier by coining the phrase Obamneycare. Due to the way that CNN structured the debate, Pawlenty was the only one who could have made it an issue. He failed and nobody else was given the opportunity.
Tim Pawlenty – The Courage to Stand? Not Against Romney
If Tim Pawlenty is serious about winning the Republican nomination he needs to show some sort of willingness to differentiate himself from his opponents. If he can’t do that in a primary debate, then how can we expect him to do it against President Obama if he is the Republican nominee?
If I didn’t know better, I would have thought Pawlenty was the frontrunner in the race after watching him pass on almost every opportunity to set himself apart from the competition. The most fitting word to describe Pawlenty’s performance is weak. Pawlenty is averaging around 5.5 percent in the polls, which is in the back of the pack. If he wants to move those numbers, he needs to find a way to become more aggressive.
Rick Santorum – Solid Performance, But Overshadowed
Once again, Santorum delivered another solid debate performance. In a field of candidates that lacks another true social conservative with a history of results, Santorum has plenty of room to grow. During the debate he was given the opportunity to question Romney’s pro-life conversion. It had to be tempting, but Santorum rightfully avoided CNN’s desire to create a controversy.
Santorum showed that he was a full spectrum conservative by displaying a depth of knowledge on a number of subjects. The past two debates have helped him gain credibility with voters in the early primary and caucus states, but he’s still looking for an opportunity to break through the field, which didn’t happen last night. That might not be all that bad. Mike Huckabee didn’t surge until the fall.
Ron Paul – The Rules Do Not Apply
Ron Paul plays by his own set of rules. He always has and always will. His debate performance was very Ron Paul like. About 60 percent of it was great, while the other 40 percent made me scratch my head. The good news for Paul is that he didn’t have to spend time defending his previous statements in support of legalizing marijuana or prostitution. Most of my disagreement with the Texas Congressman came during the foreign policy segment of the debate. However, I do think Paul had one of the best lines of the debate. As others said that they would listen to the advice from the professionals in the military before making major decisions, Paul said, “I wouldn’t wait for my generals. I’m the commander in chief.” Good point. He seemed to be the only one on the state willing to use the entire power of the presidency to institute his policies.
Photos by Dave Davidson
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