It was the feistiest of the eight debates so far between the GOP presidential candidates. Tempers flared and CNN’s Anderson Cooper did a poor job moderating and keeping the candidates on topic. The good part was frontrunners Mitt Romney and Herman Cain were forced to defend their records. The bad part was arguments took the spotlight over substantive policy discussions.
This might be the most difficult debate of all to judge a winner because I thought they all had negative moments. Here’s a look at how each candidate fared:
Michele Bachmann: I thought Bachmann did a good job offering critiques but then staying out of the bickering that went on. She was substantive on the answers and avoided any flubs. However, it is difficult to pick out a moment where she truly stood out. The bickering overshadowed the substantive answers. Overall, Bachmann had a good debate.
Herman Cain: The Georgia businessman got hammered on his “9-9-9” plan by the other six candidates at the beginning of the debate. Cain failed offer substantive rebuttals. He lost a back and forth with Mitt Romney about the sales tax increase. Rick Santorum claimed it would raise taxes on 84% of Americans. Ouch. Cain was also forced to again admit he supported TARP.
Cain’s lack of foreign policy knowledge was exposed again, this time by an answer he gave earlier in the day in a CNN interview in regards to exchanging all the prisoners in Gitmo for one U.S. soldier held by Al Qaeda. Cain said, “I could see myself authorizing that kind of transfer.” During the debate, Cain denied he had said that. After the debate, Cain said he misspoke.
Herman Cain had some bright moments, mentioning HR 3400 as an alternative to ObamaCare was one of them. Overall, this debate was a mixed bag for Cain.
Newt Gingrich: The former House speaker excelled once again. He was authoritative from beginning to end. For the first time, Gingrich took the fight to the other GOP candidates, criticizing “9-9-9” and RomneyCare. However, Mitt Romney was able to fire back at Gingrich for his past support of individual mandates, but Newt said Romney was not being truthful. Gingrich started and finished very strong, blasting the candidate infighting that dominated this forum. Overall, Newt had a good night.
Ron Paul: This might have been Congressman Paul’s best debate performance of this cycle. He hammered Cain on “9-9-9”, scored very well on the states’ rights issue in regards to Yucca Mountain, and was strong on economic policy. The debate veered into foreign policy and that is where Paul got off track a bit. However, I thought it was a good performance for Ron Paul.
Rick Perry: On the bright side, this was the liveliest Perry has been in any of the debates. Unfortunately, his performance reeked of desperation. He tried to hammer Romney several times, but bringing up illegal immigration was probably ill-advised. That issue is one of Perry’s biggest weaknesses. He got into several verbal spats with Romney and did not win any of them. The Texas governor gave Romney an easy opening to remind people Perry once supported Al Gore. Perry is simply not a good speaker and it can be painful to watch him search for the right words.
Mitt Romney: For the first time, Romney got flustered during a debate. He was hit from all sides and his face actually got red a couple of times while arguing with Santorum and Perry. We were reminded that he once employed illegal aliens to work on his lawn, an issue that come up four years ago. On the other hand, he did a great job pointing out the tax increases contained in Cain’s “9-9-9” plan. Overall, this was probably the worst debate so far for Romney, but it wasn’t a terrible performance.
Rick Santorum: The former Pennsylvania senator got a little carried away while bickering with Romney. He wouldn’t let Romney answer the question, then pointed out Romney’s time was up. That was a little overzealous and probably did not sit well with some viewers. Otherwise, Santorum capably dissected “9-9-9”, Cain’s response to negotiating with terrorists and RomneyCare. Santorum gave a terrific answer in regards to Latinos, working the conversation back to families. That scored with the Las Vegas audience as well as social conservatives in Iowa. Overall, it was a pretty good night.
Overall Winner(s): Newt Gingrich and Michele Bachmann. I’m not sure this debate helps them in the polls, but they stayed above the fray for the most part while giving substantive answers on tough questions. They also offered solid critiques without the bickering.
Overall Loser: Rick Perry. Once again, the Texas governor flounders in a debate. He looked desperate going after Romney and decided to attack on areas where Perry has weaknesses. He was more lively than usual, but his strategy for the debate was highly questionable.
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