The 2012 race for the Republican nomination for president is about to go into hyper drive. From May 5th thru August 11th, three major presidential were held, one by CNN and the other two by Fox News. In the next three weeks, three more debates will take place. With the field of candidates probably now complete, the gauntlet of debates in September provides multiple opportunities for candidates to either emerge or separate themselves from the rest of the field.
Along with fundraising numbers and poll results, a stellar debate performance can provide a boost for candidate. On the other hand, a poor performance can be so devastating that it can negatively affect a candidate’s fundraising effort and standing in the polls. The stakes are incredibly high in theses debates considering that the candidates only get to speak for ten minutes if they are lucky on a number of topics.
Not getting enough time to speak wasn’t a problem when Congressman Steve King, South Carolina Senator Jim DeMint, and Dr. Robert George, the founder of American Principles Project, joined forces to grill five presidential candidates at yesterday’s Palmetto Freedom Forum. Instead of giving the candidates 30 seconds to answer a question, the candidates were grilled by King, DeMint, and George for 20 minutes straight.
The interview format allowed for a greater opportunity to delve deeper into why each candidate believes what he or she believe in regards to the proper role of government and the Constitution. However, it didn’t allow the candidates an opportunity to differentiate themselves from their opposition or engage any of their opponents.
Even with those limitations, the forum did show some differences or weaknesses of some who participated in the event. In answering a question from Congressman King on immigration, Herman Cain once again admitted that he didn’t know the answer. Cain has made it a habit of admitting when he doesn’t know the answer to a question. This time, he actually ended up answering the question, which dealt with how many legal immigrants should be allowed into the United States each year.
All of the candidates faired well at the forum. Mitt Romney sailed through a series of economic questions asked by King with ease, but he didn’t fair as well when pressed about social issues by Dr. George. Unlike Michele Bachmann, Herman Cain, and Newt Gingrich, Romney admitted that he would not encourage Congress to outlaw abortion by using an interpretation of the 14th Amendment.
When Senator DeMint suggested that the healthcare reform bill that Romney signed into law as governor of Massachusetts would be a liability the general election against President Obama, Romney at first laughed it off like he had done previously. Then Romney defended his healthcare reform bill by saying that he understands the issue better than most people, and then he reminded the audience that his healthcare law only affected eight percent of the people in his state, while Obamacare affected all Americans. Despite the format that allowed for lengthy answers, Romney was asked the healthcare question with only 55 seconds left in the forum.
Overall, the Palmetto Freedom Forum was a success. Texas Governor Rick Perry’s last minute decision to withdraw from the event in order to travel back to Texas, which is dealing with massive wildfires, was disappointing yet understandable. Having yet to share the debate stage with the other candidates, Perry’s participation in the event would have generated a huge amount of media interest. Being grilled by King and DeMint may have proved more difficult than participating in a regular debate.
Due to the event’s unnecessarily high participation criteria, three announced candidates, Rick Santorum, Jon Huntsman, and Thad McCotter, were not invited to participate. The decision to set the criteria at five percent support in national polls would have meant that the 2008 Iowa caucus winner Mike Huckabee would not have been invited to participate because in early September of 2007, his national poll average was only at 3.7 percent. With the race still in flux, giving all the candidates an opportunity to participate would have provided the voters a chance to know where all the candidates stand on these issues, not just the ones who have garnered early national attention.
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