The CNN/Tea Party Express debate from Florida provided perhaps the liveliest exchanges so far of the GOP presidential primary. Frontrunner Rick Perry faced attacks from several candidates. TIR’s Craig Robinson and Kevin Hall moderated a live chat during the debate, which you can read here.
Below are our thoughts on how each candidate fared and who we believe were the winners and losers:
Craig’s take: Bachmann floundered a bit in the beginning of debate. Her attempt to attack Rick Perry for his comments on Social Security was weak and not in line with the discussion the county has been having on entitlement reform. Where Bachmann scored points last night was when she blasted Perry for his executive order mandating the Gardasil vaccine be given to teenage girls in Texas. Bachmann accused Perry of crony capitalism since Perry’s former Chief of Staff lobbied on behalf of the drug company that made the vaccine and donated to Perry’s campaign.
Bachmann also scored points on Perry over the issue of illegal immigration. Santorum bringing up the fact that Perry signed the Dream Act into law also aided Bachmann. Texas was the first state to allow in-state college tuition to people who are in the county illegally.
The beginning of the debate looked bad for Bachmann, but by the end of the night, she accomplished what she needed to do – go on the offensive. However, there is still room for Bachmann to improve. When taking a shot her opponents, she needs to confront them directly. She could have had an outstanding night but will have to settle with just a good night. Still, she showed plenty of fight and thus will be back in the mix.
What would I worry about if I were Bachmann? Her laugh. Bachmann could be heard laughing a number of times in the debate. She did nothing wrong by laughing, but don’t be surprised when you hear the audio of her laughing in a radio or TV ad.
Kevin’s take: The Minnesota congresswoman needed to go on the offensive. For the first hour, it looked to be a repeat of her dismal performance in last week’s debate. However, in the second half, Bachmann scored big. She smacked Rick Perry on the HPV mandate and for giving in-state tuition to the children of illegal immigrants. Bachmann desperately needed to reinvigorate her campaign and she did that Monday night. It was a good performance.
Craig’s take: I enjoy watching Herman Cain debate. I thought the strongest part of the debate for him was when he laid out how he would fix social security. It was nothing new or riveting, but finally a candidate stood up and promoted the position that most Republicans have supported for the past 15 years. While Romney and Bachmann tried to score points against Perry by praising social security, Herman Cain won that portion of the debate by offering his common sense solutions.
Kevin’s take: His answers were fine, but he was the least engaged of all the candidates. At some point, Cain needs to confront those ahead of him in the polls. Everyone except Cain got into an argument Monday night. His debate strategy needs serious retooling. He is going nowhere fast at this rate.
Craig’s take: Once again, Gingrich delivers another stellar debate performance. This time, he didn’t even have to go after the debate moderator to score points with the audience. This is the Newt Gingrich we all expected to see when he announced that he would enter the presidential race. In a matter of months, Gingrich has gone from being a laughingstock to a legitimate candidate in the race. While he has yet to convince people that he can put together a credible campaign, people are beginning to talk about him as a potential Vice Presidential candidate. This is a clear indication that all of the debates are helping Gingrich.
Kevin’s take: He is simply the best debater in the field. It’s not even close. Gingrich has an amazing command of the issues, as well as the ability to completely dismantle any argument. It is a shame we will not see him debate Barack Obama, because he would take the President to school.
Craig’s take: If you closed your eyes and listened to Jon Huntsman, you would think he governed a large state like Ohio, New York, or Michigan, not Utah. The state of Utah has fewer people than the state of Iowa does, and better yet, it’s mostly Republican. Huntsman has been better in the most recent debates, but he doesn’t really offer much more than fluff. There are times that you think that what he says sounds good, but in actuality, he really didn’t say much. His strange attempts at humor also fell flat.
Kevin’s take: The spray-on tan glowed brightly, but his lame attempts at humor fell flat. Huntsman was out of his element in front of the Tea Party crowd. He was clearly much more comfortable on MSNBC. Hmm…. I wonder why.
Craig’s take: Ron Paul was invisible last night. On a night when CNN attempted to ask candidates about issues for which they are passionate, they didn’t allow Paul to answer questions about the Federal Reserve, his strongest issue. Instead Paul was forced to talk about his national security positions, which are not in his wheelhouse. We are used to seeing Paul receive cheers in debates, but last night he got booed.
Kevin’s take: Following a solemn day of remembrance on the 10th anniversary of 9/11, Paul waded into the “blame America” argument. That was dumb. Paul never hides from his beliefs, but even with the Tea Party crowd his stances received some loud boos. The Texas congressman marginalized himself with this performance.
Craig’s take: Perry has a target on his back, and everyone from Ron Paul to Jon Huntsman took a shot last night. Perry weathered the initial barrage well. Romney and Bachmann’s attacks on him for his comments on social security bounced off of him like he was wearing a suit of amour. While Bachmann and Romney believe that there is blood in the water over Perry’s statements on Social Security, it does nothing in the Republican primary but make them look and sound like a typical democrat attacking a Republican for wanting to reform an entitlement program.
Where the debate got bad for Perry is when the topic changed to his 2007 executive order mandating the Gardasil vaccine be given to teenage girls in Texas. Both Bachmann and Rick Santorum pounded Perry on the issue. His answer that he wouldn’t do it the same way again (he would go through the legislature) and that he always sides with life was blown to bits by Santorum’s strong closing remarks on the subject, which pointed out that there was no legitimate state interest in mandating this vaccine for school girls unless Texas lets their students have sex at school. Santorum also brought up Perry signing into law the Dream Act in Texas. Santorum might have been the one to raise the issue, but it was Bachmann who went in for the kill.
Perry offered some good one-liners, but candidates pummeled him in this debate from the right. Perry needs to win the Iowa Caucuses, but Bachmann and Santorum are not going to make it easy for him.
Kevin’s take: He won the early exchange against Romney on Social Security, but faltered when trying to defend his HPV mandate and in-state tuition for the children of illegal immigrants. The Texas governor did not back away from his stances. That is a good thing. However, he’s going to need to make stronger arguments for the questionable spots in his resume. Bachmann, Romney and Santorum landed solid shots against Perry and raised some legitimate concerns about his record.
Craig’s take: Once again Romney had a solid but not spectacular debate. He was unable to score points by attacking Perry on social security. In fact, it was Perry who was able to score in that exchange. Romney also didn’t do himself any favors when he refused to support a national consumption tax. However, he was very strong when it came to immigration. It once again seemed like Romney was content to sit back and let others hammer Perry after their early exchange on social security.
Kevin’s take: Romney tried the old Democrat scare tactic with Social Security. It didn’t work. Rick Perry got the better of him in that exchange. He also tried to successfully defend ObamneyCare, but failed to do so. Romney sounded strong on immigration. However, he did not help his case in this debate.
Craig’s take: Santorum continues to prove that he’s a strong debater as well as an aggressive campaigner. He took three shots at Rick Perry. He landed two of them and should be credited for an assist to Bachmann when he linked Perry to the Dream Act. He also engaged Ron Paul on foreign policy issues and came out the winner once again. It’s clear that Santorum is comfortable going on the offensive on social conservative issues like Perry’s HPV executive order and national security issues. Had he done a better job attacking Perry on the Dream Act, Santorum may have finally gotten his breakout moment.
Still, another very solid night for Santorum.
Kevin’s take: Another good performance from the former Pennsylvania senator. Santorum won his argument with Ron Paul and also landed some body blows to Perry. He was substantive and solid for most of the night.
Craig’s Winner: Mitt Romney
There is no way that Romney won the debate, but seeing Perry get beat up by Bachmann and Santorum has to bring a smile to Romney’s face. If Perry wins Iowa, he’s going to be difficult for Romney to defeat for the nomination. Bachmann and Santorum are Perry’s main competition in Iowa, and Romney would like nothing more than to see Perry struggle in Iowa.
Craig’s Loser: Rick Perry
Perry got beat up in the last debate but was able to walk away without many bruises. That wasn’t the case this time. Perry was hammered on the right (HPV and the Dream Act) and the left (social security). He may have walked out under his own power, but the national frontrunner got roughed up last night.
Kevin’s Overall Winner(s): Newt Gingrich and Michele Bachmann. Newt has the best overall performance for the third debate in a row. Bachmann was actually my overall loser for the first half of the debate, but she finally went on offense in the second half. Her criticisms of Rick Perry were vital and she handled them very well. Bachmann’s campaign needed a boost. She provided it.
Kevin’s Overall Loser: Rick Perry. He did not have the worst performance of the night. That was reserved for Ron Paul. However, Perry had trouble explaining some of his stances and might lose some momentum after this performance. As the frontrunner, Perry has almost nowhere to go but down. This debate could make that happen.
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