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May 6th, 2011

South Carolina Debate Recap

Herman Cain:

Kevin’s Take: Cain makes a very strong first impression and this debate no different.  I was a bit surprised he is against releasing the Bin Laden photo.  The moderators should have let him explain why.  Cain nailed the questions about immigration, energy, the Fair Tax and unions.  He talks in bullet points that are easy to follow.

It was smart of him to interject into the enhanced interrogation argument.  As a relative unknown, Cain should use every single second of airtime available to him.  For that same reason, he should have made some of his answers longer and run out the clock.  However, the Georgia businessman came across as smart, straightforward and honest.  It was a very good night for Herman Cain.

Craig’s Take: Herman Cain had a good night.  While I thought some of his answers lacked the substance that I look for in a presidential candidate, he avoided making any faux pas and delivered a few one-liners that scored points with the audience.  Cain’s victory came after the debate when Frank Luntz’s focus group declared him the clear winner of the event.  Cain had to outshine just four other candidates on the state last night.  I think he did that stylistically, but he showed some weakness when it came to foreign policy.  Overall, he has to be thrilled with this debate.

Gary Johnson:

Kevin’s Take: A very unimpressive performance.  He just seemed kind of goofy and out of his element.  His answers often included too many numbers and details that easily lost most viewers.  If libertarians were trying to decide between Ron Paul and Gary Johnson, based on this debate, they’re likely to choose Paul.  Johnson’s whining about lack of questions coming his way was very unbecoming for a presidential candidate. His line about, “Fair Tax, how about Fair Johnson?” made him look ridiculous.

Craig’s Take: Gary Johnson’s debate performance seemed more like a Fox News experiment where the news network picked some random guy of the street to see how he would hold up in a debate.  Johnson didn’t add anything to the debate, and his hand jesters and bantering with the FOX News panelists was odd at times.  I found myself wondering how on earth he got elected to be the governor of New Mexico and questioning his inclusion in this debate.

Ron Paul:

Kevin’s Take: I thought the Texas Congressman did well.  He seems to have a much better grasp on the issues and is able to explain his stances better than fellow libertarian Gary Johnson.  He also came across as likeable and with a sense of humor.

Paul’s message is much more palatable to Republicans than it was four years ago.  I was turned off by his “war hasn’t helped us and hasn’t helped anybody in the Middle East” line.  That’s very disrespectful to our troops who have served there.  The hoots and whistles from his supporters after every answer were annoying.  However, I think it was a good night for Paul.

Craig’s Take: Congressman Ron Paul was, well, Ron Paul.  You have to admire the strict libertarian views, but his foreign policy positions and stances on things like illegal drugs, prostitution, and gay marriage prevent him from being considered a threat to win the Republican nomination.  While entertaining and brutally honest at times, I think Congressman Paul is hurt when he participates in these debates because it’s his extreme positions that people remember, not his more mainstream views concerning fiscal policy.

Tim Pawlenty:

Kevin’s Take: An excellent showing for the former Minnesota Governor.  He looked the most “presidential” of the five candidates.  Pawlenty came across as very smooth and polished.  He has spent a lot of time preparing for this campaign, and it showed.

His answers were solid on every issue and he probably had the toughest questions thrown his way.  Pawlenty handled the grilling about his past support of cap and trade very well.  Humor and admitting you were wrong are always good.  He even worked in a thinly veiled shot at Mitt Romney.  A good night for T-Paw.

Craig’s Take: I couldn’t disagree with Kevin more.  Tim Pawlenty reminded me a lot of Mitt Romney last night.  In the 2007 debates, Romney looked confident and poised behind the lectern, and so did Pawlenty last night.  The problem for Pawlenty is that he was asked to explain why his previous statements and actions as Governor of Minnesota don’t match up with what he’s saying during his presidential campaign.  Explaining policy shifts and flip-flops is something Romney had to do throughout his 2008 campaign.

The problem for Pawlenty in this debate is that I remember the questions he was asked more than I remember his answers.  He also refused to directly challenge Romney on the healthcare issue when Fox News presented him a perfect opportunity to do so.  He also had a Romney-esk outburst when he said, “Do we have to?” When Fox’s Chris Wallace played a Pawlenty radio ad talking about the need for cap and trade regulations.  The difficult questions that he had to answer may help him become a better candidate in the future, but Fox made sure that people knew that Pawlenty’s record is not as squeaky clean as his image.  A horrible night for Pawlenty.  A potential front-runner he is not.

Rick Santorum:

Kevin’s Take: Style matters in televised debates and something looked off with Santorum.  He had what seemed to be a forced, toothy grin much of the night and talked while clinching his teeth.  People pick up on things like that and it turns them off.

Santorum is well-versed on policy, but danced around the issue of cutting aid to Pakistan and struggled to explain his past comment tying working women to “radical feminism”.  Santorum did well arguing with Ron Paul about Afghanistan and delivered a nice shot to Indiana Governor Mitch Daniels on the social issues “truce”, saying anyone calling for a truce on social issues “doesn’t understand what America is all about.”   Overall, the debate performance was a mixed bag for Santorum.

Craig’s Take: Rick Santorum has to feel very good about last night’s debate.  While he didn’t score as many style points as Herman Cain, the substance he brought to the debate was impressive.   What he lacked stylistically, he made up with passion and substance.  If you broke the debate down in to three sections, economic issues, social issues, and foreign policy issues, Santorum finished on top when discussing foreign policy and social issues, and he held his own on economic issues.

Kevin mentioned that he thought Santorum danced around the Pakistan question, but I actually thought that was the most difficult question asked to a candidate last night, and it was handled pretty well.  Pakistan possesses nuclear weapons, and while people off of the street might have cheered for an easy one liner, the issue of how to deal with a county that has nuclear weapons that knowingly harbored Osama Bin Laden is now the most difficult foreign policy question that faces our nation.  I don’t think anyone on that stage could have answered it better than Santorum did.  Additionally, President Obama has struggled with his decision on whether or not to release the photos of a slain Bin Laden.  If he can’t figure that out, he’s going to struggle with Pakistan.

Kevin’s Overall Winner: (tie) Tim Pawlenty and Herman Cain

Craig’s Overall Winner: (tie) Rick Santorum and Herman Cain

Kevin’s Overall Loser: Gary Johnson and the numerous candidates who skipped the debate.  South Carolina is a very important primary state, and some voters will view their absence as an insult.  That will be hard to recover from.

Craig’s Overall Loser: Newt Gingrich and Michele Bachmann.  The road to the Republican nomination for both Gingrich and Bachmann goes through South Carolina.  They didn’t just snub Fox News, they snubbed the people of South Carolina.

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About the Author

Craig Robinson
Craig Robinson is the founder and editor-in-chief of, a political news and commentary site he launched in March of 2009. Robinson’s political analysis is respected across party lines, which has allowed him to build a good rapport with journalist across the country. Robinson has also been featured on Iowa Public Television’s Iowa Press, ABC’s This Week, and other local television and radio programs. Campaign’s & Elections Magazine recognized Robinson as one of the top influencers of the 2012 Iowa Caucuses. A 2013 Politico article sited Robinson and as the “premier example” of Republican operatives across the country starting up their own political news sites. His website has been repeatedly praised as the best political blog in Iowa by the Washington Post, and in January of 2015, Politico included him on the list of local reporters that matter in the early presidential states. Robinson got his first taste of Iowa politics in 1999 while serving as Steve Forbes’ southeast Iowa field coordinator where he was responsible for organizing 27 Iowa counties. In 2007, Robinson served as the Political Director of the Republican Party of Iowa where he was responsible for organizing the 2007 Iowa Straw Poll and the 2008 First-in-the-Nation Iowa Caucuses. Following the caucuses, he created his own political news and commentary site, Robinson is also the President of Global Intermediate, a national mail and political communications firm with offices in West Des Moines, Iowa, and Washington, D.C. Robinson utilizes his fundraising and communications background to service Global’s growing client roster with digital and print marketing. Robinson is a native of Goose Lake, Iowa, and a 1999 graduate of St. Ambrose University in Davenport, where he earned degrees in history and political science. Robinson lives in Ankeny, Iowa, with his wife, Amanda, and son, Luke. He is an active member of the Lutheran Church of Hope.

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