All of the presidential candidates in attendance for the FAMiLY Leader’s Thanksgiving Presidential Forum did well last Saturday night. As designed, the forum allowed us to peek into the souls of the candidates in a way that all of the previous debates haven’t allowed time for.
It would be easy to judge the winners and losers of this event like we have done with previous debates and forums. However, the FAMiLY Leader forum wasn’t designed to be just another in a long series of multi-candidate events. The FAMiLY Leader forum was designed to discover why the candidates believe what they believe.
When you get right down to it, the FAMiLY Leader forum was about one thing – the candidates’ worldviews, and more specifically, whether each has a Biblical or Christian worldview. One’s worldview is the overall perspective from which one sees and interprets the world. While we can stitch together a general picture of a candidate’s worldview by looking at his or her core convictions, policy positions, and records, to really understand these candidates’ worldviews, we must know how they would apply their worldview as President of the United States.
As expected, some candidates did a better job than others in communicating their worldview and its application than others. Here is how I think they stacked up.
1. Rick Santorum
The consensus following the forum on Saturday was that Santorum and Gingrich were the winners of night. I don’t disagree, but I give Santorum the number one slot because of two things. One, his substance on the social conservative issues that were discussed at this forum was far superior to anything that Gingrich and the other candidates had to say on those issues. Secondly, Santorum once again connected emotionally to the audience like no other candidate did.
The second half of the forum focused on the candidates’ shortcomings. Some candidates actually spoke about their failures, while others, like Gingrich, basically took a pass. Hearing Santorum admit that he felt like a hypocrite for saying children with special needs deserved the right to be born during the partial birth abortion debate, but failing to fully love his own special needs daughter as much as he should because doing so would make it more difficult if he lost her, was the most powerful moment of the entire evening.
Santorum excelled with the format of the forum, which allowed him more opportunities to speak than any previous debate. However, more important than the additional time he was granted was his ability to articulate his Biblical worldview to the audience. Only three candidates, Santorum, Bachmann, and Perry, actually articulated a Biblical or Christian worldview at Saturday’s forum, but Santorum was the only one who proved that he would apply it if elected president.
Whether one supports Santorum or not, there is no doubt about where he stands and what he would do as President. In every question he answered, his Biblical worldview was present. Throughout all of the debates, we have seen examples where Santorum injects this perspective when answering questions on foreign or domestic issues. The best example of this was in the Bloomberg debate when Santorum was asked about poverty. Santorum rightfully talked about how the breakdown of the American family plays a major factor in regards to poverty.
2. Michele Bachmann
Bachmann was the only candidate to come close to Santorum in displaying both a Biblical worldview and a base of knowledge on a wide variety of social conservative issues. As has been the case for her entire campaign, Bachmann artfully ties social issues like federal funding of abortion back to Obamacare.
There is no doubt that Bachmann is a solid social conservative with a Biblical worldview to match. During the forum, she highlighted her involvement in seeking education reform in Minnesota and also reminded people that she fought for traditional marriage while in the Minnesota State Senate.
If the debates and forums were individual tests, Bachmann would pass with flying colors. Where she comes up short is when she is compared to a candidate like Santorum. While Bachmann always has the right answer, she has to be asked a specific question before she will address most hot-button social issues.
Having watched her for months now, she doesn’t bat an eye when any opportunity arises to speak out against Obamacare, but that’s not the case with other social issues. The 3000 plus social conservatives at the FAMiLY Leader’s forum are looking for a candidate who is comfortable discussing these issues and will go on the offensive for the issues they care about. Bachmann has proved that she’s made of all the right stuff, but falls short in applying her worldview and communicating it like Santorum does.
3. Rick Perry
I thought this was by far Perry’s best performance of his candidacy. Ever since his debate gaffe ten or so days ago, Perry has used self-deprecating humor to endear himself to voters. He seems to have found a new comfort level in the campaign that he didn’t have before. His willingness to discuss his weaknesses and shortcomings allows people to see what makes the tough guy from Texas tick. Perry continued to show his soft side by offering comfort to Herman Cain and Santorum when they got emotional at points during the forum.
As was the case at the Iowa Faith and Freedom Coalition event a month ago, Perry leaves no doubt that his faith plays a major role in his life. The highlight for him in the forum came when he said, “I’ve been driven to my knees multiple times as the governor of the state of Texas making decisions that are life and death,” Perry said, “the idea that I would walk into that without God almighty holding me up would scare me to death.” As a state that is known for capital punishment, Perry’s answer carried a lot of weight.
While Perry seems comfortable talking about his personal faith, he struggles in applying his faith to the political issues of the day. There is no doubt that he’s pro-life. He also scored points with the audience for pointing out that gay couples can’t adopt in his state. The only problem is that the state law doesn’t do any thing to prohibit a single gay person from adopting a child in Texas.
Perry’s Biblical worldview doesn’t seem to be as developed as that of Santorum and Bachmann. While he is a person with strong religious beliefs, he has yet to demonstrate that he has the core convictions and wherewithal to lead and advance the social conservative cause if elected president.
4. Newt Gingrich
I bet many of you are surprised to see Gingrich so low in these ratings. I realize that I will be given some grief for ranking him so low. Once again, Gingrich provided a number of highlights during the forum. His snarky answer telling the Occupy Wall Street protesters to, “go get a job after you take a bath,” brought the house down. He also had other memorable one–liners as the evening progressed.
If a candidate’s performance at the FAMiLY Leader forum was graded solely on entertainment value, Gingrich would leave everyone else in the dust. However this forum was about one’s worldview, and no matter how good his lines were, Gingrich came up short.
Gingrich’s biggest strength as a candidate is his understanding of history and his ability to relate it to modern day issues. It also doesn’t hurt to be full of witty one-liners like the one about Occupy Wall Street. The problem is that, when you take those things away, do you really know why he believes what he says he believes? When you add that to the latest controversy over his consulting company receiving millions of dollars to consult organizations like Freddie Mac and a number of healthcare companies, you are left with doubt.
When talking about one of his weaknesses, Gingrich informed the audience that a friend of his had given him two books that Alcoholics Anonymous uses in their recovery program. Gingrich said that he never had a drinking problem, but found himself empty even though he was very successful in life.
While one would have to read between the lines to realize it, Gingrich admitted on Saturday night that he was drunk on power. While the books may have helped transform him, one has to wonder if the office of the presidency is the best place for someone who has personally struggled holding such a powerful office. It would be like a recovering alcoholic owning a liquor store or becoming president of a beer company.
After the FAMiLY Leader forum, I’m not really sure what Gingrich’s worldview is. Does he have a phenomenal grasp on American history? Yes. Is he a gifted debater? Yes. Do I know why he believes what he believes? Not really. And that is why I have him in fourth place.
5. Herman Cain
Despite all of his flubs on the campaign trail, it’s almost impossible not to like Herman Cain. Cain didn’t offer much substance on Saturday night, which is a problem for a candidate who has given confusing answers on subjects like abortion rights, but he’s still a likable guy who some find easy to root for.
The problem Cain had in the FAMiLY Leader’s forum is the same problem he has in his campaign – he lacks depth. While he provided a touching moment by telling the story about how his wife told him that they would fight his stage–four cancer together, when it comes to truly understanding what Cain stands for and why, we are still left with questions.
6. Ron Paul
Paul finishes last because he’s simply not a social conservative’s cup of tea. That said, one has to admire Paul’s honesty and willingness to tell the head of the National Organization of Marriage why he doesn’t support a federal marriage amendment. Paul had some supporters in the audience, but he is going to struggle to earn the support of a lot of social conservatives in the state.
Paul knows this, and it is admirable of him to attend events that are not necessarily in his wheelhouse. Whether or not you agree with him, you have to give him one thing – he’s consistent. I have no doubt about what Paul believes and why. He’s ranked on the bottom of the list because it’s clear he doesn’t have a Biblical worldview. He has a libertarian worldview.
Photo by Dave Davidson, Prezography.com
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