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The Near Epic Review of the Fox News/Google GOP Presidential Debate
September 23, 2011, Matthew Cochrane


First, the good news: Upon getting off work last night, I watched the entire Fox News/Google GOP presidential debate last night online and am ready to give it a thorough review. The bad news? After staying up an extra two hours to watch it, I am quickly growing tired and the call of my bed is getting ready to drown out the call for obsessive-compulsive need to write a blog post. So please forgive grammar/spelling mistakes. There will inevitably be more than usual. With that out of the way, let’s get to the debate…

·        First, Fox News did a fairly passable job handling the debate, much better than MSNBC and CNN handled the previous two debates. Fox picked questions asked by viewers on Youtube and then voted on by others. The questions that received the most votes got asked. Sure, MSNBC and CNN also used questions asked by viewers, but these questions weren’t vetted first by an interactive public.
·        The Biggest Loser: Rick Perry. I don’t want to say it. I don’t like saying it. And I don’t think one bad debate performance should determine one’s entire presidential campaign. That being said, Perry’s performance last night was a train wreck. He was shaky coming out of the gate and got worse as the night went on, culminating in his horrible, muddled, confused answer on Romney’s flip-flopping (starting at about the 1:30 mark):
More worrying than his shaky performance was his continued defense of his bad illegal immigration policy. While governor, Perry signed into law a bill that gave children of illegal immigrants educational benefits to attend college amounting to $22,000 per year. While his defense of this policy is bad enough, the way he defended it last night made things worse, essentially saying people don’t have a heart if they don’t support the policy.
On a positive note, I liked what he had to say about our relationship with India and Pakistan (very similar to my own feelings on the subject). Indeed, his foreign policy answers were much better than anything he said on domestic matters last night. He appeared well-prepared and knowledgeable on these types of questions, always a worry for governors with little overseas experience.
·        The Battle over Social Security continues: This is turning into the battle that won’t go away. For the third debate in a row, Perry and Romney went at it over Social Security.
I know the experts will say Romney’s answers come across as more “electable” than Perry’s, but hearing Romney talk about this reminds me of all the soft talk Republicans have given on entitlements for the past twenty years. It makes me wonder if I can really trust Romney, like he’s trying to talk a good game on the other issues but, deep down, he’ll always be a RINO at heart.
·        Biggest Loser #2: Michelle Bachmann. This is not to say she had a bad night. In fact, she turned in another “decent” night. Unfortunately for her, “decent” means largely forgettable. Sure, when called upon, she gave smart answers. The problem is that this was probably her last chance to capture conservatives’ imaginations and she failed to do it. Little what she said stood out, and her chance to win this nomination is probably gone forever.
Two moments made an impression, one good, one bad. First the good: She gave a great answer regarding the separation of church and state, skillfully hitting the historical highlights of the debate and succinctly and capably highlighting her principled convictions:
Unfortunately for Bachmann, her bad moment shortly followed this proficient answer. When asked about her claim following last week’s debate on whether the HPV shot Perry mandated in Texas could potentially cause mental retardation, Bachmann’s glib reply could roughly be translated like this: “Hey, that serious statement on an important health issue I made on national TV wasn’t my fault! I was merely repeating what a complete stranger told me five minutes before I went on the air!” After that response I wrote down two words in my notes and circled and underlined them: "Minor league." As a no-account blogger, I can get away with making a retraction akin to that. "Oh, I was wrong about that? Well, I was just repeating what somebody else told me." As a presidential candidate it comes across as unserious and unworthyof respect. The ironic thing is that Bachmann has turned Perry's mandated HPV shots into a bigger negative for her than it is for Perry!
·        The Big Winner: Mitt Romney. By default, if Perry and Bachmann were the losers, Romney is the winner. Every day I get closer and closer to endorsing Romney for president (a highly coveted endorsement, I assure you!), something I once thought unthinkable. Once again he escaped unscathed, without any opponent landing a substantial blow. Granted, this was mostly due to Perry’s stumbling, but Romney has yet to let an opponent hit him hard during these debates, an impressive feat concerning his past flip-flops and continued defense of Romneycare!
Unlike Perry and Bachmann, Romney didn’t give any bad answers and gave more than his share of good ones. On immigration, he pointed out that he vetoed legislation remarkably similar to what Perry signed into law giving illegal immigrants educational benefits. This definitely puts Romney well to the right of Perry on immigration, a key issue.
When asked whether Obama was a socialist, Romney turned it into a funny one-liner and a semi-inspirational spiel about America’s greatness:
He also gave a great answer on our alliance with Israel:
·        Winner #2: Herman Cain. After tonight, I think disenchanted Perry voters might begin to give Cain a second and third look. This should please both Jamie and Rebecca! Cain turned in a strong performance, promoting his now famous 9-9-9 plan, the Chilean model for Social Security and finally appearing competent on foreign policy! His personal testimony on surviving phase four colon cancer was both moving and an effective response against Obamacare:
That’s the kind of answer that can revive political aspirations! His answer on what federal department he would get rid of also drew wild applause:
·        Newt Gingrich. Another strong performance. Solidified his role as the “I’m a uniter, not a divider” candidate. Again, despite Rebecca’s wishes, I don’t see how Newt will ever be a viable candidate, but he’s clearly one of the smartest people in the Republican ranks.
·        Rick Santorum. Yes, he’s still my favorite candidate. No, he’s still not a viable candidate. For what it's worth, I cannot recall one time in any of the debates where I disagreed with him on an issue. The same could not be said for Romney or Perry or Gingrich or Huntsman or Ron Paul. I also cannot recall one time in a debate or in an interview he appeared unprepared for a question or unknowledgeable on an issue. The same could not be said for Bachmann, Cain, and Perry. His answers on foreign policy are stronger than anyone else's and he handles himself well on stage. His attacks are measured and precise; he does not overreach like Bachmann tends to do. I think conservatives need to give him another look. Here he is answering a gay soldier’s concerns about the reinstatement of DADT in the military:
·        Ron Paul. Still makes sense on domestic policy. Still all kinds of crazy on foreign matters. Here he is answering a question on Big Bovernment’s threat to freedom:
·        Gary Johnson. A newcomer to the debates, the libertarian and former New Mexico governor had the one-liner of the night. He continually advocated for a balanced budget, saying he would send one to Congress in his first year. This sounds real good, until you hear that it comes with a 43% cut in military spending. Yep, you heard that right:
His great line came during the debate’s last minutes when the candidates were asked who they would choose for a running mate if they had to pick from someone else on the stage:
That’s all I got. My bed is calling and my head is nodding. Did you watch the debate last night? What did you think?

Governor Perry is cooked. We need an articulate candidate who can win people to conservatism. Gov. Perry is not that candidate. - Sam K (09/23/11 11:45 AM)

Good recap. 

Obviously looking from the other side my view is slanted, but Perry's answer was decent on immigration.  Essentially he was tough, but not ignorant.  The other answers were good sound bites, but far too shortsighted when it comes to immigration.

- TLM (09/23/11 3:30 PM)

This so-called debate was interesting for a lot of reasons.  Like  you and others on this board, I want to like Perry; I really do.  I would love to see President Perry, the job creator, and President Perry, the Social Security reformer but the thought of Presient erry controlling our borders would keep me up at night.  That issue and the Trans-Texas Corridor just about seal the deal for me as far as ever voting for him.  

On the other hand, the thought of President Romney ever doing anything to straighten out the Social Security mess and the other entitlements is also a downer.  It just seems like he recognizes the severity of the problem or what to do about it.

Cain is brillilant . . . maybe the smartest person in the room.  I am not at all comfortable with his stand on the Second Amendment, though, and for me, that's a biggie.  

No, I take that back about Cain.  Actually, I think Newt is the smartest person in that room and he would make a great president.  I've heard it said by many, including myself, that it's his "baggage" that keeps me from supporting him and that's true; it is.  Still, He makes me wistful for the good old days when he was Speaker of the House and running roughshod over and through the Democrats.  

So, having said all that, where do I stand?  I have no idea but, like you, I'm leaning more and more towards Romney with a medium-sized head nod to Cain.  Here's what I think we need.  We need somebody who will stand on the stage in the inevitable debate with Obama and dominate him in a way that it is obvious to every viewer and revieweer that it was a domination.  Perry is not that person . . . Bachman isn't either.  Is Romney?  Possibly.  Is Cain? Probably!

- Verbatim (09/23/11 4:08 PM)

 I liked Cain.  999 sounds like 9 toppings on a 9" pizza for 9.99 or such but maybe that's good.  

Johnson jumped 10 places with the shovel ready bit, but Andrea Tantoros just said it was a Rush Limbaugh joke.  

Bachmann needs to say something different about HPV she set Perry up and he sounded okay but he still blew it.  

Perry looks like he needs to go to Romney Finishing School.  He looks like Romney did last time around.  Perry probably has a little more time to get up to speed but there is a limit of course.  His immigration answer not all that bad but he doesn't seem committed to taking on the issue which if he was would probably be political death for getting reelected in Tejas.  

That reminds me.  Some of the redmeat approach to answers really sounds bad which I've made this point before (sound of con21 brains clicking off...did I say brains?).  One could easily have walked away from that debate thinking, "Wow, conservatives, in general, hate unions, teachers, gays, illegals, the poor....."  They have to address these issues in a way that shows that it is nothing personal and how it is better for America and individuals that oppose us, it is good for you, too.  They hate the "eat your broccoli" way of thinking though.  I loved what they were saying about education being local.  They need to follow that arc to a conclusion, but I kept thinking that our judicial system will kill any school system improvements that locals might come up with.

- c (09/23/11 5:15 PM)

If Romney wins, I'll get to post the "who let the dogs out" video at least once more so there's one positive at least.

- TLM (09/23/11 8:58 PM)

Sam, I agree with you about Perry. Reagan was the "great communicator." If last night was any indication, Perry ranks well below Bush as a communicator. Not a good sign. Is there still time for him to turn the ship around? Of course. But he better get started right away. Next time out, in a couple of weeks, voters need to see a marked improvement.

TLM, I think you just gave Perry the kiss of death for conservative voters!

Verbatim, that is the dilemma conservatives are facing between Perry and Romney. Perry is weak on immigration, Romney is on SS. Will Romney be tough enough to enact tough reform on entitlements? Will Perry commit enough resources to protect our border? I agree with you about Cain and Gingrich being impressive, but you've got no love for Santorum? Why  not?

C, you're exactly right about Perry sounding like Romney last time around. I've said it before and I'll say it again, but Romney has essentially spent the last four years preparing for this moment and it shows. His answers are serious and polished. He would do well in debates against Obama and, right now, looks to be our most electable bet. Perry would do well to take a crash course in Romney school over the next couple of weeks.

C, what comments from last night could be construed as as Republicans hating teachers? Or illegals for that matter? Because candidates don't approve of giving public funds to illegal immigrants to go to college?

Were there a few moments some of the candidates probably could have paused and given a more nuanced answer? Sure. For starters, Santorum should have started off answering the DADT question by thanking the gay serviceman for his service. At the same time, this is not the time for squishiness. Pollster Frank Luntz 's focus groups on Hannity last night showed Perry's answer on illegal immigration was hated by conservatives and moderates alike. I think most Americans are ready for a grown-up discussion on money, entitlements and the direction of our country.

- Matthew Cochrane (09/23/11 9:00 PM)

 Isn't the issue that illegals are taking in state slots from citizens since university set admission percentages for in state and out of state.  So in state illegals might get a slot ahead of a less qualified state resident?

- c (09/23/11 11:10 PM)

C, I believe the issue is that illegal residents are getting the reduced in-state rates that legal Texas residents get, instead of paying the full price that out-of-state residents pay. Though the point you bring up might be an additional problem.

FWIW, this issue is not important enough for me to say definitively that I will not vote for or support Perry because of it. All things being equal, it does not really apply to presidential politics. The Texas DREAM Act is sufficiently different from the proposed federal version, something I did not fully understand a few weeks ago. Its also similar to legislation Huckabee signed in Arkansas as governor.

Much more troubling is Perry's insistence that we don't need a wall across the border. This is directly applicable to presidential politics, as the next president will face a mammoth job securing our border with Mexico. Perry's answer to border security, that we need more "troops on the ground" so to speak is fine - as a short term fix. Ultimately, however, I don't understand why we wouldn't want to build a wall from coast to coast across our southern border as a long term fix. It can be done. In ancient China they built a bigger and longer wall. The Romans built a wall across Britain. Walls work. This makes me much more disinclined to vote for him than his position on the Texas DREAM Act.

- Matthew Cochrane (09/24/11 4:18 AM)

 " . . . but you've no ;ove for Santorum.  Why not?"  -  Matthew Cochrane

I like the guy but, let's face it . . . he's not been able to gain any traction and his campaign, for whatever reason, isn't going anywhere.   I don't see any point in investing time, energy and capital into an effort that has no chance of succeeding.  

I could probably become a serious Cainiac but, as I have said before, his stand on gun control bothers me too much.  He claims to be a supporter of the Second Amendment and then in the very next breath he says that gun control is alright as long as it's done at the state and local levels.  That just doesn't make sense and I could not vote for that philosophy.  

- Verbatim (09/24/11 7:00 AM)

 Just watched Krauthammer's analysis.  His points combined with Romney's ability to remain detached to the redmeat hate speech tendencies of Santorum and others, I never thought I'd say it but Romney is looking good.  He exudes confidence, grasps the issues and he has something new and non plastic about him.  Not sure who would knock him down at this point.

- c (09/24/11 9:56 AM)

 " . . . I never thought I'd say it but Romney is looking good."  -  c

Yeah, me too.  I never thought I'd actually support Romney either but he is beginning to look and act "presidential".  Still, I wish there were somebody else out there but, increasingly, I don't think there is.

- Verbatim (09/24/11 11:22 AM)

 I've grown accustomed to having to vote for someone I'm not perfectly satisfied with except McCain

- c (09/24/11 12:48 PM)

Verbatim, no traction? Come on! I would argue he has gotten considerably more traction than Gingrich and Cain, both whom you mentioned affectionately. Allow me to make a case for Santorum: First, he finished fourth in the Ames, IA straw poll a few weeks ago, behind Bachmann, Pawlenty, and Ron Paul. Pawlenty has since dropped out, but Perry has joined. Ron Paul will never win Iowa, but his supporters are fanatical, leading to his strong straw poll showing. Bachmann has been shedding voters like a dog sheds hair. Since joining the race, Perry jumped out to a huge lead but has since started coming back to earth after three underwhelming debate performances.

After his strong debate performance Thursday night, Santorum has been making headlines.
The Washington Post’s Jennifer Rubin: A Strong Night for Santorum as Perry Fades
Also, let’s not forget the ultimate establishment Republican pundit giving Santorum his kiss of approval earlier this year. To me, this signals the establishment’s willingness to get behind Santorum if he does start gaining traction.
I’m going to write more about this Monday (the GOP race, not Santorum), but I feel like conservative voters are looking for a candidate to latch on to before grudgingly supporting Romney. Assuming the field stays set, why not look at all other options before conceding the race to Romney?
C, you were perfectly satisfied with McCain? Even the McCain/Feingold mess? Even his squishiness on Cap-n-Trade?
- Matthew Cochrane (09/24/11 2:39 PM)

 He would have been way better than Bush 43

- c (09/24/11 2:53 PM)

 guns, a social issue...I can't get my brain wrapped around that idea, but that underscores exactly why Santorum is so unelectable...but he probably is the kind of guy George Will would like.

- c (09/24/11 3:19 PM)

 c, for me guns and Second Amendment issues are extremely important, second, for me, after pro-life issues.  In the first place, the right to bear arms is enshrined in the Constitution and, therefore, cannot be abrogated by state and local laws any more than the right of freedom of speech.

If we all of a sudden declare the Second Amendment null and void then you can believe 100% the rest of our freedoms will be up for grabs shortly thereafter.  

- Verbatim (09/24/11 8:04 PM)

 unquestionably in the Constitution, verbatim, as is free speech....do we call this violent agreement?  But what's up with Santorum calling it a social issue.

- c (09/25/11 7:04 AM)

 Btw, I liked Fox's debate format BUT I thought the graphs were really lame and that they could have gotten the point across more effectively.

- c (09/26/11 11:27 AM)

Near Epic?

- Anonymous (09/26/11 1:04 PM)

"Near Epic?"

Two words, Mr. Anonymous: Rhetorical flourishes.

- Matthew Cochrane (09/26/11 4:12 PM)

On Hannity this a sort of Romney/Perry sr. advisor one on one.   Poor showing by Romney's advisor wrt the in state tuition for illegals issue.  The Romney advisor said something like, "It's not fair that a citizen from Massachussetts has to pay out of state rates and a Texas illegal gets to pay in state."  

I realized that Texas is making decisions about how to run their state colleges and if they want to do it this way that is their business.

- c (09/30/11 12:15 AM)

 For starters, Santorum should have started off answering the DADT question by thanking the gay serviceman for his service. 

Good call, because:

'A combative Obama criticized GOP presidential candidates for staying silent when the crowd at a recent debate booed a gay soldier who asked a question of the contenders via videotape.

"You want to be commander in chief? You can start by standing up for the men and women who wear the uniform of the United States, even when it's not politically convenient,"'

Read more: http://www.foxnews.com/politics/2011/10/01/obama-to-headline-gay-rights-dinner-after-repeal-military-gay-ban/#ixzz1ZbSKgat5

- c (10/02/11 2:29 AM)

 But on the other hand, it took Obama more than a week to come up with that one?

- c (10/02/11 2:31 AM)

C, not only that but Obama and Biden (he used the same talking point in a speech earlier this week) are taking the whole incident out of context. For starters, Megyn Kelly said it was only 2 or 3 people who booed out of an audience in the thousands. Second, they were not booing the soldier, they were booing the premise his question was based on, that the repeal of DADT was a good thing.

- Matthew Cochrane (10/02/11 5:53 AM)

If you rewatch the clip above (it's the Santorum clip) the audience members didn't start booing when the soldier identified himself as gay, they briefly booed right after he asked his question.

But, again, Santorum absolutely should have thanked the soldier for his service. Every time any of the candidates are asked a question by a service member, no matter how biased or pretentious the question is, they should be conditioned to immediately thank the service member first before offering any answer. Same with police officers, fire fighters, teachers, entrepreneurs, etc. It's just good optics.

- Matthew Cochrane (10/02/11 5:58 AM)

 Well put.   THanks.

- c (10/02/11 8:06 AM)

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