First GOP Debate Somewhat Thin

posted at 8:40 am on May 6, 2011 by Jazz Shaw

Well, I finally finished having coffee and watching the recording of the first GOP debate. (A recording because, 1. I’m an old man and you people have these things too late in the evening, and 2. you can fast forward through the ads and the particularly painful bits.) I know that some observers were treating this as sort of a “so what” event because of the lack of high profile names, but it still had a lot to offer for the politically addicted.

First, we should dispatch with the three people who came to this battle with pretty much nothing to lose. (And that’s a good thing, because if they’d had anything to lose they surely would have lost it last night.)

Rick Santorum: What to say? I’ve met Rick and he’s a really nice guy. And he is still beloved by the so-con community, particularly up in this neck of the woods in the Northeast, but he seemed ill prepared for this contest. Particularly on questions of foreign policy and fiscal matters, Santorum frequently just looked confused. He gave answers and then, when asked to clarify by the moderator, backtracked and seemed to give an entirely different answer. (See: Pakistan and Afghanistan.) Too many pauses and vague bits of filler. It just wasn’t an impressive showing.

Gary Johnson: Johnson’s supporters (and, yes, there are some out there) will likely say that he was ill treated by the Fox moderators, but perhaps that’s only because he presented such a high cross-section target for them. In short order I got the impression that even Johnson was wondering why he’d been invited. He got peppered with oddball questions, such as pressing him on his admission to breaking the law by smoking the wacky tobacky when it was still illegal. When asked “what sort of reality TV show he would like to have” he fell back on what seems to be his one and only claim to POTUS qualifications: “Hey, I climbed Mt. Everest, you know. So I could obviously run the White House.” Thanks for coming, though, Gary. It was enjoyable.

Ron Paul: Ron Paul was… well, he was Ron Paul. There were no surprises whatsoever. He stuck to many of his long held beliefs, some of which are now becoming mainstream conservative thinking. (Cutting spending, attacking the Fed) He also called for us to be out of all combat wars immediately, entering into new trade wars immediately, and wiping 3/4 of existing laws out of the penal codes. If you were awake for any of the last two GOP primary battles you didn’t need to watch to know what Ron Paul said.

That brings us to the other two faces on the dais, and here the picture becomes a bit more muddled.

Tim Pawlenty: Allahpundit made some pre-debate predictions last night about T-Paw, and in at least one part, they turned out to be fairly prescient, I think.

This is actually a uniquely bad setting for him, I think, even though he had no choice but to accept the invite. T-Paw would fare best in a debate with higher-profile candidates whom Republicans aren’t totally comfortable with, like Romney and Huckabee. In that dynamic, he’s the viable, likable, acceptable underdog. Against these four, he’s the opposite — the bland electable establishment favorite.

There was virtually nothing to criticize in T-Paw’s performance, aside from the lack of any highlight reel sizzle. In fact, I couldn’t help but wonder whether the moderators were throwing mostly predictable, standard, softball policy questions at him or if he was just batting them down so rapidly and smoothly that he just made it look that way. The only time he was seriously pressed on anything was the predictable hectoring on cap and trade. And he handled that one precisely the same way he did when Ed and I talked to him at CPAC. He said that every candidate has some “clunkers” in their past, and this was one of his. He was wrong on cap and trade before, and now he’s on the correct side of the issue. That left the moderators with little meat to chew, so they moved on.

It’s the kind of frank, honest, “let’s just move on” answer which works for that sort of uncomfortable question. It makes you wonder if the reason Romney passed on this show was that he knew Wallace was going to hit him with a parallel question on Romneycare, a query which he thus far hasn’t managed to come up with a good answer on. Maybe Mitt should just take a page from T-Paw’s playbook and start saying, “OK. I screwed up. Sorry.”

I find myself agreeing, at least part way, with Noah Kristula-Green when he asked, “Why is Pawlenty on Stage With These Crazy People?” I have to wonder how hotly contested the decision to show up was inside the Pawlenty camp. On the one hand, his name recognition around the nation is still way too low compared to some of the other big names, so he almost had do it. But at least compared to the first three candidates, he may have loomed large, but it was kind of like setting yourself up to be the tallest one at the kiddie table at Thanksgiving dinner.

T-Paw did make one smart move, though, by taking the opportunity to not attack the rest of the dark horses in the field all night, but frequently going after Obama and his top tier opponents. This short video clip was one of his answers on jobs where he tears into the President and the NLRB over the Boeing issue, which was a huge hit with the home town crowd.

And that brings us to what may have been the biggest surprise of the night…

Herman Cain: I’ll confess that I still hadn’t seen enough of Cain before last night to fully grasp all the buzz going on around him, but now I’ve got a fair inkling of where it’s coming from. Even compared to T-Paw, Cain was a picture of self-confidence without being smarmy. He put on a lengthy display of being warm, engaging, charming and, where appropriate, demonstrating a great sense of humor. He’s well spoken while retaining a kind of down-home, sensible “every guy” persona.

With that said, while his answers were delivered in top form, the substance was often on the thin side. He seemed to have five or six prepared talking points which he went back to over an over, framing every question with a kind of Ross Perot style, “Here’s how I identify this problem. And now we have to fix this problem.” I was dreading whether or not he was going to break out some flow charts and a Powerpoint presentation. But for all that, I couldn’t identify a single gaffe during the entire event.

If the first three candidates came off like a lost cause, Cain was the person with the most to gain in this debate and he certainly looked like he took full advantage of the opportunity. A much wider audience who had never heard of him got a chance for an introduction and that all important first impression. And Cain made sure it was a very good one.

So did he “win” last night? I still hate the idea of having to pick a “winner” in subjective beauty contests like this, but to say that here would still be a stretch. Yes, I already know from our many polls here that the Hot Air readership overwhelmingly favors Cain to any of the others on stage last night. (For that matter more than pretty much anyone but Palin or Bachmann.) And some of the expected voices like Jim Hoft and Stacy McCain immediately went into full blow, ALL CAPS DRUDGE MODE yelling CAIN WINS! CAIN WINS! But let’s face it… Cain has a lot more work to do than Pawlenty. One good appearance which was, at times, rather short on substance is not, I think, going to be nearly enough to launch his electoral ship boldly out into the public eye as a serious contender.


In the end, for all the good that Cain did for himself, Tim Pawlenty quietly took the stage last night looking for all the world like the only serious candidate there, and then walked off like he was on his way to have John Roberts swear him in to office. But given the field on display, that’s not exactly a shocker. It will get more interesting once the biggest hats are in the ring and both T-Paw and Cain are matched up against them and the zingers start flying.

So, if we absolutely must pick winners and losers in these things, in the most unsurprising conclusion of all time I’d say round one went to T-Paw. But if Cain can keep turning in performances like that consistently, the rest of the pack may need to start keeping an eye over their shoulders.

Breaking on Hot Air



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didn’t exist until God created it in Genesis.

Modern Science wouldn’t exist without the Scientific Theory, which was developed under the Biblical worldview and accounts for a Sovereign creator of the universe

jp on May 6, 2011 at 12:21 PM

Christianity didn’t exist in the time referred to in Genesis. Christianity came into existence around 2000 years ago.

The person I responded to clearly stated science is only here because of Christianity, not because of God.

It’s those types of statements that give people ammunition to blow creationists out of the water. Christianity’s history is very clear. There is ample evidence of science being used well before Christ was born.

Perhaps they misspoke, but don’t twist what they said into something else.

ButterflyDragon on May 6, 2011 at 12:33 PM

Amazing, given Paul had 3 different Tea Partiers run against him last yr in Texas primary, with no money or name ID and they still got 30% of vote

jp on May 6, 2011 at 12:34 PM

ButterflyDragon on May 6, 2011 at 12:33 PM

Christian Biblical Theology, Genesis through Revelation, Adam thru Jesus

jp on May 6, 2011 at 12:35 PM

Sunshein on May 6, 2011 at 10:24 AM

if Paul was threatening to the Socialist/Obama, he would be given the Sarah Palin treatment and would’ve been forced to resign or defeated from the scrutiny and getting exposed a long time ago.

among many of paul’s positions and political dirt the media doesn’t seem to care about…imagine IF Sarah Palin had Racist and Conspiratorial newsletters and what the media would do to her over them.

jp on May 6, 2011 at 10:29 AM

His district is the largest concentration of unions in the Houston/Galveston Metro Area. He gives out earmarks to ExxonMobil, BP & Dow Chemical (all union plants) like candy, as well as ACORN types affiliated with Al Sharpton.

Why should anything other than a weak Dem be put up against him in the General Election?

Kermit on May 6, 2011 at 12:37 PM

Christian Biblical Theology, Genesis through Revelation, Adam thru Jesus

jp on May 6, 2011 at 12:35 PM


ButterflyDragon on May 6, 2011 at 12:44 PM

None of these republican hopefuls have been tested under fire until Michelle Malkin moderates a debate.

meci on May 6, 2011 at 12:46 PM


I just received a recorded call from Dick Morris. I don’t know what he wanted because I finally hung up after 45 seconds of hearing him hawk his new book “Revolt.” He finally mentioned the Tea Party and Obama shoving the Healthcare Bill down our throats.

Whatever his message was he took WAY to long getting to it. So if any of you out there know what the call was for or on whose behalf it was made – tell them to rewrite the script.

Virginia Shanahan on May 6, 2011 at 12:47 PM

2012 is going to boil down to leadership vs. respresentation. Obama is not a leader. He never was one. As a Senator, he represeted his state, he never led his state. As a community organizer, he represented whatever group he was helping, he never led them. A leader doesn’t care how we look on the world stage, a leader takes command of the world stage. Obama has shown that he can’t lead. We need to elect a leader in 2012.

Pcoop on May 6, 2011 at 12:54 PM

That set looks like they’re on Jeopardy.

angryed on May 6, 2011 at 1:12 PM

T-Paw is polling in the 1-3% range. He’s a fringe candidate although not in Sean Hannity’s head. Paul is around 10% nationally.

Classic Fox News at work.

Spathi on May 6, 2011 at 8:48 AM

Oh give me a break, even Ron Paul isn’t running to win anything, if he knows he has no chance so why don’t you? He is running to get his message out, and I commend for that as parts of his message certainly have caught on (auditing the Fed, cutting spending and even his hostility to nation building in Afghanistan), but he will not win anything greater than his congressional seat in his lifetime. No Conservative will vote for a candidate who is against all wars, including the Civil War, other than the American Revolution and wants to do away with more of the National Security measures from the Bush administration than Obama – no way.

Whatever wing of the GOP or electorate Paul represents, it is a very small group with much less room for growth than a more mainstream figure like Pawlenty who may have little recognition now, but at least has the potential to be a front runner.

The sad thing for the Ron Paul crowd, he is getting old and looks tired and there is nobody else to take up his cause. No wonder he ran even though Johnson announced, Johnson was absolutely terrible, at least Paul speaks with authority (probably because he knows he isn’t going to win).

The Paul faithful couldn’t even show up in force at the debate last night, which was super early in the campaign and should have been easier to pack with Paulians. The hooting and hollering I heard whenever Paul finished speaking was easily drowned out by simple applause after Pawlenty or Cain spoke. When you have cheer like you’re at a sporting event to give the impression your candidate has more supporters there than he really does, it just looks desperate.

As for what Jazz posted, I would have to say Cain “won” the debate. He got some serious buzz after the debate and though he may not have had too much substance in his answers, he needs to get attention and name recognition first and he is well on his way to achieving that. Trump used the birther tactic and his celebrity name to get his momentum, and proved how hungry people are for a no nonsense outsider, but Cain will win over the Trump crowd slowly and surely. Heck, looking at Trump’s initial poll numbers, I would be pretty excited if I were Cain as he could be there soon if he keeps impressing people.

Daemonocracy on May 6, 2011 at 1:17 PM

Reactions are all over the place on this one. My hubby and friends in the Tea Party loved Cain-I don’t know, I thought he was shallow; nothing but talking points and I hate the idea of a Fair Tax. I thought Pawlenty was the “deepest” and knew his stuff. He also surprised me by how strongly he came after Obama. I didn’t get the impression that Santorum was floundering at all; maybe a little to “hot” for a first debate but I loved his principles and elevation of liberty. Johnson and Paul? yawn…don’t want them on the stage at all.

PrincipleStand on May 6, 2011 at 1:21 PM

Virginia Shanahan on May 6, 2011 at 12:47 PM

Yeah I got the same call, I hung up too before the inevitable operator came on asking for money for his organization. I appreciate the work Morris is doing these days, but I just don’t have any money right now, April 15th wasn’t too long ago.

Daemonocracy on May 6, 2011 at 1:24 PM


I just received a recorded call from Dick Morris. I don’t know what he wanted because I finally hung up after 45 seconds of hearing him hawk his new book “Revolt.” He finally mentioned the Tea Party and Obama shoving the Healthcare Bill down our throats.

Whatever his message was he took WAY to long getting to it. So if any of you out there know what the call was for or on whose behalf it was made – tell them to rewrite the script.

Virginia Shanahan on May 6, 2011 at 12:47 PM

A few months back – I terminated any Dick Morris commentary – both phone, email, print, etc due to his rambling nonsense.

And his deliberate “buy my product” schtick…

Odie1941 on May 6, 2011 at 1:53 PM

God help us. If not for Cain, it was a dangerously weak soup. Embarrassing. We need Col. West. These smarmy suits of mostly politicians are pitiful. These are hard times and only West is the man to step up.

frizzbee on May 6, 2011 at 2:16 PM

THOR running in 2012 for the GOP Nomination?

THOR 2012!

PappyD61 on May 6, 2011 at 9:05 AM

Nope, won’t work — he’s not a natural born U.S. citizen.


Mary in LA on May 6, 2011 at 2:18 PM

Conclusion in this piece not a conclusion but something a bit wishy-washy. Cain won but Pawlenty made a good start.

Sherman1864 on May 6, 2011 at 2:39 PM

Just because he can run a pizza chain and talk on the radio does not mean Cain can run the country.


Common Sense on May 6, 2011 at 2:56 PM

Just because he can run a pizza chain and talk on the radio does not mean Cain can run the country.


Common Sense on May 6, 2011 at 2:56 PM

I said this last week… I just realized that he was Chairman of the Kansas Federal Reserve!

I did not know that. I’m pretty sure that means he has to be an economist of some reknown. This is not a detail that should be left out! What kind of record did he have, actually I only have a vague idea that he helps set policy for the country, I don’t really have a good idea of the responsibilities of the job.

So why didn’t I know that before?

I guess I need to do some more homework on Herman Cain.

For a couple of days. I have begun to doubt the substance of our candidates… they look good on paper but then when they talk they sort of crumble.

Cain is the opposite. On paper, he was the CEO of GodFather’s Pizza… okay that’s nice, so why does he think he can run the country… It is like expectations are starting low, then I find out a really important fact. Is that strategy or does he assume everyone knows who he is and doesn’t need to tell us?

What else is on his resume?

petunia on May 6, 2011 at 3:14 PM

Pawlenty is a pathetic tool. he is this years Romney. Plastic, uninspiring, and a career politician. He has zero chance of being anything more than a sacrificial lamb

snoopicus on May 6, 2011 at 3:15 PM

I read a lot of negatives on here on all of them. I saw five guys any one of which would kill Obamalinsky in a debate as his ideology is flawed to the Nth degree. All any of them would have to say is “How is the Hopey/Changey going for everybody? Like what Barry’s done for the economy he inherited?” Then again 52% of the American electorate proved themselves to be complete idiots in ’08…….

adamsmith on May 6, 2011 at 3:52 PM

It’s about $5.00 a gallon gas, stupid.

Roy Rogers on May 6, 2011 at 5:11 PM

I totally disagree with your assessment of Santorum. I thought he won the night. He was passionate about life, liberty, and family, explained and defended himself very well to the one question that had twisted his words, and I loved his line about how he has actually DONE things and not just talked about them and how he has the arrows in his back from the MSM to prove it.

Very good performance from him.

I was disappointed in Cain as I liked him going in. Still like him, he was great on the energy question, but vague foreign policy answers were surprising and he was wrong, imo, about a couple of things (including not releasing the OBL photos).

I don’t like the other three so I wasn’t surprised that I didn’t like their performaces and Pawlenty was totally wrong on embryonic stem-cell research (and there was one question where he hemmed and hawed for so long that I was shouting at my tv: “answer already!”)

-Aslan’s Girl

Aslans Girl on May 6, 2011 at 5:22 PM

ornery_independent on May 6, 2011 at 10:46 AM

And I found it to be a brilliant answer and explantion of what he meant even though the question set out to twist his words.

-Aslan’s Girl

Aslans Girl on May 6, 2011 at 5:26 PM

snoopicus on May 6, 2011 at 3:15 PM

And sadly the best of the lot last night.

MJBrutus on May 6, 2011 at 6:13 PM

Just because he can run a pizza chain and talk on the radio does not mean Cain can run the country.


Common Sense on May 6, 2011 at 2:56 PM

The man is a self made millionaire. What have you been up to?

hawkdriver on May 6, 2011 at 10:33 PM

Missed the debate, just saw clips and the after-debate with Hannity. So my basis is thin. That being said…

Rick Santorum: Mostly harmless, not impressive to me. I lost a lot of respect for him when I found out he was an IDer.

Johnson: Should have treated him a little more seriously, given him an opportunity to express his ideas more. Like the idea of cutting business taxes, although maybe not eliminating them as he suggested.

Paul: I have a little bit of a libertarian streak in me, but Paul is just off the hook sometimes. During 2008 his intimation that there should be an investigation into 9/11 (borderline troofer), and his notion that the only good overseas base is a closed overseas base is a bridge too far. Glad his presence has forced the GOP to look a bit more into fiscal responsibility though.

Pawlenty: Going in I thought he was pretty good. Seeing the after-interview with Hannity I had my doubts. He did okay at first talking about reforms and raising the retirement age gradually for new workers but then slipped in some subtle class warfare about ‘means testing’ and people who made more would have their benefits scaled back. Maybe I’ve been burned one too many times, but it makes me suspicious he’s more of a RINO than he’s letting on. He knows AGW is a no-no for the GOP, so is he just performing obeisance at the altar of conservatism?

Cain: I liked Cain going in too, and didn’t see much to change that. His answer on illegal immigration almost stopped me when he said ‘path to citizenship’ but when he said ‘we already have one’, I thought that was great, probably because that’s been one of my points when arguing with people about it. Hannity has this annoying habit of interrupting people. He interrupted Cain trying to plug how he gave Cain time on his show, and Cain came back with a quip when Hannity mentioned the one person in Luntz’s focus group who supported Cain going in. I like that. If he’s a little thin, it may be because he’s not from the political arena. That’s fine. He’ll develop more depth to his proposals the more he discusses them and feels them out.

Overall, I’m in the Cain camp. As for the people who were no shows, don’t like Huckabee (can’t scrape that ‘not raising taxes raising hope’ BS out of my skull), Gingrich has baggage and is only so-so with me, Palin I like as a person but not a candidate, Trump is good for stirring up trouble but that’s it, Romney I supported over McCain last time as best of thin pickings but lets face it… Romneycare is an albatross, and Bachmann I like but need to see her in forums/debates to judge whether she is truly President material.

So unless Teh Unicorn Candidate pops up, it’s probably Cain for me.

linlithgow on May 6, 2011 at 11:44 PM

None of these republican hopefuls have been tested under fire until Michelle Malkin moderates a debate.

meci on May 6, 2011 at 12:46 PM

Ooh, that would be good.

AshleyTKing on May 7, 2011 at 3:28 AM

For those who did not see or want to again hear Herman Cain, here is a 12 minute you tube of only his answers last night.

Elisa on May 6, 2011 at 9:27 AM

Elisa on May 7, 2011 at 11:51 AM

None of these contenders has a chance to win. Not going to happen.

scotash on May 9, 2011 at 3:09 PM