A memorable debate, for the wrong reasons

posted at 8:40 am on November 10, 2011 by Ed Morrissey

The Republican candidate held their first debate in weeks last night, a forum dedicated to economic policy hosted by CNBC’s John Harwood and Maria Bartiromo, and for the most part they seemed to have improved with the time off.  For the first hour or so of the debate, everyone seemed sharp, with crisp answers and very little to criticize.  Even Rick Perry seemed to have improved — and then, one of the worst moments in decades of major political debates took place when Perry got lost on an easy listing of Cabinet-level agencies he wants to eliminate.  Worst of all, the one he couldn’t recall despite nearly 30 seconds of stammering was the Department of Energy, a key area on which Perry has based his economic policy.

The moderation in this debate was perhaps the worst since John King’s “This or That?”  Harwood and Bartiromo were mostly capable, but they decided to insert a question to Herman Cain about the allegations of sexual harassment that has roiled his campaign.  That question was perfectly legitimate — for an interview or a press conference.  It has nothing to do with economics, and it’s hardly a debating point for the other candidates on stage.  The audience booed with great relish all through the delivery of the question, and rightfully so.  Cain’s denial generated loud cheers, which turned to boos when Bartiromo asked Romney to comment on Cain’s answer — which Romney firmly refused to do, and insisted that the debate return to its topic.

On top of that derailment, the beginning and end of the debate featured Jim Cramer screaming at the candidates, especially at the end.  Note to CNBC — we’re watching the candidates debate each other.  If Cramer can’t figure that out, then he doesn’t belong on stage, and perhaps your network shouldn’t be hosting these debates at all.

How did the candidates do?

  • Herman Cain — Cain always handles himself well in these debates, and last night was no exception.  The crowd got behind him after getting sandbagged, and Cain kept them with him most of the night.  However, he seemed to drift through some answers without actually providing a clear response specific to the question, and the audience began laughing rather than cheering when he brought up 9-9-9 on the third or fourth mention.  He didn’t offer anything memorable, but he certainly didn’t do any damage to himself last night.
  • Mitt Romney — Besides stumbling a bit through an answer on health care, Romney had another good night.  He offered very strong responses, demonstrated a good grasp of the issues, and remained positive throughout the debate.  Only one candidate attacked him, and that was ….
  • Jon Huntsman — Huntsman’s only memorable moment of the debate came when he made a general accusation of “pandering” with get-tough-on-China rhetoric.  Harwood asked Hunstman to confront Romney if he thought Romney (who had just said he’d get tough on China) was one of those pandering.  It took three more pushes from Harwood to get Huntsman to stammer out an attack on Romney in what looked very much like a replay of the Tim Pawlenty “Obamneycare” flop in an earlier debate.  If that’s your only really memorable moment in a debate, that’s not a good thing.  Overall Huntsman did a credible job, but he didn’t do or say anything to distinguish himself.
  • Ron Paul — Paul did surprisingly well, but this was a debate on economics, where Paul makes a lot of sense.  He gave a couple of outstanding answers, especially one on student-loan debt where he offered his surprise to the framing of a question that assumed student loans made sense.  The crazy rants and the isolationism were all left off stage, and Paul gave the best debate of the series.
  • Rick Perry — The excruciating flop literally came just as I was typing into Tweetdeck how well Perry had been doing in this debate.  Before and even after the Moment That Will Live In Ignominy, Perry seemed to have finally figured out how to debate.  He was relaxed without being soporific, made salient and specific points on policy, stayed positive and focused on his own record and proposals, and if he still wasn’t terrific, he was no longer bad.  Until … he was, and then he was simply horrid.  I don’t think it’s enough to make a man with millions in the bank leave the race, but no one who watched that sequence can possibly have any confidence in his ability to debate Barack Obama.  At all.  If Perry had a track record of four good debate performances, this would not be damaging enough to kill his chances, but his previous flops make this seem as though it’s the Sum Of All (Republican) Fears.
  • Michele Bachmann — A good performance, but not anything that will cause voters who have already moved past Bachmann to take a second look.  No hyperbole this time, no wild unsupportable claims, just a series of good-but-not-memorable responses.
  • Rick Santorum — Very much like Bachmann, another good-but-not-memorable performance.  Some Twitter followers complained when Santorum began doing his I’ve-done-this-and-they-haven’t checklist, but otherwise he was just serviceable.  He’ll do better in the foreign-policy debate that will take place later this month.

That leaves us with Newt Gingrich, who clearly won the debate — but also gave flashes of his weak points.  Gingrich gave marvelously detailed answers, reflecting the deep study he has made on American public policy during his years in politics, and demonstrated that he has the best command of both facts and philosophy on stage.  Gingrich also went after the moderators especially hard, perhaps protesting too much at the 30-second limit for one of his answers, badgering Bartiromo until she agreed to let him take all the time he wanted.  He showed flashes of derision towards Bartiromo and Harwood that didn’t bother the red-meat conservatives he wants to woo now, but that may not sell as well in a general election.  Gingrich has been very careful to be patient, positive, and supporting of his fellow Republicans, and that continued last night as well.  He will have to find a way to project that statesman-like persona with the media as well, like it or not, especially if he wins the nomination, in order to avoid the angry-conservative-man image that Gingrich has had to fight in the past.

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Surprised at how far you’ll go to back Perry and find excuses for him despite how poorly he has done but Romney who has put in rock solid performances in every debate you bash on him.

g2825m on November 10, 2011 at 11:35 AM

Take your tin foil hat off, I support Gingrich over Perry. I support pretty much anyone over Romney. I don’t trust Romney, what he says today, no matter how slick it is, is not what he said in the past. He also has not put forward any great performances, at least not to a true conservative who actually listens to what he says. Every time he goes off his focus group tested talking points, such as when he insisted SS should remain a Federal and Public pension plan, he exposes his inner New England liberal.

To put it simply, he is not a conservative.

Daemonocracy on November 10, 2011 at 12:55 PM

g2825m on November 10, 2011 at 12:35 PM

This is why I am convinced many of you Romney supporters are either mentally challenged or just plain dishonest.

Besides the fact that we knew what Reagan stood for philosophically and his moral clarity puts Romney to shame, the major issues of Reagan’s day were:

1) The Cold War. Reagan was a critic of detente, supported a more aggressive Foreign Policy and was excoriated for his position by the media. He was clear, he was bold, he was right.

2) Tax Reform. Just like today, tax reform was a hot issue which Reagan took head on. He publicly and unabashedly embraced Free markets and supply side economics while the media and his own party ridiculed his vision as Voodoo Economics (coined by Bush, the guy Romney most resembles), Trickle down economics (no such thing), Reaganomics (as if he just made it up himself). Twice Reagan fought for and received Tax Reform and the economy boomed. Reagan was clear, he was bold and he was right.

3) Role of Government. Reagan repeatedly attacked the bloated Federal bureaucracy and his message caught on. By the time the 1990s rolled around, the Democratic party had rebranded themselves as a new party who had put their big government days in the past. Jerry Brown ran with a Flat Tax, Bill Clinton supported free trade, welfare reform and deregulation. This was Reagan’s legacy, he took the clear and bold stands because he knew they were the right thing to do – Romney does none of this.

Reagan fought the Romney’s of his day and the took the party and the country in a new prosperous direction, yet you actually try to compare Romney to Reagan favorably?

Daemonocracy on November 10, 2011 at 1:09 PM

Don’t think for one second that the Dems won’t hone in with laser-like focus on Perry’s errors if he’s the nominee.

Trafalgar on November 10, 2011 at 11:05 AM

Have you ever tried to listened to

Teh ONE

without TOTUS?

Talk about Brain Atrophy, he’s got it.

belad on November 10, 2011 at 1:10 PM

So I must be banned. How very Pravada like Ed.

petunia on November 10, 2011 at 1:35 PM

Newt was great…


… Fu%k the Media!!!

Seven Percent Solution on November 10, 2011 at 2:27 PM

Considering the fact that these ‘debates’ aren’t really debates, I have no idea who can actually debate the issues. I think anyone who is wed to a candidate at this point is crazy. Candidates at this point are just competing to see who can survive the liberal media (except for Romney who seems to be mostly left alone, probably because all his bombshells came out last campaign).

If someone held a gun to my head and said ‘pick’ I’d probably pick Cain just because he seems a little less corrupt then the rest. Otherwise, I will remain happily uncommited until the liberal media. . . ummm liberals in the open caucuses. . . loyal conservative primary voters pick our candidate (I think I finally got that right).

Dawnsblood on November 10, 2011 at 2:47 PM

Good for you! I don’t get the “meltdown” thing. The man had a brain fart. Everyone has them Anyone who says they don’t is lying.

katy the mean old lady

Everyone on the stage last night didn’t do what Perry did, only Perry did it. Everyone does have a brain fart every now and then, but everyone doesn’t have one like that on a national stage, during a national debate, while auditioning for the most powerful job on the planet.

You folks who think this won’t be an issue are living in denial. Shoot, even Perry knows he stepped in it big time. If it were an isolated incident, it might not mean as much, but it’s not an isolated incident, it’s simply the latest, and possibly the worst of several incidents from each debate.

xblade on November 10, 2011 at 2:51 PM

While Perry was flubbing and that seems to be the topic du jour, Let’s be honest here. One guy came thru last night with solutions and ideas that work. Watching FNC today with Megan, I saw some geek saying he thought Gingrich was bad because the health care answer wasn’t given in :30 and it was weak. Sorry moron, the man said he’d written a book about it and had been working on the issue since the 70′s and that answering in :30 on a topic that cover’s 20% of the economy is just silly, I’d respect that and modify the question, but that is the current debate format meant to make people stumble (Perry). QUICK!!! ANSWER WORLD PEACE NEEDS in :15 GO!!

Screw these formats. Take the top 4 for one hour, let them debate. Take the bottom 4….let them debate. Same questions. Then compare. Its just ludicrous the needs of morons who feel that answering a question in :30 makes a president…presidential.

JP1986UM on November 10, 2011 at 3:33 PM

Presidential Jeopardy. Make it a 45 minute game show with commercial breaks (we are the capitalist party right?). Allow unlimited duration answers, with a large screen of choices of topic. Same topics for each candidate. The voters get to see what the candidate himself feels is important, as he gets to pick from the board, chooses how long to spend on each topic. One candidate might give quick answers and hit all topics, another might pick only a few topics and answer them in depth, or a combination of each. The candidates all do the show privately with no audience, all candidates complete the same day, then a random order for presentation to the public over the period of a week. No editing except to put commercial breaks in.

astonerii on November 10, 2011 at 4:23 PM

Perry’s flub about eliminating either the Department of Energy or the EPA was BAD, because Perry is Governor of an energy-rich state, and he should know the energy issue well, as Sarah Palin does. The EPA has done some good things over the years, but its current direction under the Obama Administration has been disastrous, and Perry (or the other candidates) need to say specifically which regulations they would roll back, and which should be kept.

Is this the end of Perry’s candidacy? Maybe not, but he will need to be a better debater to beat Obama…

Steve Z on November 10, 2011 at 10:23 AM

He does know, he just blanked. He’s talked about eliminating the Dept. of Energy many, many times in the past; he rattles off this particular talking point several times a day. This isn’t that he doesn’t “know”, he just had a brain-freeze.

Aslans Girl on November 10, 2011 at 5:24 PM

Bachman is still running?

vcferlita on November 10, 2011 at 6:31 PM

Presidential Jeopardy. Make it a 45 minute game show with commercial breaks (we are the capitalist party right?). Allow unlimited duration answers, with a large screen of choices of topic. Same topics for each candidate. The voters get to see what the candidate himself feels is important, as he gets to pick from the board, chooses how long to spend on each topic. One candidate might give quick answers and hit all topics, another might pick only a few topics and answer them in depth, or a combination of each. The candidates all do the show privately with no audience, all candidates complete the same day, then a random order for presentation to the public over the period of a week. No editing except to put commercial breaks in.

astonerii on November 10, 2011 at 4:23 PM

Interesting, outside-the-box thinking.

+100

cane_loader on November 10, 2011 at 7:49 PM

vcferlita: “Bachman is still running?”

If she stops, who will stop the Gardasil moron medicine menace?

David Blue on November 10, 2011 at 11:22 PM

Romney has to have the lowest bar ever set going into these things.

Newsflash: He’s not the frontrunner anymore, and hasn’t been for at least a month, even as the man who is consistently beating him now has been blasted for a week with frivolous allegations. Shouldn’t that tell the commentariat something?

Treating Romney with kid gloves now is not going to help him if he somehow gets nominated. In fact it makes it worse.

As long as Romney doesn’t drool in these debates, NRO and large segments of other conservative outlets describe his milquetoast, robotic performances as “shining” when really, this is a man who – worse than not even inspiring a quarter of the electorate – causes a gag reflex in most conservatives. If Romney delivers one of these prepared remarks style debates against Obama, he will be crushed.

Romney is not even electable. You can’t get elected if you’ve never made any effort to mobilize or connect with your own base and are banking on staying in the background relying on the GOP Establishment to nominate you because, as the saying goes, “it’s his turn.”

Romney gives a lukewarm presentation. He doesn’t damage himself, but I’ve yet to remember a single thing Mitt Romney has ever said. He is a forgettable presence, and we will all suffer if the commentariat doesn’t get its act together and realize that just giving Romney a pass on being both substantive and inspiring isn’t good enough.

Romney can’t get elected based on how many “moderates” he’s supposedly going to draw in. None of those things matter if 75% of his base would rather hold their nose and vote for him than actually get out there and do ground work and door knocking for him.

BKennedy on November 11, 2011 at 7:01 AM

Bachman is still running?

vcferlita on November 10, 2011 at 6:31 PM

Does anybody really care ?? Is she relevant to anyone other than Mark Levin who seems to have a perma-hard-on for her ??

cableguy615 on November 13, 2011 at 9:15 AM

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