The debate didn’t really use a Lincoln-Douglas model, and we ended up hearing from the moderators far too much, but both Herman Cain and Newt Gingrich delivered on their promise to give America a substantive debate on the biggest issues of this cycle. For 90 minutes, the two men discussed entitlement reform and associated issues, and even if the two only rarely disagreed, the format allowed for lengthy responses, nuanced proposals — and plenty of opportunity to hit Barack Obama’s performance as President.
Who won? It’s pretty clear that Gingrich had the better of this debate. He had better command of both the issues and the facts, offered plenty of corroborative studies and resources, and managed to make all of it accessible to the average voter. Cain did well at times, but twice had to ask Newt to handle questions first, which isn’t exactly a confidence builder. Cain seemed confused about the difference between defined-benefit and premium-support approaches on Medicare, getting confused between pension plans and health care later on the same point. While Cain discussed philosophical approaches to these issues confidently, Gingrich had actual data at the ready, and the difference was telling.
Mostly, I think the voters won this debate. We finally had 90 minutes of substantive discussion of the real issues in entitlement reform, offered in positive terms from two of the men who want to lead this country. With media “moderators” out of the way, we put aside slogans and soundbites and the sniping that broadcast outlets love to provoke to write stories on the fluff rather than the issues.
This could set a standard for debates in the future, but only if Republican voters demand to see the other candidates in similar forum models. I’d love to see Rick Santorum and Ron Paul debate foreign policy, for instance, or Mitt Romney and Rick Perry debate economic policy, for 90 minutes with no moderators and no media needling. That would produce real choices for voters, and strip away the gotcha strategies to find out which candidates have substance and which have really good tailors.
Let’s take a poll to see what readers think. Note that I left off “the American people” as one of the choices. I’d like to get a real sense of who people think won between the two candidates on stage.