What did we learn at the Thanksgiving Family Forum?

Since the Thanksgiving Family Forum wasn’t available on television for most of the nation, we hosted a discussion in the comments section here at Hot Air where the live webcast was embedded. The generic description in the media thus far has been that it was a “focus on social issues.”

I suppose that’s at least a somewhat fair conclusion, though far more heavy on the social and not really so much on the issues. I’m not registering this as a complaint, mind you. This really wasn’t a “debate” per se, and it was undoubtedly still useful for some viewers because character, values and “big picture” vision are also important, and that’s largely what we were treated to. Candidates were asked questions about their faith, the challenges they had faced in life and how these things informed their ideology and theory of government. There were a lot of very personal moments shared and more than a few tears shed.

Two of the candidates we’re used to seeing at these meetings were notably absent: Mitt Romney and Jon Huntsman. Looking at the list of attendees on the sponsor’s web site, it appears (can’t confirm at this time) that Huntsman wasn’t even invited. Romney was, but chose to host a town hall in New Hampshire instead. This shouldn’t come as a big surprise to anyone. Honestly, why would Romney bother to show up at an event which was focused pretty much entirely on religion which would have likely turned into two hours of him defending Mormonism? And aside from that, Luntz spent part of his time making thinly veiled, derogatory jokes at Romney’s expense, yukking it up with Newt. (And Herman Cain chiming in with “Mitt who?”)

Also, the voters they were trying to win over – along with the moderators – weren’t making much of a secret about their feelings.

“You have more that you agree on than the small things you disagree on,” said Luntz. But that lack of disagreement at the evening forum left the evangelical voters in attendance unsettled on a clear favorite.

“It does make it tough,” said Warren County Republican Chairman Rick Halverson. “These guys are vying for the votes of people like me … They’re gonna divide the not-Romney vote. Somebody’s gotta break out of the pack.”

Before the show even began there was a moment which seemed to threaten some later fireworks, but they never developed. The moderator noted that there were people in the crowd who appeared to be prepared to protest. I believe he made a reference to Occupy Wall Street, and invited one of them to take the mic and speak freely in exchange for a request that they not disrupt the event once it began. But the speaker turned out – I believe – to not be an OWS type so much as he was a Ron Paul supporter exhorting the candidates to talk about ending the Fed. In any event, it was well handled by the moderator and the rest of the event took place in a polite, civil fashion without notable disruption that I noticed.

Given the lack of substantive policy discussion it’s not surprising that there weren’t many gaffes or notable moments, though people are trying to spin some gold from a few bits of straw. Toward the end, Herman Cain responded to a question about what he would do if the Supreme Court shot down DOMA by saying he would, “lead the charge to overturn the Supreme Court.” That one set me off immediately, but upon reflection, it was really just a verbal stumble as opposed to some fundamental lack of knowledge. I seriously doubt that Cain actually believes that the SCOTUS can be “overturned” once they rule on a particular case.

Newt snuck in a few comments on definitions of personhood which could lead one to think he was talking about legislative dominance over the other two branches of government, but upon listening to the replay, he actually parsed all of his answers in ways which wouldn’t let him be pinned down.

For the most part, I would say that there was nothing particularly explosive coming out of this meeting, and in the end it was precisely what it was billed as being. The candidates who showed up spoke about faith, family and vision to a largely like minded audience who seemed to appreciate the sentiments on display. If nothing else, it lent a more human face to some of the candidates who we normally only get to see being grilled on their jobs plan, foreign policy or competing to show which one of them opposes Obama the most.

Edit: Per se? You don’t per say.