June 14, 2011. Manchester, NH. Seven Republican Presidential hopefuls debated in New Hampshire last night, including one who took the opportunity to announce her candidacy. ‘Her’ gives it away, as Michele Bachmann was the only female in the group. The two hour question and answer session moderated by CNN’s John King kept a fast pace. That was due in part to the 30 second time limit for answers. While there weren’t many surprises or fireworks, the groups’ future Democratic opponent wasn’t without his or her choice of juicy sound bites to choose from.
We at Whiteout Press kept a scorecard for the entire two hours. Using the same first-impression feelings that the typical voter would, we’ve compiled our reactions from our ‘independent voter’ point of view. We also took into consideration that this is a Republican Party debate. And as such, is targeting a much narrower audience than a General Election debate would. The last consideration we made was the unfortunate truth that many American voters vote for a person solely based on their personality or appearance instead of the content of their character and speech. Much like the Olympics, we’ve merged a ‘technical’ score with an ‘artistic impression’ score.
As readers will notice, some candidates had more opportunities to state their case than others. That was due to a number of factors, including the debate’s fast-paced and loosely controlled structure. In Mitt Romney’s case, it was obviously the result of a number of ‘gotcha’ questions inserted into the debate format intentionally to create some fireworks. In at least two instances, Mr. Romney’s statements or positions were the questions.
Tim Pawlenty and Herman Cain had extra opportunities because debate moderator John King attempted to catch them both in traps of their own previous making. In Pawlenty’s case, the CNN moderator used the second question of the night to try and shame a response from the former MN Governor for his labeling of President Obama’s healthcare overhaul plan as “Oba-mney Care” – an obvious linking of Mitt Romney’s past healthcare ideas with the President’s. The moderator even challenged Tim Pawlenty one last time saying, “You don’t want to address the question? If it’s ‘Oba-mney’ Care on Fox News Sunday, why isn’t it ‘Oba-mney’ Care right here, now?”. That was another instance where Mitt Romney was afforded an extra opportunity to give his statements, which he used to bash the President over healthcare.
In Herman Cain’s case, Mr. Cain didn’t need much assistance making himself sound harsh. Keeping in mind that this is a conservative Party and God was mentioned more times than could be counted, Mr. Cain came across as being unrealistic and even a bit paranoid. He was asked to clarify past statements about having a “special litmus test” for Muslims working in his White House that Christians, Jews, atheists and all others would be exempt from.
Instead of softening his stance or back-tracking, Herman Cain charged straight ahead and forcefully declared once and for all, “I would not be comfortable with a Muslim in my administration”. Occupied more with Sharia law infiltrating America’s justice system, Mr. Cain didn’t come across in the most informed light. Mitt Romney stole another speaking opportunity when he jumped in to call the idea of Sharia law influencing our justice system, “ridiculous”. He also took that moment to insure there would be “no litmus test” in a Romney administration.
While Pawlenty and Romney refused to mix it up and Cain did his own damage to himself, the rest of the field tried to steal the spotlight and a place in the viewers’ memory any way they could.
Rick Santorum seemed to have the biggest problem. Even with his good look and sound, he came across as too sculpted, almost like a wooden doll whose hair never moves and expression never changes. There was an obvious lack of emotion, or at least the appearance of any. While other candidates disagreed, or in many cases patted one or the other on the back, Mr. Santorum wasn’t a part of any of the exchanges. If you were to try and name the seven participants the following morning, he’d be the last name you’d remember, if you remembered him at all.
Michele Bachmann had a much better night. From GOP insiders to CNN pundits, the Congresswoman appeared to steal the show. Her opening remarks were a little cold, maybe just nervous. And her statement seemed rehearsed, like she was reading it. All that changed when she used the first question to announce the official filing of her application for candidacy. It was a shrewd more to capture the spotlight and momentum, and simultaneously silence any critics who questioned her right to be on the stage because she wasn’t a candidate yet.
Newt Gingrich’s opening statement was the best of them all. He spoke with passion and was the first to take a shot at President Obama, setting his tone for the evening. Unfortunately, that confrontational attitude came across as angry and domineering. Numerous times, the former Speaker spoke over the moderator to demand he get more time to speak. In the first few minutes, Gingrich had reprimanded moderator John King for changing the question on him. “That wasn’t the question!” Gingrich angrily insisted, “The question was…”.
One overwhelming example of how Mr. Gingrich came across was during his response to the question about America’s illegal immigration problem. First, the former Speaker gave props to one of his opponents, “Cain is right”. Then, he finished his answer detailing his position for more border security. When he finally paused long enough to take a breath, the audience began to give him a rare treat of applause. Instead however, Gingrich immediately stopped them so he could continue talking. Already over his allotted time, the moderator tried to move on to the next question. Gingrich wouldn’t have it. Again, for the second time in the same question, Gingrich cut off the host and insisted on speaking longer. And unfortunately for Mr. Gingrich, it wasn’t a mutual request. He came across as bullying, angry and domineering.
Mitt Romney’s opening remarks came across as relaxed and confident. He would need that because the debate sponsors had laid a few landmines in his path. The former Governor used his very first question about ‘how to create jobs’ to first compliment his opponent Tim Pawlenty, then to take shots directly at President Obama. “This President has failed!” Romney insisted. He “delegated the stimulus to Nancy Pelosi and Harry Reid”. He then went on to also fight with moderator King over the time limit.
Ron Paul was next. While the Congressman lacked the excitement and flair that most of the other candidates had in their opening statement, Mr. Paul finished his statement with a fierce and steadfast air to his personality. Ron Paul immediately warmed up the crowd when he used his first question to make the first joke of the night. Taking a shot at the President, he humorously insinuated that he couldn’t think of a single thing President Obama had done to turn the disastrous jobs picture around. Again however, he too went over on time and struggled with his final point.
Tim Pawlenty seemed to have the most problems of the evening. His opening statement went okay. Like Bachmann, he seemed a little rehearsed and even a little nervous. Unlike Bachman who seemed to be the darling of the debate, Pawlenty was given no such special treatment. The debate sponsors, and even the moderator, seemed to relish catching Mr. Pawlenty in uncomfortable situations. Right from the start, the first question was switched when it got to Pawlenty’s turn. What was a softball question of “How would you create more jobs” had suddenly turned into, “How do tax cuts create jobs?”. When the former MN Governor answered the initial question, he was caught and came across as if he were either dodging the new question, or simply didn’t know the answer.
Herman Cain, probably the most unknown and the only non-politician, was the last to introduce himself. He was well-received and appeared to be focused and even a little forceful. Mr. Cain also benefitted from being the first one to respond to the first question about jobs. Having a few seconds to think about it, he rammed home a series of ideas that included all the typical Republican fixes – give the economy a boost by cutting taxes, eliminating the capital gains tax and making all recent and Bush-era tax-cuts permanent.
As the night went on, there were a few memorable moments. I’m sure some of the candidates wish they could forget. Right from the start, Mitt Romney was given a free shot at Tim Pawlenty for his “Oba-mney Care” remarks. Romney however, showed true class and passed on the obvious set-up of his opponent. With his next breath, the moderator went on to all but crucify Mr. Pawlenty for his refusal to explain the remark or retract it.
Ron Paul had the most ironic evening. While his answers seemed to always revolve around eliminating the Federal Reserve and ending America’s position as the world’s policeman, he constantly spoke in academic language that most-likely sailed right over the heads of most viewers. Like most Republican campaign events however, Mr. Paul’s supporters were obviously the most prevalent in the audience of any of the campaigns. It didn’t matter what Congressman Paul said. Even though his answers were sound and his opponents often agreed with his remarks, the audience cheered any and every remark he made.
Tim Pawlenty received rousing applause when he championed his stance on ‘right to work’. He immediately followed it up with a plug for Rush Limbaugh. Michele Bachmann might have scared some moderates a little when she declared, “Pass the mother of all repeal bills. And begin with the EPA”. Herman Cain was caught on both sides of the financial ‘bailout’ issue. When asked if he still supported those “drastic measures”, Mr. Cain insisted that, “yes, at first”. Letting the audience understand his answer, he explained he was for drastic measures. But not once he found out the Bush administration was hand-picking the winners and losers.
Staying on the issue of the financial bailout, Michele Bachmann promoted her expertise by announcing, “I was behind closed doors with Secretary Paulson”. While she explained that she fought the strong-armed bailout every step of the way, the statement came across for the first time as a bit of an ‘insider’. Newt Gingrich took another opportunity to argue with the moderator when he first proudly advocated an end to NASA saying, “bureaucracy after bureaucracy, failure after failure. NASA should be getting out of the way”. Then, he all but interrupted Tim Pawlenty when the Governor suggested a public-private partnership to save NASA.
At one point, Congressman Paul sobered the whole crowd up when he replied to a question about Medicare solvency stating, “The average American couple will contribute $140,000 to Medicare in their lifetime. They will take out three-times that much”. Except for Congressman Paul who suggested keeping Medicare and funding it instead of foreign wars and foreign aid, every other candidate on stage proudly voiced their support for Congressman Paul Ryan’s controversial plan to switch Medicare for an insurance voucher program. Even Speaker Gingrich repeated his support for the Ryan proposal saying, “My words were taken out of context”.
Debate sponsors saved the best set-up for near the end. A question regarding pro-life stances asked to Senator Santorum wasn’t even a question. The moderator simply asked him to comment on Mitt Romney’s known flip-flop on the abortion issue. While Santorum took that opportunity to remind the Republican voters of his unflinching support for the pro-life cause, the rest of the candidates steered clear of the ambush and passed when given the opportunity to comment on Romney’s flip on the issue. Romney, for his part, assured the audience of his pro-life stance, “People understand I’m firmly Pro-Life”.
Another obvious difference made was by Congressman Paul. While the other candidates repeatedly deferred decisions to the military, from ‘don’t ask don’t tell’ to withdrawing troops from Afghanistan, Paul insisted he would be Commander in Chief, not the military. Gingrich continued his negative tone when instead of giving his position on bringing our troops home, he took a shot at the US intelligence community, “Ten years after 9/11, our intelligence is inadequate”.
Michele Bachmann had two of the most interesting comments. First, she showed her quick whit when the candidates all stumbled when asked which of them would make the best Vice Presidential candidate. Bachmann suggested they have an American Idol-style contest.
When asked whether each candidate would support a Constitutional Amendment banning same-sex marriage, Bachmann led off the replies saying she supports the Tenth Amendment and favors letting the states decide. Herman Cain also took that stance. Ron Paul broke from the group and insisted the government had no business legislating anything to do with marriage. Pawlenty, Romney, Gingrich, Santorum and Bachmann all took the other side and support for a Constitutional Amendment. Yes, Michele Bachmann took both sides of the issue. She even interrupted the moderator to restate her answer. “John, I do support a Constitutional Amendment on marriage between a man and a woman” Bachman explained, “But I would not be going into states to overturn their state law”.
Moderator John King didn’t point out that it’s impossible to pass a Constitutional Amendment without going into the states and changing their state law. If it were, women wouldn’t be able to vote in Utah and Blacks would still be three-fifths of a citizen in parts of the deep south. The surprising part isn’t that Congresswoman Bachmann didn’t know that. The real surprise is that none of the CNN commentators dared to even point it out during their post-debate in-depth analysis. They were too busy proclaiming her the undisputed debate winner.