Seven candidates for the Republican Presidential Nomination debated in New Hampshire in an event sponsored by CNN/WMUR/Manchester Union Leader. When there are so many candidates participating, a”debate” can devolve into a joint press conference, which this gathering mercifully avoided, but there was little adverse interplay amongst the candidates. It was wise to not invite former Governor Gary Johnson (R-NM), so that he could whine about not getting enough time to promote legalizing pot.
To keep things moving, CNN wanted answers to be 30 seconds or less, which may be perfect for short attention span theater, but the incumbent in the Oval Office can hardly clear his throat in that short soundbite. Even though there were no buzzers or lights to cut off candidates, CNN moderator John King displayed an annoying tick to either grunt or murmur after 15 seconds into a candidate’s response, stepping into any outstanding answers. To wit this might be chronicled as the CNN Grunt-It State Debate.
To keep things moving and interactive, questions came from the moderator John King, from the studio audience at St. Anselm’s College as well as from remote stand up sites scattered throughout the first primary state. In addition, CNN promoted a social media angle, promising to take questions from Facebook and Twitter as well as streaming Twitter comments during the debate. It did not seem that many questions that were answered came from social media, but a couple of comments were highlighted as well as the alluvia of information. Considering the reputation of CNN and the Lamestream Media, it would be advised that for future debates candidates demand that the Twitter stream be eliminated, as this is rife for manipulation by the media or politicos.
Another experimental element of the Granite State Debate was “This or That?” when a candidate is asked to quickly choose from two options. This was intended to show the softer side of a candidate but it was a wasted opportunity. Asking Herman Cain “Thin Crust or Deep Dish?” was kind of cute, especially considering his experience as CEO of Godfather Pizza. Continuing in that vein, perhaps CNN could appealed to Hispanic audiences by asking “¿Que es más macho?” à la Laurie Anderson. It is a pity that the opportunity to ask snap questions did not delve into more revealing subjects, such as “What book most influences you?” or “What was the biggest challenge that you faced?” At least ex-Speaker Newt Gingrich was able to quickly choose American Idol over Dancing With the Stars.
The Granite State Debate managed to make some news by Rep. Michelle Bachmann (R-MN 6th) announcing that she filed her paperwork with the FEC and would soon be announcing her candidacy. Of course participating in a Presidential Primary Debate does kind of show one’s cards.
What made news was the dog that did not bark. After former Gov. Tim Pawlenty (R-MN) threw down a label “Obamney Care” the day before on Fox News Sunday, the lamestream media salivated at the prospect of a GOP food fight, particularly directed at the perceived frontrunner former Gov. Mitt Romney (R-MA). But it seems that all abided by Ronald Reagan’s 11th Commandment "Thou shalt not speak ill of any fellow Republican." While the candidates did make some policy distinctions amongst one another, the rhetorical fire was aimed after the fecklessness and failure of the Obama Administration.
Lamestream Media commentators were quick to label Pawlenty a loser for not have the courage to continue lambasting the current leader Romney. But perhaps the Pawlenty campaign remembered the acrimony between Romney and Huckabee which divided and dispirited the conservative base in 2008. Or even more contemporarily, Pawlenty might have looked at the bad press that Ed Rollins sparked as Rep. Bachmann entered the Presidential race by slamming former Gov. Sarah Palin, particularly since the candidates hoped to draw from the same base of support.
Pawlenty should be mindful that New Hampshire is not his game as Romney has a “home field” advantage and currently a 32% lead. Romney is not competing in the Iowa Caucuses while that is Pawlenty’s touchstone. Pawlenty is probably cultivating a message of governing success in a Democrat state and implementing right leaning policiesrather than serving up a plate of rhetorical raw meat. That is the same demographic that Romney is targeting, along with an appeal of electability. Why cultivate starting the struggle prematurely? Should the internecine imbroglio be over National Health Care, when that should be a rallying cry for the Tea Party to charge against the incumbent. While I certainly think that Pawlenty pulled his punch, it was a wise tactic. The “Obamney” quip planted the seed, especially amongst the base who questions Romney’s conservative bone fides. Pawlenty need to succeed in Iowa Caucuses using Minnesota Nice and positive conservatism stressing economic growth. If Pawlenty wins the Hawkeye Cauci (sic) then Big Mo will be the wave which helps him compete in the other contests.
Rep. Bachmann’s almost official entry into the race along with her energetic answers brought some fight into the race against President Obama. Bachmann’s political pugnaciousness along with a couple of fumbled responses from Herman Cain (Muslims in his Administration, command in chief issues) seem to have taken the steam out of the Cain boomlet among movement Conservatives. But Bachmann is the only top tier candidate who is currently an elected official in the race and the responsibilities of office may force some tough votes to defend or great opportunity.
After the meltdown of Newt’s campaign staff last week, Gingrich got off easy from niggling campaign questions during the debate, as he only needed to defend the “right wing social engineering” gaffe. The ex-Speaker did well in answering questions succinctly instead of offering meandering musings. But Gingrich should be commended for trying to thwart the liberal Lamestream Media false dichotomy of “This or That?” concerning wedge issues like immigration. That helped keep the tone of the debate adult rather than partisan soundbites. May all candidates, including Newt, remember not to be suckered by media cheap shots or awkward answers.
Even though all of the players in the GOP Presidential Primary process may not have entered the stage yet, the Granite State Debate was a good start to framing the campaign to be a referendum against the fiscal and foreign policy failures of the incumbent. But winning the nomination is more than putting in a good debate performance. There is the matter of fund raising, not just from a handful of wealthy donors. Even though Paulistinians (sic) have successfully deployed internet “money bombs” for their Libertarian leaning leader Rep. Ron Paul (R-TX 14th), money isn’t everything. Successful candidates must make wise tactical choices (e.g. Guilini putting all his marbles in FLORIDA in 2008), a cohesive campaign (not to mention any names, but Ed Rollins will savage others then savage his former candidate) and develop messages that catch fire with the electorate. Those Republicans onstage in Manchester had the right instincts to govern well. Just about all of them would make plausible Commanders in Chief (sorry Paulistinians and Cainiacs). As the campaign progresses, may the participants keep their eye on the prize and develop policies which will address the pressing political problems which this country faces.