CNN should have borrowed SNL’s band when they were planning The Western Republican Presidential Debate that took place in Las Vegas four nights ago. Stage music would have paired nicely with all the applause, booing, and exchanged glances in the audience. If the number and frequency of raised eyebrows from spectators is any indication for the intensity at display on stage, it would be safe to suppose that most in the Convention Centre left the debate that night more than a little emotionally drained.
Even putting aside all the intellectual content, the debate was surprisingly engaging. Of course, it wasn’t the candidates’ performances alone that made the debate so captivating. The discussion itself raised very relevant and often confrontational questions that were met in return with some equally compelling responses. Certainly, these very same questions set off a queue of finger pointing and sharp rebuttals, but not all of the accusations were groundless, and some exposed bold and real implications.
Looking at the 7 Republican candidates’ respectively and the positions they take on some of the topics at the debate:
Congresswoman Michele Bachmann
Michele Bachmann did not give off an impressive showing at the debate. Despite responding to the questions given to her fluently, her answers often evaded the main gist of the questions. She frequently spun her responses so that they emphasized her own achievements and ambitions instead. Sure, in the end, this is what all the candidates are aiming to do, but it’s only effective if the audience believe they are reaching that conclusion for themselves. It doesn’t work if she is forcing it down their throats. For instance, when asked about her stance on the federal government’s role in the housing crisis in Nevada, she speaks about travelling the country and meeting mothers who have lost homes. Her conclusion, like always, was “I will turn this country around, I will fix it” but she rarely gives a solid explanation of how she plans to achieve that. On the other hand, she makes a good point when she says that anytime Congress is given a brand-new tax, it doesn’t go away - that’s a solid attack on Herman Cain’s 9-9-9 plan.
Former Speaker of House Newt Gingrich
Newt had a decent amount of air time at the debate and his responses were very fair and focused. He appeared knowledgeable, confident, and moderate – not an easy combination to pull off. His stance on health is an excellent example. Despite being critical of Romney’s health plan, unlike the other candidates who have attacked Romney by likening his plan to Obamacare, he concedes that it is in fact not Obamacare. Instead, he pulls apart the plan factually, arguing that it is bureaucratic, costly, and lavish. This showed that Newt knows the facts (at least in this case) and doesn’t take the easy road. Conversely, his response to whether Nevada (Yucca Mountain) should be obliged to open a nuclear repository was met with less reverence. He was for it if the science supported the decision but the other candidates objected arguing it violates states rights. A better option would be to allow other states to bid for this opportunity and be compensated for it. That latter response seems much better thought out.
CEO of Godfather’s Pizza, Herman Cain
Despite not having an extensive political career, Herman Cain is an unmistakable leader. He has strong opinions that seem honest and that he is willing to share even if they may pit him against certain voters. He is able to think quickly on his feet without stumbling or seeming insincere. For instance, when he was called for changing his opinions on whether negotiating with hostages is an acceptable policy, he patiently explained that his first response was taken out of context. He made clear that his real answer depended on whether the negotiations were with terrorists or other parties. On the other hand, Herman Cain’s position on the economy and Occupy Wall Street Movement appear immature and even stubborn. He implies that corporations and banks are not to be blamed for the financial meltdown and that the Obama administration and complaining individuals are where the fault lies. He should watch the Inside Job.
Governor Rick Perry
The governor started off respectably but quickly went downhill from there. His debates with Mitt Romney on issues such as hiring illegal immigrants made him sound childish and impatient. He was even booed by the audience several times for making personal remarks that have already been rebutted and for interrupting the other speaker. Moreover, he took out his frustration on Anderson Cooper, making a snappy comment about how he will answer questions the way he wants to. It’s never a good idea to set yourself against the moderator. On the positive side, Rick had realistic and intelligent ideas about how to secure the US-Mexico border. He knew the costs and the alternatives and put together a reasonable recommendation. For most part though, he seemed confused and appeared to be thinking as he spoke. His response to the question of foreign aid especially was convoluted, misdirected, and met with confusion. In the end, he did manage to twist his rambling around to suggest a cease in funding to the UN. The ensuing applause seems to be out of relief that he finally arrived at a conclusion.
Former Governor Mitt Romney
Mitt Romney was attacked several times over the course of the debate by the various candidates. Rick Santorum pounded Romney on his influence on Obamacare and Governor Perry accused Romney of hiring illegal immigrants. For his part, Romney met the allegations perfectly. He did not lose his temper or his patience. Although his honesty may be in question, his leadership and composure made him the superficial champion. His response to the discussion on foreign aid was very well put and showed thoughtfulness. However, his weakness is in not having any direct opinion on most prevailing issues. Mitt Romney comes up with great explanations and well-designed plans but rarely takes up a straight stance on sensitive topics. This makes him appear vaguely insincere especially against candidates such as Herman Cain and Ron Paul.
Congressman Ron Paul
Ron Paul was composed and imparted a consistent message throughout the entire debate. He sounded educated and experienced and able to deal with America’s economic crisis. His solutions, such as tax cuts, a conservative defensive policy, and opposition to the TARP banker’s bailouts appeared honest. The other candidates were unable to attack his position by any conventional means (E.g. finding him hypocritical or accusing him of making unrealistic promises). Moreover, he was quick to criticize others (seemingly rightly so) such as Herman Cain when they gave “naïve” or unrealistic opinions about the condition of the current economy. The only concern with Ron Paul’s approach would be that it seems to focus more on completely eradicating problems rather than improving them.
Former Senator Rick Santorum
The most interesting speech from Rick Santorum was his attack on Romney’s credibility on the issue of repealing Obamacare. He accuses Romney of essentially being the Godfather of Obamacare. This Romney does not deny but rationalizes by saying that he created it for the use for the state of Massachusetts. Rick becomes a little bit snarky and interrupts during Romney’s turn to speak. Although he makes valid points, the way he handled the debate was not very admirable, certainly not the way you’d expect a president to behave. Perhaps this was why he was left out of much of the discussion – he isn’t being taken seriously even by the other candidates.
One thing that all seven candidates agree on is that Obama and the current administration has failed the United States, particularly in the areas of health care, immigration, and the financial market. Each representative is confident that their individual platform and suggested policies will bring America back to economic prosperity and reinstate the nation as a respected World Power. At this point in time, polls show that President Obama is still preferred (slightly) over any GOP candidate. On the Republican side, Romney is the clear leader and Santorum is in last place. However, the results are constantly evolving and the predictive value of these polls is questionable.