I sort of watched tonight’s debate, joining in about half an hour in and catching up on my RSS feed while listening. Here are a few thoughts. First, the candidates:
Herman Cain seems to have peaked. He wasn’t nearly as persuasive as he was in the last debate and he had difficulty on the Muslim loyalty question. He really needed to stand out tonight and he didn’t.
Michelle Bachmann is a serious candidate — far more serious than Sarah Palin. She’s better on the issues, smarter and more confident in her knowledge. I don’t like her positions at all. But I think she could end up as a vice-presidential candidate. I was surprised by how well she carried herself.
Much as I like Ron Paul, he seems tired and not nearly as refreshing as he was in 2008. There are times when he’ll say something that makes me cheer and I hope he sticks around for a while. Think of him as the libertarian conscience of the GOP.
When it comes to Rick Santorum, I’m not objective. The guy just annoys the fuck out of me.
Tim Pawlenty seems like a nice guy and his candidacy reminds me a bit of Huckabee’s. But he seems to keep getting lost in the crowd. Every time he spoke, I was like, “Oh, yeah. T-Paw is there. Huh.”
Newt occasionally said something interesting to wistfully remind of his early days, when he seemed likely to transform our government. As as Presidential candidate, he’s toast.
Mitt Romney is clearly the front-runner even though his rivals don’t seem to realize it. He was poised and presidential. He made me cringe when he got into social issues. But I still think he will win the nomination if his organizational skills are anything. He and Pawlenty were the most sane and are therefore the most likely to win the nomination. Despite the rantings of the Left, the GOP does not nominate demagogues for President. McCain, Bush, Dole, Bush, Reagan, Ford, Nixon, Goldwater, Eisenhower … all of these guys were in the conservative mainstream.
The one guy who I most missed was Gary Johnson. Johnson really impressed me in the first debate and I think his voice would have been wonderful in this one. He’s a saner version of Ron Paul.
As for the issues … well, there wasn’t a lot of time to get into substance and the moderator seemed uninterested. In that situation, the debate degenerated into talking points. The culture war issues distressed me, especially the support for the Federal Marriage Amendment — the GOP’s current attempt to replace the so-called Southern Strategy as their cultural albatross. They seemed to be all over the place on the economy. The only thing I heard clearly was that whatever Obama was doing was wrong. That’s not a policy. The only one who seemed to really have a grasp of the issues was Romney, but that probably has more to do with his polish as a candidate.
Hopefully future debates will allow longer answers and get into substance. A better format with this big a field might be to have two four-way debates among the eight candidates. Toss an issue out and let them go at it for half an hour. Then we’ll see who knows his ass from his elbow.