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Winners And Losers From The Reagan Library Debate


Being the political nerd that I am, I watched last night's debate (full disclosure: okay... most of it) and I've spent the better part of my work-day digesting all of the Monday-morning quarterbacking. I think I'm ready to weigh-in. Let's start with the losers...

- LOSERS -

Michele Bachmann

Earlier in the season, prior to Rick Perry entering the fray, Michele Bachmann was gaining in the polls and was largely declared the winner of the first GOP primary debate. She also won the Aimes, Iowa straw poll nearly a month ago. However, since Perry got into the race in Iowa, Bachmann has been tanking in the polls.

Because the focus was on Perry vs. Romney, Bachmann needed to change-up her game. She didn't. Michele Bachmann spouted her usual Tea Party talking-points but she needed some game-changing moment that never came. My guess is that last night was the beginning of the end for Michele Bachmann's run for the White House.

Herman Cain

What can I say about Herman Cain that Fury hasn't already said:
Ron Paul is no longer the battiest shittiest craziest Republican running for President.
Cain is nothing more than a sideshow. He'll be done soon.

Newt Gingrich

Newt Gingrich doesn't want those mean-old media types to make Republicans disagree! For shame, media types!

Yes, Gingrich thinks that because the moderators are asking questions about the canddiates' differences in opinion, that it is a liberal media conspiracy to make Republicans argue! *GASP*

Give me a break.

Ron Paul

I normally like what Ron Paul has to say, but last night he was terrible. Jittery, Dr. Paul stammered his way through answers and could not hang on to a cohesive message. He was all over the place (what was the deal with that strange TSA accusation?).

His one redeeming moment (in this writer's humble opinion) was when he talked about spending $20 billion on air conditioning for our troops in Iraq and Afghanistan:
We're spending -- believe it or not, this blew my mind when I read this -- $20 billion a year for air conditioning in Afghanistan and Iraq in the tents over there and all the air conditioning. Cut that $20 billion out, bring in -- take $10 off the debt, and put $10 into FEMA or whoever else needs it, child health care or whatever. But I'll tell you what, if we did that and took the air conditioning out of the Green Zone, our troops would come home, and that would make me happy.
I thought that he made a great point there about the money saved if we bring our troops home.

Rick Santorum

Santorum, barely a second-tier candidate, is struggling to stay afloat in the race. His poll numbers are very low, but not as low as his fundraising numbers.

That said, last night Santorum went after Rick Perry on the HPV vaccine issue:
I want to get back to this Gardasil issue. You know, we have -- Governor Perry's out there and -- and claiming about state's rights and state's rights. How about parental rights being more important than state's rights? How about having, instead of an opt-out, an opt- in?

If you really cared, you could make the case, instead of forcing me, as a parent -- [snip] -- but I am offended that -- that the government would tell me -- and by an executive order, without even going through the process of letting the people have any kind of input. I would expect this from President Obama; I would not expect this from someone who's calling himself a conservative governor.
Santorum never had a shot in this race, but with barbs like this one, he is able to get some of his pet-issues on the table.

Now, to the shining beacons in the GOP field...

- WINNERS -

Jon Huntsman

For me, the break-out star of the debate was Jon Huntsman. Huntsman was cordial to his colleagues, but did not hesitate to swat down other candidate's ridiculous rhetoric ($2/gallon gas, really?!). Huntsman, like Romney, was able to appear to be the nice guy -- while also dismantling the arguments of other candidates. B-Diddy texted me in the middle of the debate:
How did Huntsman do so badly? He's super smart... so what the hell happened?
Agreed. Huntsman's problem lies with his name recognition. My guess is that he would appeal to a large swath of primary election (and general election) voters. He's got executive experience, he's served as an ambassador under both Republican and Democratic presidents -- Huntsman is just as qualified for the Presidency as Mitt Romney is. He's just having trouble getting some traction.

If Republicans blow it in 2012 and President Obama gets a second term, I can see John Huntsman as a top-tier Republican candidate in 2016.

Mitt Romney

Even though Romney has been losing ground to Rick Perry lately, he maintains a strong second-place position. All Romney had to do during the debate was keep his cool and not make any blatant mistakes. He did this, and more. His best line from the night:
Right now, we have people who on this stage care very deeply about this country. We love America. America is in crisis. We have some differences between us, but we agree that this president's got to go. This president is a nice guy. He doesn't have a clue how to get this country working again.
...which garnered him some huge applause.

In addition, the fact that Romney went after Rick Perry -- but did it politely -- will help his cause. He fights for what he believes in and is not afraid to criticize his colleagues (I'm looking at you Tim Pawlenty), but is not a divider. Of Republicans, anyway.

Rick Perry

Geez. Where do I begin?

Firstly, Perry performed terribly. I thought that his answers to questions were stilted and appeared overly rehearsed. Even moreso, I felt that Governor Perry appeared to be very uncomfortable, like he was just dying to exit the stage.

Although, in his defense, he probably was. I know I would be too if everyone on the stage was attacking me.

As I see it, Perry's two biggest problems were with Social Security and science.

One of the more contentious moments during the debate was when Perry resumed ("doubled-down", according to nearly all online media) his talking-points that Social Security is "a monstrous lie" and "a ponzi scheme". In response, Mitt Romney made a strong criticism of Perry's description of Social Security, as did Herman Cain. Then Ron Paul, Michele Bachmann and Rick Santorum all piled on with criticisms of Perry's "Gardasil issue" (as Santorum coined it).

Rick Perry's other 'duh' moment came when he was when Perry invoked Gallileo (?!) during a discussion about science. FirstRead:
[Rick Perry] wasn’t as sharp near the end, especially in a discussion about science and climate change where he seemed to side with the 17th-Century Catholic Church in not believing that the Earth rotated around the sun. (“Just because you have a group of scientists that have stood up and said, here is the fact -- Galileo got outvoted for a spell,” he said.)
Fallows reacts (thanks Doug):
To spell it out: until this evening's debate, the only reason anyone would use the example of Galileo-vs-the-Vatican was to show that for reasons of dogma, close-mindedness, and "faith-based" limits on inquiry, the findings of real science were too often ignored or ruled out of consideration. And Perry applies that analogy to his argument that we shouldn't listen to today's climate scientists? There are a million good examples of scientific or other expert consensus that turned out to be wrong, which is the point Perry wanted to make. He could have used IBM's early predictions that the total world market for computers would be a mere handful, or the "expert" resistance to public-health and medical theories by Pasteur or Lister, or anything from the great book The Experts Speak.

The reason I think this stings over time is that it's like someone who tries to fancy himself up by using a great big word -- and uses it the wrong way. Hey, I'll mention Galileo! Unfortunately in mentioning him, I'll show that I don't know the first thing about that case or what an "analogy" is. It's better to be plain spoken.
My emphasis.

It appears that Rick Perry doesn't know what he's talking about. So, why have I listed him as a 'winner' then? Simple. Demand.

Everyone was piling on Rick Perry. Everyone was talking about his record in Texas. Everyone was using his experiences (on a myriad of topics) as a baseline for discussion. This all works in Perry's favor.

Rick Perry didn't "win" the debate because he did a good job. He "won" the debate because he was still standing at the end of the evening -- and he got everyone to talk about his record for nearly the entirety of the program.

So, going into the Reagan Library debate we had Rick Perry and Mitt Romney leading the pack. Afterward, I see things as being pretty much the same. I think Romney performed very well and would have "won" the debate if the entire ordeal had not focused so much attention on Perry.

Michele Bachmann is now in a very distant third place -- and falling quickly. Will any of the other candidates be able to take her place? We'll see. After all, there is still a long race to the finish line...

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Photo: John Shinkle/POLITICO