Bret Baier is not a real man. This was my first observation in the GOP debate on Fox News Channel last night. I’m not calling his masculinity into question – I’m just saying he’s a Ken doll and all his hair probably pops off in one piece. Also I think his suit was folded onto his body with little paper tabs.
Not really the point of watching the debate – nor was it the biggest take-away of the night. But it was definitely the first thing I noticed.
So I sat on my couch, late night, post-Colbert, fully-functional (thank Jesus) laptop in lap to make notes for this post, watching the replay of the debate… because I’d been working for the live version. Oh, and because I’m a nerd. And while in political debates I equate playback with previously-recorded sporting events, it was still a hoot and a half to watch, and probably even more entertaining than watching the preseason Eagles vs. Ravens game. (Preseason football is like post-mortem clothes shopping. It just doesn’t matter because you’re never going to see it again.)
The first thing I noticed after the Bret Baier thing is that Rep. Michele Bachmann thinks it’s not that hard to fix the economy and that she can turn it around in three months.
Just when I had started to think she was being picked on too much, she reminded me that she’s a crazypants.
Then Mitt Romney talked too long and a bell sounded and I thought for a second that he’d just pulled into a full service gas station. I expected to see a crew of Texaco gents trot out and comb his hair. Turned out it was just the “time’s up” bell. It also turned out that the Texaco bell was the most strident and challenging opponent Romney would have all night. Nobody touched him. There wasn’t enough about the health care dispute to really bruise him and even when there was discussion of it, he played it off pretty deftly with an explanation that nobody rebutted. Debates are great places for Romney. He’s unflappable because he’s prepared and he can come off above it all but not arrogant. Unlike when he got heckled at the Iowa State Fair earlier in the day by a non-Republican who shouted him down about entitlements and taxes. Romney wound up insisting that corporations are people. Hmm.
Rep. Ron Paul was next. This guy… he’s such an interesting character. He starts out
making good sense and talks fast and then completely runs off the rails politically. And then he starts yelling. It’s fun to watch, but he’s never going to get anywhere in his presidential runs. Which is a shame, because regardless of whether I agree with him or not, point by point, I like the way his mind works. He’s logical until he forgets that when he gets fired up, he screeches. Remember what happened to Howard Dean?
(Incidentally, I know someone who was a photographer and followed Dean’s campaign in 2004. He said Dean did variations on that “eeyeahhh!” thing all the time, but it was just the moment when the national cable cameras caught him doing it, at that particular point in the campaign, that the “eeyeahhh!” killed him.)
Next to take a question: Jon Huntsman. The recently former ambassador to China under the Obama administration. Well, that’s interesting in and of itself, but somehow nobody’s asked him about it yet, or if they have, it hasn’t gotten much play. He only brought it up once in the debate, and I suspect he won’t get much more opportunity to do it. The problem Jon Huntsman has is that he has no flash and he has no economic plan. He’s been in the race for a month and a half and he still has no plan. Right now, if you want to run for president, you have to have a plan written, printed, proofed, bound and covered before you announce. Huntsman is way too far behind the 8 ball. And it’s because he’s deliberative and measured. That’s an attribute the country needs, but not what it responds to. See also: Obama presidency.
This is when former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich got to speak up, and of all things, he talked about divided government. He pointed out that Saturday is the 30th anniversary of the day Reagan signed a tax cut that Gingrich was in the Congress for– which led to the invention of the “trickle-down” theory of economics (which leads to me wondering why Reagan is apparently a saint now). I don’t know why Gingrich would point out that he was in Congress 30 years ago. It only demonstrates that younger people have no interest in him, and by the way, years later, he presided over the shutdown of the federal government. People right now are going to associate that with partisanship and fighting on the Hill, and that’s the last thing they want to hear.
Then former Gov. Pawlenty offered to cook dinner for anybody who could find the president’s specific plan for some stuff I don’t remember because he’s boring until he offers to come to my house and cook. He did say he would mow my lawn if I didn’t want him to cook. This was the most interesting thing he said all night, and I still bet he didn’t have any takers.
Somebody remembered that Rick Santorum was there and asked him about the economy. He said that he’s been to 68 counties in Iowa talking about how to create manufacturing in the US again. He pointed out that jobs are going overseas to China, Malaysia and Indonesia, and that his plans include energy ideas because manufacturers use energy. He wants to cut manufacturers’ federal taxes to zero and says that’s when the jobs will come back. Smart, interesting approach in some ways. But only about five people applauded. I don’t know if they didn’t get it, didn’t think it was practical, or were just trying to remember exactly how many counties there are in Iowa, anyway.
When Chris Wallace took his first turn at questioning the candidates, he immediately pitted Congresswoman Bachmann against Tim Pawlenty. In fact, he asked Pawlenty flat-out, “Is she unqualified, or is she just beating you in the polls?” Frankly, even Bachmann looked shocked by the question. Pawlenty basically made the entirety of his case right here: “I have experience in getting results and she doesn’t. Also Barack Obama is bad.” If you ask him anything else, this is what he’s going to say. He’s all about results. It’s easier to be about that when you’ve been a governor. It’s a little less easy to beat back a woman who’s on a roll and who quotes you saying “the era of small government is over” when you were governor of the state from which she represents a constituency. Bachmann resorted to her stump speech more than the rest of the candidates did, but she knows how to score points with it.
Oh, and by the way, she was enthusiastically proud of the fact that she introduced the “Light Bulb Freedom of Choice Act.” You don’t get to choose whether you have a child, but you get to pick between incandescent and CF, dammit.
Meanwhile, on the reservation, Mitt Romney was talking about business. When Chris Wallace pointed out that Romney’s business ventures netted lots of layoffs for employees and his time as governor of Massachusetts showed dismal job growth ratings, the former governor pointed out that not every investment works. This was the only moment during which any candidate recognized that Herman Cain was standing there. Romney said he and Cain were the only people on the stage who understood how an economy can lose and gain jobs, because they’ve done it in their businesses. And then he pointed out that Massachusetts’ unemployment rate was below the federal rate for three of the four years he was governor.
He did not, however, point out why he was only governor for one term.
As it turns out, the sassiest person on the stage last night was Newt Gingrich, and this was when it started: Chris Wallace went at him about how his campaign is a mess and he’s a million dollars in debt. Gingrich replied with a very curt: “You know, I took seriously Bret’s request to put aside talking points. I wish you’d put aside gotcha questions.”
The crowd cheered and I cringed.
Look, Mr. Speaker. You’re a politician. If you can’t handle “gotcha” questions, get out of the game. Don’t be a crybaby about it. Chris Wallace is a pretty tough questioner. It was obvious last night that he was taking aim at the “main candidates” and the people with whom he could raise hackles. That’s what he does. But if you can’t handle a completely fair concern about your campaign, you’re not going to be able to handle being president.
Once we got that pouting out of the way, Gingrich noted that Reagan lost 13 members of his senior staff the morning of the New Hampshire primary in 1980, and he laid off 100 people later because the consultants had spent all the money. The facts are a little fuzzy… some of the aides might say they were axed, maybe it wasn’t 13 of them, but the larger point stands. Somehow Gingrich parlayed that into recalling the Congress, repealing Dodd-Frank and Sarbanes-Oxley, and getting rid of “Obamacare.”
For the record, I shut down on anybody who calls it “Obamacare.” I hate politicizing terms like that. It’s transparent campaign bluster and I find it patently derisive and insipid.
And then Gingrich circled back around to being mad at reporters and said he wanted to see questions for the rest of the debate about what the candidates could do to lead an America “whose president has failed to lead, instead of playing Mickey Mouse games.” When Wallace responded that people want to hear questions about the candidates’ records, the crowd booed.
I officially do not understand these crowds.
Some other actual fact-based highlights of the debate, broken down candidate by candidate:
Jon Huntsman was obliquely accused of running in the wrong party because he has said that the Obama stimulus package was not big enough and he favored regional cap and trade market approaches when he was governor of Utah. He also believes in civil unions. His response was that the stimulus needed to included more tax cuts for businesses, which he did in Utah. He also instituted the flat tax there and the state became the #1 job creator in the country. And yes, he does favor civil unions, because he thinks the country could do better in issues of equality, regardless of how marriage is defined.
He believes it’s unrealistic to send illegal immigrants back from whence they came. He says he is pro-life, pro-second amendment, and pro-something else I don’t remember because I got distracted by trying to figure out why he’s running for president without hopping up and down about China. This guy knows more about China than the Chinese do, and he’s not really playing it up. Fail.
Herman Cain defended his apology of a defense of an assertion that communities have the right to ban Muslims from building mosques. At least, I think that’s what he did. But mostly what he wants to establish is that Sharia law has no place in American courts. I think it’s hard to argue that it does, and the crowd cheered his emphatic pronouncement. He also clarified a statement in which he said southerners (he lives in Atlanta) don’t understand Mitt Romney’s and Jon Huntsman’s Mormon faith. He didn’t say he didn’t respect their faith; he says he’s hearing from others that they don’t. That’s all.
Apparently he didn’t explain it to them.
Cain has no firm plan on what to do in Afghanistan. He wants to talk to the generals first. I can only assume they’re not returning his calls because they didn’t order any pizza. He’s been hit for not understanding Afghanistan well enough and not understanding the issue of the Palestinian Right of Return. His best defense here was that he’s learned some stuff about those things since the last debate, and that he now realizes we don’t have one problem in Afghanistan, we have three, and if he gets more time, he’ll explain what they are.
Didn’t happen. For the most part, Cain has a business mind and nothing else to run on. But his best line of the night came when someone asked him whether he was serious about proposing a 20-foot electrified fence to protect the border on the heels of the president’s crack about moats and alligators.
“America needs to learn how to take a joke,” Cain said.
Newt Gingrich stated pretty plainly that he thinks English should be the official language of the US and that the government should figure out a system by which it knows which illegal immigrants have been here a long time and which ones just got here, and then someone showed up to get gas and I was glad because I had no earthly idea how to make that parsing happen, and I’m pretty sure he didn’t, either. Later, the former speaker explained why he thinks the “super-committee” on spending reduction is “about the dumbest idea Washington has ever had,” and his problem with it centers on the fact that the 12 member panel would conduct its decision making basically in secret. He’s still probably the smartest guy in the room, and a lot of his answers were very intellectual. I just don’t think he’s selling it. He goes for the populist Fox News jugular when he complains about the media, but mostly he just doesn’t have a sharp enough point on the end of his spear.
Mitt Romney painted a pretty sensible picture of finding a way to welcome the best and the brightest from around the world and make them America’s own. He said he would rather staple Green Cards to their diplomas than send them home, because at least they can prove their worth. He wants to crack down on employers who hire illegal immigrants. That’s supposedly already happening, so I guess he means crack down more.
Which is a problem for Rep. Ron Paul, who doesn’t want to put the burden of policing the nation’s immigration issues on the business people. I hadn’t thought of it that way before, and that’s where Paul wins points. He puts things in ways that make you go, “Dude, you’re kind of nutty, but that makes sense.”
And then he ranted about how we don’t blame churches for feeding hungry people, and made a leap to ending the wars. He doesn’t think Iran is really a threat and finds it perfectly logical that Mahmoud Ahmedinijad might want a nuclear weapon, since everybody around him has one. Hard to argue with that, but Paul sees you your nuke and raises you a nod; he doesn’t really care if Iran has nuclear weapons. Which everyone else on the stage was nearly apoplectic about. As for health care, Paul basically has no problem with insurance and pharmaceutical companies. One gets the impression he doesn’t think that a fix is needed at all.
Ron Paul, in a nutshell (which is kind of what he is, in political terms), is about ending the wars, letting states decide things if they really have to, but mostly just leaving everybody the hell alone and getting off each other’s lawns.
Nobody in the race wants to raise taxes. Ever, ever again, apparently. In fact, when they were asked if they would accept a deal in which Congress promised 10 dollars in spending cuts for one dollar in taxes, they all said they would not take that deal.
So… they’re all kind of ridiculous.
Don’t get me wrong, I don’t think taxes should go up all the place all the time, but come on, people.
Michele Bachmann went a little further with her insistence that the debt ceiling shouldn’t be raised by actually claiming that the markets, and Standard & Poor’s, proved her right by reacting badly after the debt ceiling was raised. There are actually about 42 reasons those things happened, none of which are because you were right, but okay.
She also got a question about why she decided to get a JD in tax law. Her husband had encouraged her to do it in 2006. She didn’t want to, but then is quoted as saying she remembered she should be submissive to her husband, as the Bible says. She explained that answer by saying that, in her marriage, “submissive” means “respectful.” If she got a tax law degree because her husband told her to, I’m not sure about the difference.
Tim Pawlenty got a second chance to hit Romney on what Pawlenty once – and only once – called Obamneycare. Chris Wallace gave him the shot and he took it, explaining rather weakly that the administration’s health care plan was patterned after the Massachusetts plan and that Romney can’t credibly fight against that. Then Pawlenty pointed out what he feels are other similarities between Romney and the president: Romney increased spending in Massachusetts and nominated either pro-choice, Democratic or “liberal” judges to the state courts.
No matter what Tim Pawlenty does, I still think he comes off like the little brother who’s desperately swinging at his older sibling’s legs while they hold him by the head at arm’s length.
Rick Santorum was largely ignored in this debate, which I found interesting. When Santorum can’t even get Fox News Channel to call on him, you know there’s a problem. When it all came down to it and the cards were on the table, Santorum was about outlawing abortion, criminally charging doctors who performed them, refusing rights for gay people and not allowing states to decide what marriage is, because what’s to stop them from allowing polygamy and forced sterilization? He actually asked that question.
Aside from 235 years of them not even considering doing that, that is.
But he made sense on the debt ceiling, basically telling everybody else they were loony for thinking that the country wouldn’t have to raise the debt ceiling ever again.
It was a long debate and it covered a lot of topics. That’s pleasantly surprising unless you wind up watching it until 2am and then writing a blog post about it. Still, I do think it was better than watching the Eagles/Ravens game. I have an even better idea of the differences between GOP candidates now. And I still think Romney’s got this sewn up.
Unless he outsources the seamstress job.