The Talk: Minnesota Vice
August 12, 2011
Ross Freiman-Mendel: Iowa State University was home to the third Republican debate last night. Chip, what struck you the most about last night’s proceedings?
Chip Lebovitz: How much the candidates value a good performance at the Ames Straw Poll this Saturday. Middling candidates like Tim Pawlenty and Rick Santorum had two credible options in the debate to increase their stature — attack Mitt Romney the front runner or attack Michele Bachmann the straw poll leader (Romney is not actively taking part in the straw poll). All the candidates piled onto Bachmann, signifying that they think an Ames victory Saturday is more important then making up ground in the national polls.
Ross Freiman-Mendel: I think that’s a slight oversimplification, but true none the less. The debate last night was politics as performance at its best — Pawlenty played the rich card against Romney and Gingrich cleverly rebuked the Fox panel on more than one occasion. I thought Bachmann’s performance was underwhelming, and at points she seemed an empty metallic grey suit.
Chip Lebovitz: The debate was pure politics. An outcome that must’ve pleased both Mitt Romney who preserved his frontrunner status by sidestepping every question and Texas Governor Rick Perry who was not in attendance but must’ve appreciated avoiding a stray black eye from the feuding candidates. Eyes this weekend, however, are focused are three candidates to win the straw poll: Bachmann, Pawlenty, and Ron Paul. Minnesota nice definitely turned into Minnesota vice this debate, but how do you think Ron Paul fared?
Ross Freiman-Mendel: He was classic Paul — often lecturing on the history of foreign affairs or monetary policy before he cites the need for a “bipartisan balanced approach that reaches across the aisle.” Applause is the best metric at debates: Whereas Huntsman often spoke to an empty room; loud applause and “hoots” always followed Paul. He outplayed Santorum and Bachmann on foreign policy and identified the Fed as the true problem in the economy — an idea on which the other candidates rarely touch.
Chip Lebovitz: Candidates rarely touch on those issues because some of Paul’s views happen to be leagues beyond Republican convention. I’m inclined to agree with Ed Kilgore of The New Republic that Paul did himself serious damage in the foreign policy segment of the debate. He basically advocated for the right of Iran to have a nuclear weapon — a position that is an anathema to the general voting public. The hooting and hollering heard after all of his responses – even the Iranian one – showed Paul’s support is limited to a fanatical few. Paul’s zealous supporters may bring him straw poll success, but in terms of the broader nomination, the debate highlighted that he will always be an ersatz candidate.
Ross Freiman-Mendel: Paul’s central problem has always been to make his unique views palatable to more than a fanatical few. Big words like “liberty,” “the Constitution,” and “freedom” help, and he’s smart to focus on the need to end the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan before he condones Iran’s nuclear weapons program. His views represent a growing Libertarian wing in the Republican party. The same can’t necessarily be said for Huntsman, who distinguished himself with the most progressive views in all facets of policy.
Chip Lebovitz: That Huntsman held his more moderate convictions, i.e. support for civil unions, in the face of an increasingly conservative GOP is admirable; however, it was disappointing to see even him reject the possibility of a deficit compromise of a 10 to 1 ratio of spending cuts to tax increases. It’s hard to see Huntsman being a factor in this race. But with space running short, what was your quick take on former Pennsylvania Senator Rick Santorum’s performance?
Ross Freiman-Mendel: Santorum kept raising his hand to get attention and speaking time. He’s running to lead the United States, not his sixth grade class. Any thoughts on Cain?
Chip Lebovitz: Herman Cain’s performance exemplified how the Cain Train got derailed at Islamophobia boulevard. It’s really incredible how the issue of Muslim rights has dogged his campaign for months. He definitely lost ground tonight. Who do you think performed the best?
Ross Freiman-Mendel: For his witty retorts and cogent answers, Newt Gingrich in my opinion won the debate. Who do you think outclassed his or her opponents?
Chip Lebovitz: The party infighting made none of the candidates looked presidential. Romney split even by saying little, but the true winner has to be the candidate not even in attendance, Rick Perry.
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