Tea Party Debate Analysis: Who Won? Who Lost?

Tea Party Debate Analysis: Who Won? Who Lost?

Although it’s a bit strange to have CNN running a “Tea Party debate,” it did…and all in all, CNN did well, although there were some flaws. Could someone ask about Operation Fast and Furious? How about spending a little more time on illegal immigration since it’s an area where there are some real differences? Did Wolf Blitzer have to be so transparent about trying to get Mitt Romney and Rick Perry to fight with each other? He did everything but look at them and go, “You two gentleman have referred to each other as cads! Here are your white gloves and if you have any honor, you will begin slapping each other in the face posthaste!” Still, again, no major complaints.

Now comes the part where we grade the candidates. This is not easy to do because people (me included) tend to score the candidates through the prism of their personal likes and dislikes, while believing that they’re the only ones viewing the whole affair with an unjaundiced eye. Here’s my take.

1) The Winner: Newt Gingrich. If becoming President were nothing but a big debating contest, Newt would have it all sewn up. He’s clearly the best debater on the stage and he comes across extremely well. If there’s anyone who helped himself during this debate, it was Newt….although it’s hard to see this performance alone, excellent though it was, turning things around for him.

2) Mitt Romney / 3) Rick Perry: After Newt, it gets a little tougher to grade. Romney and Perry were probably the next two best people on the stage, but they’re in different places. Perry is the front runner and EVERYONE is piling on to try to take him down. Even though Romney is positioned in the two slot, he’s not drawing all that many attacks — maybe because most of the candidates other than Huntsman can see themselves as the Tea Party alternative to Romney, but they can’t imagine themselves in Romney’s position, as the establishment candidate.

In his fight against Perry, part of Romney’s problem is that in an elemental way, Perry just better fits into the idea of how conservatives think a leader should come across. If this were a B movie, Rick Perry would be playing Sheriff Manly Razortooth while Romney would be the small town mayor who doesn’t want to close the beach, despite the fact that there’s a Mega-Kraken headed there to turn it into an all-you-can-eat tourist-food buffet.

Romney’s Social Security attacks on Perry came across as dishonest and weaselesque. There were some vehement attacks on Perry over Gardasil, which he parried well, by saying he’s pro-life and was anti-cancer, but that’s a hard issue to judge since the sheer hysteria around it in some quarters seems to be completely and utterly out-of-proportion for something that should be a pretty minor issue. On illegal immigration, even though he doesn’t have a great record, Romney has since moved to the right and actually sounded much better than Perry. If Romney gained any ground on Perry during this debate, that’s probably where he did it.

3) Rick Santorum: This was a really good performance for Santorum, BUT to be perfectly honest, he just doesn’t have the charisma to compete on this level. On his best night, he’s not going to do well enough in a debate to pull himself into the mix.

4) Herman Cain: He’s started to sound a little bit cannned and repeating the 9-9-9 plan in every other answer — it sounds a little small time.

5) Michele Bachmann: For most of the debate, she seemed a little flat, although she went so far over-the-top with her Gardasil attacks on Perry, she may have hurt herself a bit. Since that first debate, Bachmann’s performance has tailed off big time.

6) Ron Paul: Paul has such a bee in his bonnet about “militarism”that it wouldn’t entirely shock me if he quit the Republican Party at some point and became a Democrat. After all, if this is THE single most important issue in the world to him and 90% of the people in the Republican Party don’t agree with him and are never going to agree with him on it, it wouldn’t surprise me if teaming up with the Dennis Kuciniches and Sheila Jackson Lees of the world would sound really appealing to him.

7) Jon Huntsman: Huntsman was nasally, weaselly, unfunny, squishy, and so generally awful that I liked him even less than I liked Ron Paul during that debate, which is really saying something.

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