Several "big name" (alleged) candidates skipped out on this early S. Carolina debate including Newt Gingrich, Michelle Bachman, Mitt Romney, Sarah Palin (is she or isn't she?), and Mike Huckabee (is he or isn't he?). Oh, and "The Donald" also didn't make time for the event, reportedly having scheduling conflicts with his reality show, The Celebrity Apprentice. I don't think these (alleged) candidates did themselves any favors by snubbing the conservative state of S. Carolina, one of the early primary states, and also thumbing their noses at Fox News.
I liked that the debate moderators for the GOP primary candidates were generally not hostile to the candidates, the GOP, or conservatives in general. There is no reason for a panel of Republican primary candidates to be grilled by leftist news readers who spend weeks thinking up "gotcha" questions that are designed to make the candidates look foolish rather than enlighten voters about the candidates' views.
The moderators were Chris Wallace, Shannon Breen, Juan Williams, and Bret Baier - Breen representing the only estrogen at the event since none of the potential female candidates attended. While there were a few softball questions and a couple real stinkers, for the most part they were thoughtful questions - the ones GOP primary voters want to know the answers to. "Debate" the wrong label for the event. If was more of a Q & A between the candidates and the moderators. Chris Wallace treated it as if he were asking questions on his Sunday morning talk show, asking follow-up questions and debating the candidates on their answers. There was very little interaction between the candidates.
If they really wanted people to watch these things they would have Rush, Beck, and Levin as the moderators. Can you imagine Mark Levin asking the questions? "You're an idiot! Shut up! Moron."
Here are a few of my thoughts about each of the candidates:
Sen. Rick Santorum...
I thought the former PA senator was the best of the bunch tonight and I like him more every time I hear him speak. He didn't blink when accused of being a social conservative and didn't back away from going after Obama and his bad policies. In fact, he seemed to be the only one in the group who had the stomach to take a swing at Obama - and swing he did. He defended his pro-live stand by appealing to the Constitution's guarantee of life and liberty and cited the family as the foundation of a strong society.
"Rights come from God and the first of which is life and the second of which is liberty. Those two concepts really transformed the world because it said the government was going to be limited and allow people to be free and to pursue their own dreams and to serve their own God and family and community."He said it forcefully and with conviction.
In the "lightning round" section he said that he had ousted incumbent Democrats three times in PA and would do it again with Obama. He was going on the offensive against critics who say he is unelectable because he lost his most recent Senate race (in 2006, a horrible year for Republicans across the country). It was a clever strategy, I thought.
Santorum also refused to take the bait when Juan Williams asked him (apparently as the token social conservative) to comment on Newt Gingrich's moral failures. Santorum took the high road and, perhaps following Reagan's 11th commandment to never speak ill of a fellow-Republican, demurred. It was a classy move.
Most pundits and pollsters don't consider Santorum to be a serious contender. I think that could change if Huckabee and Palin don't get into the race. I think his social conservatism resonates in places like S. Carolina and Iowa and he could make a good showing there. He's also been campaigning for quite a long time and is said to have a significant ground game laid out in key states. I think he could be a dark horse in this race.
Gov. Tim Pawlenty (T-Paw)...
Meh. Pawlenty was OK, but didn't excite me. I honestly can't think of one memorable thing he said that was great. I like the guy and I could probably vote for him, but....meh. Actually, the biggest issue I had with him tonight was that he came across as a flip-flopper. He is pro-life but he's for stem-cell research on existing lines from previously destroyed embryos - apparently a change from his previous view. He was for cap and trade before he was against it. He was against water boarding before he was against it.
Juan Williams asked the lamest question of the entire evening: "Do you equate the teaching of creationism with the teaching of evolution as the basis for what should be taught in the public schools Do you personally equate a faith-based theory with scientific inquiry?
Pawlenty completely dodged it by saying it should be left up to the local districts and families and then went back to a previous question about unions and used the rest of his time on that issue. Williams called him on the dodge and asked him "What do you believe?" Again, he dodged and said it should be left to parents and local schools.
This is the typical "gotcha" question that liberals like to use to make conservative Christians look foolish in the eyes of liberals and give them sound bites for spooky negative campaign ads.
It was a no-win question for Pawlenty. Still, I have little respect for a dodger. But shame on Juan Williams for asking that question that has no bearing on a presidential candidate's qualifications to lead the Executive branch. Let's hope Fox News Patriarch Brit Hume wrote on Juan's Facebook wall tonight that he shouldn't ask such stupid questions.
Out of all the candidates on the stage, Pawlenty has been leading in the polls. I have no idea why.
On Sean Hannity's post-game show, Frank Luntz had a focus group that thought Cain, who made his fortune with the Godfather's Pizza chain, won the debate. Cain lost me early on when he declared that he really had no idea what he would do in Iraq and Afghanistan. He said he needed more information that he wasn't privy to and suggested that he wouldn't be able to make any decisions until he was elected. It sounded a bit too much like Nancy Pelosi's infamous "We have to pass the bill to find out what's in it." How can we vote for someone with no plan on the wars we're involved in? I think he's a good man and a solid social and fiscal conservative, but foreign policy? Not so much.
Rep. Ron Paul...
As usual, Ron Paul brought along his groupies who ignored the moderator's rules about not clapping after every response. At CPAC last February, Paul swarmed the convention with his followers, who received free tickets to attend. It's how you win straw polls and it's how you make it appear you have the overwhelming support of the audience. But it's all smoke and mirrors. Ron Paul has zero chance of winning the GOP nomination. Zero. He's in favor of legalized drugs, prostitution and gay marriage and against enhanced interrogation. He wants to cut aid to Israel, close Gitmo, give the right of habeas corpus to terrorist, and pull out of the wars ASAP. He's also nearly 80 years old and if you thought John McCain came across as the guy who was most likely to yell, "Hey you kids, get out of my yard!" you haven't heard Ron Paul.
After Ron Paul defended legalizing heroine (ostensibly as a 1st amendment right), his groupies roared their approval, to which Chris Wallace said, "I never thought heroine would get applause here in S. Carolina!" This is the face of a Ron Paul campaign and would be the face of a Ron Paul presidency.
In an odd moment, moderator Shannon Breen reminded Ron Paul that he was the founder of the Tea Party. I don't know anyone who believes that.
Gov. Gary Johnson...
I have no idea how this man was elected governor of New Mexico. What are they smoking out there? That's a legitimate question because like Ron Paul, Gary Johnson supports drug legalization and admitted that he illegally smoked post from 2005-2008 (for medicinal purposes, of course). He's a solid dismantle-the-government libertarian and like Paul, has no chance of winning. But, he had the Paul-bots in the audience cheering at his liberal policies, so it made him look more promising than he actually is. At one point he whined to Chris Wallace: "This is, like, nine questions for these guys and none for me." Whining is never pretty in a debate.
In the second lamest question of the night, Bret Baier asked Johnson if he had a reality show, what would it be? Johnson had no idea, but was sure it wouldn't be climbing up the side of an ice floe like Sarah Palin.
One trend we seem to be seeing in recent weeks is a deep distrust of "politicians" and a desire for a candidate who is outside the "establishment." That's one reason for Trump's otherwise inexplicable rise in popularity and a reason Frank Lunz's focus group loved Herman Cain, who has never won an election or held public office. Unfortunately, I don't think either Cain or Trump has a chance of winning the nomination, let alone the general election against President Obama. That leaves us with a slate of candidates who are perceived as "establishment" and will have a difficult time shedding that mantle.
Is there anyone out there who can energize the Republican party and get it out of this rut or will we end up with another John McCain? Ideally, with the anti-establishment mood of the country, it would be a Tea Party candidate. Many have suggested Florida Congressman Marco Rubio, but he has said repeatedly that he will not be on the ticket this time around. The same with Chris Christie (who is not necessarily the conservative people think he is).
If I had to pick someone today, I would choose Rep. Allen West, the freshman Congressman and Tea Party candidate from Florida. When asked last week if he would run as Trump's VP, he didn't completely rule it out, so that's a start - he just needs to Dump Trump from his ticket.
More important, he is charismatic, straight-talking, and fearless. He's a 22-year Army Lt. Col. and a student of U.S. and world history. In a debate, he would have Obama curled up in the fetal position sucking his thumb. He's also a solid fiscal and social conservative. The first bill he introduced in Congress cut a few billion in waste from the defense budget. He also raised a half million dollars last quarter. That's no chump change. He gave the keynote address at this year's CPAC convention and electrified the audience, which was on its feet most of the time. He gave a beautiful speech for the National Day of Prayer yesterday. And it's not one of those namby pampy "pray to the God of your choosing" prayers either!
Most "experts" will remind us that we don't elect presidents from the House, and historically, that's true. However, we must remember that we also don't elect black presidents. We live in unique times and we are a people crying out for a new kind of candidate and leader - one who listens to and understands the heartbeat of "We the People." Maybe it won't be Allen West, but it need to be AN Allen West - a person of conviction, character, and charisma who can energize and inspire the American people, beginning with the GOP.