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Republican Debate Analysis and Ratings

September 9, 2011

The first Republican debate with the new frontrunner Rick Perry has come and gone, and there were plenty of interesting moments throughout. This debate had a less collegial, more direct tone, and candidates did not shy away from challenging each other on their records and positions.

In a bit of a departure from most of the analysis coming out, I will give each participant a rating from 1-10 based on how effectively they achieved their goals for this debate.

Mitt Romney: 7.5 

This was Romney’s strongest debate so far. Prior to Rick Perry’s entrance into the race, Romney was happy to remain above the fray, content with focusing on avoiding major gaffes or drawing too much negative attention. In this debate, Romney competently defended his jobs record from his time as Governor and deflected attention from his healthcare record. He also showed, at least in this limited sample size, that he can hold his own with Perry when the two challenge each other more directly. He scored one of the better lines of the debate when he swiped at Perry’s jobs-creation claims by claiming that Perry’s two immediate predecessors as governor of Texas created jobs faster than he did, to which Perry could only respond “That’s not correct,” amid the audience’s laughter. Somehow Romney seems more comfortable with Perry in the race, and he benefits by contrasting himself with the Governor and making the case that between the two of them he is more competitive in a general election

Rick Perry: 6

In his first debate, Perry was undoubtedly the focus, getting the most questions and feeling a steady barrage from the other candidates. He started of promisingly, touting his jobs record and sticking by the claims made in his book ‘Fed Up’ about Social Security, calling it  a ‘monstrous lie’. He faded down the stretch, his call for ‘boots on the ground’ when pressed for details of how to secure the border and his puzzling, cringeworthy response on global warming, where he referenced Galileo. While he held his own decently well, Perry did not impress in his first debate. His knowledge of policy specifics seemed to be lackluster. Perry’s strategy to focus on his own record and Mitt Romney is a good one, ignoring Bachmann will resign her to irrelevancy, but he did seem to get dragged into something with Ron Paul, which might be against his best interests. While Paul might very well be too extreme to land the nomination, his consistency allows him to contrast himself nicely with Perry, who was a Democrat and supporter of Al Gore. This debate may have shown that his Achilles heel in the coming debates will be pressing him for details and specific policy measures, where he seems far less comfortable than when he is talking about his record as governor.

Ron Paul: 6

Paul performed better than Bachmann did, but he needs to have a stronger performance to convince people he belongs in the top-tier, currently occupied by only Perry and Romney. His extemporaneous style of speaking, while it allows him to seem much more genuine, and shows his knowledge of the issues beyond campaing talking points, did not serve him well with the short response times here. At times he was too unfocused in his responses until his time was almost up, and the moderator cut him off at one point. One part of his strategy so far seems to be to engage Perry directly, and this at least so far seems to be serving him well. It garners a lot of media attention, as seen by the photo of Perry grabbing his arm during a conversation they had in a commercial break from the debate (Paul later went on to explain there were not ‘any cross words’). But the media attention, and the fact that Perry seems to ascribe a legitimacy to Paul’s attacks that he seems to give no one else besides Romney, could help Paul make the case that he should at least be in the conversation about the ‘top tier’ even if he is a far cry from being the front-runner. Paul may have been underserved in a way, as some of the questions seemed designed to focus on some of his more extreme views, like the FAA and FDA. This did little to make him seem electable, but he needs to do more to convince people that even if he does not believe that something like FEMA is constitutional, he would not abolish it on his first day of office. He alluded to this in the debate, but he needs to be more forceful, and to be more focused and polished to have the impact debate he needs to be able inject himself into the frontrunner debate.

 

Michele Bachmann: 4.5

She had the weakest performance out of the ‘top tier’ candidates, and showed that her star might already be fading so soon after Ames. She did not engage Perry directly, a somewhat puzzling strategy given they compete for the same base in the Republican party and he has, at least so far, shown himself to be a better bet. Bachmann also evaded questions more blatantly than the other candidates, not answering or even directly addressing the pretty direct and pointed questions asked of her, the moderator had to reiterate the question when she was asked what she would do with illegal immigrants already in America.

Jon Huntsman: 7

Huntsman seems to have looked at his plateauing single digit numbers in the polls and shifted his priority in these debates from trying to win this primary to trying to impact the discourse on the future direction of the Republican party, and to establish himself as the most attractive candidate to moderates and independents, potentially for a future run. He came out strongly on the issue of the GOP being on the wrong side of science, and warned against taking too hard a line on immigration. His one lackluster tendency was to describe how Reagan would have approached a problem like immigration and laid out a solution and a path forward, but then Huntsman demurs from filling the rest of us in on what this solution would be.

Herman Cain: 5.5

Cain spoke to his strengths on job creation and the economy. And his clear speaking style served him decently well while he seemed to be much more prepared than in the earlier debates. While a better performance than the earlier debates, it was not the game-changing, dazzling showing he needed to show that he deserves to break into the top-tier with Romney and Perry, and he is relegated to the periphery of the primary.

Rick Santorum: 5.5

Similar to Mr. Cain, Santorum had a solid showing in this debate, but did not do enough to change the voter perception of him as someone without a credible shot to win the nomination. He had some decent insights when the immigration came up, and he did not shy away from attacking Perry on the HPV mandate, but it was not enough.

Newt Gingrich: 5

Newt allowed glimpses of his inner policy wonk to shine through at times, seeming more comfortable with policy specifics than the other candidates at times. He did little to really differentiate himself, and his now recurring strategy of blaming the media or moderators for trying to stir up controversy is getting stale; in a debate, it is important and necessary to draw distinctions among the candidates, while it did seem at times that the questions were aimed at getting the two front-runners into a back and forth, Gingrich has to find a new strategy.

 

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One Comment
  1. Shirley A Frye permalink

    Great analysis and i pretty much agree. While I philosophically lean way left, I am always interested in who runs for the Republicans because there are some candidates that are scary to me. I tend to like the more intellectual and reasoned candidates and less of the candidates that only deliver the one liners to appease the base without any real thought about running the country in that vein, Huntsman and Romney are the only viable candidates. I love Ron Paul’s consistency but I don’t think i’m willing to experiment with such a divergence from our history.

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