I probably won’t even be able to watch every debate this election season, let alone blog extensively about all of them. But it’s still fairly early on in the run-up to the primaries, and more candidates are jumping into the race. Some commentary is worthwhile, even this far outside the official contests.
There were seven candidates on the stage at St. Anselm College in Manchester, New Hampshire tonight: former Pennsylvania Senator Rick Santorum, Minnesota Congresswoman Michele Bachmann, former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich, former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney, Texas Congressman Ron Paul, former Minnesota Governor Tim Pawlenty and businessman Herman Cain. Only two current officeholder on the stage, as it happens…one libertarian outlier and another who happens to be the only woman officially in the race.
You read that correctly. Michele Bachmann utilized the CNN debate limelight tonight to announce that as of today, she has filed the requisite paperwork as a candidate for the Presidency. From that initial moment forward, the entire evening constituted seas as smooth as glass for the Congresswoman. She won plaudits from multiple activists and pundits that I observed both on Twitter and TV, projecting a sense of serenity, confidence and sheer unflappable grit.
Bachmann is known as something of a conservative flamethrower (not a problematic reputation, in my book) and has been branded as gaffe-prone due to such faux pas as labeling Concord, New Hampshire as the birthplace of the American Revolution. Consequently, this was certainly a profitable night for her. She struck just the right balance on the question of marriage, for instance, posed by an audience member, replying that she would allow states to determine whether or not gay marriage would be legalized, but also reiterating support for a Constitutional marriage amendment. (The two are not mutually exclusive, of course; a Constitutional amendment has to be ratified by a majority of states, and all states are obligated to adhere to the edicts of the Constitution.)
A widespread perception seemed to also prevail among the chattering class (and I’m a charter member, so I use the term affectionately) regarding the performances of both Tim Pawlenty and Mitt Romney: namely, that Pawlenty disappointed and Romney excelled. Mitt did project as astonishingly sure-footed, even when on ground that would have normally been considered unfriendly for him, such as the discussion of Obamacare. Mitt’s line in rejoinder to comparison of Obamacare to his plan: “I only wish the President would have CALLED me as he was drafting his own health care bill!”
Tim Pawlenty elicited some surprise by refusing to attack Romney’s Massachusetts health care plan, utilizing the “Obamneycare” moniker he had employed yesterday on “Fox News Sunday.” John King (more on him in a moment) actually came back at Pawlenty twice over AFTER Pawlenty’s initial response to the health care question, attempting to bait him into attacking Mitt head-on. Pawlenty didn’t bite. He did, however, reiterate visceral support for right-to-work legislation, for pro-life policies and for vigorous responses to foreign menaces to American security.
Herman Cain, Rick Santorum, Ron Paul and Newt Gingrich all had moments where their strengths keenly shown through, as well. One of the more striking memories from tonight occurred when Cain was asked to defend his trepidation on hiring Muslims in a potential Cain administration. He equivocated, stating that his opposition was toward shariah law, rather than employing a Muslim, per se. Gingrich immediately followed up, driving Cain’s point home with a vivid illustration that cited a Pakistani would-be car bomber who had taken an oath to defend the United States when he became an American citizen, yet never intended other than to renege on his pledge at an opportune moment. John King wisely chose to move on, although he had been attempting to draw a distinction of moral equivalency between Islamic history and Christian/Jewish practice.
Rick Santorum and Ron Paul, for the most part, played to type: Santorum as the social conservative and leading spokesman for hawkish neoconservatism and Paul as the advocate for sound money and extremely limited foreign involvement. No real surprises from either of those two.
I’ll have much more thoughts in days to come on the various Presidential candidates. For now, I’ll conclude with Mitt Romney’s closing sentiment, with which I categorically concur:
“Any one of the people on this stage would make a better President than President Obama.”