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Shallow Thoughts About Last Night's Debate

It's what I do.

1.  Bret Baier started off by throwing Pawlenty a quote where Pawlenty called Obama weak and then asked him how that squared with the killing of Bin Laden.  Pawlenty gave a plausible response.  He was gracious in giving Obama credit for Bin Laden's death but quickly shifted to the big picture. Pawlenty gave the vague impression that he was in favor of waterboarding but without using the term.

2.  Santorum comes off badly on his Bin Laden question.  He gives a small spirited, harshly partisan and not entirely accurate account of Obama's Afghanistan policy (Obama did adopt and resource a counterinsurgency strategy in Afghanistan.)  There is also a note of hysteria in Santorum's demeanor.

3.  Baier asked Pawlenty about waterboarding and Pawlenty danced around the question.  Baier then asked for a show of hands as to who would authorize waterboarding under certain circumstances.  Pawlenty then raised his hand.  Baier kind of had Pawlenty's number.  I'm not sure what Pawlenty thought he had to gain by the tack he took.  First he refused to commit and the he refused to commit to not committing.  It made him look shifty.

4.  Pawlenty is pretty good at transitioning questions on economics to his blue collar roots and personal experience of economic anxiety and decline.  He also didn't answer the question what policies he would adopt to spur job creation.  He did get in a shot at the National Labor Relations Board and the Obama administration.

5.  Cain's policy on gas prices is the same as his policy on Afghanistan.  He will have a plan at some point in the future.

6.  Santorum had a pretty good answer on Medicare Part D using private competition to reduce costs to the government, but the stuff about capping the Medicare entitlement is the wrong frame.  We're not really arguing about capping Medicare.  Both the Obamas and Ryans of the world are going to limit Medicare spending at some level.  Obama wants one-size-fits-all centralized rationing.  Ryan wants a choice of plans in which seniors can choose which procedures (above a government mandated minimum) they want.  It would be even better if we had a plan where seniors faced better incentives.  If seniors wanted a plan that didn't cover certain high cost, low success procedures that they might or might not need someday, then they should have greater disposable income in the here and now (including pocketing some of the government-provided premium support.)  If they want coverage for those procedures then they pay more and get more peace of mind.  It beats waiting to get sick and then wondering if some committee is going to tell them to shut up and die.  

7.  Santorum's answer on Obamacare wasn't so good.  More passion than coherence. 

8.  Gary Johnson is so awkward he is likeable.  His proposal to immediately cut Medicare spending by over 40% and block grant the program to the states would have killed his chance to be President if he'd had one.

9.  Then there is his unconditional amnesty and open borders position.  Give him credit.  He would rather be Gary Johnson than President.  Good for him and good for us.

10.  Pawlenty knows his issue salience.  He turned a question about creationism into an answer about his working-class roots and the connected interests of employers and employees.

General impressions:

Herman Cain is going to make some noise.  He has a kind of socially conservative Ross Perot "I'll get some smart people together and with my managerial skill and public spiritedness we'll solve our problems and you can trust me because I did it in business" approach.  This approach creates (for a while) the impression of expertise without all the costs and trade-offs that would be evident if you discussed actual policies. It tries to convince people that you are detail-oriented without having to give details.  

It isn't just Cain's business experience.  It is that Cain can present himself as a businessman-outsider who will save politics from the politicians.  Romney has business experience but he can't replicate Cain's outsider appeal because Romney (by both background and demeanor) comes across as almost a cartoon of a slick politician.  Cain's combination of business experience + outsiderness + managerial approach to political problems + minimal policy content will get him some attention and some support.  It is a kind of technocracy that many conservatives will find attractive at first, but if he becomes more than a gadfly he will need a second act.

One thing that drove me nuts about the Frank Luntz focus group was the people saying that Cain "really answered questions."  Well maybe compared to Pawlenty, but Cain came in a distant fourth when it came to answering questions candidly and completely.  Rick Santorum (who came out for capping Medicare immediately and converting it into a premium support program for current seniors) answered questions.  Ron Paul (who wanted to undo American collective security arrangements and legalize heroin) answered questions. Gary Johnson (who came out for amnesty, open borders, and huge immediate Medicare cuts) damn sure answered questions.  This is like several weeks ago when I heard people (Hannity and one of those people who fill in for Neil Cavuto as well as lots of talk radio callers) calling Donald Trump a straight shooter.  There is something about emotionally satisfying (and especially cost free) answers that makes people want to describe those answers as the opposite of what they really are.  Cain seems a far better and more serious man than Trump, but he wasn't the guy who really answered questions.  He was the guy who was going to have a meeting (possibly after the election) and get back to you.          

Categories > Politics

Discussions - 4 Comments


Good comments. The extent to which people in the focus group fell for Cain is depressing.

Thanks for this, Pete. I would go many miles out of my way to avoid witnessing the perpetual preening of Gary Johnson.

Sorry to hear about Santorum's poor moments, and Pawlenty's evasiveness on waterboarding.

And if you want to see what I do, and keep up with the latest about the rock songs of half-century ago, trek on over to postmodern conservative, where my Carl's Rock Songbook series is unfolding.

Carl, I liked the songbook on Time of the Season. Looking forward to more.

Santorum (among other problems) comes across too hot for the medium in TV debates. I can't tell if it is irritability or (mis)calculation.


There is a lot to be angry about, but we need to run a candidate voters will listen to. Santorum ain't it.

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