like you were expecting better,
1. The questions were wretched, and not just the dumb ones about Leno, pizza and Dancing With The Stars. The questions were generally too easy. We already knew they were going to say they wanted to cut taxes and repeal Obamacare. They should have been asked about the distributional impact of their tax policies. Sample question: "How will your plan change the tax liabilities of a family of four earning $60,000 a year with a mortgage of 200,0000?" Those who supported the Ryan PTP's Medicare reforms should have been asked how much more they expect that seniors will have to pay out of pocket in the coming decades. Those are the kinds of questions that they are going to have to answer in the general election. It would be nice to see if they can hit the fastballs the Obama campaign will surely be throwing at them. There might also be some Republican-leaning middle-income voters and future Medicare beneficiaries who would be interested to hear the answers to such questions.
2. Most of the candidates seem to be running on a version of John McCain's program of business and investment tax cuts with not much to say to middle-income voters except that a promise of tax cuts to other people will help everyone in the end. That is just an impression from the debate. There was a lot more talk about capital gains tax cuts than middle-class tax relief. Ramesh Ponnuru offers an alternative tax agenda.
3. The most recent employment report formed the context for the debate in an unhealthy way. They all seemed to be running for the presidential election of next week. They sounded like Sharron Angle. No, not the crazy stuff about "Second Amendment remedies" if she didn't get her own way. It was like whenever Angle couldn't say anything persuasive she would just circle back to Nevada's unemployment and foreclosure rates. By itself, that wasn't good enough to win in a state with a 13% unemployment rate. Even if the labor market remains exactly where it is, the Republicans could still lose if they are tagged as simply the party of capital gains tax cuts + Medicare cuts + hey willya look at the unemployment rate.
4. Then again, we could be heading for another financial crisis.
5. Lots of the talk is about Pawlenty whiffing on the Obamneycare question, Pawlenty had a pretty bad debate even without that answer. He appeared tentative and stammered multiple times. Pawlenty isn't necessarily doomed. Some candidates have a learning curve when it comes to debates. George W. Bush was visibly nervous in the first Republican debate of the 2000 cycle but he was cleaning McCain's clock in head-to-head debates by the end (Keyes was there for some of them but they ignored him.) Bush never became an all time great debater but he went to school and got the most out of his talent. There is a good section in Stuart Stevens' The Big Enchilada about how Bush prepared for his debates with Al Gore. Practice doesn't make perfect, but it can make some politicians significantly better.
What is more disturbing is that Pawlenty weaseled regarding "Obamneycare" in almost the same way that he weaseled on waterboarding in the first debate. Both times he tried to avoid being pinned down (either on standing up for his Obamneycare formulation or taking a firm position on use of waterboarding.) Both times he caved in to follow up questions and took a stand, but only after looking both evasive (since he had to be hounded into giving a direct answer) and weak (for knuckling under to the questioner.) What is the point of this approach? It has all of the downsides of taking a firm stand while forfeiting the respect due to someone who takes a forthright stand.
6. Romney looked and sounded good. Maybe he has gotten better since 2008. Maybe it is just that he didn't have to fend off the withering attacks of McCain and Huckabee. I hate to think that this a group with weaker debating skills than the Republican presidential field of 2008.