I didn’t watch the whole thing, but in the portions I witnessed I thought everyone did rather well. It seemed to me that the contest for the GOP nomination process had really accomplished a few things: weeding out some less prepared and less articulate contenders and polishing the performances of the survivors.
My only dissatisfaction really revolved around so many of candidates attacking one another, and trying to gain a personal edge by means of cheap shots and obviously opportunistic assaults on one another’s previous statements and records. If it were up to me, I’d have boat-hooked Ron Paul out of there on the basis of a real excess of that kind of thing.
Personally, I still like Gingrich best. I think he tends characteristically to draw upon a broader understanding of history and political theory than anybody else, and I am much attracted by his imagination. Assuming we win in November, the next president’s task is going to consist of presiding over a major reconsideration of the federal government’s role and responsibilities, developing a much more serious approach to budgeting, and –in essence– managing the transition from the Welfare Entitlement State to a new version of an American growth and opportunity state. I think Gingrich’s superior knowledge and intellect would be strong assets, and I think his fecundity in producing new ideas and new approaches would be invaluable.
Romney, as I’ve noted before, delivers consistently the smoothest, most professional, and most attractive portrayal of presidential leadership. He speaks passionately in defense of capitalism. He is obviously a highly competent and thoroughly responsible guy, and though he has not run for office or governed previously as much of a conservative, his current embrace of, practically amounting to a death-grip on, conservative principles seems sincere. Watching Romney perform, one is forced to conclude that he would do a decent job. His would not be a really revolutionary administration. He would funk and compromise all the really tough calls, but he would generally do just fine.
It seems remarkable how much Rick Santorum has grown into the role of conservative movement champion and front-running candidate. In some earlier debates, he seemed a somewhat irrelevant dark horse outsider, and even more of a cranky traditionalist scold than Michele Bachmann. Now, he has picked up the mantle of the hero and he’s wearing it well. He is the living embodiment of clean cut, ordinary old-fashioned Americanism, and he expresses himself reasonably and with admirable clarity.
It is generally fun to hear from Ron Paul. He no longer really belongs up there, I thought, but it is a pleasure to see libertarian positions as totally heretical from the establishment perspective as going back to the gold standard and simply abolishing the EPA, advocated seriously in a presidential debate. Ron Paul has his own distinctive manner of speech and presentation. He reminds one of some very bright, well-loved, and barking mad uncle, who can (and will) speak for hours on his own particular bizarre obsessions and can actually entertain you in the process, despite your knowing perfectly well just how far from the reality we inhabit is the home of Uncle Ron. I do wish, though, that Ron Paul would climb down off his sanctimonious libertarian high horse, and quit abusing all his opponents in extravagant terms for conventional previous behavior or votes. There is an annoying streak of Puritan hypocrite in Ron Paul.
I don’t think last night’s debate changed the situation much. Jim Geraughty, in his emailed Morning Jolt, had the most to say about Romney:
Romney is, bit by bit, proving to be a better debater than people thought. Yes, he’s pretty shameless about going after opponent’s inconsistencies and unpopular positions that he himself held earlier in his career — but the audaciousness of it tends to leave the opposition flustered and infuriated.
Last night, he jabbed at Santorum, “When I was fighting to save the Olympics, you were fighting to save the Bridge to Nowhere.” Really, after lines such as that, people doubt Romney’s willingness to go after Obama? If nominated, Romney will probably lacerate Obama on the individual mandate, not cutting spending, insufficient support for drilling, demonizing the wealthy, and so on. Obama may coolly point out Romney’s past support for those positions, and I suspect Romney will just ignore it and point out that those positions are the wrong ones, and the American public opposes them. Would voters prefer the consistent man who stands for ideas they oppose? Or will they prefer a flip-flopper who currently holds the positions they support?
You and I — who have watched Romney debate as a passionately pro-choice candidate, brag that he would be better for Massachusetts gays than Ted Kennedy in 1994 — look at his current emphatic finger-pointing during these debates, and think, “He might just be saying what he needs to get the nomination. I don’t know if I trust him. He sounds sincere now, but Massachusetts liberals probably thought he agreed with them in 2002, too.” But I suspect casual voters ignore anything before, say, last weekend. I suspect they put a whole lot more into a candidate’s nonverbal communication, and whether that conveys sincerity and constancy, than anything that would require them to, you know, read something. If you doubt me, look at Obama’s election.