OBSERVATIONS ABOUT THE GOP DEBATE

September 9, 2011

I would like to make a few points on the Republican debate Wednesday night — not necessarily the most important points, but a few points. I will start with some generalities.

  • Perry was stumbling and unimpressive. I have a feeling that the Obama people are rooting for him to be the nominee.

  • You can be an excellent governor, an excellent president, and an excellent leader without being particularly good in debate, or even particularly articulate. Still, articulateness — or at least an ease with the English language — is a help.

  • Romney was less stumbling and less unimpressive than Perry — but still nothing to strike fear in the heart of the Obama campaign.

  • Huntsman comes across as incredibly vain and self-loving. (N.B.: “Comes across” is not the same as “is.”)

  • Bachmann, to me, was surprisingly crisp. Not Condi-esque, which is crispness itself, but crisp.

  • Part of me wished that just the leading candidates — the top three or four — could have been there. The others are lark candidates, or boutique candidates. They just want to be “in the process” and on television. Some of those have valuable things to say. But, fundamentally, they’re in the way. They’re clutter.

Okay, here are some less general points . . .

  • Brian Williams referred to Texas’s “lack of regulation.” I imagine there’s some regulation in Texas, don’t you? (I think it was Brian Williams — forgive me if it was the other guy.)

  • Perry started with “he or she,” and then just gave up, going to “their.” Oh, well.

  • Romney and some of the others have me confused: Do governors and presidents “create jobs” or don’t they? Sometimes they say they do, sometimes they say they don’t. Get it straight, please.

  • Romney could descend into sheer gibberish: “restructure the basis of the foundation,” stuff like that. Come on, speak English, Mitt.

  • He was great on the wonderful things about Texas. You could almost hear him add, mentally, “And Massachusetts stinks. You ever tried to get anything done in that state?”

  • Perry may have a Joe Isuzu problem — the look, the air. But then, that requires smooth speaking too, doesn’t it? (I imagine — I’m sure — that Perry can perform much better than I heard last night. A good friend of mine once said about Larry Nelson, “You don’t win three majors just kicking it around.” And you don’t win three gubernatorial elections just stumbling.)

  • Santorum looks remarkably slim and young. He looks younger, to me, than he did when he was in the Senate.

  • Cain made an allusion to tithing that I think would be lost on many Americans, particularly in the “unchurched” areas.

  • Huntsman shares a linguistic idiosyncrasy with John Bolton: These two Americans pronounce “negotiate” in the British way: “ne-go-see-ate.” Strange.

  • Every time I have seen him on television — which is twice — Huntsman has bragged about his ability to speak Chinese. Does he always do this? Does he ever credit the Mormon church with giving him the opportunity to learn this language?

  • He bragged about “knowing something about this world,” then smiled the cheesiest, most self-satisfied smile afterward. Ay, caramba.

  • Bachmann was quite good on the question of regulations — more than superficial.

  • She has that strong, handsome Scandinavian look that you often see in the Upper Midwest. Not to mention Scandinavia.

  • I’ve always disliked the expression “biological children.” All children — all people — are “biological,” in a sense. I can’t think of a better substitute just now. It’s late and I’m typing fast (and thinking slow?).

  • Newt was fantastic on Obama’s hostility to, or certainly ignorance about, business and enterprise.

  • Romney has had a long time to develop a spiel on RomneyCare. And he has. I thought he sounded quite reasonable on the subject.

  • I agree with Newt: People make way too much of the individual mandate in RomneyCare. I know why they do it — but they have made a mountain out of a molehill. Or, if not quite a molehill, a modest, gently sloping hill — the kind you’d start a toddler out on, when he sleds.

  • If it weren’t for the less helpful elements of Newtness, what a leader Newt would be!

  • Santorum was very good on “Why do you conservatives hate the poor?”

  • A good Romney line: “We’re an energy-rich nation living like an energy-poor nation.” A nice encapsulation. (Remember Milton Himmelfarb? “Jews earn like Episcopalians and vote like Puerto Ricans.”)

  • It cracks me up when Ron Paul says, “I, as president, will not do that.” And I, as gold medalist in the decathlon next year, will donate half my Wheaties contract to the Salvation Army.

  • Perry is one of those who pronounce “err” “air.”

  • Santorum made a sound case for the DHS. Sometimes we conservatives are frivolous in our opposition to it.

  • Romney was quite good in not piling on Perry for this inoculation thing: “We all need a mulligan or two”; “his heart was in the right place.”

  • He was also effective with this: “Obama is a nice guy who hasn’t a clue how to get this country working again.”

  • Brian Williams seemed to enjoy exploring the limits of libertarianism with Congressman Paul. The liberal media love the more “out there” GOP candidates, don’t they?

  • Everybody piles on the TSA for its excesses, but everyone would have a fit if a terrorist slipped through.

  • In discussing or defending statistics in Texas, Perry has to find a way of saying this: “Look, we share a long border with Mexico, a lot of dirt-poor illiterates come in — that skews things, give us a break.”

  • Perry also needs to find a way of telling the truth about Social Security without scaring the bejesus out of people. It can be done. (W. did it, for instance — though it probably cost him a clean win in Florida, in the year 2000. Speaking of Florida: Rubio can do it, too. Did, during last year’s campaign.)

  • Romney was disappointingly blustering and unnuanced on the question of immigration. He gave no evidence that he understands the dimensions of this problem. And I imagine he does.

  • Funny no one would answer the question of what to do about the 11 million illegal aliens, or whatever the number is. And this is supposed to be a gang of straight-talkers!

  • Funny that Bachmann referred to my right-wing Cuban pals down at the Café Versailles as “the Hispanic community.” (Miami, we’re talkin’. Ever eaten there? Marvelous. And cheap.)

  • When Huntsman was discussing immigration, I thought of the Graham Greene title: “The Human Factor.” Not to be forgotten, true.

  • Ron Paul’s fear that the border fence will be used to keep us innocent Americans in, when we want to flee? Kooky. Nutso. Fringy.

  • When Romney talked about the Tea Party, and its opposition to big government and onerous taxation, I wish he had said something about its devotion to the Constitution and constitutionalism — that’s a big part of the Tea Party temper.

  • I wish one candidate would say, “Ten dollars in spending cuts for one dollar in tax hikes? Sure, if you’ll keep to the bargain. The problem is, you guys never keep to the bargain.”

  • As regular readers know, I’m with Huntsman on the signing of pledges: usually an embarrassment and a self-abasement, to be avoided. I liked his line “If you want to know how someone will behave in office, look at his record.”

  • But I’m afraid he reminds me of George McGovern: “Come home, America!” His understanding of Afghanistan seems immature — incomplete, at best.

  • I wish Romney would stop talking about “the middle class.” Our party really doesn’t do classes, you know? That’s one reason I became a Republican — the class stuff, from the Democrats, nauseated me.

  • Perry’s got this anti-adventurism thing going — like any of us is for adventurism. One of the questioners — I forget which one — tried to say that George W. Bush didn’t think Iraq through. He thought it through to an excruciating degree.

Over and over, he said, “There are risks of action, and risks of inaction. The risks on either side are tremendous. I have to weigh them. This is not a light task.” No, it wasn’t.

  • Before Perry gave Obama credit for the bin Laden hit, I thought he was going to credit him with the downfall of Qaddafi. I wish one of the Republicans had said, “I’m glad he’s gone” — Qaddafi, that is — “and proud that America had a hand in it.”

  • Did Perry really pronounce “props” “propes”?

  • He pronounced “Keynesian” “Keensian.”

  • Instead of “monstrous,” he said “monsterous.”

  • He also says “impacted” (and he ain’t talkin’ teeth).

  • Bachmann says “where we’re at.”

  • Romney is very big on “different than.”

  • Brian Williams gave Perry a golden opportunity to defend the morality of the death penalty. It was a fat, juicy pitch down the middle. Our batter whiffed, or at best fouled it off.

  • As Paul was talking, I thought, “He sounds like anything but a Texan” — I mean, in his speech, in his variety of American speech. I Googled: Yup, a Pittsburgher. (Wanna know another Pittsburgher in the West? Sen. Orrin Hatch.)

  • The two best performers in this particular debate have no chance at the nomination: Santorum and Newt.

  • If Perry is our nominee, and he doesn’t get significantly better, I fear we’re in trouble, no matter how bad the economy is.

  • Draft Chris Christie or Allen West.


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