Credit goes to the Fox News anchors who moderated the debate. They did their research and managed to ask tough questions that trapped some of the candidates. They managed to get Rick Santorum to come very close to endorse ending foreign aid to Pakistan, before following up by reminding him that Boehner supports aid to Pakistan to keep nuclear weapons out of the hands of terrorists. In his second answer, Santorum seemed genuinely unsure what his policy was.
Pawlenty’s toughest question was the grilling he got on Cap-and-Trade. Fox managed to bring out many speeches and radio ads where Pawlenty had shown his support in the past for a Cap-and-Trade policy. His answer to the question to amounted to “We’ve all made mistakes” and added that there is no such thing as a perfect candidate, challenging anyone who thought they were perfect to declare themselves.
Romney wishes he could give that sort of answer on Romneycare.
Gary Johnson was the candidate who was most out of his league. The Fox News team would not even take him seriously. They asked him what he would want his own reality TV show to be. Bret Baier also noted that Johnson has run nearly 30 miles, leading to the followup “What are you running from?” Johnson eventually managed to answer that he has actually climbed Mt. Everest.
Johnson’s answers on immigration and free trade also seemed to misjudge where the GOP Primary electorate is on those issues. His “guest worker” program will probably only be approved by the WSJ editorial board, and he underestimates how protectionist voters are.
Herman Cain was not someone I gave high marks to during the debate but he “won” the Frank Luntz focus group that came on immediately after the debate. Cain would consistently answer his question giving a bullet-point response, arguing that you need to “identify the problem” before solving “the problem.” For whatever reason, this seemed to appeal to the focus group.
Rick Santorum remains the social-issues candidate but also one who consistently seems to be out of his league on the substance of his answers. He announced that he would not repeal Medicare Party D and would want to continue reforming Medicare as Paul Ryan has done. Then he was pushed when it was pointed out that he wants to voucherize Medicare immediately, which is not what the Ryan budget does. To this point he had no answer.
Ron Paul did exactly what you would expect Ron Paul to do. Ron Paul went on the record that he believes that using heroin and practicing prostitution are forms of liberty. There will soon be a viral video of Ron Paul imitating a heroin addict which will be making the rounds on YouTube. No surprises here, we already know what he thinks.
Tonight, FrumForum writers Tim Mark and Noah Kristula-Green will liveblog the first GOP Presidential debate being held in South Carolina. We invite the commentators to join in as well!
Tonight’s debate was announced back in December perhaps with the expectation that more candidates would have announced their intent to run by now. There are only five candidates debating tonight: Herman Cain, Gary Johnson, Ron Paul, Rick Santorum, and Tim Pawlenty.
Of all these candidates, only Pawlenty has a chance to win a general election, what does Pawlenty gain by agreeing to appear on stage with these second tier candidates?
We can already predict what the other candidates are going to talk about: Ron Paul will argue that with Osama Bin Laden dead it’s time to pull out of Afghanistan. Gary Johnson will talk about ending the war on drugs by legalizing marijuana, Rick Santorum will assert the importance of social issues (maybe even attacking the Mitch Daniels’ “social truce”) and Herman Cain will make attention-generating statements to break out.
How will Pawlenty handle himself in this setting? Will he be able to appear a little bit presidential, or will he be overshadowed by the more exciting but less credible candidates?
Follow Noah on Twitter: @noahkgreen
Follow Tim on Twitter: @timkmak