The Arizona Debate
Thursday February 23, 2012
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This debate was better than I thought it would be. The Final Four © candidates know their stuff and they know they're opponents' stuff.
Let's take them one at a time:
Newt went nearly an hour before he attacked the "elite media" but even the GOP audience appeared to cheer more for the fact that he finally got to his signature answer (think: Steve Martin saying "Excuuuuuuse Meeeee" and getting a standing ovation) than what the answer was. In the first hour Gingrich appeared to be disinterested, but in the second hour he came to life and was a full participant. However, it is likely that it was, as H.R Haldeman used to say, "TL-Squared." Too Little, Too Late.
Paul demonstrates absolute fealty to his view of government: If it's not in the Constitution the federal government has no business doing it. Whatever "it" is. Paul is clearly an ally of Romney - perhaps because he actually served with Rick Santorum and Newt Gingrich - and no colleague could possibly measure up to his world view. Paul's answer women in combat was the reason college students across the land cheer for him.
Nothing focuses the mind of a front-runner than going oh-for-three then having the better part of two weeks before the next major event. Romney was prepared for this event, understood the import of a good performance, and recognized that he would be sitting next to - literally and politically - his principal opponent Rick Santorum. If GOP voters were looking for someone who could go toe-to-toe with Barack Obama or Vladimir Putin, Romney gave them a pretty good audition.
It appeared to me that Santorum was uncomfortable in the front-runner role and got so deeply into Senate-Speak that he lost his arguments through sheer density. He is an excellent debater, but the others are taking him seriously and seem to have caught up to him - much like the other 29 NBA teams taking seriously, and figuring out how to guard, Jeremy Lin. Santorum knows what he believes and is unapologetic about those beliefs. The question now is whether that is what GOP voters think a Republican nominee can run a general election on those beliefs.
Moderator John King had the same role in the final South Carolina debate and got blistered by Gingrich for asking the obvious (and necessary) question about Marianne Gingrich's interview on ABC. In this debate King let the candidates have their backs-and-forths, but moved the conversation ahead pretty well without cutting the candidates short. He oversaw an interesting and entertaining two hours.
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