GOFFSTOWN, N.H — The first major debate of the 2012 Republican presidential race is in the books, a two-hour affair where the seven candidates on stage avoided attacking one another and instead focused their rhetorical firepower on President Obama.
Our picks are below. Agree? Disagree? The comments section awaits.
Michele Bachmann: For viewers who had never heard of the Minnesota Congresswoman before tonight, she put on quite a show. For the first 45 minutes of the debate, Bachmann dominated the stage with quotable lines galore and an audience hanging on her every word. She faded somewhat in the middle of the debate — particularly with her confusing answer on whether she supports a constitutional amendment banning gay marriage — but rallied in the closing moments. What Bachmann proved tonight? She’s ready for primetime.
Mitt Romney: Romney came into the debate as the frontrunner in New Hampshire and nationally and he did nothing in the 120 minutes on stage at Saint Anselm College to change that. Romney was serious and well informed — in a word: presidential. His debate experience from 2008 clearly paid off as he stayed focused on President Obama and the economy to the exclusion of almost everything else. Romney also benefited from the fact that none of his rivals seemed to have the stomach to attack him directly. And, health care was — at best — a tangential topic. All in all a very good night for Romney.
John King: Moderating any debate at any level is tough. Doing so with seven presidential candidates on stage and questions coming fast and furious from the audience is even tougher. King navigated those waters with ease. He also did all he could to keep candidates from filibustering and making them answer the questions asked of them.
This or that: Yes, the idea of forcing candidate to choose between Pepsi and Coke or Johnny Cash and Elvis was a little gimmicky but it’s often those allegedly silly questions where who these people really are is revealed. Count us as a fan.
Tim Pawlenty: Pawlenty came into the debate with perhaps the biggest challenge: to prove that the insider buzz he has been generating of late could be translated to a public forum. He had moments where he shined — his answer on the separation of church and state was outstanding — but by and large he came across as a bit over-programmed. Pawlenty also seemed to pass on a golden opportunity to prove his “tell the truth” credentials when King asked him about his criticism of Romney’s health care plan. Pawlenty demurred even though 36 hours before he had described the law as “Obamneycare”. Strange.
Herman Cain: After winning the first debate of the year in South Carolina, expectations were high for the Georgia businessman. And for the first hour (or so) of the debate, he held his own. But, Cain’s answer on whether he would have a Muslim in his Cabinet was confusing at best and offensive at worst and will be, without question, the memorable moment of the debate for him. And that’s not a good memory.
Confrontation: King as well as the other journalists asking the questions did everything they could to get the candidates into showdowns with one another. And, time and again, the candidates took a pass — perhaps convinced that throwing a rhetorical punch this early in the nominating process would do more harm than good. The result? A relatively tepid debate with candidates largely agreeing with one another on the major issues of the day.
Foreign policy: In case you were wondering what the 2012 election is likely to focus on, domestic issues dominated all but the final 15 minutes of tonight’s debate. The lone foreign policy question that got extended treatment was the American military presence in Afghanistan.