I’ll keep my post debate review relatively short for once, primarily because I’m running really short on sleep and we’ve all proven (repeatedly) that trying to predict an outcome in this GOP nomination contest is impossible.
Last night’s CNN Republican nominee debate in Arizona was the first Republican debate in a long time and the only one for some time to come. Lots has happened since the last debate (Santorum victories, Romney’s slip in the polls, Gingrich’s slide, etc.) so a lot of eyes were on this one to see four things based off each candidate. I’ll list them below and provide my “answer.”
1- Can Rick Santorum command the debate stage as a front runner and give people a reason to continue driving his momentum through Super Tuesday and beyond?
No. Santorum stumbled over himself again tonight (like he has in earlier debates) and did not project the confidence, composure, or grasp of the issues (or his own past statements) to give undecided GOP voters any reason to support him. He’s been receiving a lot of mixed reviews for his performance tonight, and that’s a loss in itself. He needed to project confidence and the composure to be president, and he failed. He got some good hits in on Romney, but took a relative beating on his record in the process.
2- Can Mitt Romney promote a new, friendlier, image and stop his slide in the polls?
Eh… maybe. Mitt had one of his better debates tonight but it wasn’t spectacular in any way. He had what sounded like his friendliest debate audience ever tonight, and still got himself in hot water with them a few times. He amped up all kinds of rhetoric and is now borrowing lines from all three of his competitors to widen his appeal, but it still sounds like the same old Mitt. The debate didn’t hurt him, but I don’t see any big benefit either.
3- Can Gingrich steal the stage and spark a come back?
Again… Eh… maybe. Newt was on his game tonight, but not as the podium pounding anti-media firebrand we saw after his jump (back) to the front of the polls before South Carolina, instead we saw the Newt many of us missed from the rest of the debate season. He was composed, collected, and once again sounded like the smartest guy on stage with pretty straight answers to the questions asked. The crowd seemed to give him the best net response for the evening, and Rick Perry was on hand for social conservative appeal, but it wasn’t a blockbuster performance from someone who probably needed one. So although the “good” Newt, the Newt that fueled his rise initially, was back tonight, I just don’t know if that’s enough any more.
4- Can Ron Paul convince people he can win the nomination tonight?
No. I’m actually afraid he may have hurt himself a little tonight. Paul has started to sound like a one line anti-war, pro-state-rights candidate. I know he’s not just that, but that’s all he talked about tonight, and although it’s a popular sentiment, the way he talked you’d think if we stopped fighting battles overseasall our problems would be solved. I know that’s not true, he knows that’s not true, and I think the voters do too. Is he right on the issue of removing almost all our international military presence? Maybe, but he also gets some flak for his Iran views that most voters seem to find naive, so it’s a two-edged sword for him. The point is talking foreign policy, which is one of his weakest platforms from a potential GOP voter perspective, doesn’t help his campaign one little bit and he actually missed a key opportunity to sell his small government platform and economic vision tonight.
That’s all for now. We’ll see how things play out in the upcoming primaries and I’m sure I’ll have lots to say then. As always, feel free to ask questions, provide comments, and so on.