November 9, 2011

The Michigan GOP Debate Deconstructed

How did the Michigan GOP debate go?  It went well.  It was a quality debate, on quality topics. CNBC had a good slate of questions.  Perhaps not all of the questioners were the best choices but overall they were pretty good.

The precis on Social Security during the break was an admirable attempt to bring the issue to those who may be unaware of the issues with the program, but it was probably an over-simplification and and under-representation of the severity of the problem.

What about the candidates?  They all seemed to have their specific focus and game plan that they were pretty much able to stick with.  Whose game plan worked, whose didn't?

Romney had a home field advantage in Michigan.  He's not thinking big on tax reform.  But that's not surprising, he's trying to talk about a steady improvement, and it dovetails with his steady low key campaign.  He doesn't want to rock the boat.  He wants to win with as few hiccups in his plan as possible.  He's not my choice, but that said, after Gingrich, he's the one I think who is most prepared to debate Obama and come off looking good.

Gingrich is still running against the media.  It's worked so far but it won't get him from third place to a truly top tier.  He's right on a lot of things and on debate specific details I think he won, but did not dominate.  While he still performed well, I think he may have to change tactics in debates down the road.  I'm sure he's capable of it, the question is whether he will realize the right moment to make the switch.  I think that moment may be coming soon.

Michele Bachmann hit a lot of solid points, trying to maximize her time allotment.  It's like she's speaking against a shot clock which is unfortunately not a good position for her to be in because she seemed rushed early on.  Later she slowed down and was clearer and crisper, but half way into a two hour debate it may have been too late for that clarity. 

Santorum had a lot of good talking points as well, but he's still about as exciting as watching paint dry.  He might make a good president but he's still not going to win the nomination.  He spent a lot of time trying to differentiate himself from the rest of the field, but to be honest, he isn't that distinctive a candidate.  He has good ideas but they are not radically different from anyone else's ideas on that stage.  So it comes back to the drying paint.

Jon Huntsman, didn't reveal it as much in this economic-focused debate, but he's still too liberal too win. Next.

Ron Paul was aggressive on tax cuts and tough on interest rates.  He warned of inflation in an effective way.  While he can't win the nomination, he'd make a very interesting Fed Chairman.  Ron Paul was in his element in this debate because covered the topics he is most versed with.  That may provide him a boost in the polls, but some of his recipes for recovery may actually have the reverse effect, even with Republican voters because they can be pretty radical.

Perry seemed less visible than in previous debates, almost as if he got fewer questions than some of the other candidates.  I didn't count the actual questions so it may have been the case that he got fewer or it may be my perception - either way, that's not good for Rick Perry.  Perry had a terrible, terrible moment with trying to remember which three government departments he would get rid of if he were elected - commerce, education and um....  Ouch.  It was cringe-worthy.  Remembering it later only made matters worse.

Cain was able to get back to his focus on his 9-9-9 plan.  He was good in contradicting 9-9-9 with Santorum's effort to focus on helping only the manufacturing sector with a clever "how about helping everybody".  Unfortunately for Cain, that was over an hour into the debate, whereas the questions about character came in during the first 30 minutes.  I'm not sure most viewers can stay tuned for 180 minutes of debate, which means the character question, which he handled reasonably well, may have hit a stronger chord and it was off message for Cain.  

Late in the debate the question came up about the volatility on Wall Street.  Cain had a funny and clever answer but he didn't address the specific question.  Perry was a little clearer in answering the same question with the talk about enforcing the rules that existed even before Dodd-Frank.  The last one to answer the same question was Ron Paul, who made some good points about ending crony-capitalism which is indeed a distortion of true capitalism, but he also was not specific in addressing market volatility and computer-driven mega-trades and hedge fund speculators.  The truth is that's a complex question and there is no simple answer for it.  I'd like to see everyone on the stage answer that at some point, and it does not need to be in a debate forum.  That said, it's not an election-driving question.

Was there an overall winner?  Firstly, I think the debate itself was probably the best all-candidates debate so far.  The topics were ones that are important to GOP voters.  Overall, I think the two best performances were Gingrich and Romney.  Gingrich was probably a little better but with respect to outcome, Romney probably won because he performed well enough to remain in the 1 or 2 slot.

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