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Sunday, January 08, 2012

New Hampshire Debate: Grades (Debate #2)

Was it enough? Was enough damage done to Mitt Romney? Was his inevitability at all stunted?

Probably not.

It was a great start for the "Non"meys. Their greatest advocate, it seems, was moderator David Gregory. When he set up Romney's rivals:


  • Newt Gingrich reminded voters that Romney, as the governor of Massachusetts, was fourth from the bottom in job creation. (Huntsman said the same thing last night, pointing out that Romney was 47th in the category.) He argued that Romney's national economic plan was timid and Obamalike. And he once again characterized Romney as a "Massachusetts Moderate."

  • Rick Santorum joined in, explaining to the American people that Romney's record as governor was so bad and unpopular that he didn't run for reelection. Romney responded by saying that he doesn't run for reelection for private gain, but for the people. Gingrich wisely leapt on that explanation, citing how often Romney loses elections as the reason he hasn't been in politics for a lot longer. Santorum also brought up Romney's moderate platform in his 1994 campaign, arguing that Romney "ran to the left of Ted Kennedy." Ouch.

  • Ron Paul got the next opportunity from Gregory. Asked about Romney's inconsistency, Paul agrees and adds that it'd be lunacy to nominate a governor that once supported single-payer health care who has friends on Wall Street to run against President Obama.

  • To get his dig on Romney, Jon Huntsman pointed to a moment from last night's debate. Last night, Romney was critical of Huntsman's role in an Obama administration. Huntsman argued that he put his country first. Romney, in potentially his worst moment of the debates, posited that putting the country first means espousing conservative values and opposing President Obama. Huntsman immediately and brilliantly seized on this divisive response, citing that, "This nation is divided because of responses like that." In other words, his President asked for his help so he served overseas. Romney, now, will certainly ease up on criticism of such an act.

  • Rick Perry never had his anti-Romney moment, probably still neutered from his disastrous confrontations from last year.

Like last night, however, cooler heads prevailed for the second act. Once moderator Gregory stopped directly asking about Romney's record, the candidates, surprisingly, did not find a way to incorporate anti-Romney remarks in their responses.

Herein lies the point and the "Non"meys' lack of success today. They should never have let up on Romney. Throughout the debate, their collective boot should have stayed squarely pressed on Romney's neck. Only then would Romney's numbers truly depress.

But they let up, and only Gingrich came back at Romney later in the debate, citing Romney's lack of honesty in his campaigning. No other candidate supported the Speaker, however, and Romney escaped relatively healthy.

Still, Romney was not strong and had questionable defenses. I don't see him getting less than 35 percent of the New Hampshire vote, but he survived to win the state by 10+ points. Romney grade: C+

Other thoughts and debate grades from New Hampshire Debate #2:

--I don't drink, but if there's a debate drinking game you're looking for, try taking a drink every time a candidate is asked a question and he responds with, “Well, let me first address” and answers something else. You’ll be passed out by the third round. (Note: if you play this game during a morning debate, expect little productivity for the rest of the day, and perhaps an intervention.)

--For the second day in a row, Rick Perry hammered home his "outsider" background. Perhaps he decided this was the only way to separate himself from the field. He continues to reach out to the Tea Party. South Carolina will be a good barometer for how effective these strategies were. They aren't bad strategies, but he should have started with that back when he first declared his candidacy. I also enjoyed his joke about wanting to get rid of the departments of commerce, education, and whatever the other one was. Perry grade: B

--Ron Paul: same old, same old. There is no more consistent candidate. Republicans love the first half of all his responses, nodding in agreement. Then he finishes the responses by offering money-saving foreign policy ideas, and Republicans run for the exits. Paul grade: B+

--Newt Gingrich drastically improved upon last night's debate performance, and he was the only one who consistently hammered away at the frontrunner to give everyone else a chance for the nomination. In addition to the attacks mentioned above, he chided Romney for ignoring the red light and his "pious baloney." Unfortunately for the Speaker, I don't see any way he solidified a top 3 showing. It's still possible, but his desire to limit Romney trumped his desire to limit New Hampshire top 3 rivals Huntsman, Santorum, and Paul. The other candidates owe Gingrich a debt of gratitude. Gingrich grade: B+

--Jon Huntsman was much better tonight in his desperate attempt for a top 3 in New Hampshire. In perhaps his last moment on a national stage, he effectively attacked Romney, boasted about his own experience with foreign policy and as governor, reminded voters that he has spent more time in the Granite State than anyone else, and even point out his conservative record. It was gusty to go after senior entitlements--seniors are the most likely voters out there--but I think he still earned a top 3 New Hampshire finish. Huntsman grade: A-

--Rick Santorum had the most disappointing performance. He came out strong against Romney, but then let up. As Romney's greatest challenger, he should have consistently drawn contrasts all night. Moreover, Santorum has picked up this Gingrichian habit of acting incredulous to too many questions from the moderators. It's as if he can't believe that someone has to ask about gay marriage or contraception. Senator, some people aren't as conservative as you, and they do want clarification on your far conservative social beliefs. Santorum now risks a 4th place New Hampshire finish and a plateau in his national numbers. Santorum grade: C-


Don't forget to check in tomorrow for my New Hampshire Primary Preview!

-IC

3 comments:

Jon said...

I agree. My namesake was fantastic!!!

Stevie K said...

Just a hunch, but it seems to me that NH is full of a lot of David Brooks-style Republicans (meaning moderates) who will be thinking similarly to, and respond favorably to, the NYT oped Friday on Santorum's social agenda (http://www.nytimes.com/2012/01/06/opinion/brooks-a-new-social-agenda.html?_r=1). I see him taking a lot of votes from Romney on Tuesday.

IC said...

Stevie, that's an interesting thought. I think I was leaning toward him with a 4/5 finish, but maybe he could squeeck into the top 3.

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