Two Days, Two Debates, One Winner
I first must congratulate anyone who managed to sit through both of the Republican New Hampshire debates this weekend. They seemed to alternate between being boring and nauseating to such a degree that a Keith Moon situation was a real possibility. But what is to be taken from them?
Well, if you believe everything of the candidates say (which of course we do), then a lot of important and interesting points came out of the debates. Rick Perry informed us that Barack Obama is a socialist and that US troops should re-invade Iraq. Ron Paul would like us to know that his hero is Martin Luther King (despite voting against MLK day or ‘Hate Whitey Day’ as his newsletters call it). Rick Santorum says there are no classes in America, contradicting, um, Rick Santorum in his campaign literature. And Newt Gingrich brought down the Soviet Union apparently, which was nice of him.
The first debate, on Saturday night, was about as easy for Romney as it was possible to be. He stood back for most of it, hands in pockets, easily fending off the very few, very weak blows. With a 20-point lead coming in to the debate, the other candidates turned on each other in a battle for second. Romney therefore was able to act as if the nomination was his already, turning all his attentions to Obama. Any attempt to draw him on the other candidates was met with an evasive reassuring that any of the men standing beside him would do a better job than the incumbent. At one point, he plainly said ‘I don’t want to be critical of any of the people on this stage’. He simply didn’t need to be.
Largely ignoring Romney, his three closest challengers set against each other. Santorum attacked Paul for his foreign policy; Paul labelled Santorum a ‘high-powered lobbyist’. Gingrich and Paul clashed over Newt’s possible draft dodging, Paul winning the points with his best line of the weekend: ‘I’m trying to stop the wars, but at least I went when I was called up’. Of the three, Ron Paul certainly won the battle, but was still pathetically far behind Romney, who appeared at times like a teacher, joining in his class’ debate practice.
During the first debate, it was easy to forget about Rick Perry and Jon Huntsman, on the far ends of the stage and the outskirts of the contest. They were called upon to speak rarely and said little when they were. Perry was amusingly terrifying at least, calling for troops to head back in to Iraq and offering Paul some Texan wisdom, forgetting that Paul is also from the Lone Star state. Huntsman was simply dull. He seemed to forget that he was trailing in the polls and practically begged voters just to look at his record – a sign surely that he knows his campaigning isn’t up to much. Breaking into Mandarin at the end also is unlikely to enamour him to Republican voters.
Huntsman’s best comeback to a line in the first debate came ten hours later, in the second. His ‘country before politics’ justification for serving under Obama in China was a very good line, and probably the first real hit Romney took – though it was somewhat devalued for coming so very late. The opening shot signalled a debate that would not be quite as easy on the frontrunner as Saturday night’s was. The candidates had obviously been reminded overnight that while second place would be a good result in New Hampshire, they will have to beat Romney eventually if any of them are to gain the nomination. Santorum attacked his record as governor and his conservative credentials, while Gingrich appealed to him to ‘drop the pious baloney’ and admit his electoral failings.
Despite these attacks, and a difficult opening 20 minutes, Romney came through the debate relatively unscathed. He skilfully dealt with Gingrich’s raising of the attack ads that worked so well in Iowa by using the opportunity to remind the voters of the ‘accurate’ parts, while claiming he had nothing to do with them and declaring ‘If there’s anything that’s wrong, I hope it’s taken out’, his face a picture of innocence.
Ron Paul, sitting in a strong second place after the first debate, attempted to play the same role Romney had on Saturday, dismissing the sideways attacks as ‘superficial’ and even adopting Romney’s hands-in-pockets stance. He was, however, drawn into the fight by Santorum’s best moment of the weekend, being told that ‘All the things Republicans like about [Paul] he can’t accomplish and all the things we’re worried about he’ll do day one’. Santorum was unable to hit the same heights for the rest of the debate, which he spent damning the secular nature of the USA while praising the secular nature of Pakistan and speaking of respect for the homosexuals whose sexual persuasion he compared to paedophilia and bestiality.
Overall, the debates were an easy ride for Mitt Romney. Despite a few difficult moments on Sunday morning, he came out the clear winner and is certain to win New Hampshire tomorrow, while Ron Paul most likely did enough to claim second place. Jon Huntsman won some fans with a solid, but unspectacular performance in the second leg and could take third. The big loser this weekend (not counting Rick Perry, who really should have pulled out after Iowa – if not before) was Newt Gingrich, who failed to make a dent on Romney, was mocked for quoting the New York Times and failed miserably in his humanising effort to claim he wanted to watch ‘the national championship basketball’. Not only did he get the wrong game, it was even the wrong sport.
The line was out of touch, cynical and just plain wrong in every way. The line of candidates across the stage, that is.