Scorecard: August 11, 2011 Republican Debate

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Eight contenders squared off tonight in the final debate before this weekend’s Iowa Straw Poll.

The debate was a final opportunity for under-financed candidates to break through before the critical straw poll – and a couple of the candidates took advantage of their chance.

Other websites will review how well the candidates did tonight. But this scorecard is based on seven specific communications criteria that have accurately predicted the outcomes of every general election in the 24/7 media age, which began in 1980.

Here are tonight’s grades, in order of best to worst:

1st Place (tie): MICHELE BACHMANN

Who She Is: Bachmann is a Congresswoman representing Minnesota’s 6th district since 2007 and a founder of the House’s Tea Party Caucus.

How She Did: Rep. Bachmann is the Teflon candidate, seemingly impervious to attack. If anything, attacks from her fellow candidates seem to elevate her standing in the race. She handled an offensive question from panelist Byron York about whether she would be submissive to her husband in a calm and controlled manner that made him look like a jerk.

Bachmann knows how to deliver an applause line, and often delivers several of them in rapid fire succession. When responding to Tim Pawlenty’s attack on one of her votes, she eviscerated him without appearing mean.

Still, Bachmann didn’t look happy in this debate. She was missing from the stage after a commercial break, and many tweeters are already speculating that she was coping with a migraine. She scored points in the last debate for her warm delivery as a “happy warrior;” her change in tone this time was noteworthy.

Grade: B+

1st Place (tie): MITT ROMNEY

Who He Is: Romney is a former Massachusetts governor and 2008 presidential candidate widely thought to be a frontrunner for this year’s Republican nomination.

How He Did: If Michele Bachmann is the Teflon candidate, Romney is her eager understudy. He deflected aggressive questioning with on-message responses, some of which failed to answer the question he was being asked. Impressively, he said there were seven ways to fix the economy, and then listed all seven things in order.

In order to win the general election, Mr. Romney has to thread the needle between being an acceptable candidate to conservatives without scaring independents. He did that well in this debate.

Gov. Romney is a bit looser than he’s been in the past, which will help. But his unscripted comment earlier today that “corporations are people” may be a sign that he’s trying a bit too hard.

Grade: B+


Who He Is: Gingrich was the Speaker of the House for four years in the 1990s, and is widely associated with 1994’s successful Contract With America.

How He Did: Rep. Gingrich’s strong performance tonight may quiet talk of his campaign’s demise – at least for the moment. Mr. Gingrich connected with the audience better tonight, dropping the wonky rhetoric (mostly) and forging a more visceral emotional connection. His big, sweeping gestures conveyed authority and confidence, more so than the overly-controlled gestures of his competitors.

Grade: B


Who He Is: Pawlenty, also known as “T-Paw,” was governor of Minnesota from 2003-2011.

How He Did: Gov. Pawlenty has struggled throughout this campaign to get noticed. By attacking Michele Bachmann and Mitt Romney head on, he is indeed going to get noticed. His short sound bites, clearly scripted in advance to be played the next day on cable talk shows, are going to help him earn some badly-needed TV time. But my sense is that most voters won’t reward his attacks, which felt somewhat contrived given his amiable reputation.

On President Obama and Mitt Romney, he said:

“I’ll offer a prize tonight to anybody in this auditorium, or anyone watching television. If you can find Barack Obama’s specific plan on any of those items, I will come to your house and cook you dinner. Or, if you prefer, I’ll come to your house and mow your lawn. But in case Mitt wins, I’m limiting one acre.”

About Michele Bachmann, he said:

“In Congress, her record of accomplishments and results is non-existent. That’s not going to be good enough for our candidate for President of the United States.”

Grade: C+

5th Place (tie): RON PAUL

Who He Is: First elected to the House of Representatives in 1976, Dr. Paul is a libertarian popular with the Ayn Rand crowd.

How He Did: It’s hard to say anything new about Ron Paul. Another debate, another professorial economics and foreign policy lecture.

That’s not to say that Dr. Paul isn’t substantive and serious about policy – he is. But his passionate call to end international militarism aside, he didn’t do anything different in this debate to expand his small but passionate base. .

Grade: C-

5th Place (tie) RICK SANTORUM

Who He Is: Santorum is a former two-term Senator from Pennsylvania who was voted out of office in 2006 by an embarrassing 17-point margin.

How He Did: It’s never a good sign when you get the most attention in a debate for complaining that you’re not getting enough attention. In fairness, Santorum made his points well in moments, but not enough to help him jump to the top – or even the middle – tier.

Plus, what was with his answer lamenting that legal polygamy was a serious risk?

Grade: C-


7th Place: HERMAN CAIN

Who He Is: Cain is the former CEO of Godfather’s Pizza and a former chairman of the Federal Reserve Bank of Kansas City.

How He Did: Mr. Cain is good at delivering a sound bite, but still doesn’t seem in command of policy. He spends as much time defending (and running away from) previous controversial statements as he does advancing his own policy ideas.

Cain comes across as a likeable hard-worker who’s eager to please – but as someone decidedly not ready for the White House.

Grade: D+


Who He Is: Huntsman is the former two-term governor of Utah who more recently served as President Obama’s ambassador to China. This was his first presidential debate.

How He Did: Gov. Huntsman failed to say anything that energized the Iowa crowd, and it’s not hard to see why. Mr. Huntsman doesn’t speak the everyday language that connects with voters, instead speaking in the bureaucratic language of “safeguards,” “counter-measures,” and “strategic dialogues.”

Mr. Huntsman is competent enough at articulating his views, but it’s hard to see where he fits in in this race.

Grade: D

Do you agree or disagree with my analysis? If you disagree, what elements of your favorite candidate’s communications style do you think I missed? Please leave your thoughts in the comment section below.

Related: June 13, 2011 Republican Debate Scorecard

Related: May 5, 2011 Republican Debate Scorecard