Scorecard: November 22, 2011 Republican Debate
The leader board for the Republican nomination has changed more often than Mitt Romney’s policy positions.
Over the past six months, Mitt Romney, Donald Trump, Michele Bachmann, Rick Perry, Herman Cain, and now Newt Gingrich have all led the Republican field.
But the main story tonight wasn’t Newt Gingrich’s sudden rise to the top of the polls. Rather, it was the significant amount of airtime the so-called second-tier candidates received, namely Ron Paul and Jon Huntsman. Both made the most of their chances.
Here are tonight’s grades, in order of best to worst:
THE TOP TIER
JON HUNTSMAN (1st Place, Grade: A)
I never thought Gov. Huntsman would land at the top of my debate scorecard, but he had a good night.
Instead of making lame jokes in this debate (or doing anything to evoke last Saturday’s dreadful Saturday Night Live appearance), Mr. Huntsman made the most of the significant airtime he was offered in this debate.
He was more focused tonight, looking both tougher and more serious than in earlier debates. He made his most genuine connection with the live audience to date, regularly eliciting cheers and applause for his answers. He also stood up well when Mitt Romney attacked one of his points, showing more backbone in a debate than he has thus far.
As a former diplomat, Mr. Huntsman still has a propensity to utter too many carefully calibrated words before getting to his point – but he gained strength as the debate continued, and he emerges as tonight’s winner.
RON PAUL (2nd Place, Grade: A-)
Okay, Ron Paul fans. I’ve been hard on Dr. Paul through the debate season. No one as un-telegenic has won a general election since the dawn of television, and his delivery evokes The Simpsons’ Montgomery Burns more than a serious presidential candidate.
But Rep. Paul had a terrific night, and made the most of the extra airtime he was afforded in this debate. Instead of merely appearing strident, Dr. Paul made his points with a bit of humor, bewilderment, and bemusement. He held his own in a tough exchange against Newt Gingrich, standing his ground while remaining amiable.
His comments on Israel will likely make some headlines tomorrow, as he’s the only candidate not to offer almost unequivocal military support to the critical American ally.
MICHELE BACHMANN (3rd Place, Grade: B+)
If someone had told me I’d be ranking the candidates in this order tonight, I would have told them to turn their sheet of paper upside down. But I call ‘em like I see ‘em, and Rep. Bachmann had a good night.
Ms. Bachmann has perfected the art of taking shots at her fellow candidates with a smile. She called Rick Perry out for being “naïve” on aid to Pakistan, and directly challenged Newt Gingrich on immigration. She may not have landed a knock-out blow to either, but she reasserted herself with a demonstration of the political skills that briefly allowed her to flirt with the lead. She also demonstrated an impressive knowledge of foreign policy.
Ms. Bachmann may not gain much ground as a result of this debate, but she likely encouraged her supporters with tonight’s performance.
MIDDLE OF THE PACK
NEWT GINGRICH (4th Place, tie, Grade: B)
Tonight introduced the newer, gentler, frontrunner version of Newt Gingrich. The former House Speaker didn’t bring the same antagonism toward the media or his questioners as he has in virtually every other debate tonight, meaning he disappeared into the background a bit tonight.
That’s not to say he didn’t have another solid debate performance – he did. He offered a terrific answer early on regarding Timothy McVeigh, for example, eliciting cheers from the crowd.
It will be interesting to see how his answer regarding illegal immigration plays with the GOP base. He said that if a person has been in the United States for 25 years and has deep roots into their communities, they should be able to stay in the country. That may sound obvious to most Americans, but the conservative base takes a hardline on immigration and may view his answer as support for a backdoor amnesty.
MITT ROMNEY (4th Place, tie Grade: B)
Early in the debate, Gov. Romney launched an aggressive attack on fellow candidate Jon Huntsman for his answer on withdrawing troops from Afghanistan. Considering Gov. Huntsman’s low poll ratings, Mr. Romney’s condescending attack came across as an over-reaction. He later went after Ron Paul over budget cuts.
Mr. Romney’s tone has become one of almost permanent “Why am I here” annoyance, and he’s at his least appealing when he presents himself that way. It makes him appear frustrated that he hasn’t been able to break through into a clear lead.
Still, Mr. Romney knows his facts and knows how to win an argument. For example, he got the better of Ron Paul in his answer about defense cuts.
Tonight’s performance will likely leave the needle unchanged for Romney, who has struggled to break the 25 percent mark in Republican polls.
TRAILING THE FIELD
RICK SANTORUM (6th Place, Grade: C)
There’s little new to say about Rick Santorum. He’s passionate and knowledgeable, but also sour and strident. He hasn’t grown as a candidate or a debater, and he’ll be one of only a few candidates never to have had a shot at or near the lead. Tonight once again showed why.
Many people are also commenting on Sen. Santorum’s “gaffe,” in which he called Africa a country (it’s a continent). I have little doubt Mr. Santorum knows the difference, and don’t think it’s revelatory of any deeper lack of understanding. Slips of the tongue happen, and this one is no big deal.
RICK PERRY (7th Place, Grade: C-)
I could comment here on Gov. Perry’s halting answers, distractingly sweaty upper lip, or his bizarre opening statement about his wife (it was supposed to be about foreign policy).
The truth is, none of that really matters. Mr. Perry’s tone was better-calibrated tonight, but he didn’t make a dent in this debate. He may have stopped the bleeding from his “oops” moment two weeks ago, but he flirted with utter irrelevance in tonight’s debate, which will likely do little to calm his nervous donors.
HERMAN CAIN (8th Place, Grade: D-)
Remember that Happy Days episode when Fonzie jumped the shark? This debate was that episode for Herman Cain.
Foreign policy is un
doubtedly Mr. Cain’s kryptonite (well, that, plus former female employees). A candidate can hide behind empty bluster for only so long before his policy ignorance is exposed; tonight was the night it was. There are many reasons to bomb Iran (or not), for example, but Mr. Cain seemed enamored with the idea that we couldn’t bomb it primarily because it is too mountainous.
Mr. Cain couldn’t even get the moderator’s name right, referring to Wolf Blitzer as “Blitz.” This was a bad night for Mr. Cain, who will not get another shot at the top.
Do you agree or disagree with my analysis? Please leave your opinion in the comment section below, but remember the blog’s comment policy – no ad hominem attacks or pejorative name-calling will be posted.
Related: November 9, 2011 Republican Debate Scorecard
Related: October 18, 2011 Republican Debate Scorecard
Related: October 11, 2011 Republican Debate Scorecard
Related: September 22, 2011 Republican Debate Scorecard
Related: September 12, 2011 Republican Debate Scorecard
Related: September 7, 2011 Republican Debate Scorecard
Related: August 11, 2011 Republican Debate Scorecard
Related: June 13, 2011 Republican Debate Scorecard
I think Romney won, because he has the best answers and is more conservative and has the best experience,,,
his answers were great on all areas,,,
Excellent summary, thanks for this
Excellent summary and analysis, much appreciated
I am in total agreement with your scorecard for tonight’s debate. The American people need to listen to Jon Huntsman and read about him. Do not pass up an opportunity to have a truly qualified and intelligent leader in the White House.
How did Romney win????
He did his stylistic flip flop on the immigration question, when he did not give a straight answer on whether he would deport ALL illegal immigrants, which would include children who have come to the US as infants and older adults who have lived in the US for a long time…
He did not answer the question but gave a non-committal answer…He will say anything to pander to the voting base and as one commentator said, he is like a weather vane…
I rated Romney in fourth place – what are you referring to?
The truth is Perry will win the nomination as he has a systematic method to appeal to the people who matter and who will bring him the majority…and a good thing, people don’t trust the media; so the mitt romney pandering is not effective…
John Huntsman was given more time on liberal CNN…he is the only candidate the liberals can tolerate with his liberal views on same sex marriage, pro-abortion etc….
Sick media bias…
Huntsman was great, came off as very knowledgeable( a candidate who has no chance of winning). Romney is the only candidate that can carry the Independents, moderate Republicans, Dem’s that don’t like Obama, and far right Republicans who don’t want to standby and let Obama win without without voting against him. The problem with the Republican party is the flat earth folks(bible thumping religious fanatics and or tea bagging lunatics)have taken over the party at the precinct level. Until the party rids themselves of this self righteous hypocrites they will never regain the title of the GOP.
I think you’re underrating sincerity a bit. I had some sympathy with many of the things Huntsman said, but he comes off as a bit slimy and insincere – which is I guess what you were getting at with your “diplomat” remark. I agree it was his best performance to date, but I wouldn’t give him the top spot.
I also agree Paul had a good night – his numbers aren’t growing much, but they aren’t going anywhere either, and he deserves a fair shake, which I think CNN gave him. I’m also hoping this debate will reveal Cain for the boob he is so we can finally stop talking about him. Romney was there, saying everything the polls say the Republican base wants to hear. And you’re right, he did get the better of Paul in that exchange, but I think Paul’s answer was closer to the actual truth.
All in all this was an interesting debate. Far better than that abysmal mockery of a debate that CBS hosted, which I noted with satisfaction you didn’t even bother to cover. I don’t blame you.
Thank you for commenting and following the blog. I didn’t cover last Saturday’s debate because CBS didn’t even deem it worthy enough to air in its entirety (they sent viewers to the web for the final half hour). If the network itself didn’t deem it newsworthy, then neither did I. What was so abysmal about it? I have to admit I never went back to watch it.
Regarding Huntsman, I personally thought he came across with more sincerity last night. That’s in the eye of the beholder, of course, so I’d be curious to know if other people saw it more similarly to you.
The Only two that have a chance against Obama are Newt and Romney!
The ONLY two who can beat Obama are
Newt and Romney!
Cain & Paul were ridiculous last night!
Your ratings are about right. Good to see Huntsman, the voice of diplomatic moderation, at the top.
Hate to think about a future Republican presidential primary field that doesn’t include Ron Paul, whose libertarian views merge toward liberalism in some respects.
Despite his opening comment, Rick Perry looked better than 7th, if only because he’s been 8th several times.
Romney and Gingrich know the issues and have their facts, so they’re expected to be among the top three. I’d put both ahead of Bachmann.
First time I agree with the scorecard results. However it was Ron Paul who stumped Romney and not the other way around.
MITT ROMNEY: “What they’re doing is cutting a trillion dollars out of the defense budget.”
RON PAUL: “They’re nibbling away at baseline budgeting. … There’s nothing cut against the military. And the people on the Hill are nearly hysterical because they’re not going — the budget isn’t going up as rapidly as they want it to.”
A fact will show Ron Paul is right and Mittens was just spinning.
Well, one in ten ain’t bad! Thanks for reading the scorecards along the way, and I’m glad we found some agreement on this one.
Regarding the quote you pulled, Mr. Romney’s response was solid, enumerating the specific defense cuts that had already been made. It was that retort that led me to call Romney the winner of that exhange, but I agree with you that both men held their own and made solid cases.
Thanks again, and enjoy your Thanksgiving.
The evaluations were on-target. I believe the ‘beyond recovery’ candidates include Gingrich as well as Perry and Cain, and probably Santorum. This is a bit off topic since the fatal flaw in Newt’s candidacy has nothing to do with his performance on Nov. 22 or his knowledge about national security. He was already doomed as a result by his years of selling his influence, often in support of positions he now repudiates. His drop will be more rapid than that of Cain or Perry.
I thought that Governor Perry did much better than you described. He is talking about a tough, conservative direction. His Texas accent and deliberate speech style is often mistaken for being “hesitant” by reporters from the North. But his handling of a “no fly zone over Syria” and how to deal with Iran without military intervention took courage. For the first time, Americans can see that we have a choice between “E.P.A. wisdom and world security.” This took courage and leadership. We need a leader in the white house. We do not have one currently. Yes, it is a conservative departure from the present course. True, it appears that a Perry Administration would be forced to spend two hard years “cleaning up Obama’s mess.” But we need a “move and a shaker” in Washington. We need a president who has the courage and will to right the ship. It won’t be easy. Certainly not as easy as “accentuating gaffes, magnifying minor miscues” or making fun at someone’s regional accent.
Once again, great commentary Brad, thanks!
Ron Paul won the debate hands down. I agree with Patric in that Paul made Romney into the boob that he is that they are not going to cut anything out of anything and it is an outright lie that they will cut 1 trillion dollars out of the military. Can’t understand that you feel that Romney won that point. He looked like a complete nitwit up there.
Ron Paul has an integrity problem…too much of it…the others have one too…a total lack of it…Ron please whisper sweet lies to me so I can give you my vote!!! Come on people wise up!!!