Who Is The Best (And Worst) Debater In Republican Field?

Republican Debate Scorecard: Who Gets The Highest (and Lowest) Grades For Debating Skills So Far?

World’s Most Visited Media Training Website Ranks Candidates’ Debate Performance In First Ten Debates

November 29, 2011 (Washington, DC) – Mitt Romney and Newt Gingrich are the best debaters in the Republican field, while Jon Huntsman and Rick Perry rank among the worst, according to a detailed analysis of ten Republican debates held between May and November 2011.

To help determine the winners and losers, the candidates were ranked using seven specific communications criteria – including clarity of message, optimism of message, and charisma – that have accurately predicted the winners of every general election since the beginning of the 24/7 media age in 1980.

The 10,000-word series appears on the Mr. Media Training Blog (www.MrMediaTraining.com), the world’s most visited media training website. The blog’s author, Brad Phillips, was formerly a journalist with ABC News and CNN. Here are the rankings:

First Place: Mitt Romney (B+) Gov. Romney has been the most consistent debater thus far. He has easily deflected his opponents’ attacks, proving himself to be a “Teflon” candidate to whom nothing sticks. He has demonstrated a mastery of public policy and shown toughness as a debater. The Republican base may not love him, but they have to concede he would fare well in next fall’s debates against President Obama.

Second Place: Newt Gingrich (B) Speaker Gingrich propelled himself to the top of the Republican pack primarily through his strong debate performances, during which he often castigated the mainstream media. Like Romney, he has demonstrated his policy mastery. Unlike Romney, his propensity to go off-script leaves open the question of whether he’s a more disciplined politician than he was in the 1990s.

Third Place: Michele Bachmann (B-) Rep. Bachmann, who briefly flirted with the lead, has shown an impressive ability to articulate an unambiguous message throughout the debates (ObamaCare bad, repeal good). She has also demonstrated a skillful ability to attack her opponents directly without ever appearing nasty. Still, she falls off-script too often, such as when she said after one debate that the HPV vaccine caused “mental retardation.”

Fourth Place: Herman Cain (C+) Mr. Cain dominated the storyline in several early debates with his “9-9-9” plan; no other candidate offered such a memorable proposal. Mr. Cain’s ability to offer a well-timed one-liner helped make him a crowd favorite. But recent debates about foreign policy have revealed his superficial knowledge of international affairs and will likely hasten his decline in the polls.

Fifth Place, Tied: Ron Paul (C) Rep. Paul is the most ideologically consistent of anyone in the field, and is unafraid to defend his views – many of which are unpopular with the GOP base. Still, he too often comes across as lecturing and strident, and hasn’t made the personal connection that will help him expand his reach beyond his relatively small but deeply loyal base.

Fifth Place, Tied: Rick Santorum (C) Sen. Santorum is passionate, but conveys that passion with an ever-present sour expression. Mr. Santorum has launched a few effective attacks on his opponents. But whereas Ronald Reagan used to eviscerate his opponents with a warm smile, Mr. Santorum looks thoroughly disgusted with his opponents. There’s a reason Mr. Santorum hasn’t moved in the polls, and it’s that Americans express a clear preference for sunnier candidates.

Fifth Place, Tied: Rick Perry (C) During the debate held on November 9, Gov. Perry committed one of the worst debate gaffes in memory when he struggled for 43 seconds to identify the third of three government agencies he pledged to eliminate. He never remembered it, ending his answer with a lame, “Oops.” Mr. Perry has careened between too hot and too cold, unable to settle on the right tone. His halting speaking style, filled with long pauses during which he struggles to find the next phrase, makes him hard to watch. But for a strong first debate, Perry would have ranked lower.

Eighth Place, Jon Huntsman (C-) Gov. Huntsman’s debate performances were mostly memorable for his frequent (and failed) attempts at humor. Whether making a joke invoking Kurt Cobain or the “gas” coming from Washington, Mr. Huntsman too often resembled the awkward uncle who elicits sympathy laughs at family events. Still, Mr. Huntsman may be someone to look out for. His last debate performance was by far his strongest, and that makes him the most improved debater in the field.

“This season’s many debates have given Republican voters a clear sense of which candidates would square off most effectively against President Obama,” said Brad Phillips, author of the Mr. Media Training Blog. “That matters, as the more charismatic general election candidate with the clearer message has won the presidency in every election since the beginning of the 24/7 media age in 1980.”


Brad Phillips is the author of the Mr. Media Training Blog (www.MrMediaTraining.com), the world’s most visited media training website. He is the president of Phillips Media Relations, a media and presentation training firm with offices in NYC and Washington, DC. Mr. Phillips previously worked as a journalist with ABC’s Nightline with Ted Koppel and CNN’s Reliable Sources and The Capital Gang.


Brad Phillips, Contact@MrMediaTraining.com


Below, you will find links to the scorecards for each debate:

November 22, 2011

November 9, 2011

October 18, 2011

October 11, 2011

September 22, 2011

September 12, 2011

September 7, 2011 

August 11, 2011 

June 13, 2011

May 5, 2011