Scorecard: January 8 2012 Republican Debate

Instead of enjoying my typical Sunday morning ritual of sipping a warm cup of coffee, listening to Miles Davis and reading the paper, I was instead assaulted by politicians on my TV screen calling one another “liars.”

It will be interesting to see how New Hampshire’s voters react to the Sunday morning assault – will they punish the more hostile candidates and reward the more respectful ones?

Here are this morning’s grades in order of best to worst:


JON HUNTSMAN (1st Place, Grade: A)

What a difference a day makes.

This was Gov. Huntsman’s best debate of this cycle, and it couldn’t have come at a better time.

He came across as serious, mature and tough, wisely adopting the uplifting rhetoric Americans demand from their leaders:

“I’ve heard a lot of obfuscating up here, the blame game…you know what the people of this country are waiting for? They want a leader who’s going to unify.”

Responding to an attack from Mitt Romney during last night’s debate about accepting an ambassadorship to China from President Obama, he sharply said:

“I was criticized last night by Gov. Romney for putting my country first…he criticized me while he was out raising money.”

I wouldn’t be surprised if Mr. Huntsman picks up a few votes between now and Tuesday as a result of his strong performance. But if this ends up as his last debate of this election cycle, he should be proud of his final performance. 


NEWT GINGRICH (2nd Place, Grade: B)

The “old” Newt was back for most of this morning: quick-witted, quick to castigate the media, and quick to scold his opponents.

After Mitt Romney tried to make a virtue out of leaving his post as Massachusetts Governor after one term to pursue private sector work, Speaker Gingrich offered a terrific retort: “Can we drop the pious baloney?”

He would have ranked higher, but came across as vindictive toward the end of the debate, when he sarcastically told Mitt Romney that “hoped’ the video his PAC was about to release about Mitt Romney’s tenure at Bain Capital was accurate.

The clip that will be played repeatedly over the next 48 hours is the one in which he turned to Mitt Romney and said:

“Governor, I wish you would calmly and directly state it is your former staffer running the PAC, it is your millionaire friends giving to the PAC, and you know some of the ads are untrue. Just say that.”

I doubt that clip will yield him many new votes in New Hampshire; he may be playing for South Carolina at this point.

MITT ROMNEY (3rd Place, Grade: C+)

Good politicians frame information in a way that makes them look good. That’s no surprise.

But there are times that goes too far, and Gov. Romney appeared more disingenuous and slick today than sincere. His answer about why he decided not to run for Massachusetts governor for a second term, for example, was nonsense. He didn’t run again because he decided to run for the presidency – not, as he claimed, to return to the private sector.

Mr. Romney would likely benefit from being more candid on occasion instead of trying to spin everything in his favor – if he wins the nomination, his failure to do so will wear poorly over time.

A good example of his disingenuousness was this: He claimed he hadn’t seen the ads running against Newt Gingrich, and then proceeded to name five of the things the ads claimed. Why try to have it both ways? If he’s not careful, he’s going to trip many Americans’ “bullshit” detectors.

So why am I rating him in third place? Because despite everything above, he still performed well enough to leave the state of the race mostly unchanged.

RICK SANTORUM (4th Place, tied, Grade: C)

When he started surging in the polls, Sen. Santorum left behind the grimace that accompanied him through most of the campaign and started actually looking charismatic and likeable. But he brought the old Santorum back this weekend, and came across more as a strident critic than an inspirational leader.

His strategy was clear today – to try to siphon off votes from Ron Paul in an attempt to secure a second place finish. On Paul, he said:

“He’s never really passed anything of any importance…he has no track record of being able to work together. He’s been out there on the margins.”

His performance wasn’t bad, but it wasn’t noteworthy enough to help him continue his surge.

RICK PERRY (4th Place, tied, Grade: C)

Gov. Perry had a more even performance this morning than he has in past debates – had he brought this version of himself from the beginning, he might not be languishing in single digits.

Still, Perry’s biggest applause line came when he remembered which three federal agencies he would cut (he famously blanked on them at a previous debate). It’s never a good sign when both the audience and fellow candidates applaud his failure to forget. All in all, a non-factor.


RON PAUL (6th Place, Grade: C-)

I’ve worked with a few libertarian clients through the years, and they almost always forget one critical thing: When they’re asked what should happen to poor people who need public support, they go on rants about libertarian principles and the role of government instead of simply agreeing with the questioner.

Here’s what I mean: I don’t believe Ron Paul wants poor people to have no heating during the winter. But he, unlike many other Americans, wants the support to come from private charities, religious organizations and neighbors rather than government.

So when he was asked whether he would continue a program that subsidized energy for low-income people, he didn’t need to give an abstract answer about supply and demand. He should have started by aligning his message to where most people are, saying, “I want to live in a country where no one freezes in winter. The question is how we make sure that happens.” Instead, his “no” answer made him look uncaring.

Dr. Paul has a lot of support in New Hampshire. I’m guessing he’ll score double digits on Tuesday, but this debate, filled with abstractions and hectoring lectures, likely did little to expand his base.

COMMENTS? 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.

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