Mitt Romney - The establishment front runner won in part because nobody acted like he was the front-runner, aiming all their barbs at President Obama. And that's probably going to be the case for the next few debates this summer going into the fall, as these debates give the Republican National Committee a couple of free prime time cable hours to convince the country that President Obama is a horrible leader who doesn't know what the f*ck he's doing.
We've said it before and we'll say it again - Mitt Romney looks the part. Sorry, but that matters in politics - not that Mitch Daniels or Haley Barbour didn't have a chance if they got in the race, but if you're a bit shorter or thicker around the waist, you're going to have to overcompensate. Romney doesn't have to worry about that.
He also doesn't have to worry (as much) about the fact that he's a Mormon, or that he switched his positions on such important issues as abortion. He probably should, but that seems so, oh , 2007-ish, and the Republicans really just want to beat Obama. And he didn't make any gaffes.
And just like nobody went after Romney over health care or his flip-flop on abortion, Romney didn't go after Pawlenty for his grandiose budget plans that he says we'll bring 5 percent growth to the U.S. on an annual basis:
ROMNEY: Look, Tim has the right instincts, which is he recognizes that what this president has done has slowed the economy. He didn't create the recession, but he made it worse and longer. And now we have more chronic long-term employment than this country has ever seen before, 20 million people out of work, stopped looking for work, or in part-time jobs that need full-time jobs. We've got housing prices continuing to decline, and we have foreclosures at record levels.
This president has failed. And he's failed at a time when the American people counted on him to create jobs and get the economy growing. And instead of doing that, he delegated the stimulus to Nancy Pelosi and Harry Reid, and then he did what he wanted to do: card-check, cap-and-trade, Obamacare, reregulation.
I spent my life in the private sector, 25 years.
KING: All right.
ROMNEY: And as I went around the world — this is an important topic — I went around the world...
KING: We'll have a lot of time on the topic. We just — we won't get through this...
ROMNEY: You can tell how — how to get jobs going in this country, and President Obama has done it wrong. And the ideas Tim described, those are in the right wheelhouse.
Although Pawlenty is getting (accurately) rapped for chickening out on criticizing Romney's health care plan to his face (which he had no problem blasting as "ObomneyCare" on Fox News Sunday), he also had a some moments where he sounded strong. On the issue of Medicare reform, he said he agrees with the Paul Ryan plan to end it in general, but would do so a bit differently:
AWLENTY: Let me first address the doctor. Doctor, you said in your question that you've paid in your whole life, and we respect that. People have made plans, particularly people who are on the program now or close to eligibility. We should keep our word to people that we've made promises to.
So under my proposal, if you're on the program or near the program, we'll keep our word. But we also have to recognize what Congressman Paul just said. There was a recent report out that the premiums for Medicare and the payroll withholdings are only paying about half the program. So it is not financially solvent. We have to fix it; we have to reform it.
I'm going to have my own plan, John, that will feature some differences from Congressman Ryan's plan. It will feature performance pay rather than just volume pay to hospitals and clinics and providers. It will allow Medicare to continue as an option, but it'll be priced against various other options that we're going to offer people, as well, and some other things.
And I also said, if it was a choice between Barack Obama's plan and doing nothing (ph), we have a president of the United States got one of the worst crises financially in the history of the country, and you can't find him on these issues. He's missing. I'll lead on this issue.
Michelle Bachmann was the wild card: not only the only woman in the race, which automatically makes her standout, but as the leader of the Tea Party Caucus in Washington, she can articulate probably better than the other Tea Party faves (and there a number of them already running: Rick Santorum, Ron Paul, Herman Cain) the message that has been the strongest and most resonate in the Republican Party since Barack Obama's election.
Bachmann took the unusual route of announcing she's officially "exploring" a race for the White House - and by doing it live on national cable television, literally was able to introduce herself to a certain group of citizens who may not have known much about her previously (and the baggage she's accumulated from places like Hardball and liberal blogs).
However, it was a bit rich when she described who are the people thatlive and reside in the Tea Party - disaffected Democrats? I thought we had moved on from that talkiing point by late 2009:
BACHMANN: Terry, what I've seen in the Tea Party — I'm the chairman of the Tea Party Caucus in the House of Representatives. And what I've seen is unlike how the media has tried to wrongly and grossly portray the Tea Party, the Tea Party is really made up of disaffected Democrats, independents, people who've never been political a day in their life.
People who are libertarians, Republicans. It's a wide swath of America coming together. I think that's why the left fears it so much. Because they're people who simply want to take the country back. They want the country to work again.
And I think there's no question, Terry, this election will be about economics. It will be about how will we create jobs, how will we turn the economy around, how will we have a pro-growth economy.
That's a great story for Republicans to tell. President Obama can't tell that story. His report card right now has a big failing grade on it, but Republicans have an awesome story to tell.
We need every one of us in a three-legged stool. We need the peace through strength of Republicans, we need the fiscal conservatives, we need the social conservatives. We need everybody to come together because we're going to win. Just make no mistake about it.
I want to announce tonight. President Obama is a one-term president.
And her critique of the U.S. (as part of a NATO force) in Libya could have been scripted by Dennis Kucinich:
BACHMANN: No, I don't believe so it is. That isn't just my opinion. That was the opinion of our defense secretary, Gates, when he came before the United States Congress. He could not identify a vital national American interest in Libya.
Our policy in Libya is substantially flawed. It's interesting. President Obama's own people said that he was leading from behind. The United States doesn't lead from behind. As commander in chief, I would not lead from behind.
We are the head. We are not the tail. The president was wrong. All we have to know is the president deferred leadership in Libya to France. That's all we need to know. The president was not leading when it came to Libya.
First of all, we were not attacked. We were not threatened with attack. There was no vital national interest. I sit on the House Select Committee on Intelligence. We deal with the nation's vital classified secrets.
We to this day don't yet know who the rebel forces are that we're helping. There are some reports that they may contain al Qaeda of North Africa. What possible vital American interests could we have to empower al Qaeda of North Africa and Libya? The president was absolutely wrong in his decision on Libya.
Rick Santorum is considered a second-tier candidate, but he's not a bad debater. He's extremely knowledgeable about foreign policy, but even though anybody who runs for president obviously doesn't suffer from a lack of confidence, one wonders where the former Pennsylvania U.S. Senator gets the idea that there's some sort of groundswell for him to enter back into the political fray.
The man lost by 18 percentage points in his bid for re-election five years ago! Santorum has proudly made an issue about social issues - but if you heard the candidates talk last night about gays and abortion, none of them (with the exception of Ron Paul) are in anyways running away from their pretty conservative stances. That's relevant in the respect that when Indiana Governor Mitch Daniels months ago said the GOP would have better success in 2012 if they stayed away from the social issues and concentrated on the economy, he received tremendous push back on talk radio, and especially from Santorum. But what else does he offer?
SANTORUM: We have actually closed down a lot of bases overseas. Look, what we're dealing with is a failure of leadership on this administration's part to actually put together a strategy where we can confront our enemies. And our enemies are asymmetric threats: terrorism.
That means that they are not just the positioned in the Middle East, but around the world. That means we have to have the ability to confront those threats from around the world, which means we need basing around the world.
So number one, we do need that basing. We do need to be able to be nimble and to be able to attack where we're attacked because it's not just a threat. We don't need to build bases in Germany for a threat from the Soviet Union.
Its much broader threat, number one. So we have to engage our allies and have our allies know that we have their back. The president has not done that. He's done everything he can, whether it's Israel or Honduras or whether it's Colombia or whether it's Czechs, the Poles — he has turned his back on American allies and he has embraced our enemies.
Our enemies no longer respect us. Our friends no longer trust us. And we have a foreign policy that unfortunately now we're probably going to need more of a presence, because we've created such a vacuum. Thus, all the contingency operations you're seeing here as a result of America's fecklessness in dealing with the threats that confront us.
If Bachmann is the heart and soul of the Tea Party right now, Ron Paul is their Godfather. He no longer shocks in debates like he did in 2007, because even though the other candidates at times smirked as they indulged the Texas Congressman, he always raises the level of these debates with his libertarian stances that are at times, very out of the mainstream of Republican party orthodoxy.
On the issue of how to transition out of the current system of Medicare, Paul acknowledged that so many people are dependent on the program that a Paul Ryan like approach wouldn't work. But he suggested a way we could ramp up health care spending is to stop funding the many wars and everything associated with conducting a war as a natural place to find new revenue:
PAUL: Well, under these conditions, it's not solvent and won't be solvent. You know, if you're — if you're an average couple and you paid your entire amount into — into Medicare, you would have put $140,000 into it. And in your lifetime, you will take out more than three times that much.
So a little bit of arithmetic tells you it's not solvent, so we're up against the wall on that, so it can't be made solvent. It has to change. We have to have more competition in medicine.
And I would think that if we don't want to cut any of the medical benefits for children or the elderly, because we have drawn so many in and got them so dependent on the government, if you want to work a transition, you have to cut a lot of money.
And that's why I argue the case that this money ought to be cut out of foreign welfare, and foreign militarism, and corporate welfare, and the military industrial complex. Then we might have enough money to tide people over.
But some revamping has to occur. What we need is competition. We need to get a chance for the people to opt out of the system. Just — you talk about opting out of Obamacare? Why can't we opt out of the whole system and take care of ourselves?
Former Godfather's pizza CEO Herman Cain gets a lot of love from the Tea Partiers. The Atlanta based talk show host surprised those who watched the first official GOP debate back in March, when expectations were relatively low. With expectations much higher and with a bigger audience, Cain didn't exactly excel Monday night, and in fact found himself on the defensive when confronted with some of the statements he's made about allowing Muslims to work for a Cain administration. And you might recall that Cain, when he appeared on Fox News Sunday recently, admitted he whiffed on the question of the right of return for Palestinian refugees - admitting later he had no idea about the subject. Cain rightly admits that since he knows little about the military or war, he'd defer to his generals about whether to stay in Afghanistan or not. He always a little underconfident to us on the subject of foreign policy.
But back to his - well, what is his position on Muslims working for him?
CAIN: First, the statement was would I be comfortable with a Muslim in my administration, not that I wouldn't appoint one. That's the exact transcript.
And I would not be comfortable because you have peaceful Muslims and then you have militant Muslims, those that are trying to kill us.
And so, when I said I wouldn't be comfortable, I was thinking about the ones that are trying to kill us, number one.
Secondly, yes, I do not believe in Sharia law in American courts. I believe in American laws in American courts, period. There have been instances -
(CHEERS AND APPLAUSE)
CAIN: There have been instances in New Jersey — there was an instance in Oklahoma where Muslims did try to influence court decisions with Sharia law. I was simply saying very emphatically, American laws in American courts.
KING: So, on that point, Governor Romney let me come to you on this.
What Mr. Cain is saying that he would have — my term, not his — a purity test or a loyalty test. He would want to ask a Muslim a few question or a few questions before he hired them, but he wouldn't ask those questions of a Christian or Jew.
CAIN: Sorry. No, you are restating something I did not say, OK? If I may, OK?
KING: Please let's make it clear.
CAIN: When you interview a person for a job, you look at their — you look at their work record, you look at their resume, and then you have a one-on-one personal interview. During that personal interview, like in the business world and anywhere else, you are able to get a feeling for how committed that person is to the Constitution, how committed they are to the mission of the organization —
KING: When I asked — I asked this question the other night, though, you said you want to ask a Muslim those questions but you didn't you have to ask them to a Christian or a Jew? CAIN: I would ask certain questions, John. And it's not a litmus test. It is simply trying to make sure that we have people committed to the Constitution first in order for them to work effectively in the administration.
KING: Should one segment, Governor — I mean, one segment of Americans, in this case, religion, but in any case, should one segment be singled out and treated differently?
Last but not least, we have the former Speaker of the House, 67-year-old Newt Gingrich, also in the house. The words "Gingrich campaign" and "imploding" have been linked in a thousand news stories over the past week, so we'll avoid that.
But what about the former speaker's chances? Let's just say they're not really good. But Gingrich can surprise you sometimes with some original thoughts. Our favorite interaction with him was when he scolded John King for demanding a quick answer about the thorny issue of immigration: Gingrich is right, but it's far to late to complain about our sound byte culture, especially in such a fast paced environment as last night's debate was. But we appreciate him indicating to King (and to the audience) that essentially, if you really want to know more about these candidates stances on sensitive issues like how to reform Medicare, it's going to take a bit longer than 30 seconds.
But his best line was how his fellow Republicans should understand why Democrats are making political hey on the Ryan plan : because it seems like a radical idea:
GINGRICH: Well, first of all, it was a very narrow question, which said, should Republicans impose an unpopular bill on the American people? Now, I supported the Ryan budget as a general proposal. I actually wrote a newsletter supporting the Ryan budget. And those words were taken totally out of context.
I'm happy to repeat them. If you're dealing with something as big as Medicare and you can't have a conversation with the country where the country thinks what you're doing is the right thing, you better slow down.
Remember, we all got mad at Obama because he ran over us when we said don't do it. Well, the Republicans ought to follow the same ground rule. If you can't convince the American people it's a good idea, maybe it's not a good idea. So let me start there.