I didn’t get home from the GOP debate until late last night (there was an after party don’t you know), and was too tired to post up my notes and impressions then.
It is quite a different experience to see one of these events up close and in person. Based on tenure at AEI or something, I had a reserved seat in the second row—I felt like Bob Uecker—so I could see the action very close. I could even make out Wolfie Blitzer’s heavy pancake makeup. (Though I think Cain started something by calling him “Blitz”—the audience reacted with suppressed but prolonged giggling that may not have come over fully on TV.) One thing you don’t appreciate watching these on TV is what a pseudo-entertainment spectacle they are. Before the program began, a producer-dude who obviously has or had a second career as a standup comic came out on stage with a warm up act (“You’re the best looking audience we’ve had all day!”) to give us instructions on how to follow his hand signals on when to applaud, and when to stop applauding. Whatever. But it really does make the serious business of debating issues with potential presidents seem more like a reality TV show: “Dancing with the Candidates.” May we have a C-SPAN debate with Brian Lamb someday please?
As to the substance of the issues, I concur with Michael Barone’s observations, and largely agree with Joel Pollak’s succinct scorecard over on BigPeace.com. What you don’t see on TV, however, are some of the fine points—the body language, the snorts and twitches of the candidates, and audience reaction—and especially how some of the minor and not-so-minor flubs are received by the live audience. Some of the little slips the candidates make are much more apparent in the hall than on TV I think.
So when Ron Paul, the crazy uncle of the field, said in the opening exchange that criminal law had “worked well” with Timothy McVeigh, your could see Newt across the stage coil up like Alex Rodriguez seeing a slow hanging curveball coming toward the plate. You could see this coming a mile away: “Timothy McVeigh succeeded. He killed a lot of Americans.” Newt went on to make the obvious point (paraphrasing here): I don’t want a law that says we get you after you’ve destroyed an American city. We need a body of law that enables a president to stop it from happening. Newt established his dominant position right out of the gate.
I could detect Ron Paul audibly snort when Rick Santorum, weighing in on this same thread, rather foolishly but approvingly said that Lincoln “ran over civil rights” during the Civil War. Never mind instructing Santorum here: had I the chance, I would love to ask Ron Paul, “Why do you belong to the Party of Lincoln if you share the view that Lincoln was a Constitution-shredding president who is the primary author of big government in the US?” (It’s a commonly held view among the most extreme and simplistic libertarians.)
I agree with the commenter on John’s thread from last night that Santorum’s remark that we should profile all Muslims at airport security went down very badly with the audience. You could sense people shifting uneasily in their seats with this overreach; I noticed a slight murmur, and also a lot of people glancing at one another as if to say, “Did he really just say that?”
Another minor flub that got a flinch was Rick Perry saying that “Afghanistan and India are working together” on Pakistan. Um, I doubt many Indians would conceive the matter that way. And the idea of free trade zone as a remedy for the region’s instability seems a tad goofy, too.
On Syria, Herman Cain said one thing we ought to do is “stop buying oil from Syria.” I guess he thinks all Arab nations must have oil because they’re Arab. And then he managed to change the subject to economic growth at home. I was sure we were about to get “nine-nine-nine,” but Cain restrained himself.
About Romney what can you say? I think he should trademark his Benevolent Gaze with which he beholds his competitors, always with the body at a half-turn, sometimes with a hand in one pocket. He’s one relaxed dude. Though if I could write one of those “thought bubbles” over his head when he’s giving his “Benevolent Gaze” I’d have him think: “Oh you nice person; I’m going to squash you like a bug in New Hampshire.”
And now back to reading another 4,000 Climategate 2 emails for the rest of the day.