Wednesday, November 23, 2011

CNN / Heritage Foundation / AEI GOP Presidential Debate 11/22/11

This was the 10th or 11th GOP Presidential Primary Debate of this election season.  Hosted by CNN, The Heritage Foundation, and the American Enterprise Institute, and moderated by CNN's Wolf Blitzer, this debate focused on the issue of Foreign Policy and National Security.

Participating in the debate were the 'regular' candidates, Rick Santorum, Ron Paul, Rick Perry, Mitt Romney, Herman Cain, Newt Gingrich, Jon Huntsman, and Michelle Bachmann.

This was an interesting debate, with some very compelling questions asked, and some questions / answers that just left the viewer shaking their heads.  While watching the debate, I also followed the live blog on Ace of Spades as well as Vodkapundit's drunk blogging of the debate.  I noticed during the Ace of Spades liveblog, that there were comments about some of the alternative programming running opposite CNN's debate - Food Network's - Chopped Thanksgiving Special and Discovery Channel's How Beer Saved the World.

CNN, at least on my Time Warner feed, had some technical challenges at the start of the debate, as well as being unprepared coming out of the first break for the question from the audience.  But one of the things that hit me was that 13-15 minutes of debate was lost as we went through the rules of the debate and candidate introductions.  It was like the start of MLB's All Star game.  The only things missing were the first pitch and the candidates standing on the foul line.

Wolf Blitzer, aka 'Blitz' (per Herman Cain), did a better than average job of moderating the debate.  He didn't insert himself into the debate as we've seen some of the more recent debates.  But, he also seemed to have no real pattern in terms of directing the questions to the candidates and the 'facetime' seemed unbalanced for some of the candidates.  No doubt some of the directing that he did do were designed to either generate ratings, inflammatory statements, or both.  Still, I have to wonder if both Heritage Foundation and AEI would have preferred a smaller candidate base and a deeper focus on foreign policy and national security.

There were some interesting dynamics in the debate...Newt Gingrich and Ron Paul debating over the Patriot Act, Michelle Bachmann telling Rick Perry that his approach towards Pakistan was naive (probably earning her a bouquet of flowers from Mitt Romney this morning), and Ron Paul's crankier cranky curmudgeon approach to foreign policy and national security.  I'll go into these more as I address each candidate's grade.

Ron Paul - D

   I am not a supporter of Ron Paul, particularly when it comes to his policies and viewpoints towards foreign policy, national security, and the war against islamofascism.  That is reflected in my grade.  He may appeal to the naive libertarian or the dedicated Bircher / Alex Jones / Lew Rockwell supporter (does Rockwell still script Paul's responses?) but his policies and approaches are beyond dangerous. 

Embracing his inner Libertarian, Paul immediately spoke out against the Patriot Act - paraphrasing the Franklin line that someone who sacrifices liberty for security ends up with neither.  He cited Timothy McVeigh as an example why the Patriot Act's focus is wrong - to which Newt Gingrich slapped a clue by four to Paul's head by reminding everyone that McVeigh succeeded and that the Patriot Act is designed to prevent that success. 

Paul's foreign policy is based on the premise that isolationism works - despite all of history to the contrary.  He also continues to articulate the ignorant / arrogant view that the primary motivations of those who oppose the US is because of the actions of the US.  He claims that we 'are not at war' because there was 'no declaration of war' - ignoring the Congressional Authorization for the Use of Military Force (AUMF) approved in 2001 vis a vis Afghanistan and 2002 vis a vis Iraq.

Guy Benson passes this on about Ron Paul - "Ron Paul seems to fear everything except our actual enemies."

Jon Huntsman - C-

    It's getting to be that Huntsman's reminding us of his Ambassadorship is becoming as repetitive as Herman Cain's 9 9 9.  He seemed a little desperate in his early answers - knowing that he has to make a real move now to get above the 1% polling level he is now.  He made some good points, but I also have to wonder if James Carville is now advising his campaign as many answers to questions on foreign policy and national security were based on our current economic challenges - 9% unemployment.  Having served as Obama's Ambassador to China is not an advantage to Huntsman in the GOP Primary race.  His approach reminds me of those that I hear from individuals who are part of the problem with the State Department.  It's time that we start asking why Huntsman is invited to these debates.

Rick Santorum - C

    Another candidate in the debate who is polling in the single digits, Santorum, also needed to have a strong debate to advance his candidacy.  His only real gaffe was to say that Africa was a country.  He was good in many of his answers, but he also didn't really advance his case to the extent he needed it....but then, that might have been a near impossible goal given the level he needed to.  It's time that we start asking why Santorum is invited to these debates given his support levels.

Herman Cain - C+

    This was probably Herman Cain's weakest debate of the season so far.  I understand he's a businessman, but he answered far too many questions like a businessman / CEO who wants a consensus for all decisions.  An example was the question to Cain regarding the aid to Africa by President Bush towards AIDS and Malaria and if it should be continued - 'it depends' is not a leadership's a 'safe' position.  Then there was the comment regarding Syria and our options there - and one of the first actions advocated by Cain was that we should 'stop buying oil from Syria'.  Huh??  In 2009, we imported 1,000 barrels a day from Syria...and President Obama signed an executive order in August 2011 to stop any US import of any oil from Syria. 

On the plus side, Cain's answer to the question about the foreign policy issue or threat that concerns him the most that hadn't been discussed in the debate, cyber security was right on the mark in my opinion.  He also gets point for being in a debate and not mentioning 999.

Rick Perry - B

    This was another stronger debate performance by Rick Perry.  He was engaged early on with Michelle Bachmann over Perry's positions vis a vis Pakistan and the use of US foreign aid dollars.  His approach will appeal to many conservatives who are more into the theory as opposed to some of the reality around foreign policy and foreign aid as Bachmann pointed out.  There is an appeal to refusing to provide any additional aid and support dollars to Pakistan given Pakistan's actions - but for every action there is a reaction - and that reaction needs to be seriously calculated.  I also think that Perry was a little naive in his approach towards the pending DoD cuts resulting from the supercommittee failure.  Saying that 'if he is an honorable man, Leon Panetta (SecDef) should resign in protest' to the deductions is idealistic not realistic.  Perry also did well in the discussion regarding illegal immigration - primarily because tuition for illegals didn't directly come up.

Mitt Romney - B

    This was Romney's weakest debate.  He still looked poised, relaxed, confident, and Presidential, but there were some gaffes / mistakes made that lowered his score significantly.  The first one started right off during the introductions
“CNN moderator Wolf Blitzer opened the debate by asking candidates to introduce themselves. "Here's an example of what I'm looking for: ‘I'm Wolf Blitzer and yes, that's my real name.'"

Romney couldn't help himself in going for a quick laugh. "I'm Mitt Romney and yes, Wolf, that's also my first name," he said to dead silence from the audience. 
That wasn't the worst of it: Romney's real first name is Willard — Mitt is his middle name.
Then we have candidate Romney embracing Queen Victoria, Benjamin Disraeli, and Rudyard Kipling by saying that we have to bring Afghanistan and Pakistan into 'modernity' in order to solve the challenges in that region of the world.   Ron Paul looked like he was physically struck by the advocation of 'nation building'.  He seemed content to watch Bachmann attack Perry over Pakistan.  He doesn't get the applause or audience reaction of others during the debate, but his team was quick to hammer Newt Gingrinch on his illegal immigration policies, incorrectly calling them advocating 'amnesty'.

Michelle Bachmann - B

    Michelle had a very strong start for this debate, leveraging her position on the House Select Committee for Intelligence, and addressing policy / security issues regarding Afghanistan and Pakistan.  Her line about Pakistan being 'too nuclear to fail' was very strong and will resonate.  But she did not finish well at all as she descended into an argument with Newt Gingrich over his illegal immigration approach.  She called it 'amnesty' during the debate - but it's very clear that she was not listening at all to what Gingrich was saying.  From the transcript of the debate:
Gingrich: If you're here -- if you've come here recently, you have no ties to this country, you ought to go home. period. If you've been here 25 years and you got three kids and two grandkids, you've been paying taxes and obeying the law, you belong to a local church, I don't think we're going to separate you from your family, uproot you forcefully and kick you out.

The Creeble Foundation is a very good red card program that says you get to be legal, but you don't get a pass to citizenship. And so there's a way to ultimately end up with a country where there's no more illegality, but you haven't automatically given amnesty to anyone.

Newt wasn't talking about or advocating amnesty for the 11-15 million illegal currently living inside the US.  He's also not talking about or advocating the arrest and deportation of those illegals - many who may have been here over a decade.  As Stephen Green, Vodkapundit, noted in his live blog commentary -

6:34PM I’m glad to see Newt — or anyone — defending even just bits of the DREAM Act. GOP obstruction on this one will come back to haunt them.
This is a repeat of the Gardasil gaffe that Bachmann made earlier in the debates which cost her significantly.  It dropped her from an A - and if not for her strong start / 'too nuclear' comment, she would have dropped even further in the grading.

Newt Gingrich - A  (Winner)

    Gringrich had another very strong debate.  He was respectful in his smack downs of his fellow candidates, in particular Ron Paul and Michelle Bachmann.  He remains the big idea guy - asking why does it take us 15-20 years to develop a weapons system when a tech company can develop a new platform in 9 mos (to several years)?  Maybe not the best analogy, but it's a valid question - and one that also drives up our costs. 

While many hard core conservatives are not going to like Gingrich's take towards the 11-15 million illegal immigrants in this country, he is taking a very practical, realistic, and doable approach towards the problem than those who are advocating that we round all of them up and deport them.  The numbers and the time that many of them have in country are conditions that are far too daunting for taking that approach.  As Stephen Green noted in the quote above, it is good to see someone defending the good ideas within the Dream Act as opposed to writing the entire thing off.

Best Questions Asked:

Marc Theissen's question about what foreign policy issue worries them the most that isn't being openly discussed...

Other excellent questions included the one about Radical Islamist control of Somalia, and if the candidate would continue the Bush policies towards funding assistance to Africa for AIDS and Malaria treatment / prevention.

Missing in Action:

I was surprised that there was no questions or discussions around North Korea.  This is a country that has 6 - 8 nuclear weapons, theater capable missiles that threaten our bases in the Far East as well as our allies, South Korea and Japan.  They also have hundreds of scientists / technicians working in Iran to assist their efforts to produce a nuclear weapon and pair it with a ballistic missile delivery system.  This is while the DPRK is also working on developing an ICBM capability that will allow them to reach the continental US.

Or how about the economic impact to our national security regarding the Eurozone financial challenges / defaults / collapse?


    It's time that we seriously consider revamping the format of these debates as I'm not all that sure they are being taken seriously by the voters.  Too many candidates - including those that are really marginal (Santorum, Huntsman, Bachmann(?)) and a format that is geared for the 30-45 second sound bite.  We need to move to a format closer to the Lincoln Douglas debates and keep a tight focus on a narrow topic so each participating candidate can really articulate their position...and the depth of their position / knowledge on the topic.  From this they are articulate their vision and why it is superior to those of the other candidate(s). 

This remains, in my opinion, a Gingrich / Romney race. 

The first vote, Iowa, is in 6 weeks....

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