Last night, in Rochester, Michigan, CNBC and the Michigan Republican Party hosted the first of four debates for November 2011, between the GOP Presidential candidates. Attending the debate were Rick Santorum, Michelle Bachmann, Newt Gingrich, Mitt Romney, Herman Cain, Rick Perry, Ron Paul, and Jon Huntsman. Moderating the debate for CNBC were Maria Bartiromo and CNBC's Senior Washington DC correspondent John Harwood (who recently tried to associate Rick Perry with the 'birther' movement) with Jim Cramer, Steve Liesman (called on Ace of Spades the dumbest person not working for MSNBC), Rick Santelli, and Sharon Epperson - all supposed to question the candidates on issues related to economics.
This is the first of four debates this month for the GOP Presidential primary candidates - the last rush of debates until the primary process kicks off the first week of January.
Most memorable from this debate was the incredible gaffe committed by Texas Governor Rick Perry. While attempting to define which Executive Branch departments that he would cut in his effort to slash government spending, the Governor named the Department of Commerce and Department of Education before freezing and being unable to name the third Department he would cut. He struggled for almost a full minute before finally saying, "Commerce and, let's see," he continued. "I can't. The third one, I can't. Sorry. Oops."
Mitt Romney attempted to help Perry by suggesting the EPA, which Perry grasped like a drowning man would a life preserver, but when immediately questioned about including the EPA, returned to trying to name that third Department. About 15 minutes later, Perry did name the third Department, the Department of Energy. The irony of this is that Energy policy is supposed to be the Texas Governor's 'sweet spot' when it comes to the economy.
University of Virginia Political Scientist Larry Sabato highlighted the devastating impact of Perry's brain freeze gaffe in a tweet that said, "To my memory, Perry's forgetfulness is the most devastating moment of any modern primary debate."
Appearing on Fox News this morning, Perry admitted that he 'stepped in it' but insisted that it was not a fatal mistake and that he would be continuing in the race.
The other close to memorable moment occurred about 20 minutes into the debate when CNBC's Maria Bartiromo asked Herman Cain a question regarding the accusations against him for sexual harassment which dominated the political news cycles for the last 10 days. The crowd immediately and loudly booed the question, which Cain answered very well. Compounding the inappropriate question, Mitt Romney was then asked if he would, as a businessman, hire a candidate who had those accusations laid on him. This generated additional boos from the audience. Mitt Romney asked what this had to do with the debate topic of economics and requested that the debate return to the primary topic generating cheers from the audience.
CNBC Debate Video - - -
My grading of the debate:
Rick Perry F
There is no way to excuse the of gaffe of forgetting the Department Energy given this area is supposed to be Perry's strong point when it comes to the economy and economic development. Prior to this gaffe, Perry was having his strongest debate by far. But that minute of stammering effectively has killed his campaign.
Jon Huntsman D+
Huntsman continues to struggle in the polls, and I suspect some are wondering why he continues to be invited to participate in these debates. He had an opportunity to try to step up but didn't. He made an attempt at a joke that bombed and was bullied by a CNBC Moderator to make an attack on Mitt Romney regarding healthcare. Huntsman originally declined, but ultimately did make a weak attack on Romney. The other weak answer was when he was asked about the OccupyWallStreet movement and the 99% vs 1%. Pulleaze. I don't see him as being a viable candidate or option for the GOP.
Michelle Bachmann C
Since the win in the first Iowa straw poll, Bachmann has done little in terms of her numbers or with her debate performances. She gave a good average debate performance - no major gaffes but then no major steps forward either or to provide voters with a reason to return to supporting her. I doubt her campaign will endure beyond January 2012.
Rick Santorum C
His performance was a lot like Bachmann's - a good average debate, no mistakes, but then no reasons to get energized over his campaign or policies. With the focus on economics, Santorum lost the opportunity to take a clue by four to the head of Ron Paul regarding Paul's nutty foreign policy viewpoints. He's another, along with Huntsman and Bachmann, who is unlikely to be running in February 2012.
Ron Paul C+
Since the debate didn't cover many aspects of foreign relations beyond the Eurocrisis, Paul was almost credible on a number of topics and issues. He reiterated his pledge to slash $1T in spending and eliminate 5 Executive Branch Departments in order to reduce government spending. However, he also started to go down the nutter path with the crusade against the Federal Reserve. The Fed deserves some shots, but some of Paul's viewpoints towards the Fed and Monetary policy are on the fringe.
Herman Cain B
Cain was prepared for the gotcha question and answered it well by referencing that he is being tried in the court of public opinion. While he had another good debate, I do have to wonder if answering every question asked with including the need for a bold plan, 9 9 9, is the right way to go. It almost became a punch line as Cain worked 9 9 9 into every answer, with the audience starting to react to the constant refrain. That said, Cain's answer when Maria Bartiromo asked him about how to address the concern that 9 9 9 might become 15 15 15 was very strong - Politicians are the one's that raise tax rates, so the voters have to hold the politicians accountable. However, that also reflects one of the challenges with this - thusfar, the people have not been doing their job regarding holding Congress accountable. The Tea Party is trying to change that - but there are limits to the effort.
Mitt Romney A-
Romney had another strong debate performance. He looked Presidential, provided substantive answers, and pushed back at the moderators when asked a gotcha question regarding Herman Cain. He was almost slick, particularly when his flip / flop record was referenced. The question still remains around will he really do as he says now...or what he said before?
Newt Gingrich A
In my opinion, Gingrich won the debate. He gave very good answers, demonstrated a strong knowledge and basis towards policy, the impacts of policy, history, and his course to apply all of these to get the country back on the right track. He also was superb at thrashing the moderation and lame questions which is becoming a standard element of his schtick. This performance should move him into the top tier with Cain and Romney as we enter the home stretch before voting starts in January. He will need to compete with Cain for the 'Anybody but Romney' GOP vote. He knows the media will savage him, but seems confident that he can reach the conservatives in the GOP....but can he reach the independents or leverage the 'Anybody by Obama' vote given the media assault he would face?
CNBC Moderators D
I still wonder why the GOP Presidential candidates allow left leaning media outlets to moderate their debates because the moderators and their questions become almost as big of a story as the answers. The crowd clearly let Maria Bartiromo know their feelings over her gotcha question to Herman Cain, but I do have to give Bartiromo kudos for at least waiting 20 minutes to ask it. John Harwood was as biased as I thought he would be. Someone needs to remind Jim Cramer that when he is asking questions at a debate, being part of the moderation team, that means that he is not an active participant in the debate. His efforts to argue with the answers he was given by the candidates reflected extremely poorly on his professionalism. Check the links on the CNBC site for some more of the questions and answers from the debate....but Newt was right about the types of questions and levels of moderation.