Last night, CNN hosted the 20th GOP Presidential Primary last night in Arizona. Moderated by CNN's John King, it could very well be the last debate of the GOP Presidential Primary campaign as debate fatigue has set in with the audience - and the candidates.
This is also the only debate prior to March 6's Super Tuesday contests - and reflects a major rallying point for each of the 4 remaining GOP Presidential candidates.
Newt Gingrich, the former front runner, has slipped badly since his big win in South Carolina. He's generally a distant third in the polls on the GOP race. While Gingrich blames fellow candidate Mitt Romney's blast of negative advertisements for his collapse, his own arrogance and mouth contributed significantly to his loss of a share of being a front runner. He had two sub-par debate performances in Florida, and needs a strong debate performance to give his campaign another life.
Ron Paul is the only candidate yet to win a primary or caucus. He's finished second - and a few strong thirds, but remains unable to really galvanize a plurality of support in the GOP outside of the fringe / libertarian wing of the party. He remains convinced that he is one the verge of the big breakthrough to be 'electable' - but is still only a fringe candidate primarily because of his foreign policy viewpoints.
Mitt Romney, is a current front runner, and has held one of the front runner positions since the race kicked off. He was weakened by the Santorum 'hat trick' a few weeks ago - losing in Colorado, Missouri, and Minnesota. Romney's challenge remains getting the core of the conservative GOP party support - as many are concerned about his conservative 'bonafides'.
Rick Santorum is the latest front runner challenger to Mitt Romney. He challenged Romney hard in Iowa - gaining enough support in the disputed caucus results to appear to gain a victory. He gained in status as Newt Gingrich imploded in Florida, and moved ahead of Romney after his 'hat trick'. He's hoping to keep getting the 'Anyone but Romney' vote - and gain more conservatives from the undecided and Gingrich camps.
With this background, the debate kicked off.
What did we see / hear / learn from the debate? Let's address that with the grades - from the lowest to the highest...
CNN / John King - F - If nothing else, this debate should finally convince the GOP that depending on the mainstream media, in particular, ABC, CBS, NBC, MSNBC, CNN to host and moderate a Republican debate is self-defeating. None of these media organizations will give the GOP a fair and balanced treatment.
In last night's debate, King, rephrased questions he didn't like to change the direction and meaning to provide not only cover for, but to highlight the policies of President Obama. When an audience member asked the GOP contenders what they would do regarding a nuclear Iran - King rephrased the question to ask the GOP contenders about what they would do regarding Israel possibly attacking a nuclear Iran. King also played up the DNC talking point that the Obamacare / HHS mandate that required religious organizations to provide healthcare services even those services were against their religious doctrine was all about a 'woman's right to choose and use birth control'.
There are many other options to the GOP for hosting / moderating debates - which would make for more interesting and informative debates for GOP voters to use to decide on whom to vote for. Talk radio, conservative bloggers, and conservative media outlets like FNC, National Review, Weekly Standard, Investors Business Daily, PJ Media all are far more capable than the traditional media elements.
Ron Paul - D - The candidate remains delusional in several major viewpoints. One is that he is electable outside a fringe element of about 10% of the GOP / electorate. The second is that his foreign policy viewpoints remain locked in someplace other than reality. He rails constantly about the actions of the US in 'illegal wars' - while ignoring the acts of war committed against us. He calls the War on Terror an 'offensive war' being waged by the US. He says countries run by madmen like Iran have a right to build nuclear weapons. He pontificates incessantly about following the Constitution, but has a dislike and disrespect for one of the primary functions set for the Federal Government by the Constitution - providing for our national defense and security. Paul is so far to the fringe of the GOP, he aligns perfectly with another nut, Dennis Kucinich.
Rick Santorum - C- - Santorum needed a good debate performance to maintain his momentum entering into Super Tuesday - and didn't deliver one for the most part. His efforts to defend his experience in Congress, in the Senate, particularly around earmarks was very weak. Rather than addressing it in a forthcoming manner - he lost himself - and the audience - in the weeds of how Congress works before explaining he did what he did because that was what was done in Congress. Since Congress isn't held to a very high esteem - that didn't help him.
He also did try to take the attack to Mitt Romney - specifically attacking Romneycare, scoring a couple of points, but was left gutted by Romney's riposte attacking Santorum's endorsement and support of Arlen Spector over Pat Toomey. Another weak point for Santorum was his answer regarding No Child Left Behind and addressing the education challenges in the country. Saying he supported NCLB because he was asked to 'take one for the team' and blame Bush for that vote was cringe worthy.
Santorum may contest Romney hard in March and April, but he's not going to get the nomination.
Newt Gingrich - B - We didn't know which Gingrich we would get at the debate. Would we get the angry at everyone, including the mainstream media, vitriolic Newt? Or would we get 'Grandpa' Newt - who would be incisive in his analysis and save most of the rapier like wit towards the moderators and media? Last night, we got Grandpa Newt - the candidate who rose to the level of front runner and won the South Carolina primary on the basis of strong arguments advocating conservative values, principles, and a vision to contrast with Obama's. Newt's challenge remains convincing voters that he can see these ideas, directions, and visions through to fruitation - and this debate still left that question unanswered.
Mitt Romney - A- - I think that Romney had a strong debate - even better than his Florida debates. He was relaxed, Presidential, and when needed, he calmly and clearly made strong points countering the attacks on him while firing accurate counter salvos. While he probably did little to convince those deep in the 'Anyone but Romney' camp that his answers weren't just what he thought the audience wanted to hear - he was fired up (well, as fired up as Romney has gotten) when he needed to. He pulled a 'Newt' and shot back at John King as King attempted to paint Romney into a box. He also turned on the emotion chip when it was time to address the phony 'contraception' issue. He gave a good answer on NCLB / School Choice - and even better answers hammering Obama's foreign policy re the Middle East.
In summary - we're done with these debates, I hope. The GOP is never, ever, going to get a fair shake from the mainstream media - and it's past time they realize that. It's time to stop living the definition of insanity re mainstream media hosting GOP debates.
The race will be primarily between Romney and Santorum until the 1144 delegates are awarded sometime in June. (The CA primary might actually be important this year.) But I remain convinced that Romney will be the candidate standing at the end - and the candidate that will take on President Obama for November 2012. He is the most electable of these candidates - with the broadest appeal. He also has the skills, experience, and vision to start to undo the damage done to this country since 2008 by the progressives in Congress and the White House.