The Bloomberg/Washington Post debate was a departure from the football-game like atmosphere of prior debates. There were no prize-fighter like introductions of the contenders and no awkward crowd reactions.
Anchored by Charlie Rose, the debate was an intimate conservation, and to the participants it might have felt a little impolite to launch into an attack. .
Still, the debate had a few dust-ups and after it was settled, it was clear that a few candidates around the table likely wished for a do-over .
Here are five mulligan moments:
1. Huntsman’s “jokes” — In the Tampa debate, Huntsman’s crack about Kurt Cobain could have been explained away by the fact that his campaign stayed in the Hard Rock Casino and Hotel, which featured pictures of the late Nirvana singer in some of the rooms. But how to explain Huntsman’s latest attempts at humor?
You heard the one about two Mormons at a debate table and one Mormon says to the other Mormon: “Since this discussion is all about economics, Governor Romney, I promise this won’t be about religion.” And then he turns to the Texas evangelical with the punchline: “Sorry about that, Rick.”
The joke here is what exactly? And who is it on? Is it on Perry, on Mormons, on Huntsman, on Romney? Was it an attempt to defuse a tense situation that wasn’t actually tense with a little (very, very, very little) humor?
Note to Huntsman: Jokes are supposed to be funny.
2. Cain’s “gotcha” question — Herman Cain teased his question for Mitt Romney before the debate saying that he had a “very penetrating question for him.” So what was this penetrating question? In the “Ask Mitt Anything” portion of the debate, Cain asked the former Massachusetts governor if his 59-point, 160-page economic plan was “simple, transparent, efficient, fair and neutral.”
Well, Cain may as well have asked Romney this: Please praise your economic plan, and then criticize my economic plan and Perry’s as succinctly you can, Governor Romney.
Because here was Romney’s response: “Herman, I have had the experience in my life of taking on some tough problems. And I must admit that simple answers are always very helpful, but often times inadequate. And in my view, to get this economy going again, we’re going to have to deal with more than just tax policy and just energy policy, even though both of those are part of my plan.”
Note to Cain: Don’t ask a question you don’t know the answer to yourself.
3. Perry: I’m still new at this — Perry channeled Sarah Palin for much of the night, centering his yet -to- be-revealed plan to jumpstart the economy on domestic energy production. He didn’t say “Drill, baby, drill,” but he may as well have.
Pressed to reveal more details about his approach to the economy, Perry played the tease, saying that all would be revealed “over the next three days — and I’m not going to lay it out all for you tonight.”
Okay. Fine. (Perry has a big speech planned Friday in Pittsburgh and didn’t want to step on his own announcement.)
But then there was this: “Mitt has had six years to be working on a plan. I have been in this for about eight weeks.”
Perry likely meant to take a swipe at Romney for his long White House run, but what he actually said was this: I’m just getting up to speed, while Mitt’s been studying away. Give me a break, Charlie.
Note to Perry: Never admit that you’re a rookie.
4. Cain: Man of Mystery — Cain managed to get in at least a dozen mentions of his 9-9-9 plan during the debate, but he was mum and evasive on just where it came from and who helped him sort out the details.
Cain’s odd and unhelpful evasiveness continued on the topic of a Fed chair during a hypothetical Cain administration. But this time, he seemed to voluntarily back himself into an awkward moment, offering that he “already identified two candidates” that would help steer his vision of the Federal Reserve.
And then the obvious follow-up question: Who? Names Please?
Cain: Yes, I have two candidates waiting in the wings to take that job. I’ve got to keep them confidential.
Note to Cain: If you don’t name a team, people will think you don’t have one.
5. Pass the mic to Mitt — In debate prep, it probably seemed like a good idea: Come up with a tough question for Romney, put him on the spot and perhaps force him into making an error. Cain, Gingrich, Huntsman and Perry all followed that strategy, sitting idly by for the ”Spotlight on Mitt” portion of the debate.
Sure, the Romney/Perry health-care exchange got a little testy, with Perry trying and failing to interrupt Romney’s long turn in the spotlight. (“I’m still speaking. I’m still speaking,” Romney said, and then proceeded to explain how “we have less than 1 percent of our kids that are uninsured. You have a million kids uninsured in Texas. A million kids. Under President Bush, the percentage of uninsured went down. Under your leadership, it’s gone up.”)
Note to Cain, Gingrich, Huntsman and Perry: Romney hears your hardball questions like this: “Gee, Governor Romney, tell us what you think?”