CNBC presidential debate: Winners and losers
By Chris Cillizza,
The 10th Republican presidential debate — this one from Oakland University in Michigan — is over.
We live-blogged the whole debate but also jotted down our thoughts about who won and, more appropriately for this debate, who lost. (Paging Texas Gov. Rick Perry....)
Our thoughts are below. Have winners and losers of your own? The comments section awaits.
* Mitt Romney: Steady, steady, steady. The former Massachusetts governor was on friendly territory tonight with an economic-themed debate set in the state where he was born. The crowd was very much on his side — cheering virtually anything he said. And Romney was on his game too; his answer on housing versus jobs was that of a confident frontrunner. Romney, again, looked like the person on stage most ready to carry the Republican standard next year against President Obama. Plus, the utter debate collapse of Texas Gov. Rick Perry — the only other candidate with a demonstrated ability to raise tens of millions of dollars — will likely push some on-the-fence major donors Romney’s way.
* Newt Gingrich: The former House speaker has happened onto a winning debate formula. He bashes the media at every turn, says the format of the debate is ridiculous and throws out red meat — fire Bernanke! — that gets the crowd on his side early on. With Cain’s problems and Perry’s brain freeze, Gingrich is likely to be the biggest beneficiary coming out of tonight. The problem for him is that if he does rise, it remains to be seen whether he can withstand the scrutiny that will come his way. Gingrich’s answer on the hundreds of thousands of dollars he took from Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac was spotty — he said they hired him for his historical knowledge(!) — and he struggled to offer specifics on what he would do after he repealed President Obama’s health care bill. Still, he likely emerges from tonight’s debate with some momentum.
* Herman Cain: Given how the night could have turned out for Cain, he and his team — such as they are — have to be happy. Cain had to answer just a single question on the sexual harassment charges against him and he did so to an audience that repeatedly made its unhappiness with the direction of the question apparent. And not one of his opponents pressed him to say more — or explain better — his role in the allegations against him. (Cain’s decision to refer to House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi as “Princess Nancy” should rightly raise questions about his understanding of the depth of the problems he is currently dealing with, however.) Instead Cain spent most of the debate promoting “9-9-9” and touting himself as a “bold”outsider. A good night for the embattled candidate.
* Maria Bartiromo: There are two contrasting approaches to moderating a debate. One way of thinking says the moderator’s job is to simply facilitate the conversation, allowing the candidates to make their points and discuss the issues of the day. The other is that the moderator must find ways to push the candidates off of their talking points, forcing them to answer the questions actually asked of them. The Fix (obviously) favors the latter approach. Bartiromo, a CNBC reporter, took an aggressive tack — repeatedly calling candidates on the carpet for not staying on topic. It made for an interesting and lively series of exchanges — especially with Gingrich.
* Rick Perry: The 43-second-stumble that was Perry’s attempt to name the three federal agencies he would eliminate as president will go into presidential debate folklore as one one of the most awkward moments ever. It’s hard to overemphasize just how damaging this was for Perry. While the moment itself was awkward enough — the Fix felt physically uncomfortable for at least the last half of it — it also played into an existing concern that Republican activists, voters and donors had about whether Perry was ready for primetime. The answer, after tonight, seems to be a resounding “no”. Moments like this have consequences for candidates. Perry’s fundraising is likely to slow (stop?) as major donors who either were on board or thinking about getting on board will take a major step back. Ditto voters who were undecided on Perry. We never say never in politics but at first glance it’s hard to see how Perry recovers from what happened on the Michigan debate stage tonight.
* Rick Perry: So bad, we named him twice.
* Debate crowd: We are generally pro-audience participation in debates. But, the debate crowd tonight saved Cain from providing any real answer on the serious allegations against him and saved Gingrich from answering a totally legitimate follow-up question from Bartiromo asking him to explain his claim that the media was responsible for the current problems with the economy. With so many debates — and the candidates saying the same things SO often — there are only a few moments in each gathering where the potential exists for real news to be made. And the debate audience drowned out at least two of them tonight.