The eighth Republican presidential debate — and fifth in the last six weeks! — is over.
Our take is below. Have thoughts of your own on the debate? The comments section awaits.
* Mitt Romney: It wasn’t his best debate but, as usual, the former Massachusetts governor found ways to come across as forceful and presidential. Romney was clearly put on defense on health care — by former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum of all people! — and was on the verge of the sort of “gang up” moment that he had successfully avoided in the debates to date. But Minnesota Rep. Michele Bachmann threw him a lifeline by changing the focus from Romney’s health care plan to President Obama’s health care law. (She wants to repeal it, in case you were wondering.) Romney’s answer on his Mormon faith — and religion’s broader role in the political space — was an absolute masterpiece. Romney didn’t coast in this debate as he had in the few that had preceded it. But he managed to navigate most of the rough patches with minimal damage done.
* Rick Perry’s aggression: The Texas governor made up his mind that after several dull and uninspired debate performances he was going to come out with both barrels blazing tonight. And, boy did he. At times, that change in style worked in his favor — particularly in the first 30 minutes or so of the debate when Perry delivered a cogent, energetic answer on energy and jobs. But, aggression giveth and aggression taketh away. (See below).
* Anderson Cooper: Moderating any event where two or more politicians are gathered on stage is difficult. Moderating a presidential debate with seven candidates is next to impossible. Cooper deserves tons of credit for keeping the debate lively, asking open-ended questions that invited interesting responses from the candidates and knowing when to step back and let the likes of Perry and Romney simply go at it. Job well done.
* Debate lovers: Overall, a terrific debate. As we have said many times before, elections are about choices and the best way for voters to make an informed decision is to watch the candidates not only make a case for themselves but against the other guys (and gal). Back and forth exchanges are a good thing. And there were lots (and lots) of them tonight.
* Food imagery: Apples! Oranges! Cakes being baked. The Fix needs to not watch these debates on an empty stomach.
* Herman Cain : For the first ten minutes of the debate, the former CEO of Godfather’s Pizza was under near-constant attack over the specifics of his “9-9-9” plan. For the rest of the debate, he was almost nonexistent. Cain’s attempts to dismiss criticism of “9-9-9” — the apples, the oranges — weren’t terribly convincing and are ripe (wink, wink) for follow-ups in the coming days. And, when it came to foreign policy and national security, Cain seemed distracted at best and totally out of his depth at worst. His answer on the Guantanamo Bay prison was, um, not good.
* Michele Bachmann: Almost every answer the Minnesota Congresswoman gave was the dictionary definition of a non sequitur. Bachmann seemed intent on proving to anyone watching that she, more so than the other candidates on stage, really doesn’t like President Obama and wants to undo everything he has done. But, Bachmann seemed so intent on hitting her lines — she threw in the “we are going to make Barack Obama a one-term president” bit in a head-scratching coda to the debate — that it left the impression that she was participating in a conversation entirely apart from the one happening on stage. Just odd.
* Rick Perry’s bullying: Measured aggression in a political debate is a good thing. Unchecked aggression isn’t. And there were several times when Perry came dangerously close to stepping over that fine line. His repeated attacks on Romney employing illegals at his home were decidedly personal — although he did force Romney into an explanation of exactly what happened. Perry brought his swagger tonight but he may have applied it a bit too liberally at times.
* Ron Paul’s suit jacket: The Fix is, admittedly, a bit of a clotheshorse. But, anyone who has ever worn a suit could see that the Texas Congressman’s coat was at least two sizes to big. The ill-fitting coat made Paul look tiny, never a good image to project when you are running for president.