Republican Debate Reaction: How Do We Look?

Friday, May 06, 2011

Welcome to Politics Bites, where every afternoon at It's A Free Country, we bring you the unmissable quotes from the morning's political conversations on WNYC. Today on the Brian Lehrer Show, Anna Sale, It's A Free Country political reporter, offered her quick take on last night's first debate of the 2012 election season. She was joined by Charles (Chuck) Dunn, professor of government at Regent University and Reihan Salam, National Review Online domestic policy reporter.

Glaring absences

The debate drew almost as much attention for the no-shows as it did the attendees. What do Ron Paul, Herman Cain, Rick Santorum, Gary Johnson and Tim Pawlenty have in common? They're not Mitt Romney, Mike Huckabee, Sarah Palin, Donald Trump...

But according to Anna Sale, the ones who didn't come were still impossible to ignore, highlighting just how muddled this race has gotten.

They skipped the event in person, but they were certainly there on stage. There was a line of questions where the candidates who were there were asked about the candidates who weren't; it definitely showed me that it felt like this debate was a little early, that the field was still a little too fuzzy and it's not clear what the issues are going to be...Mitt Romney had a presence there, and because he wasn't there it makes him look less desperate for the name recognition, for the camera time, and even more, I think, firms up his position as the forerunner.

Points for Paul

One of the most spirited audience responses was to Ron Paul's equally spirited call for the U.S. to get out of Afghanistan now that Osama bin Laden is dead. For a party that's usually perceived as hawkish, the rousing applause for that sentiment may have been surprising to some. But Reihan Salan said that this position is actually more a return to form for conservatives than the last decade has suggested.

With regard to the broader Tea Party, what you have to keep in mind is that grassroots conservatives have a nationalist bent and many embrace nation-building primarily because Bush embraced nation-building, and the idea was this is how we defeat our enemies. It wasn't intrinsic support for the idea; the natural impulse is to oppose it and to believe that foreign policy should be about killing our enemies first and foremost, rather than building democracy in other countries.

No truce on social issues?

During the debate, Rick Santorum slammed fellow hopeful Mitch Daniels for suggesting the Republican candidates call a "truce" on social issues during this election. Daniels' argument is that the GOP should let them take a backseat to fiscal matters like deficit reduction, but Santorum scoffed at the notion that one had to be sacrificed for the other.

Salan said that social issues in general will be tricky for Republicans to navigate, as it will be hard for each to distinguish their views—some of which are falling out of line with public opinion.

Abortion is going to be an issue where even the most moderate candidate is pro-life. When you're looking at gay marriage and gay rights, I think you're going to see that fade as an issue markedly, relative to where it had been in 2004 and 2008, in large part because primary voters, like the country as a whole, have moved on those issues to some degree.

Why South Carolina matters

That the debate took place in South Carolina was significant, Dunn said, because good answers geared toward local issues will have positive ripple effects for candidates throughout the primaries. Pawlenty gave one such response about the National Labor Relations Board and their "preposterous" complaint about a Boeing plant (and, therefore, jobs) coming to the state. Dunn called that a smart play.

South Carolina is the gateway to the South. It's number three: Iowa, New Hampshire, then South Carolina. It's exceedingly important because of the large share of delegate strength from the South at the Republican National Convention, then because the largest single bloc of electoral college votes is from South, of any region in the country. In the South, where there are so many right-to-work states, Pawlenty scored, and thus I would say that while there wasn't as much discussion of the overall jobs issue, when it did come up, he was the winner.

The Reagan gold standard

Chuck Dunn pointed out that whoever did the best job of channeling Ronald Reagan would lead the pack of GOP hopefuls, saying that the "Regan gold standard" is what resonates most with Republican voters and Americans at large. In fact, Dunn's biggest complaint about last night's debate is that no candidate stepped up and claimed the Reagan mantle explicitly.

But one candidate did a mighty fine Gipper last night, even if he didn't say that's what he was doing. Dunn lauded Tim Pawlenty, again, for his measured questioning of President Obama's stance on enhanced interrogation techniques, now that Osama bin Laden has been found and killed.

First, he took the high road with regard to President Obama and the killing of the worst terrorist we've seen in modern history. Then he laid out his differences with President Obama; that's precisely the way Reagan would have gone about it, so I give him high marks for what he did.

Dunn went even further with praise for Pawlenty later in the conversation. The consensus among all three commentators was that the former Minnesota came out looking sharpest of the runners on stage last night, and could be dangerous to the bigger name no-shows.

He's the most important sleeper in the race. He has good ties to all segments of conservatives and in the Republican party. He's bright, he's articulate, he doesn't have foot-in-mouth disease; last night he handled the most difficult questions, and he did it well. Pawlenty, who does have presidential presence, will begin to rise.


Charles Dunn, Reihan Salam and Anna Sale


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Comments [5]

Victoria Dahlberg

Why isn't Gary Johnson in the Republican Debates? As a republican there isn't one person on those debates that I'd vote for. Everyone is too far right winged and we need someone in the middle like Gary Johnson. I am in the process of changing over from republican to an Independent simply because of this reason. We need someone like Gary Johnson who will be fair and is in the middle. Start putting someone with some good old common sense into these debates and get rid of the idiots you have in there! Thank you for letting me voice my opinion and I hope to see Gary Johnson. He certainly has my vote for the next Presidential election!

Sep. 07 2011 07:32 PM
Declan from Tampa Bay

The Reagan Gold Standard? This speaks less about him as it does the current state of our primary voters (at 2007's value anyway), but Reagan wouldn't have won our nomination last cycle. Not before he was REAGAN, anyway.

That is, as Governor of liberal blue California, he raised a lot of taxes, spent tons of money. Strike One on fiscal grounds. Personally, well he was divorced and remarried, plus he had family baggage and that whole Hollyweird thing. Strike Two on social conservative standards. Next pitch is a fastball right down the middle of the plate that he fans on for Strike Three as he committed the ultimate flip-flop as, truth be told, before he was a Republican he was a Democrat. He's out.

I admire and like Reagan as much as the next Republican voter, but hey, wake the hell up: Reagan's record doesn't match up to R E A G A N the Legacy. Acting like you have to measure any other candidate against the growing legend fertalized by the nostalgic is foolish by any math.

He was pro-Choice before he was pro-Life. He was pro-Voodoo Economics before he was a supply siding tax cutter--it was Jack Kemp who got Reagan to see the light and embrace that policy. Even then, it's not like he didn't raise some taxes as President; he did, by working with Tip O'neal the Democrat in congress. How unamerican the current species of cultural 'conservative' would chuck and jive.

Of our known talent, only two candidates can beat Obama based on the measures of realism. You have to win the independents. The base is the base and it will turnout to vote....if they did for McCain, they will for whomever wins the nomination next time too. So, the two guys who can win the middle ground as well are Romney and Petraeus, and only one's running.

Pawlenty, you know, Jindal, Ryan, Rubio....they aren't ready for primetime and so maybe they will be in 2016 if we don't nominate properly to defeat obama in 2012, but it's time to be adults and get behind Romney because not only can he win this thing, but he has the most potential for greatness either party has had since Reagan and George Bush the First. We've had pretty poor leadership after the first George Bush and while we have endured Clinton-Bush-Obama fair enough as a nation, it's time to get a competent and exceptional president back on the job.

May. 07 2011 04:13 PM
Herman Cain

Herman Cain seems to have the strongest and best attributes of the potential candates combined. If matched against Barack Obama , he may get 75% of the votes against 25% for Obama!

May. 06 2011 04:47 PM
Jameson Tiddlesworth III from Philadelphia

Holy Carp! Could you have picked a less astute group from whom to glean opinions? What utter nonsense. They weren't even to accurately characterize the easy-to-grasp stuff. Grassroots conservatives "believe that foreign policy should be about killing our enemies first and foremost, rather than building democracy in other countries"? Good grief. Pull your head out of your posterior.

May. 06 2011 02:54 PM
CL from NYC

The hagiography of Ronald Reagan is laughable. His social policies were a pernicious influence in this country, and he was more cat's paw than statesman in his political career as governor and president. The GOP will no doubt attempt to invoke his name as part of its demagogic strategy. One can only hope that few will be snowed. And that Obama will refrain from his own unhelpful adoration of the Gipper.

May. 06 2011 10:26 AM

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