Last nights' underwhelming first Republican Presidential primary debate with Tim Pawlenty and gang was more about who is not going to be President than who has a shot. In a strangely late blooming primary season compared to last cycle, the debate occurred at an awkward time in the process. No serious candidate has declared their full campaign yet, and there are plenty of potential candidates who have made no serious moves towards a run.
From a purely analytical point of view, there was no one on stage, other than Tim Pawlenty, that has a chance at being the nominee. They all have their supporting roles to play in the nomination, but stand no realistic shot at the brass ring.
Below is our analysis of how the participants stacked up.
Tim Pawlenty: The one interesting moment for TPaw was when he made a clear apology for his previous support for cap and trade. In what may become one of the wedges between him and Romney, Pawlenty apologized for his mistake and said he won't try to “bob and weave it” in a clear comparison to Romney's refusing to apologize for Romneycare. But when asked about Romneycare directly, Pawlenty said he wouldn't criticize it without Romney here to defend himself. Overall, the debate was a bit of a wash for Pawlenty without Romney there.
Republicans hoping for an ideologically pure candidate may be disappointed. Romney's healthcare faux pas, and Pawlenty's cap-and-trade lapse, are both enormous stumbling blocks for their candidacies.
Herman Cain: He is an interesting guy, with a business and talk radio background, but with no elected office experience stands virtually no shot at the nomination. Last night he proved the same, with nothing to make him stand out as a candidate, rather than a personality. He is a strong speaker, but will always struggle to raise the money to make him a contender. His lack of foreign policy experience also shone through, according to the Washington Post's Chris Cilizza:
He stumbled on foreign policy, saying that when it came to Afghanistan he would rely on “the experts and their advice and their input.” In a debate with more seasoned candidates the gaps in his experience will be more apparent.
Rick Santorum: While there currently is a space for a social conservative to fill, Santorum won't be it. In a question about a book he wrote where he implied radical feminism was responsible for women working outside the house, he bumbled his response. Social conservatives are looking for a spokesman, but an effective one who has their values and can earn a wide swath of support. Someone like Huckabee.
Anyway, Santorum will never be the nominee for one reason. Google his name. 'Nuff said.
Ron Paul: Despite a second libertarian candidate on stage in Gary Johnson, Paul proved he's the original and only Tea Party/Liberty insurgent worth watching in the race so far. He is a true believer and that genuineness can come across well. Take for example his argument for the legalization of drugs. He earned applause from the crowd for arguing that most people wouldn't do heroin if it became legal, and he doesn't need the government to tell him heroin is bad. The moderator joked he never thought he'd see heroin get applause in South Carolina. But at the end of the day a candidate for legalizing heroin will never be the nominee.
Gary Johnson: Why is he running? With Ron Paul in the race, Johnson just feels like filler. He didn't do himself any favors by insulting Sarah Palin when he said he wouldn't “crawl on his hands and knees” like Palin has on her reality show. He also quickly became the drug candidate, when he went on at length about his support for legalization and taxation of marijuana. Pigeonholed already.
The debate was more or less useless, proving what everyone knew at the beginning of the night: only Pawlenty has a chance of becoming President. Everyone else is but bit players, soaking up their 15 minutes of fame.