We at the Peak are staying out of endorsing or backing a 2012 primary candidate to allow us the ability to analyze the race in a more objective manner. We plan on calling 'em like we see 'em and giving our readers our take on what various speeches, hires, debates, etc mean in the scope of the race. Many times we will analyze answers not for who was right, but whether the answer helps or hurts a candidacy.
In that spirit, without further ado, here are our Winners and Losers from the first real GOP Presidential Primary debate.
1. (Tie) Michele Bachmann: While we thought she would be more likely to announce on Fox News than CNN, Bachmann demonstrated a strong media sense by announcing her Presidential campaign at the debate, as it assures her announcement will dominate coverage of the debate. Her answers throughout the debate were crisp, pleasing her followers (CNN dials went off the charts for her) without appearing too polarizing to a wider audience. Balancing those two constituencies, we believe, will be the crux of Bachmann's candidacy. Tonight, she succeeded. Case in point: a questioner tried to get her to agree to campaign in NH for a gay marriage repeal. Bachmann responded well, saying it's not the role of a President to come to states and tell them what to do.
1. (Tie) Mitt Romney: As the front runner who took no major hits, he wins by not losing. Many of his answers were on point and his Romneycare vs. Obamacare answer was solid, and strangely enough, didn't bring much incoming fire from his fellow candidates on the stage. Romney also brought a "Presidential" aura to his answers, not letting John King cut him off immediately and speaking confidently about his answers on issues ranging from the auto bailout to how he plans on challenging Obama in the general. He also displayed his much improved messaging skills by ably discussing federal spending without having to actually advocate raising the debt ceiling. Perhaps most importantly for the primary, he knows how to play to the hometown crowd: giving the audience the Bruins score mid-debate was a smart play.
2. GOP Primary: This debate officially marks the real start to the primary campaign. Never before in this cycle have all the major candidates, save for a few, stood on the same stage before and been given opportunities to take shots at each other. It's been an unseasonably late start compared to 2008, and we for one are glad it's now going full throttle.
3. CNN: We thought CNN's format of 30 second answers and silly questions (iPhone vs Blackberry?) was a loser, but they win because of Bachmann's announcement on the debate. It's a big coup against conservative media super giant Roger Ailes and Fox News.
1. Tim Pawlenty: He was given the opportunity to hit Romney on his healthcare plan in Massachusetts on a platter and awkwardly backed off his criticism. Many smart commentators have said that Pawlenty is too nice to win, and his inability to take his excellent turn of a phrase "Obamneycare" and make it into an effective criticism in person only fuels that perception. While Pawlenty improved throughout the debate, seemingly working out his kinks, the process story tomorrow will be about his Romney attack pull back in public.
2. Newt Gingrich: After having virtually every campaign staffer quit in protest last week (the ‘Newtiny’), Newt needed to knock it out of the park. He didn't even come close, with one of his crispest answers coming on the space program — not exactly the kind of issue that will define the primary. Newt mostly brought his professor persona to the debate, not the populist. He came across at times lecturing and other times boring, but never once did he connect in the way he needed to. Barring some unforeseen greatness in future debates, we think Newt is an also-ran, not a contender.
3. Rick Santorum/Ron Paul/Herman Cain: While Cain rose significantly above Santorum and Paul in the debate with some snappy answers and a more easy-going stature, the presence of Michele Bachmann on stage severely undercuts Cain. Both want to be the grassroots, anti-establishment candidate, but there is only room for one. Ron Paul seems to be a little past his sell-by date with the presence of Bachmann and Cain, but he still sticks out as the only true-blue libertarian with a following in the race. Unfortunately for Paul he doesn't stick as well as he did in 2008. With the rise of liberty groups nationwide more candidates are able to speak the language of liberty than were able to last cycle. Rick Santorum fell completely flat, with no memorable moments. He doesn't project a sunny optimism on social conservative issues, his main focus, which we think is what social conservatives are looking for. He briefly attempted to show his knowledge on foreign policy, but failed to do so in a way that will garner media mentions tomorrow.