Mitt Romney was once again the clear victor in Tuesday’s GOP debate.
And by that I mean only that the Republican primary voters are no more and no less confident about who should or who will win the GOP nomination next year than they would have been had the debate never taken place.
Herman Cain had a good night beating the audience over the head with his “simple, fair, neutral” 9-9-9 tax plan, but Cain’s radical idea to replace the entire current tax code I think has more to do with the joy he gets from saying “9-9-9” than any actual merit of the proposal.
Rick Perry didn’t have a bad, night, which is to say that he did have a bad night because the media buzz leading up to the debate created some pretty high expectations for the Texas governor. It was a make-or-break night for Perry, and if he didn’t blow Romney out of the water he was going to be written off.
He didn’t blow Romney out of the water, but neither can he be written off at this point in the race. Romney’s still Romney, after all. He’s smooth, but almost too smooth; rehearsed, but almost too rehearsed; and overall, the base was given no reason last night to feel any different about the former Massachusetts governor than they did a week ago, as the general feeling that he will say anything to get elected was magnified with his performance.
The door is still wide open for anyone to walk through, mainly because nobody cares about these debates except the moderators and the debaters themselves.
They get a fair amount of press coverage (rarely front-page), and the pundits put a lot of importance on them as an indicator of which candidate is best positioned to break away from the pack in the coming weeks. But with a mediocre average viewership of less than 4 million throughout the last seven debates, it’s a stretch to say that the candidates’ debate performances are or will be transferring into votes in the early primary states.
Unfortunately for Michele Bachmann, Ron Paul and Rick Santorum, the base doesn’t give a lick about the Dodd-Frank financial reform bill, the Federal Reserve audit, or the role politics plays in (somehow) creating stronger family values in America, respectively. These aren’t sound bites that perk up the ears of the average voter in the same way “the Iraq War” or “Bush tax cuts” did in 2008, or “bailouts” and “Obamacare” did in the 2010 midterms.
The back and forth over policy details and tax proposals and legislation nitpickery is entertaining for those who care about such details, but the conservative base is looking for a leader. You cannot define one’s character by these round-table discussions over domestic or foreign policy. So far, no one candidate has been able to show that they can be a leader, as the polls indicate, and thus far the constituents have only been fed a cache of hollow promises from the candidates about what great leaders they’ll be if given the chance.
Normally I would herald the direct, on-point questions about specific policies, but in this case, with the general ambivalence voters feel toward this pool of candidates, going around the room and hearing the candidates echo each other with generic prattle about the importance of job creation isn’t going to rile the base or narrow the field.
Howard Kurtz’s column, “Perry Gets No Traction” summed it up best. While “Romney was silky-smooth and Perry lackluster at the low-key Bloomberg/Washington Post GOP debate,” Kurtz said he felt “safe in going out on a limb” by saying that the debate “barely moved the needle of the Republican presidential race.”
Those sentiments were seconded by the conservative Townhall.com’s political editor, Guy Benson, who wrote, “We normally describe these rapid reaction pieces as ‘winners and losers’ posts, but … To my ears and eyes, throughout most of tonight’s forum, the entire field brought its A-game.”
Perhaps they did bring their A-game, but this is still a second-string roster.