I went into the debate thinking about Fred Barnes’s piece yesterday in the Wall Street Journal, in which he suggested that GOP debaters are at a disadvantage because control of the format is ceded to a class of folks Republicans loathe — i.e., the members of the press. Well, the news from Tuesday night is that GOP candidates are no longer afraid of the liberal media. Charlie Rose and Karen Tumulty were cleverly disguised as questioners, but in reality they were the other debating team.
I think it is fair to say that neither Rose nor Tumulty laid a glove on any one of the eight Republicans. (The third panelist, Julianna Goldman, was a cipher.) I will never forget Ms. Tumulty asking Michele Bachmann if it is “right that no Wall Street executive has gone to jail” for the 2008 financial meltdown. Tumulty cited no illegal actions, but apparently she believes that being a Wall Street executive is borderline illegal. She also looked like she could personally lock ’em up. When Bachmann — quite rightly — blamed government policies for the meltdown, Tumulty seemed disappointed. Oh, and just for the record: Ms. Tumulty isn’t against all Wall Streeters. She made sympathetic noises about the Occupy Wall Street protesters. She asked Newt Gingrich if he believes that these good Wall Streeters “have no grievance.” Gingrich agreed that they do have legitimate complaints, but added that it is with the politicians whose policy decisions caused the meltdown, not Wall Street executives. Poor Ms. Tumulty, thwarted. “But you’re clearly not saying that they [politicians] are going to jail?” interjected Rose.
“Well, in the case of [former Senator] Chris Dodd and Countrywide,” Newt said he wasn’t sure they didn’t belong in the hoosegow. It was his best moment of the evening.
Mitt Romney — as usual — won hands down. He had his best explanation so far of why Romneycare isn’t Obamacare (it was state-level, designed to accommodate only the 8 percent that were uninsured, and didn’t take over a sixth of the economy). He was just right in his subtle mention of his BFF Chris Christie, who had endorsed him earlier in the day.
Herman Cain: Okay, we’re all falling in love with Mr. Cain and the clarity of his 9-9-9 plan (well, Rick Santorum isn’t), but Cain had a disastrous moment. Asked to name the best Federal Reserve chairman of the last 40 years (Tumulty!), any sane person deflects the question. Cain answered it: Alan Greenspan. Oops.
Rick Perry: Nobody will ever accuse Rick Perry of being a slick debater. But he did have one very good moment. When he was asked to comment on a video of Ronald Reagan, who had just compromised with Democrats (“compromising with Democrats” was Charlie’s big theme) by raising taxes, Perry pointed out that it was a different time and besides, as Reagan himself later lamented, he raised the taxes but the cuts never got made.
Jon Huntsman: His jokes were all pre-packaged, but for once they made you laugh rather than cringe. He was even mildly funny telling fellow Mormon Romney that he wasn’t going to raise the religious issue. It was clear that Romney and Huntsman are the two candidates most knowledgeable about the economy. But Huntsman doesn’t have a real shot at the nomination, and the best that can be said is that he didn’t say anything to anger the base last night. I was going to say he and Romney have the best hair — but, when you come right down to it, Perry and Gingrich aren’t far behind in that department. Oh, heck, they all have great hair but Cain, and he’s got 9-9-9.