Monday, January 23, 2012

Florida Republican Debate 1.0

Tonight's debate, hosted by NBC, was the first of two debates before Floridians pull out the canes and the walkers and venture out into the January chill to vote. There were no real highlights.

Out of the gate, Romny went on the attack, throwing every bit of mud he could at Gingrich, hoping that some of it would stick. He came off as angry and shrill. Gingrich refused to take the bait, staying composed. As to how that plays overall, we will have to wait to see the new polls to tell.

That said, I think Romney made a huge mistake by trying to dredge every bit of mud he could find rather than concentrate on just the worst of it all - including that he went a step too far in the attacks. Romney concluded his attack by criticizing Gingrich's support of Medicare Part D while taking money for advising pharmaceutical firms. Gingrich pounced, embracing Medicare and Medicare Part D and that he was shocked (just shocked I say) that Romney would criticize him (or the millions of elderly Floridians on Medicare) for his  support of Medicare Part D. That was not a highlight reel, but I bet it plays with a lot of registered reporters in Florida.

 The slipperiest answer of the night was from Newt, whose full support of the ethanol mandate is unconscionable. Part of the ethanol program includes large supports for Florida sugar cane farmers. Newt gave a long non-answer, bring up beet root sugar and other farm subsidies, concluding that all subsidies should be taken away, but that removing agriculture subsidies is almost in the 'too hard to do' column.

A question was brought up on the Dream Act. Romney, weeks prior to the debate, said that he would veto it.  Many thought this was going to hurt Romney in Florida, with its large latino population.  When Gingrich was asked in the debate whether he too would veto the act, he said no, that he would keep that portion of the Dream Act that would allow illegals who join our military to get citizenship through that route - which is actually a long term policy of the U.S.  Romney quickly jumped in out of turn, obviously realizing the error of his ways, and said that he agreed with Gingrich.

What really struck me, at the end of debate, was the fact that Romney still doesn't have a good narrative as to why he should be President. He was asked, "[This] is a battle for the soul of the Republican Party. What have you done to further the cause of Conservativism as a Republican leader?" Romney response was anything but a cogent and stirring call to arms. He started off by talking about being a father and grandfather. He then tried to play up his private sector experience, but didn't make any of the points he could have as to why that makes him the best Presidential choice.

One of the things that was blatantly obvious during the debate is that Gingrich is courting Ron Paul in domestic policy areas. Indeed, the only thing that didn't happen on the stage was Gingrich passing folded love notes over to Paul, who in fact repeatedly had eyes for Gingrich. It was a bit stomach churning. Truly, if I was Caliska, and given Newt's history, I'd be worried.

Santorum gave good answers to the few questions thrown his way.  Ron Paul sounded sane and sage tonight.  I don't think it will help either too much.

In sum, I don't know whether tonight's debate will stop Gingrich's momentum.  Gingrich may have helped himself a little with his answers on the Dream Act and Medicare.  Let's see the polls.

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