Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Who Won the Republican Debate on October 11th?

Who won the latest Republican debate? Going into the debate, Mitt Romney was the frontrunner. After the debate, he remains the frontrunner. Of all the candidates, Romney appeared the most presidential. He is becoming increasingly skilled in debates. Other candidates attempted to challenge Romney on a number of occasions, but he used them as opportunities to promote his candidacy. In some ways, Herman Cain was in the center of the debate. The crowd enjoyed Cain, but he runs the risk of becoming a one-note candidate, known only for his "9-9-9" plan. As for Rick Perry, he was not harmed as he was in previous debates, but he was flat. He seemed afraid of hurting himself. Romney and Cain were comfortable.

The Republican debate this evening had an unusual format. Rather than having each candidate at his own podium, as in all the previous debates, the candidates were seated at one big table. In the past, this format has been known to encourage the candidates to be a bit more civil. For some reason, candidates are less comfortable attacking each other when seated together.

For the first half of the debate, the candidates were indeed fairly civil. They used their responses to go into in-depth discussions of the issues, rather than attack each other. For the first half, there were none of the extended duels that we saw in the September debates (especially between Mitt Romney and Rick Perry).

During the second half of the debate, another unusual debate format was implemented: The candidates were instructed to ask questions of each other, rather than answer questions from the debate moderators. This gave the candidates an opportunity to attack each other.

Several candidates did decide Herman Cain was enough of a threat to attack him. Specifically, they criticized his "9-9-9" plan, saying it is impractical and unlikely to pass Congress. Rick Santorum sarcastically asked the audience whether they would approve of the sales tax portion. Santorum also attacked Cain for lacking experience. Michele Bachmann, odd as ever, made a "number of the beast" reference, noting that the plan is "6-6-6" if turned upside-down.

Though Cain's "9-9-9" plan was criticized, he stood firm. The crowd clearly enjoyed Cain's answers. Unfortunately for Perry, they enjoyed Cain much more than him. Perry missed an opportunity to hurt Cain, who is increasingly climbing in the polls in Perry's states. Ron Paul, being Ron Paul, only participated in a sideshow by attacking Cain for being connected to the Federal Reserve. But perhaps Cain hurt himself the most: Though everyone is now familiar with his plan, Cain runs the risk of becoming a one-note candidate.

Michele Bachmann savaged Rick Perry by questioning him about his lack of conservatism, particularly on spending. Most of the candidates attempted to attack Romney. But Romney was able to use these questions as opportunities to outline his economic plans. For the sixth debate in a row, Romney was asked about Romneycare (this time by Perry). Once more, Romney easily swatted away the question by distinguishing Romneycare from Obamacare--this time referring to Chris Christie's defense of Romney.

Romney did particularly well in answering Jon Huntsman's question about Bain Capital, a company criticized for laying off workers. Romney explained that Bain started many businesses, and he named several of them, including some large businesses like Staples.

Romney was the only candidate to use a clever tactic: Instead of attempting to harm a candidate with a question, he sent an open-ended softball question to Michele Bachmann. Romney obviously hopes to attack Perry by helping Bachmann. Romney's strategy allowed him to avoid looking contentious while also denying Perry a chance to speak.

In general, the minor candidates--except for Cain, if he can still be considered a minor candidate--did not have much opportunity to break out from the pack. Romney was the clear winner of the debate. While Perry did not harm himself, he was unable to do damage to his competitors. Perry is behind and is not catching up.