Saturday, November 12, 2011

Who Won the Republican Debate on November 12th?

Tonight's debate on foreign policy had few fireworks or major gaffes. The candidates did not attack each other and normally did not even challenge each other. If it is remembered at, it will be remembered for a few general impressions: Rick Perry was shaky, Herman Cain was shakier, Mitt Romney was decent, and Newt Gingrich did well.

The format of the debate was a bit odd: Only the first hour was televised on all CBS stations; the last half-hour was streamed on the internet. The entire debate was focused on foreign policy questions. The economy and other traditional areas of debate (e.g. social policy, candidate vulnerabilities, etc.) were not addressed. At the very least, this allowed Cain to avoid being asked about his sexual harassment scandal, which would have been off-topic.

The candidates avoided making gaffes of the kind that would be replayed over and over. In general, Cain seemed uncertain, as he has little knowledge of foreign policy. Perry avoided any dynamite gaffes, but spoke in a halting manner. Bizarrely, Perry addressed some of his answers to "Mitt," even though Romney was not asked the same question or involved in any way in the exchange. As Elephant Watcher predicted, Perry made a couple jokes about the infamous Rick Perry gaffe at the November 9th debate.

Occasionally the candidates did disagree with each other. Jon Huntsman and Ron Paul marginalized themselves as the two "doves" on the stage. Meanwhile, Huntsman and Rick Santorum both complained about receiving few questions, though the questions were evenly distributed. This kind of whining is counter-productive. It is up to the candidates to make the best use of their questions, even if they are limited (as Mike Huckabee's were in the early debates in the last primary season). Santorum undermined himself, as otherwise his answers were strong.

Newt Gingrich performed the best out of the candidates. He repeated his strategy of criticizing the questions he was asked, though he toned it down a bit and appeared less grouchy than the previous debate. He appeared to have the most thorough understanding of the topics. He received the most applause.

The candidates will not have another debate for some time, and this one demonstrated Gingrich's superiority to Cain. If Gingrich rises at the expense of Cain, debates like these will accelerate it.