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The 2012 election is still 18 months away, which is several lifetimes away, given how fast news moves today. Nonetheless, Fox News last evening sponsored the first GOP presidential debate for the 2012 election.
So take these initial results with a considerable grain of salt, especially since several key candidates — including, for instance, Mitt Romney and Newt Gingrich — were no-shows, and few people probably were watching.
Still, for what it’s worth (admittedly not all that much), here’s what we learned, I think:
Tim Pawlenty is a very serious and compelling candidate. Indeed, if anyone can beat Romney, Pawlenty can. He appeared calm, poised, and presidential. His answers were mostly sharp, crisp and to the point. He was in command and anything but boring. The bottom line: Pawlenty outperformed and may well be the 2012 GOP presidential nominee.
Rick Santorum will command serious voter interest and should not be discounted. He also performed well, though not as well, I think, as Pawlenty. He deftly deflected tough questions about his socially conservative views — questions which might have tripped up a less experienced and less serious-minded candidate.
For example, when Juan Williams asked about a passage in Santorum’s book, It Takes a Family, which Williams said suggests Santorum is against working women, the former Pennsylvania senator didn’t blink. The point, he explained, is that the decisions women make, whether to work inside or outside of the home, should be affirmed and not disparaged.
Gary Johnson’s libertarian-isolationist views strike me as foolish and dangerous. But even if you are a fan of Johnson, I think you’d have to admit that he was a real dud this evening — a nonentity throughout most of the debate and boring and dull when he spoke. He clearly underperformed and did not impress.
Herman Cain seemed to strike a chord with Frank Luntz’s voter focus group, though I’m not sure how or why. Cain did articulate faithful conservative positions; and he has a certain folksy, down-home appeal. That he’s a retired businessman and entrepreneur, and not a career politician, also adds to his electoral allure.
Ron Paul was Ron Paul: In his mind, answers to all questions are always the same: Take government out of the equation and all will be well. On some issues, of course, this makes total sense. But radical libertarianism is less compelling, I think, when you’re talking drug legalization and alleged U.S. “militarism.”
Surprisingly, none of the GOP hopefuls seemed to adopt Donald Trump’s winning strategy, which has been to rough up and attack Obama rhetorically. Yet this approach clearly is what drove up Trump’s poll numbers over the course of the past several months.
Of course, Trump went too far, as is his wont, and soon began to look like his boorish, bullying self, and that’s not a winning strategy. Still, the candidate who can attack Obama with cutting wit, grace and humor will have a real advantage, I think. We will see.
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