Here are my thoughts concerning each of the candidates in the CNN Western Republican debate in Las Vegas which concluded earlier this evening.
Michele Bachmann - Every time she shouted, "Anderson! Anderson!", it was reminder of how increasingly irrelevant she's become in this race.
She had a downright bizarre moment when she spoke about "The Moms" who had lost their homes. It was as if she was trying to channel Oprah.
When Anderson Cooper asked her about the proposed $500 billion defense spending cut she talked about Iraq, Libya and Uganda. Cooper had to remind her of the question at hand. It was only then that she indicated that defense cuts were on the table. Why did she have such a difficult time answering the question?
Bachmann received her biggest applause of the night when she said that aid to Israel should not be cut.
But in the final analysis, I don't think she helped herself much.
Newt Gingrich - As usual he put in a solid, sober performance. Aside from some testy moments with Romney over the individual mandate, Gingrich remained above the fray and provided insight on virtually every question put to him. He'll climb up in the polls modestly but not enough to make a difference.
Rick Perry - His performance was a paradox. It was his best showing in the debates thus far and yet he brought out the worst in himself. He did hurt Romney over the question of hiring illegal immigrants but he also hurt himself.
His best moment came when he spoke about defunding the UN.
Unfortunately for Perry, I suspect a lot of people like him a lot less than they did a couple of hours ago.
Mitt Romney - It was his weakest performance to date. Gingrich, Perry and Santorum all managed to bloody him. In his past exchanges with Perry, Romney simply said "nice try" and moved on. Tonight, Perry got under his skin. He even brought up his support for Al Gore in 1988. Romney also seemed a little perturbed with Cain when he called Romney "a Wall Street executive" while describing himself as "a Main Street executive." Despite his vast resources, Romney hasn't been able to seal the deal with conservatives and he certainly didn't do it tonight.
Herman Cain - He got the biggest applause of the night when he said he stood by his remarks concerning the Wall Street protesters. Even his comments over the weekend about an electrified fence got an affectionate laugh from the audience and his opponents.
With that said, Cain does have a weakness concerning questions of foreign policy and his answer with regard to exchanging Gitmo inmates for an American soldier was neither compelling nor convincing. In addition to boning up on foreign policy, if Cain does manage to win the nomination he would probably be wise to select a running mate with strong foreign policy credentials. How does a Cain-Gingrich ticket sound?Or how about Cain-Bolton?
Even though Cain got hit tonight he didn't get bruised. Cain's biggest strength is that people like him and it has taken him a very long way in this race and could take him further still.
Ron Paul - By far his best moment was his comment about Yucca Mountain and how the federal government has no right to, as he put it, "dump its garbage" in Nevada.
It should come as no surprise that he's sympathetic to the Occupy Wall Street folks given that some of his supporters have aligned themselves with the socialists, communists and anarchists in New York and elsewhere. But does he honestly think the world owes people a living? That seems pretty unlibertarian to me.
Paul has a devoted core of support. But nothing in tonight's performance (nor in any other) would suggest that he's capable of attracting a broad base of support.
His greatest weakness? When Paul gets excited his voice rises into a piercing screech that can be heard by any dog within a two mile radius. It's kind of screech that just doesn't inspire confidence.
Rick Santorum - He was the enigma of this debate. At times, Santorum was brilliant. His best answer was to the question about faith and politics. Santorum said that voters should focus on a candidate's "values" and "pay attention to those values and what faith teaches" while "the road to salvation was a whole different story."
Now I understand that Santorum needs to gain traction and that requires a certain amount of assertiveness. It certainly wasn't in short supply as he aggressively went after Romney and to a lesser extent Perry. Santorum landed a couple of punches on Romney on health care but for the most part he came across as self-absorbed and snarky and whatever damage he did to Romney came back on square on his head.
His worst moment came when he reminded people that he was the only candidate on the podium who ran and won as a conservative in a swing state. In so doing, he also reminded people that he was the only candidate on the podium who lost his Senate seat by nearly 20 points.
If Rick Santorum possessed half of Herman Cain's sunny disposition, he would be a top tier candidate.
A Parting Thought - Jon Huntsman is as inconsequential when he's in the debate as when he's not in the debate.
I think Cain will gain on Romney, Gingrich might see some modest gains while Perry, Bachmann, Santorum and Paul will stay in neutral.
The next scheduled GOP debate will take place on November 9th at Oakland University in Rochester, Michigan and will air on CNBC.
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