Some things irritated us about last night’s debate and the post-debate wrap-up. Some were small—say, the use of the Gmail chat chime to warn candidates on time—but others are worth expounding on:
1. Fox’s moderators’ lack of follow up. When Michelle Bachmann says she thinks Americans deserve to keep every cent of the dollar they earn, it might be worth examining the plausibility of that statement.
REP. MICHELE BACHMANN, R-MINN.: And after the debate, I talked to that young man, and I said I wish I could have answered that question, because I want to tell you what my answer is: I think you earned every dollar. You should get to keep every dollar that you earn. That’s your money; that’s not the government’s money.
GOV. RICK PERRY: And the fact is, I erred on the side of life and I will always err on the side of life as a governor as the president of the United States.
Or when candidates give their unwavering support for Israel, just moments before they voice their utter disdain for foreign aid. It’d be nice to explore these contradictions!
Kudos to Megyn Kelly for doing a bit of worthwhile follow-up with Rick Santorum when he said he would reinstate Don’t Ask Don’t Tell.
KELLY: So what—what—what would you do with soldiers like Stephen Hill? I mean, he’s—now he’s out. He’s—you know, you saw his face on camera. When he first submitted this video to us, it was without his face on camera. Now he’s out. So what would you do as president?
2. Wasting questions. There were frustrating moments when the Fox moderators would ask a question of the candidate whose answers we were least interested in:
QUESTION: My question is, if you were forced to eliminate one department from the federal government, which one would you eliminate and why? Thank you.
HERMAN CAIN, BUSINESSMAN: The first — the first department, if I were forced to eliminate a department, I would start with the EPA and start all over. It’s out of control.
Well, that was predictable! It might have been nice to hear this question—granted, a sort of stupid hypothetical one—asked of a more moderate candidate, like Romney or Huntsman. Might they have had the temerity to say “none”?
3. The “Is Obama a socialist?” question. Moderator Megyn Kelly served up this question to Mitt Romney, along with a laundry list of Obama-is-moving-America-towards-socialism assertions that have been uttered by candidates in the past. It was done in slightly jokey fashion, but that doesn’t make it any more acceptable for America’s “Fair and Balanced” network to legitimize this ignorant, right-wing talking point.
KELLY: We’ve got plenty of questions for all the other candidates up here tonight, but I want to stick with you on this one, Governor Romney. Congresswoman Bachmann has said that President Obama has “ushered in socialism” during his first term. Governor Perry says that this administration is “hell bent” toward taking America toward a socialist country” When Speaker Gingrich was asked if he believes President Obama is a socialist, he responded, quote, “Sure, of course he is.” (LAUGHTER)
Do you, Governor Romney… (APPLAUSE) Do you, Governor Romney, believe that President Obama is a socialist?
ROMNEY: Let me tell you the title that I want to hear said about President Obama, and that is: former President Barack Obama. That’s the title I want to hear. (APPLAUSE)
Let me tell you this. What President — what President Obama is, is a big-spending liberal. And he takes his political inspiration from Europe and from the socialist democrats in Europe. Guess what? Europe isn’t working in Europe. It’s not going to work here.
Instead, it would have been great had moderators asked about, you know, important and timely things, like the financial collapse of Europe or foreign relations, post Arab Spring.
4. Altogether now, let’s take Rick Santorum seriously.
Though the former Pennsylvania Senator has performed well and even been called a “winner” by Iowan and conservative pundits in past debates, something about his performance last night—time for a new storyline? primed by Santorum’s Google debacle?—Santorum got more than a few pundit’s wheels turning last night: since Bachmann is imploding, and Iowa is full of Christian conservatives, Santorum could be the next big thing, in Iowa.
One of Politico’s Maggie Haberman’s six takeaways from last night’s debate was that “Rick Santorum has eclipsed Michele Bachmann.” Citing his challenges to Rick Perry on immigration and the fact that he outshone Bachmann last night, she wrote:
If Santorum can make himself the alternative to Rick Perry for social conservatives in Iowa, he has fuel to keep going.
The Huffington Post’s Jon Ward and Sam Stein agreed:
What was clear is that Santorum gained enormously from another strong performance. He has gathered momentum with every debate—speaking with authority and expertise on policy and with obvious passion on issues in a way that resonates with the conservative grassroots. With Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-Minn.) fading as voters question her electability, Santorum may be putting himself in a position to make some real noise in Iowa, which goes first in the primary process. Depending on how Perry does over the next few months, that could elevate the Pennsylvanian significantly.
Santorum was also a “Winner” on Washington Post’s “The Fix” blog:
We’ve thought for a while now that the former Pennsylvania Senator is doing better in these debates than he gets credit for. Tonight he owned the first hour of the gathering and his hammering of Perry on immigration was a terrific moment. For a second tier candidate like Santorum, the key to these debates is to be in the mix with the big boys (and girls). He was right there all night.
Nevermind that just two days ago, Politico wrote this story about how he’s struggling to find supporters in his home state. It’s good Santorum no longer has butt-of-the-joke status; he deserves to be taken seriously, but this attention—overdue, and all at once—so far seems as much about enthusiasm for movement in the race, than political reality.
Cheers to Dave Weigel for constructively taking Rick Santorum more seriously, and analyzing what he had to say rather than just his place in the horse race.
5. Likewise, falling for the “surging” Gary Johnson.
We get it. It’s Friday, and everyone loves an underdog, especially a goofy one from New Mexico who scores the “best line of the night” with this reference to dog poop:
JOHNSON: My next-door neighbor’s two dogs have created more shovel-ready jobs than this current administration.
But, as the tech whizzes at Google tell us—and as one might suspect would be the case for the candidate on stage that is barely known—Johnson did “steal the show” Google-wise last night, “as searches for him spiked well above the presumed front runners.” So glad they were on hand to confirm that common sense.
And a few final miscellaneous thoughts:
• This time, some members of the audience booed a gay soldier and Rick Perry’s mention of “having a heart” for the children of illegal immigrants. Cue Ryan Lizza’s Twitter parlour game this morning: #peoplelikelytobebooedatnextGOPdebate and a lot of writing about the role of audience in these debates. (See what I wrote on that a couple days ago here.)
• Knowing what’s in those campaign books that nobody wants to read, may actually matter:
PERRY: Speaking of books and talking about being able to have things in your books, back and forth, your economic adviser talked about Romneycare and how that was an absolute bust. And it was exactly what Obamacare was all about.Erika Fry is a former assistant editor at CJR.
As a matter of fact, between books, your hard copy book, you said it was exactly what the American people needed, to have that Romneycare given to them as you had in Massachusetts. Then in your paperback, you took that line out. So, speaking of not getting it straight in your book sir, that would be a—