By Jay Anderson
Last night’s CNN GOP Debate at Saint Anselm College in New Hampshire was sort of like watching the first round NBA playoffs. Sure, it counted for something on paper, but there are so many games left to play that in the grand scheme of things, it’s irrelevant. Still, for political geeks like me, this presented the first opportunity to see the key contenders for the right to become The Guy Who Loses To Obama In A Landslide Come November 2012.
In case you had better things to do (and let’s face it, I hope you did) and missed this important event, I’ve got you covered. No, there weren’t any real solutions provided other than the usual talking points (cut taxes, less regulation, repeal ObamaCare). Despite the total lack of surprises, here are last nights “Winners,” “Losers,” and “people who should really just bow out and get a hobby instead of wasting their (and our) time.”
Mitt Romney – If you did a focus group and used the results to build a perfect looking presidential candidate, Romney would probably be the end result. Plastic to a fault, Romney looks like the sort of guy who would mow the lawn in a Brooks Brothers suit and wingtips. His fuzzy logic in defending his own ObamaCare-like plan as governor of Massachusetts, while slamming Obama’s almost identical national plan made him an instant target. Still, Romney did a great job of clapping at President Obama, as opposed to getting mired in the muck of exchanging barbs with his fellow GOP aspirants. In the end, the presumptive front-runner avoided any major flubs and maintained his poll position. The clear winner, largely by default.
Michele Bachmann – Attempted to hijack the debate by oddly announcing her campaign for the presidency when asked a very important question about financial regulation. The smattering of forced applause by the audience didn’t seem to indicate an impressed electorate. She has about as much of a chance at winning the presidency as I do, but she’s fairly entertaining to watch for some odd reasons I can’t exactly put into words. Eloquent and warm, it’s sometimes hard to believe this is the same nutty woman who blamed President Obama for the 2009 swine flu outbreak and who wants to repeal the EPA. Bachmann did a great job of reinforcing her title as Tea Party Queen, but is probably still holding her breath hoping Sarah Palin stays in Alaska.
Newt Gingrich – Did an awful job of explaining why he took back his comment about Paul Ryan’s budget proposal as “right wing social engineering.” Smug, arrogant, and loud, Newt personified the term “strong and wrong.” For a guy whose entire campaign staff just quit last week, you’d think Newt would be a bit more humble. Of course, to put the words “humble” and “Newt” in the same sentence would create an oxymoron. And so would putting the words “president” and “Newt.” This guy’s goose was cooked two decades ago. For a person who was once hailed as a brilliant political mind full of innovative ideas, he sure seemed like a sound byte regurgitation machine last night.
Tim Pawlenty – T-Paw is every bit as generic and plain vanilla as Romney is stiff and contrived. He is human Nyquil, lulling viewers to sleep every time he drifts off on a tangent completely unrelated to the question posed. His plan to magically growing the economy at an unheard of 5% annually for 10 straight years by simply cutting taxes was even more comical. Played the “humble roots, Midwestern, blue collar” card waaaaaay too often to be believable. This man is so mediocre, for a moment I thought he was coaching the Miami Heat. The fact that this guy is considered a credible contender tells you all you need to know about the GOP’s chances in 2012.
Herman Cain – Cain is a two-fer, a black conservative who is also a Tea Party favorite. To his credit, he does have a solid business track record, having rescued Godfather’s Pizza from near extinction in the mid-90′s.
I haven’t personally seen a Godfather’s Pizza since the mid-90′s, but who’s counting?
Sadly, since he’s the only non-politician in the race (something he seems to be using to his advantage), Cain didn’t get many questions and seemed like the forgotten man all night. Did a clumsy job walking back on his initial support of the Bush-era TARP bailouts, as well as his statement that he wouldn’t hire any Muslims for his presidential cabinet without an extra oath. Fancies himself as a professional “solver of problems,” but mostly just spouted talking points and punchlines that fell flat. After being hailed as the winner of the GOP’s first debate, Cain seemed lost in the shuffle and failed to further distinguish himself as a serious candidate. Of course, the end-game for him is probably a Huckabee-style weekend show on Fox News. I don’t think Cain did anything to hurt his chances with that candidacy.
Please Bow Out And Go “Spend Some More Time With Your Family”
Rick Santorum – Just seems sleazy, the sort of person who would knowingly sell you a used car that had been previously involved in an accident. Continually took credit for things he didn’t actually do and spoke in broad platitudes when asked the most basic of questions. Doesn’t this guy have something better to do?
Ron Paul – The perennial “protest candidate” was a mixed bag of sound ideas (curtailing foreign aid) and “WTF” concepts (abolishing the Federal Reserve!). Personally, if you ask me, Herman Cain seems to have (momentarily) stolen a bit of his thunder. He, like Newt, seems like a guy whose best days are long behind him. Too bad he’s the only one that doesn’t realize it.
The Final Tally
Romney won this debate, simply by not committing any major gaffes and remaining focused on bashing Obama. Bachmann is a natural for this sort of format, and kept her typical craziness to a minimum. No other candidate did anything of consequence, or presented anything even remotely resembling an original idea. I walked away feeling very sleepy, and not terribly enlightened.
If this is the best the GOP has to offer, President Obama might want to start booking acts for his 2013 Inaugural Ball.
Jay Anderson is a freelance writer from Washington, DC, whose work has been featured in the Washington Post, AOL Black Voices, The Loop21 and NPR. When he’s not busy talking smack here, he runs the award-winning blog AverageBro.com. Follow him via Twitter @AverageBro.