19 October 2011

Nevada GOP Debate

Rick Perry appears to have gotten dramatically different coaching for this debate; he has moved away from his continual refrain of "energy, energy, energy" and gone on the attack against Romney.  This was smart, because what he had been doing has not been working and has lost him his substantial enthusiasm bump with two disastrous debate performances.  Unfortunately, his new attacks were heavy-handed attempts at bullying, as he repeatedly interrupted Romney, talked over him, and made bold accusations that Romney had once hired illegal immigrants.  He got out of control, and the audience indulged itself with a rare chorus of boos as a response to his assault on poor Mitt (who has really mastered his inoffensive look of long-suffering).  Perry's new strategy might have pulled him out of his death spiral, but he's still headed for the ground fast.

Newt Gingrich remains in an attitude of all-embracing condescension, leaning back and spreading his hands with a sneer in his oft-repeated podium gesture.  In past debates he has paused mid-question to browbeat the moderators, accusing them of sowing dissension, and in this debate he rejected Anderson Cooper's prompt to move on from healthcare to economics with a condescending, "I want to stay on healthcare.  Let's just focus."  This may be a reflection of his years of worship as the Republican "ideas man."  Lost in that reverence for him, that seems to have swelled his already-large potato-shaped-head, is that a lot of his ideas are radical and cruel, such as his recent statement about how he would eliminate constitutional review by the Supreme Court, overturning centuries of precedent right back to Marbury vs. Madison.  An abhorrent man.

Rick Santorum somehow always looks unhappy, with a bitter twist to his mouth.  Wisely, he is seldom ever asked questions in debate - except when the moderators want to unleash his anger on another candidate.  This is a good thing: he has no more chance of victory than Ron Paul, and so any question asked of him is a wasted one.  Cain and Bachmann might have no chance either, but they are at least part of the contemporary Republican conversation.  Santorum, like Paul, is an outsider.  And maybe that's why he's so unhappy.

Michele Bachmann is sheer bluster and the most prominent example of rhetoric without action.  She has never done anything of note and hasn't even bothered with any feasible bills.  Instead, she spams out ridiculous showboating bills repealing Obamacare, defunding the EPA, and so on.  Her claims in the debate were consistent with this, making wild promises like her vow to build a double fence along the entire Mexico border with a "zone of neutrality" in between.  Her crazed rhetoric, wide-eyed and insubstantial, is getting worse.

Herman Cain showcases the enduring power of ignorance and denial.  The 9-9-9 plan will lower all taxes and replace them with unicorns.  It will get passed through Congress because elves will convince them to vote for it.  And so on.  Any questions or challenges are met with consistent stonewalling denial, not supporting evidence or argument.  It's a stuttering, smiling, "No, you're wrong."  And what's worse, he doesn't appear to even understand the objections.  Any question that's beyond him, he answers with the vaguest and most hackneyed platitudes imaginable ("boots on the ground," "no apologies for America," etc).

Ron Paul is mostly as irrelevant as Santorum.  He leads his own constituency that's only loosely within the GOP, and he stands no chance.  One answer he gave is worth examination: his idea that the free markets would take care of nuclear waste storage.  This is a good example of where libertarians and I part ways: I don't think that there exists a sufficient market incentive to force nuclear power plants to find a geologically stable place and ensure hundreds of years of safety.  The environment is a good example of a sector where perverse incentives work towards the wrong goal: it's almost always far more profitable to just slosh crap into a hole, knowing you're going to retire decades before it becomes a serious problem.

Mitt Romney excelled.  He was adroit and clever with his arguments, reflecting his long years of experience on the campaign trail.  The ample time he's given in debates means he doesn't have to force his talking points, but can afford to let them flow naturally.  Further, his attitude is perfectly-pitched.  When lashing out, he's reasonable and personable.  When under attack, he's calm and pleasant.  He remains far in the lead and the anointed candidate, and this debate didn't threaten that very much.  He continues to be the only possible candidate that could win against Obama (a 50/50 proposition at this point).

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