Here is live blogging of tonight’s economy-driven CNBC Republican Presidential Debate at Oakland University in suburban Detroit. Although news attention remains on Herman Cain and the sexual harassment allegations against him (which sparked new partisan-motivated lows such as talk show host Rush Limbaugh going after an accuser’s 13 year old son) the bigger questions are a) will former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney come out of this more scarred or doing what he has not been able to do so far (go beyond his existing base of GOP support), b) is there another candidate who will emerge as a viable Anti-Romney in light of what appears to be more tough days for Cain as he battles a scandal that shows no signs of abating?
My focus is on how the participants come across in the race and the possible impact on independent voters — who are not a monolithic group — rather than who I agree with or not. These are the reactions of an independent voter who has belonged to both parties. The most recent entry will be on top. There will NOT be entries on each question and comment. Only if it’s worth commenting on. Also: my actual conclusions are often NOT the same as my initial conclusions after a debate. The more I “digest” what I saw and heard, the more definitive my conclusions are. Here’s my initial reaction to the debate going on right now. ALL TIMES ARE EST.
FINAL REACTiONS BY JOE GANDELMAN (Joe Gandelman will write in third person a la Herman Cain for this):
* Joe Gandelman thinks THIS should be the THEME SONG of this debate.
* MITT ROMNEY had another good night giving impressive answers both in content and style.
* RICK PERRY can now be considered a slacker. When have we ever seen someone prepare so poorly for debates? His forgetting his own agencies he wants to eliminate is a moment that will be shown for years. His campaign is probably effectively over — although he has a huge bankroll for campaign ads. Perry has shown: a) he is too poor at debates for the Republican Party to risk investing its money on someone who is such a risk b) he doesn’t want to do his homework or is incapable of doing his homework effectively. SNL will have a BALL with his mind-freeze moment. But their sketch cannot be as funny — and cringeworthy — as the real moment. Here is the now famous moment:
(UPDATE: Read AllahPundit on Perry’s flame-out.)
*HERMAN CAIN either lost no ground or will shore up his GOP support due to his likability and ability to answer most questions in an engaging way. Cain did VERY well in this debate and he was back on message.
* NEWT GINGRICH will be the back-up Anti-Romney. His constant attacks on the news media are tiresome, obnoxious and predictable.
* THE CANDIDATE THE WHITE HOUSE SHOULD FEAR MOST: Romney.
*The most compelling TV screen presence: JIM CRAMER. Joe Gandelman may do another post on this tomorrow or Joe Gandelman may be offline — but Joe Gandelman urges readers to check TMV and refresh it often tomorrow.
*THE OTHERS didn’t hurt or help themselves.
9:48: Ron Paul passes on charging Perry with “crony capitalism.”
9:46: If the candidates had Jim Cramer’s passion, voters would be all fired up. Cain handles Cramer’s question well, even gets in a quotable, amusing laugh line. Once again: Cain has a) lost no ground here or b) helped himself with GOPers who will like him so much they’ll keep sticking by him. Perry comes on after and doesn’t give a bad answer but he is so tepid compared to Cain (and Cramer).
9:42: Huntsman dismisses Romney for “throwing out applause lines” without using his name and “pandering” on China. Says we need to do business as we always have, sitting down and hammering problems out. Romney asked if he’s pandering. Answers citing his biz experience, having seen predatory pricing. Again, another content-heavy answer (whether you agree with him or not HE ANSWERS questions posed to him on most occasions.)
9:40: Romney says China is cheating by playing by different rules: stealing intellectual property, computer hacking, holding down price of Chinese goods. His answer on this about how he’ll “crack down on cheaters like China” was good. When challenged how he’d do it, he has a response. I again watch Romney and realize: he is the ONE candidate this year who could have a good chance of a) beating Obama b) winning independent voters.
9:34: Break. I wonder: Will Rick Perry remember which office he’s running for? Impressions: I can’t see Cain losing any ground with this debate (even if it increasingly seems like a fitting campaign slogan for Cain would be “The White House or bust.”) Romney holding firm. Gingrich waiting in wings as Anti-Perry understudy for Cain.
9:31: Perry just said he remembered now the department he said he wanted to eliminate but couldn’t remember. Have we EVER seen anyone so sloppily prepared for debates? Obama would devour him in Presidential debates Perry answer better on student loan program and education.
9:30: Gingrich answer on student loans interesting. He does make you think (and sometimes says things that make you think less of him.)
9:26: Ron Paul is a tragiic political figure. If he were more accessible in some of his answers, he’d have more of a chance in the GOP. If he ran as a third party candidate, he’d do well. He will go nowheresville — but be a hero to his supporters. Student loans answer not much of an answer. Paul would kill the federal student loan program. THAT will motivate younger voters, RP. After that it is RIP.
9:24: It’s too bad Huntsman worked for the Obama administration. I am convinced if not for that he would be much further up in the polls. He is one of the more interesting GOP candidates in terms of appeal to indies. The “new” Anti-Romney if Cain peters out would likely be Gingrich but it should be Huntsman, who is more of a traditional conservative — who has not flip flopped.
9:17: Cain still best speaker on balance. He mentions his “9 9 9 Plan” and crowd affectionately laughs. His likability when the cameras are on is his biggest strength.
9:15: Perry says Texas offered good business climate which is why companies such as Caterpillar have moved there. Now he’s doing his talking points on his flat tax. Perry having trouble remembering the agencies he’d do away with. PERRY IS TOAST.
9:13: John Harwood talks about Romney working with Dems as Governor. “Thanks for reminding everyone of that,” he replies to crowd laughs. That line and laughs say more about the state of our politics. Romney does boilerplate about Obama focusing on his election.
9:11: Santorum gets question on how he’d work with Democrats. Gives decent answer about Democrats geing interested in some of his ideas. Not a bad answer in general about desiring to bring Americans together (except his record as Senator did not show that he worked hard on that..)
9:10: Now they’re going to talk about the deficit. The deficit of good ideas in this debate?
9:06: A break. Here’s this reaction from this independent voter. Romney remains the most impressive because he has done his homework, his content is good and his delivery is interesting. It’s easy to see him debating Barack Obama. Cain hasn’t lost ground or advanced himself. Unless something changes, with this debate Perry is a guy with a big, fat bankroll who is utterly uninteresting and uninspiring to all but those who donated to his campaign or who already agree with him. Gingrich remains his own worst enemy: if he had the DISCIPLINE to just focus on questions and answers, he’d be appealing to more than talk radio fans and Tea Party members. But he has had to, in every debate, do a predictable attack on the press. Romney is the biggest threat to Obama’s re-election among this crowd. Huntsman and Romney would be most appealing to independent voters.
9:04: The candidates seem to be trying to kill each other with kindness in this debate. It’s as if they all took a sensitivity training course, or had a private cookout and beer party last weekend…
8:57: Gingrich again goes after moderators for wanting an answer in 30 seconds. Now he goes into saying he’ll challenge Obama to the loooooooong Lincoln Douglas debates. Gingrich given more time to answer what he’d do after repealing health care reform. Gives a decent response. “I am for fixing our health rather than fixing our health bureaucracy.” If Gingrich can show some discipline, he’ll be the back-up Anti-Romney if (as seems likely) Cain fizzles out.
8:56: Cain will please GOPers now. Refers to Nancy Pelosi as “Princess Nancy.”
8:55: Ron Paul and Perry on health care repeating past positions. Presenting their positions well.
8:52: Listening to Huntsman, it’s clear that if his campaign had been 10 years ago, he’d be at the forefront. Very intelligent. Very serious. Tries to be measured. Tries to appeal to reason versus taking the easy way out and hurling red meat and slogans. Not the style today. He probably would do quite well with independents, moderate Democrats and remaining RINOs…but he has no chance in 2011.
8:51: Cain’s experience as a motivational speaker is a plus for him. On most of his answers, he handles them quite well, with confidence. It’s only later when you read his words that it’s more apparent that his delivery enhances his not always terrific content.
8:50: When Gingrich focuses on issues and doesn’t get off on his anti-press rant he is quite good and warrants attention. When he throws red meat to partisans he is then strictly a partisan with no hope of expanding his base. But when he’s serious, he’s quite good.
8:38: During break. My impressions so far: Romney is having a good night, Cain is holding his own and doing quite well for someone who has had the past few days that he has had, Rick Perry is utterly uninspiring and dull, except perhaps to those who donated money to his campaign. Huntsman has potential but his moment seems past…if he had one. The others aren’t performing differently than in the past. And I wish I had placed my bet in Vegas about Gingrich going at that mean, old, bad, evil, incompetent press (the one he talks to all the time since he is all over the media) since I could have picked up some big bucks. Intitial view: the White House will correctly view Romney as the biggest threat.
8:47: So far this debate is more like a low key PBS discussion. As Jerry Seinfeld would say: “Not that there’s anything wrong with that.” But of all the debates so far, it (so far) lacks the passion of the others. I don’t see a game changer for anyone so far here.
8:46: Perry says America is being killed by regulations and that’s the real reason. The next prez, he says, has to pull back any and all job killing regulations.
8:45: Candidates answers to housing crisis all boilerplate.
8:37: Are they all burned out? Of all the debates, this is the most low-key and not because of the subject matter. Perhaps its because when talking about the economy they find it harder to get worked up.
8:25: Bachmann refers to “General Axelrod in Chicago” as instructing Obama. No response from crowd, if that is what she expected. So far Bachmann is a bit better than in her past debates. She is focusing more on answering the questions than trying to deliver lines to elicit crowd cheers.
8:32: John Harwood asks Romney why he doesn’t have flat tax. Romney argues the “Obama economy” has crushed the middle class and he wants to focus on helping the middle class. Makes the case on middle class problems by citing some statistics. First thing, he says, is to lower the tax rate on middle income Americans.
8:27: So far the person I’d vote for is Jim Cramer.
8:26: Gingrich attacks news media for not reporting accurately about the way the economy works. He is asked what the news media is not reporting. Gingrich wants the media to question Occupy Wall Street people about profits, etc. His answer is not as broad as his original assertion suggested — that somehow the news media is all wet on explaining the economy. His answer deals with Occupy Wall Street.
8:25: Perry on flat tax. Not bad the way he raises it but Perry is not lifting himself up.
8:24: Romney defends businesses’ profit. Notes that profit is used to expand a business and hire more people. The administration wants jobs but doesn’t like businesses. Romney again seems to connect.
8:21: Huntsman also criticizes auto bailout. I don’t see that argument as working against Obama given the results of the bailout.
8:20: Rick Santorum frames his arguments a lot better than Bachmann. He is putting some of his boilerplate positions within the context of answering a question on taxes. He at least makes an effort to answer the question, not just regurgitate his talking points and old speeches.
8:21: Romney basically says he doesn’t want to comment on Cain but on the economy. It seems like this has gotten the debate back on the economic track. He probably gains points with some for this — particularly if Cain implodes as many expect.
8:20: Cain gets question on characters and the sexual harassment controversy. Raising the issue gets boos. Cain says character is more than allegations based on “unfounded accusations.” He again refers to himself in third person (something Joe Gandelman would never do when Joe Gandelman live blogs and Joe Gandelman has never done it in Joe Gandelman’s posts.). Calls accusations “character assassination”…says people don’t care about the issue. As good an answer as he can get.
8:16: Michele Bachmann: Is it just me or is she “so yesterday?” In her first answer on taxes she has pivoted to “Obama care” and a border fence. Shall we take bets on how soon into the debate before she shouts a line clearly designed to get applause from the crowd?
8:15: Gingrich now answering. Shall we take bets on how soon into the debate before he attacks the moderators or the press for doing gotcha questions? But he has already gotten into “class warfare” and “food stamps” so he has not wasted much time.
8:10: Romney gets nailed with question about his conflicting statements about auto industry bail out including his saying let them go broke. Romney is not answering so far his conflicting answers. Restating his bail out opposition and support for managed bankruptcy which he says works. He gives a more nuanced answer that explains some of his contradictions…but the problem is most voters don’t listen to nuance. And Romney DOES flip flop. His answer on his flip flops doesn’t answer his problem with flip flops. He is all over the place…even now to never will apologize for the United States. BAD ANSWER. His problem is not addressed.
8:08 Perry again comes across like a bowl of day old macaroni. “If you are too big to fail, you’re too big.” (Which makes me feel good since I am five foot one..) Didn’t advance himself one bit.
8:07: Questioner Jim Cramer asks questions with more passion than candidates answer them. Ron Paul gives his “hands off” answer linking up the stock market, Europe and housing. Cramer: “Italy is too big to fail.” Cramer asks Jon Huntsman about impact here. Huntsman concerned “we have a huge problem called too big to fail in this country….We’re setting ourself up for disaster again…We’ve got to get back to a day and age where we have properly sized banks…”
8:05: Romney says Europe should be able to take care of itself. “We do not need to step in to bail out banks in Europe or banks here in the U.S.” Happy to participate in world efforts but not to get involved “in a tarp like program.” Again, Romney LOOKS GOOD as a candidate. He is far improved over his previous run for President. He comes across as informed and even if his answers are not perfect that he is thoughtful and not just doing talking points.
8:04: Cain asked first about stock market down and fear about Italy. Says “we must grow this economy.” Also “must assure our currency is sound.” Cain is a good speaker who comes across good on the tube even though his answers are somewhat general. “Focus on the domestic economy or we will fail.” Sort of a boilerplate answer.
8:02 EST: Intros are beginning. Romney gets big cheer in Michigan but Cain gets a bigger one.
UPDATE: I don’t know why, but when I re-watched Rick Perry’s Moment this routine seemed to come to mind:
UPDATE II: I put a lot of debate related Tweets on my Twitter page.
Joe Gandelman is a former fulltime journalist who freelanced in India, Spain, Bangladesh and Cypress writing for publications such as the Christian Science Monitor and Newsweek. He also did radio reports from Madrid for NPR’s All Things Considered. He has worked on two U.S. newspapers and quit the news biz in 1990 to go into entertainment. He also has written for The Week and several online publications, did a column for Cagle Cartoons Syndicate and has appeared on CNN.