Fox News GOP Presidential Debate Recap
Presidential debates are a dime a dozen this year, but Hoosier Access was with you through the two-hour Iowa debate this evening. In general it’s not clear there were any winners or losers in this debate. Our initial poll of people watching the debate with us on Hoosier Access showed that most watching thought Governor Rick Perry would win the debate.
Perry managed to bring a few strong lines and his performance in general was much improved over past debates. He claimed the mantle of “Tim Tebow” conservative, which was probably the most memorable line of the night. I have a strong personal disagreement with him on the part-time legislature concept – it opens the door to more private sector influence than our current system. That said, he probably beat expectations more than anyone else and for that you might crown him the winner.
Former Governor Mitt Romney did a good job answering questions. He took a head-on approach and didn’t shy away from answers that might be controversial or hurt him with conservative voters. That said, he got into a bit of a nit-picky fight with Fox News’ panelist Chris Wallace as to whether he flip-flopped on gun rights, gay rights and abortion. As Hoosier Access contributor Matt Brinkman put it during the debate, Romney did a good job of “channeling Ronald Reagan” when it came to foreign policy. Overall he did a decent job and if he is gaining momentum in Iowa I’m not sure he said anything that would slow that down.
Former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich had a tough run of it the first part of the debate but finished stronger, in spite of a string of tough questions from Congresswoman Michelle Bachmann. Gingrich might have turned off more people with comments about supporting the concept of government-sponsored enterprises and campaigning for pro choice legislators than he won, but he followed his pattern of drawing on historic analogy and speaking about issues in philosophical terms. His best moment might have been when he coughed up that he agreed with Romney for the most part on illegal immigration, moved to the left of him on long-term illegal aliens, then blew the roof off when he said that if he’s elected he’d terminate lawsuits against states trying to deal with the issue on the border the first day of his presidency.
Congressman Ron Paul didn’t disappoint, though he seemed to have a tough time answering a line of questions about Congressional earmarks. He held the line on foreign policy but came off trying avoid negative characterizations about his views by the moderators. By focusing on their tone rather than just sticking to his guns he gave them more power and came off weaker than past debates. That said, Paul has an intense loyal following and his answers were consistent with his campaign. It’s not clear he gained any traction tonight.
Bachmann was more aggressive in the debate and if conservatives were looking for someone to challenge establishment Republicans she might pick up their votes. I can’t point to a specific answer she gave tonight, but I can clearly remember her challenging other candidates – particularly Paul on foreign policy and Gingrich on social policy. It is clear that her campaign has determined she needs to be more aggressive if she’s going to pick up any ground on her competitors and she came out swinging.
Former Senator Rick Santorum had a difficult night based on where he was located perhaps more than anything else. He had the furthest podium stage left and seemed to get the fewest questions of the “third-tier” candidates (especially when you compare the face time he received compared to former Ambassador John Huntsman). He was very strong on judicial activism and foreign policy, but did not seem to generate strong crowd reaction. I’m more in favor of Santorum than the other candidates, so that may color my perception of his performance, but I’m not sure that he’s going to see much positive momentum for his campaign from this debate performance.
Huntsman had a number of opportunities to respond to questions tonight, more than I expected given the lack of impact his campaign has had in this race to date. He spoke in generalities and tried to connect his experience to his answers but I just have a hard time taking him at his word when he answers. Huntsman referred to “shared Republican values” during the debate but I am not sure what he’s referencing. It’s hard for me to believe his campaign has much life left after Iowa.
The Fox News panelists were strong, worked hard to get answers to questions and were pretty good about not trying to pitch battles. Most of the skirmishes that erupted were initiated by candidates themselves, though the format did lend itself to those discussions because they used an answer, response format. The most memorable aspect of the debate was the warning buzzer that indicated when a candidate’s time expired – it was the same as the Google Talk message notification. I found myself switching windows quite often trying to make sure I didn’t have a message waiting for me.
Overall it was a good debate for hearing from the candidates on where they stand on the issues. It’s hard to see how any candidate gains significant advantage from their performance in this debate.