Monthly Archives: October 2011

Is Herman Cain Prepared To Be President? Is Anyone?

Today’s blog post is at the Washington Post online site as part of their Leadership discussion roundtable. Today’s topic: Is Herman Cain qualified to be president? As you’ll see (click the Washington post link above), while I’m skeptical that Cain’s background as CEO prepares him to be President, I can’t think of any position that does. As I note in the post, history does not indicate that any particular profession best prepares one to be President. Some of our most experienced politicians – think Nixon or Lyndon Johnson in recent years – turned out to have flawed presidencies. Meanwhile, that noted political “amateur” Dwight David Eisenhower, did ok. (Of course, even though he wasn’t a politician, one could argue that Ike developed formidable political skills in his leadership positions.)   But experience alone isn’t a guarantee of success nor inexperience a sure road to failure.  Instead,  I think we need to look at a candidate’s values, core convictions and ideology and ask, do they fit with the times?  Sometimes inexperience may be desirable if we are looking for a new direction in policies and politics.   But we should pay more attention, I think, to what a president believes, and why, and less to the candidate’s resume.

Of course, even here we can be led astray. As I note in the post, one of the major ironies of the Obama presidency is that his major accomplishments have come in foreign affairs, an area in which he has hewed most closely to the precedents laid down by George W. Bush. Indeed, rather than the President of Change, he may go down as the President of Continuity, at least in foreign policy. I’ll have more to say on that in a subsequent post. In the meantime, take a look at the Post discussion.

Live Blogging the Republican Debate (Nevada Version)

Do you think Rick Santorum gets style points for singing the national anthem?

Perry looks energized – in the introductions.  Let’s see if it lasts.

Gingrich has the best opening introduction, one that targets Obama, not other Republicans.  Right from the Gingrich debate playbook.

Looks like Cain is the early target.  Welcome to frontrunner status.

Here’s a new twist: Cain’s 9-9-9 plan will lower birthrates!  Gotta love Santorum.  And comparing it to European value added tax – ouch! Socialism!

Looks like the sales tax will be the target tonight.

Perry is ready – so far.  (And what’s this “brother” talk from Perry?)  Perry also makes a nice gesture to New Hampshire voters.

By the way, this is the first time I’ve heard Cain acknowledge that he might make concessions to low income earners in his sales tax provisions. (Jack – this answers the question you raised today).

Romney has been strangely silent.   Ooops – now he piles on.  Mixing his fruit, but it is the line everyone is using against Cain’s plan.

Poor Herman – wonder how he feels about leading the polls now?

Gingrich continues to play elder statesman, and does it effectively.  And yet he takes a gentle jab on Cain’s lack of experience too, in noting that significant policy change takes years, and that we should be focusing on plans that are feasible and have an immediate impact.

Part of the problem with this format is that it’s hard to distinguish the various economic plans being discussed.  Bachmann is particularly vulnerable here.

Perry is back on the energy kick.  I’m not sure what’s driving this, unless he links it to his yet to be revealed economic plan.  Meanwhile he continues to trip over his own words.  Does anyone know what he just said here?

Santorum also has the Bachmann problem – his plan sounds pretty much like the other plans.  Finally, someone takes on Romney on Romneycare.  Will they come to blows? Will Mitt’s hair get mussed?  Santorum looks ready to blow here.  Good stuff!

The best attack on Romney yet – and Romney now seems to defend his plan by saying Massachusetts voters like it – not the best political defense when you have to rest on support from a Democratic state.

(Ever notice how Bachmann laughs at everything Newt says?)  Newt also takes on Mitt in more subtle fashion than Rick, but perhaps more effectively.  Mitt is ready with a nice retort, throwing Newt’s past support for individual mandates against him, but the longer this goes on, the more it focuses on the wrong issue for Mitt.  He needs to get off this topic.  Ah, saved by Bachmann.

Cooper so far is moderating with a very light touch, which has allowed the food fight to break out.

By the way, what happened to Cain?  Is he still on stage?  It’s tough with 8 people to get equal input. 

Here’s Cain on health care – let’s see how he does when he gets off 9-9-9.

Perry has got to be careful on the immigration issue here – because Romney will come back here.  Wow, bringing up hiring illegal immigrants – this is an old story. Did he say the “heith” of hypocrisy?   

This was the obvious opening, and Romney didn’t miss it: back to the illegal immigrants tuition issue again.  Perry should have seen this coming. 

Interesting exchange here.  Mitt sounds miffed.  He’s giving a pretty good defense here to Perry’s accusations which seem a little forced, frankly.  Perry seems overly amped this time – what medication is he on?

Perry is doing a little better on the immigration issue, although the Predator drone idea can be easily misconstrued.  

Bachmann is back on Obama’s case with the red meat for her base:  build a fence, English only language, etc.  It gets applause, but is it feasible? 

Perry just isn’t a smooth debater.  And the immigration issue just isn’t a winner for him anymore than healthcare is for Romney. Frankly, Perry’s attack on the Romney lawn care crew just doesn’t seem to be resonating.

Cooper questions the 14th amendment, but it is a stupid question and no one wants to respond, and rightly so. Instead, Cain pivots to jobs and Perry to energy and mining in Nevada.  That will teach Cooper not to play professor.

Santorum continues to hammer away at the family values angle, but so far without much to show for it.

(Kate – Romney, I think, is vulnerable on Romneycare, but at this point he has his defense down pat, so it’s not clear to me how much his opponents are going to gain on this issue.  But that won’t stop them from trying.)

Yucca Mountain – Newt has come the closest anyone on the panel will in endorsing Yucca as a nuclear waste site. This is a sensitive issue for the locals, and there’s no payoff tonight for endorsing Yucca.  Move on.

Did Perry just forget which amendment deals with states rights?

The argument is getting a bit bogged down here on who supported TARP, and why. 

This is probably Bachmann’s strongest point tonight – she’s coming across as relevant rather than extremist in discussing the impact of foreclosure on families and women.

Here’s Cain’s chance to walk down the “Blame Yourself” quote, and he doesn’t take it – instead he doubles down on the quote, to big applause. Cue Paul and the attack on the Federal Reserve.   It’s deja vu all over again.

Paul’s on pretty strong ground in playing the “don’t blame the victims card” and pointing the finger at “Wall St”, which is a pretty convenient target.

Break Number 2.  If pundits are waiting for “the moment” that begins to whittle the field, it doesn’t look like it’s going to happen tonight. Everyone is playing their familiar roles.  Romney is holding his own, Cain remains unflappable, Perry is struggling once again, Paul is attacking the Federal Reserve and Bachmann promises to fight the good fight. I think Newt slipped a bit when he went negative on Mitt, but otherwise he’s been strong.  Santorum, meanwhile, remains angry.

Interesting response here by Santorum to the “Mormon cult” question – he seems to be defending Mitt, but in some respects he refocuses attention on the tenets of the Mormonism.  Newt, in some respects, does the same – he defends Mitt but invites further questioning of Mitt’s beliefs.   It will be interesting to see what Mitt says here. 

Mitt’s response is both a defense of his faith but also a political attack on Perry for not taking a stronger stance against the Pastor.  But Mitt doesn’t want to linger on this issue either.

Haven’t had much foreign policy discussion this electoral season.  Bachmann gets on her horse here, without bothering to answer the question of how much to cut defense.   Newt gets a chance here to reprise his attack on the “super committee”, but this time by laying out a basis for making foreign policy decisions.  Good job Newt, even if we’ve heard the “amputation” metaphor before.

Here’s the obligatory “foreign aid” question – people continually overestimate how much this country spends on foreign aid.  It’s a pittance, but it’s always the first place people go to when looking to cut “waste” from government.  This is another red meat question. 

Interesting differences arise on the foreign aid question.  Bachmann is on her game tonight when it comes to foreign policy issues.

Does anyone in the audience remember the Iran-contra affair?   I’m not sure this example resonates with very many of them.   


Santorum’s response on the electability question is pretty darn good.  Not that it changes his chances much.

Pretty heated exchange here between Perry and Romney, but I’m surprised Perry doesn’t go after the flip-flopper issue a bit more.

Newt gets a chance to finish up by bashing the media and offering to reprise the Lincoln-Douglas debate.   Which is a fitting way to end this debate!

 Ok, let the spin begin.

I was surprised by how personal some of the exchanges were, but substantively, there wasn’t alot of new ground broken here.  Perry was more energized, but his energy struck me as sometimes used to push petty issues, or issues that have been vetted previously (the illegal workers issue has been covered pretty well in the last election cycle).  I thought Cain got through relatively unscathed considering that it started out as “gang up on the Herminator night”.  But he seemed a bit shaky on the foreign policy issues and his comments earlier today suggesting he would negotiate with Al Quaeda if they held Americans came back to bite him a bit.  He had to backtarck on that.  I’m still dubious that he has staying power, but he did nothing to hurt himself tonight.  Whether he can turn this early support into a stronger infrastructure in key states remains an open question.

Since the next debate won’t be for a month or so, it will be interesting to see whether any of the second-tier candidates will be reassessing their candidacies.  Note that Huntsman didn’t bother showing up. 

That’s it from here.  I’ll try to get a follow up post tomorrow..

Yes, He Cain! (Or No, He Cain’t?)

Propelled by strong Tea Party support, Herman Cain has now surged to the top of the Republican leaderboard in the Republican race for the presidential nomination. The most recent Real Clear Politics composite poll has Cain tied with Mitt Romney, with each receiving about 23% of support in surveys. (Rick Perry has dropped back to third at about 12%). However, the virtual tie masks the fact that Romney, despite having “won” each of the Republican debates (if pundits are to be believed), appears to have maxed out at about 25% of the national vote, as measured by surveys of likely Republican voters. This is particularly worrisome because this is Romney’s second time on the dance floor with Republican voters; he also competed in the 2008 Republican race and was driven out early in that process. Meanwhile, it is not clear how hgh Cain’s upside is, but there’s no reason as yet to believe he has hit his ceiling.

Note that Cain’s ascendance has perplexed media pundits and alarmed the Republican establishment. The latter has sought in vain to create an aura of inevitability behind Romney’s candidacy, with leading party figures – most recently Chris Christie – lining up to endorse him, while issuing not so subtle knocks on Cain’s candidacy. The online political magazine Politico asked its leading pundits after last Tuesday’s Dartmouth debate whether Cain has staying power. In a remarkable show of conventional thinking at its worst the pundits almost universally dismissed Cain as a viable candidate, a sentiment captured by one wag who proclaimed: “I’m willing to bet that Herman Cain’s campaign reached its zenith just before last night’s debate and, after being hammered over his silly 999 plan, he has begun his slide toward also-ran..” Perhaps, but it should be noted that Rasmussen released a poll taken a day after the debate showing Cain in a dead heat with Romney – only the latest of several polls placing Cain either first or second in the race.

Indeed, if anything, the Dartmouth debate propelled Cain beyond novelty act to someone the media – reluctantly, I think – has to begin taking seriously. In today’s Meet the Press program, David Gregory could barely contain his incredulity that he was forced to devote a portion of the program to interviewing a former pizza CEO with no political experience. But despite Gregory’s best efforts to catch Cain in a verbal gaffe, or to make him adopt a politically untenable policy position, Cain more than held his own by parrying Gregory with a combination of candor, reasoned responses and humor.

What explains Cain’s appeal? Conventional wisdom suggests he is, as Sarah Palin put it, the flavor of the day – the latest candidate, following Michelle Bachmann and then Rick Perry, to get his day in the media spotlight based on initial Tea Party curiosity before inevitably falling back into the darkness of second-tier candidate oblivion. But this broadly-held opinion misses crucial distinctions between the three candidates. First, Cain’s strongest selling point for Tea Party activists is that, in contrast to Bachmann, he has no governing experience. While Bachmann presents herself as a lone voice in Washington fighting the good fight, Cain can trump that by reminding voters that he’s not part of Washington at all. Second, unlike Bachmann, Cain’s appeal deepens the more one is exposed to him because his candidacy is rooted in a substantive policy proposal – the oft-cited 9-9-9 plan (or, as Bachmann reminds us, 6-6-6 upside down!) that has begun attracting serious scrutiny. Bachmann’s initial rise, in contrast, was fueled largely with voter discontent with the political establishment, but not in any specific policy proposal on her part. She polled better for what she was against than for what she was for. The 9-9-9 plan, of course, is not without potential political vulnerabilities, most notably in Cain’s proposal to institute a national sales tax. But the discussion of its key elements keeps Cain front and center in the Republican race, while Bachmann has seen her polling support fade.

Whither Perry? Many pundits remain convinced that, despite his recent slide in the polls, this remains a two-person race between Perry and Romney for the Republican nominations. They do so in part because of Perry’s fund-raising prowess; his 3rd quarter fund-raising haul of $17 million topped every other Republican candidate, and he has spent less than Romney and is carrying little debt. Indeed, most leading pundits continue to insist that we should pay no attention to those polls that show Cain ahead.  Thus, shortly after interviewing Cain, Gregory brought on Tim Pawlenty, who has endorsed Romney, and Bobbie Jindal, a Perry supporter, to debate the merits of their two candidates. Similarly, Chris Matthews began his talk show by asking whether Romney had the race sewn up, or could Perry catch him.

Despite the media’s assertions of a two-man race, however, many conservatives remain lukewarm toward Perry and Romney. Contrary to media’s reporting, the biggest obstacle to Perry’s candidacy is not that he’s a lethargic debater (although he is). It is that his record as Texas governor does not sit well with Tea Party conservatives who constitute a significant chunk of likely Republican voters. The reality is that in order to govern, Perry supported a number of policy positions that rankle die-hard conservatives, most notably the decision to offer in-state tuition rates to children of illegal immigrants. Although the legislation had the support of all but four Texas legislators, and affected perhaps 16,000 students, it made Texas the first state to grant in-state tuition to children of illegal immigrants. For Tea Party activists, supporting illegal immigrants in this way is a cardinal sin right up there with tax hikes and increased government spending..

I have cautioned before that we are only entering the final phase of the “invisible primary”, a period in which historically nomination races are very fluid. How fluid? At this time in 1992, Mario Cuomo was trouncing the Democratic field, with about 30% in polls, while Bill Clinton was at about 5%. Clinton, of course, won the nomination. Although both Dole and Bush led their races in 1996 and 2000 respectively and went on to secure the Republican nominations, in 2004 Democrats were leaning toward Howard Dean, who had a slight lead over John Kerry, the eventual party standard bearer. And in 2008 at this time, the Republican frontrunners were Rudy Giuliani and Fred Thompson, while among Democrats Hillary Clinton had a strong lead. (Thanks to Sarah Pfander and Owen Witek for digging up the relevant data.)

But this doesn’t mean these early debate, fund-raising and polling results don’t provide some clues to who will win the nomination. Bill Mayer has shown that, taken together, the national polls and fund-raising totals just before the Iowa caucuses do provide fairly reliable indications of who will win the popular vote in each party’s nominating process. (Of course, as we saw in 2008, the popular vote winner doesn’t always get the party’s nomination!) So we shouldn’t dismiss these results entirely. In contrast to most prognosticators, however, I am less bullish at this point regarding Romney’s prospects. Indeed, it would not surprise me to see the Republican race to come down to two men – but that these  are Cain and Perry, with Romney once again finding that his support among Republican activists is tenuous at best. Much depends on how Cain weathers the media scrutiny that will inevitably accompany his newly acquired front-runner status. So far he has remained remarkably affable and poised when pressed to defend some of his most controversial statements.

There is also the racial issue, which I want to address in a separate post. But, in contrast to many pundits, I think that being a black American (Cain’s preferred description of himself) who espouses policy views anathema to many African-Americans is one of Cain’s strongest selling points among likely Republican voters, not least because many Democrats persist in believing opposition to Obama is racially motivated. On this issue, at least, it will be hard to question the motives of Cain’s supporters.

Can Cain use the next 10 weeks (or less) before the Iowa caucus/New Hampshire primary to solidify his status as front runner?

To hear Cain supporters, the answer is, “Yes, we Cain!” It’s still early, and history suggests the odds are against him, but at this point I’m not prepared to say “No, he Cain’t”.

Live Blogging the Republican Debate

We’ll be on at about 7:50.  Stay tuned…

7:53. Update on the Senate jobs vote – Olivier Knox notes that there are now 2 Democrats who have voted no.  My early projection was it would probably lose 4 Democrats in addition to the Republicans.  Note that this is a vote to invoke cloture – not a vote on final passage.   Since the outcome was a foregone conclusion (Democrats were never going to get the 60 votes need to end the threat of a filibuster), many Democrats who might have opposed the jobs bill have in effect a free vote, knowing that voting with the party won’t really matter in this case.  Behind the scenes, many Senate Democrats were not keen on going on record supporting any legislation that raised taxes.

7:59  Charlie Rose will modeate this tonight.  Note the different format – the candidates are seated around a table, rather than standing behind a podium.  It will be interesting to see if this changes the dynamics regarding how candidates interact.  Note that Rose is prone to going off the deep end in terms of questions, so look for some unusual  queries – look for lots of touchy/feely type inquiries.

His co-inquisitors are Tumulty, from the Post and a Bloomberg correspondent with whom I am not familiar.

And we are off…. first question to Cain, and he trots out the 9-9-9 plan faster than it takes to deliver pepperoni on cheese.  Let’s see if Perry and Romney take Cain on directly….

2nd question to Perry – and he reminds us that he’s the only candidate not to release an economic plan as yet.

3rd question – Romney.  Rose starts with the big three, as measured by the polls.  Romney appeal to crossing the aisle to work with Democrats will play well in New Hampshire.

4rth question – back to Perry.  There other five Republicans twiddling there thumbs.  Perry takes a jab at Romney’s 6-year quest for the presidency.

Tumulty’s on.  5th question is a softball to Bachmann.  First wasted question of the night.  She’ll use it to attack government – no one is going to say arrest bankers.  Sheesh…..Strong, detailed answer by her.  It may be too late.

6th Questions – Tumulty is pushing the Wall St. protest angle.  And Gingrich links some of them to the Tea Party movement.  And he too pivots to use the question to attack Democrats and the government.  Jail Frank and Dodd?  Newt’s on a roll – and the first applause line of the night.  Go, Newt, Go!

7th question – Newt has stolen some of Paul’s thunder with his attack on Bernanke. Still, there’s room to pile on the Fed, and Paul doesn’t miss the opportunity.

8th question – Bloomberg to Santorum.  How to bring back the jobs?  Santorum – lower corporate taxes, manufacturers bring jobs back, we get to tax them.  It’s so easy!   And Santorum takes a shot at Cain while pushing his own jobs bill.  Basically says Herm is unrealistic.

9th Question – Finally, poor Jon Huntsman is brought in.  Can you spell “last”?   Huntsman cracks a good one – first time I’ve ever heard Bachmann laugh!  It’s only one question, but Huntsman looks on his game.  He’d better be….

10th question – this is a potentially tricky one, that could elicit cheers for letting old people die.  Let’s see how Newt handles an end of life question.  Careful Newt… And he turns it around to attack those faceless bureaucrats sitting on Palin’s “death panels.”   My sense is Newt is not talking to the New Hampshire audience, but instead is focusing on the southern states – South Carolina and if he’s still in the race, Georgia.

11th question – Bachmann one up’s Newt on the death panel.  Not necessarily going to play well in New Hampshire, but perhaps it will in Iowa?

12th question – to Huntsman.  who do you go to for economic advice?   This is a classic Charlie Rose question.  Huntsman segues into praising government service.   Rose presses – and Huntsman launches another joke!  He’s definitely amped up for this.   And he takes a shot of Cain’s 9-9-9 pizza plan – and the Herminator jumps right in to protect his pizza…er… his economic plan.

13 th – Who does Cain go to advice?  Who are these mysterious economists that Cain went to?

14th – Romney gets a “hypothetical” and gets testy about it.  Answer the question Mitt.  He does – but not very well.  If the system was going to collapse, he would take action.  Swell, Mitt.   followup – would Mitt support another bank bailout?   Of course not.    Mitt trots out his economic advisers.

How  confident does it make you feel to know most of these candidates have trained economists advising them?  As a ph.d., I can tell you it scares the heck out of me!

Newt jumps in to gang up on Obama, his advisers and the bank bailout.  Part of the problem with this debate is that the Republicans agree on more than they disagree on when it comes to the economy.  Paul piles on….


Biggest loser so far?  Rick Perry.  He’s been too passive – he needs to interject himself into this format the way Cain and Gingrich have done.

Ok, part 2 – throwing Reagan’s words back at Republicans on the need to compromise.  Perry is given the unenviable job of saying the Gipper is wrong.  Perry trots out the red meat – a balanced budget.  Gets some applause, but otherwise not a great answer.

I’ve lost track of questions, but Tumulty is trying to bring Romney back to earth by forcing him to choose.  He doesn’t bite – his answer is animated, but lacks any specifics.  Rose pushes – only cuts?  No revenue raised?

Once again Gingrich interjects himself into this fight by attacking the supercommittee and Congress abrogating its responsibility for making hard choices.  Gingrich, as always, is on his debate game.

Bachmann’s answers by this point seem tired – if I hear one more time that she was a lone voice in the Washington wilderness, I’ll pay to fly her to some real wilderness.

Second clip: Some free pub for Cain, but let’s see if the others rise to the bait.  Instead, “Bloomberg” goes after Cain – and he’s not buying it.  Cain is, so far, up to the front-runner challenge.  I think he’s solidifying his support so far.  He insists his plan will be revenue neutral.   Julie “Bloomberg” is not buying it – won’t beer prices go up?   (Dartmouth students gasp!)

Finally, some disagreement!  Bachmann attacks the sales tax portion of 9-9-9.   Game on!   Uh oh – did I just hear Bachman compare Cain to the antichrist!!!!!   is this a subtle (or not so subtle) appeal to the evangelical vote?

Huntsman clearly sees that Romney is his primary concern, and he has to take Mitt down.  Let’s see how Mitt responds.  Mitt stands strong – intellectually, Huntsman may have the best of this exchange, but Romney stand tall approach on rectifying the trade imbalance is politically the better approach.  Huntsman needs to respond….finally, Perry jumps in.

(Is Rick Santorum still here?)

Perry mangles the language, but eventually get his point out, but I don’t think it is all that effective.  He’s still tongue tied.  He has a record to run on, but he just doesn’t sell it well.

Santorum hammers the Herminator on the sales tax and on his income tax.   His appeal to NH voters is a nice touch.  and he takes time to jump on Mitt too – this is a desperate candidate whose time is running out.

Cain sticks to his persona as the “non-politician” at the table.

Huntsman attacks Mitt again!  Says Mitt is wrong that he can repeal Obamacare.

Wow, somewhere a real debate has broken out!  This is a great format, and promises to get better with candidates questioning one another.   Can Charlie maintain control?  stay tuned…

Ok, here’s what we have so far:

Huntsman is targeting Romney.  Cain and 9-9-9 have become everyone’s target (that’s what being a frontrunner will  do).  Paul and Santorum are not getting face time, and Santorum in particular is ready to pop.  Perry remains strangely subdued – he’s not doing much so far to resuscitate his campaign.  And Romney remains his annoying self – not quite pulling off the presidential demeanor.  gingrich continues to sparkle, but does it matter?

Bachmann targets Perry – interesting choice of targets, and a great question that plays to his weakness: he has a record and he had to work with Democrats to get things done.  But he handles this pretty well, for once.

CAin – does he have a question?  Naturally, he targets the other front-runner: Romney. Hmm…did Romney just call Cain “simple”?  There’s something vaguely patronizing by how he responded to Cain.  I can see why Cain’s support is growing – he’s a straight talker who doesn’t waffle.

Gingrich also takes on Romney’s economic plan – this time taking a capital gains tax break to those who barely earn capital gains.   Romney turns this into a defense of the middle class.  Not great economics, and not a great answer substantively, but may it works politically.

Huntsman – another joke!  (no one laughs) and he also targets Romney!  Huntsman basically says Romney isn’t electable.

Romney…private sector,  job craetion, blah blah blah.

Paul to Cain: why not audit the Fed?  (Cain used to be in the banking business as part of the Federal Reserve system).  Is Paul going to ask a question?   Cain isn’t shy.

Perry, naturally, also targets Romney.  Finally, someone brings up Romneycare.   Romney has to have an answer ready.  Nice touch in bringing in Christie endorsement.   Ooooh testy exchange with Perry.  If Perry doesn’t get his dander up after this exchange, nothing will energize him.

Romney is very strategic with his question – he targets Bachmann, who is no threat at all.  Very nice choice.  Why give your real opponents a platform?  Very Reaganesque touch in trying stay above the fray.    It’s too bad Perry didn’t get a chance to respond to Romney – let’s see if he comes back to this.

Santorum – very effective “use” of his question.   Really a statement, and then a question targeting Cain’s lack of experience and support of TARP.  Cain ignores the question, and touts 9-9-9.  This guy knows marketing techniques and how to stay on message.

Where’s Newt?  The problem with this question format is it simply reinforces the implicit hierarchy among candidates since everyone asks questions of the perceived frontrunners.  That simply gives  them more free air time, and reduces the opportunity for second tier candidates to break through.  They really needed to open this segment up to a free for all.

Good.  Rose gives Perry a chance to respond to Romney’s attack on his health care record.  This may be the last opportunity for Perry to make an impression.  And he gives a decent response, but really misses the opportunity to respond to Romney directly.  Maybe he doesn’t want to give Romney more airtime?   This is actually turning into a pretty decent answer.

Cain’s favorite fed chair? Greenspan. And who would replace Bernanke?  Ah, the mystery candidates – who might they be?   The Herminator isn’t saying.   Paul is horrified that Cain likes Greenspan.

Romney once again is skating through this melee largely untouched.  If history is any guide,  he’ll get no boost in support but will remain the front-runner.  Is Romney going to get the nomination by default?

Bachmann riffs on Dodd-Frank, and this is largely an effective riff.  Score points for her – except everyone else wants to repeal Dodd-Frank as well.   Again there’s alot of agreement on this panel.

Perry’s turn to hit a softball – except it’s a trick pitch designed to trap him on the Texas’ version of the Solyndra scandal.  Perry parries it pretty well, but he’s still not doing so with the passion one might like.

Gingrich channels his inner Reagan – praising his fellow Republicans and talking up America’s future.

Cain gets a chance to defend his “get a job” statement.  He was ready for it.

Romney is a master at evading answers by speaking in platitudes, attacking Obama and touting his private sector experience.

Santorum  has the energy that Perry lacks, but Perry has the support Santorum lacks.

Final Question and this is a Charlie Rose special – touchy feely time:  Show me you feel my pain.

Bachmann: 23 foster kids

Cain: I was “Po” before I was “poor”.

Gingrich:  spouts the 11 the commandment (speak no ill of fellow Republicans).

Paul: liberty is caring.

Santorum:   upward social mobility.

Huntsman: family business, state government that says jobs=dignity.  (and don’t forget the shoutout to NH!)

Perry:  poor parents, military service, and job creator.  Likes apple pie too.  With a sprinkling of texas drawl on top.

Romney:   bellicose answer – interesting twist on a closing statement.

Ok, foks.  Thoughts?

My initial reactions:

Perry didn’t do enough to make up lost ground.

Romney held his own, but didn’t break out of the pack.

Cain didn’t falter, but didn’t show a lot of depth suggesting he could climb higher.

Huntsman was at his best, but it’s probably not enough.

Gingrich was sharp, but also surprisingly (given his standing in the polls) avuncular toward his opponents.  Does he want to win?

Santorum was passionate, but did it help?

Paul was Paul.

Bachmann was stronger than she’s been, but it’s not clear people are still listening.

It will be interesting to see how the media spins this.

I’ll be on tomorrow with an analysis of the after-spin.

Thanks for all your comments…..


























Is Cain Able? (Previewing the New Hampshire debate)

Of winning the Republican nomination, that is.  Since his unexpectedly strong showing in the Florida straw poll a little more than two weeks ago, Cain has vaulted into the top tier of Republican candidates, along with Romney and Perry, as measured by national polling data.  Much of that support has come from Tea Party supporters who have been the most volatile voting bloc among likely Republican voters surveyed so far.  After initially embracing Bachmann after the Ames poll, they then danced with Perry and now are giving Cain a whirl. To his credit, he has taken advantage of the current media exposure to trumpet his “Main Street.” business credentials and lack of political experience – both selling points with the Tea Party activists.  This CBS poll is consistent with several recent polls showing that Cain’s growing poll support appears to have come at Rick Perry’s expense.

Despite Cain’s impressive biography, however, as I noted in an earlier post his current strong showing in the polls may say more about the media’s ability to influence perceptions of candidate viability in the absence of more concrete measures than it does about the depth and breadth of Cain’s support among likely Republican voters.  In this vein, consider the coverage of Saturday’s Values Voters Summit straw poll in Washington, DC, sponsored by the Family Research Council. In that straw poll, Ron Paul easily bested Cain, 37 % to 23%, but the media could barely muster a yawn.  In part, their disdain for the Values results reflects the fact that Paul’s supporters evidently mobilized en masse to boost his vote total. Rather than see this as a positive indication of the intensity of Paul’s supporters, however, the media chose instead to dismiss Paul’s victory as not really representative of Republican voters’ sentiments more generally. Of course, this type of strategic voting also took place in Florida’s straw poll, where many Romney supporters cast ballots for Cain (Romney wasn’t competing) in order to derail Rick Perry’s front-running campaign – a tactic the media largely fell for when reporting those results. In both straw polls, of course, barely 3,000 people participated, and they had to pay to play.

All this should be a reminder that we need to be cautious not to make too much of Cain’s recent surge to the top of the Republican leader board.  It likely says more about the tepid support for purported front-runner Mitt Romney, who with only a couple of exceptions has never polled higher than 25% in any national survey that I have seen, than it does about any deep-seated fervor for Cain.  My broader point – one I’ve made before – it that it is still too early to handicap the Republican race with any degree of confidence. Indeed, in most polls, “undecided” or “don’t know” continue to do very well.   Even in the critical primary state of New Hampshire, where the latest polls indicate that native son (at least in the summer!) Mitt Romney continues to lead the field with support in the mid-30% range, almost 70% of those surveyed indicate that their vote is still very much up for grabs.  Only 11 percent said they have definitely settled on a candidate.   With more than two months before New Hampshire’s first-in-the-nation primary (which will likely be held in the second week of January), this widespread uncertainty indicates there is still time for anti-Romney support to coalesce behind an alternative candidate.  Who might that be?  Coming off his recent surge nationally, Cain is running second in recent New Hampshire polls, but I suspect this overstates his support in the Granite state.  As an indicator of how fluid the New Hampshire race is, Rudy Giuliani, who has not even formally entered the race, nevertheless continues to run a strong third in many New Hampshire polls.

Giuliani’s support reminds us that independents can vote in the New Hampshire Republican primary and are likely to do so in high numbers, given that President Obama is not likely to face a Democratic primary challenge.  (One recent poll indicates that 57% of independents are planning to vote in the Republican primary.)  That potentially provides more fertile soil for libertarian Ron Paul and the more moderate Jon Huntsman, but will not likely help social conservatives like Michelle Bachmann and Rick Santorum. Huntsman has practically staked his candidacy on a strong New Hampshire showing, but so far despite spending far more time there than any other candidate, he hasn’t cracked single digits in any poll.

All this makes tomorrow’s New Hampshire debate at Dartmouth College of particular interest.  While not a make-or-break moment for any single candidate, some have more at stake than do others.  In particular, Huntsman is looking to break into the top-tier with a strong debate performance, but he has a steep hill to climb because he’s competing for Romney voters.  Cain will undoubtedly be under greater scrutiny as he tries to build on media-generated momentum coming off his Florida “victory”.  But the individual with perhaps the most to gain is Rick Perry, whose stock fell in the wake of two tepid debate performances and sagging support among conservatives due to his policies toward immigration and education as Texas Governor, but who was running strong in New Hampshire prior to those performances.  Perry has just launched perhaps the slickest ad of the campaign so far, one aimed at New Hampshire voters and which targets Romney as a flip-flopper and a supporter of Massachusetts’ version of Obamacare.  A strong debate performance tomorrow may help him regain some of his luster among the media pundits.  Look for him to come out more energized tomorrow, and with a better defense of his immigration policies.

For the interested among you, I’ll be on Vermont Edition today at noon to discuss the Republican primary and to preview tomorrow’s New Hampshire debate.