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A Sweeping Declaration of Intent: Gingrich unveils new “21st Century Contract with America”

A Sweeping Declaration of Intent: Gingrich unveils new “21st Century Contract with America”

If ever there is going to be a moment for former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich to create momentum and change the flat trajectory of his presidential run—now is the time. One day after the release of a Fox News poll, which surprisingly showed him gaining substantial ground in the race, Gingrich took to the stage at the Principal building in Des Moines to unveil his newly minted “21st Century Contract with America”.

Updated from the 1994 version, this new contract will serve as the backbone of his campaign and its acceptance or rejection will determine his fate one way or the other.

In the world of presidential politics such fate is largely decided by three things—the style, the substance, and the politics. Here is a brief analysis of all three.

The Style

By any objective measure this event was a success for the former speaker. It displayed a candidate and a campaign that, at a minimum, is hitting its stride and indeed may be ready to become a major player in the race going forward.

Standing on a small stage at the bottom of a room that can be best described as a large movie theatre, Newt showcased many of the positive characteristics that have marked his long political career. He spoke for an hour without a teleprompter or notes and smoothly communicated his message to the audience while appearing very comfortable in his own skin.

The setting was remarkably similar to a college lecture hall and his experience as a professor no doubt factored into his comfort level. Much like his strong debate performances of late, this setting played to his strengths and the result was a candidate able to speak to a variety of issues in a succinct, relaxed, and presidential fashion.

The Substance

After being presented the outline for his new “contract”, one thing is certainly clear—this is a campaign that will not lack grandeur.

Quickly letting the audience know how high he thinks the stakes are, he explained the reasoning behind the large scale of his vision by saying “countries can die without adequate leadership”.

By and large the 21st Century Contract with America is a sweeping document of declared intent. In most cases the solutions he outlines are intentionally vague as his plan is to slowly codify specifics as the campaign progresses. Following a “national conversion”, the aim is to have the contract fully fleshed out by September 27th of next year.

His solutions are largely modern day Conservative Republican fare (not a bad thing), whose main thrusts are to inject simplicity and choice into the dealings that we as citizens have with government. Any American serious about vetting the Republican candidates needs to read through the document on their own (availiable here), but here is an overview on a few major issues.

His first order of business would be to repeal Obamacare and replace it with a free market set of solutions to bring the cost of insurance down. The overall structure of our health care system would basically remain in place while insurance policies would be made portable, able to be purchased across state lines, and able to be optionally blended with personal health savings accounts (even in Medicare and Medicaid). These things along with tort reform and digitalizing medical records would attempt to radically decrease premiums without the use of mandates.

He would work to strengthen Social Security while keeping it at the Federal level and push for a voluntary option for young people to put a portion of their contributions into a Social Security savings account. The owner of this account could then choose to take this money and retire (or not retire) at any age they wished.

Perhaps the most interesting areas of this document come under the headings of taxes and immigration.

His business tax proposals are to reduce the corporate tax to 12.5%, abolish all capital gains and estate taxes, and allow 100% write offs in one year for all new equipment purchases. Personal income taxes would be handled by offering a choice to each citizen to either pay under the current system or file with a newly offered one page option. The one page would consist of taking your income, subtracting a standard deduction, taking a deduction for charitable giving and home ownership (if applicable), and multiplying that number by a single set percentage (which is left unspecified).

The headline on his immigration initiative is that there would be a deadline date for securing the border by January 1st, 2014 (“secure” is left undefined). Though it is not stated the inclusion of a firm date strongly suggests that following “securing” the border would be some form of amnesty. While a few years ago this idea would have been a non-starter for a large block of Republicans, currently the reality seems to have set in that this type of a trade-off is the only way to deal with this problem and finally move forward.

The Politics

Skeptics of the recent Gingrich campaign surge could doubt that he has the fiery sizzle to overcome his slow start and existing baggage— and be justified.  Meanwhile critics of his 21st Century Contract with America could attack the plan for being a little light on specifics (especially since Newt is not prone to lack of minutia)—and attack they may.  That being said, going forward this campaign has many more advantages to exploit than disadvantages to fear.

Here are six factors that point to his candidacy not only continuing to build on its current momentum, but that also have the potential to thrust him into the top three in a short amount of time.

#1) His mastery of the debate format, the reason that he has recently gained ground, will be an ever-growing advantage moving forward.  As the number of candidates on stage dwindles he will be allotted more and more time and will be more easily compared to the less capable candidates.

#2) Republicans are likely to recognize that a supremely informed, smooth, and skilled debater will neutralize Obama’s biggest advantage (smooth flowery rhetoric).

#3) Now that he has a specific doctrine to anchor his campaign the focus will shift there and drift away from the personal issues that previously have been sucking up oxygen and damaging his campaign.

#4) A close examination of his policy proposals reveals that he has a large number of Tea Party friendly stances and would garner their support, while not being too linked to them to hurt him in a general election.  In 2012 Republican politics this is what you call “the sweet spot”.

#5) The concepts of personal choice, competition, deadlines, fresh ideas, and lower taxes that are found throughout his platform will all appeal to true political independents—namely those that voted for Obama last time thinking that’s what they would be getting.

#6)  As the race gets closer and more real, Republicans have a track record of deciding on the grounds of experience and perceived wherewithal to win…McCain anyone?  Consider this— it’s easy to make the argument that he is as capable, if not more so, than Mitt Romney, while it’s hard to argue that he is not more Conservative.

The bottom line politically is that Newt stacks up well to the rest of the field in many categories while largely lapping them in depth and substance.  As the race wears on he, oddly enough, finds himself with many advantages to gain from and plenty of time to do it…and he certainly doesn’t have to worry about peaking too soon!

In terms of the release of the new contract and the impact it will have on his campaign the analysis is fairly simple.  The concept of a contract with the American people was a great idea and a brilliant political vehicle in 1994…and it still is in 2011.


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A Sweeping Declaration of Intent: Gingrich unveils new “21st Century Contract with America”

Why Iowa’s 2011 Legislative Session Matters to Conservatives: The Conservative Reader Interview with Senator Jack Whitver (Part 1 of 2)

Three weeks removed from ending the third longest legislative session in Iowa history, I had the pleasure of sitting down for an interview with District 35’s representative in the Iowa Senate—Republican Jack Whitver. The main focus of our conversation was the results of the 172 day session and the political clouds already forming on the horizon for next year’s Senatorial get together.

In the interest of adding perspective, here is a brief overview of Senator Whitver’s political and business careers: He joined the Iowa Senate this year by virtue of winning a special election to fill the seat of Larry Noble, first beating five other Republicans in a truncated primary and then defeating Democrat John Calhoun (63%-36%). The district covers most of the northern half of Polk County including the Des Moines suburbs of Ankeny and Johnston, as well as Grimes, Polk City, Alleman, and Elkhart.

He is a former wide receiver for the Iowa State Cyclones and, in addition to being in the Senate, owns a three-location athletic training business called Acceleration Iowa, was the Offensive Coordinator for the Iowa Barnstormers last season, and is a law student at Drake University (no this is not a misprint… this is all in the same year).

 The Interview

At a glance it would be easy to say that the 2011 Iowa legislative session was a disappointment, as it saw high ranking agenda items from both political parties ultimately produce no legislation. As usual, however, the real story lies a few layers beneath the surface and, especially from a Conservative Republican viewpoint, is found by looking at and answering the question of why these things didn’t get done.


Without a doubt, commercial and residential property tax relief was one of the few issues to truly burn white-hot during the session. All three legislative players had a plan on the table prescribing varying levels of aggressiveness in lowering Iowan’s taxes. The Governor’s plan was the most robust, followed by a more temperate approach from House Republicans, while the Senate Democrats’ plan was far tamer than the other two.

Reflecting just how high profile and high priority this issue was, Sen. Whitver regards his “no” vote as the most important one he cast in the session.

“I think the vote I am most proud of, and probably the toughest one I took, was on property taxes. That is something I campaigned on and something that needs to be done to help small businesses. The Senate Democrats brought forth a plan that I felt was not a good plan. It wasn’t nearly strong enough to do anything and was a long way away from what the House Republicans and the Governor were proposing. So it’s easy to sit down there and say ‘Well, it’s on property taxes so I am just going to vote yes and pass it.’ I was one of four Republicans that voted no, because I felt it wasn’t good enough, and I don’t want to put my name on a bill, even if it has the right title, if it wasn’t good enough. Because once you pass property tax reform, and it’s not a good bill, then it would be off the table next year, and the year after. So you don’t want to pass it for the sake of passing it.”

Beyond it being too small, he also saw the Democrat plan as a vehicle to allow local towns and counties to avoid tightening their belts and reducing their property taxes. “It’s basically taking our State income tax and our State sales tax and giving it to businesses in the form of a tax credit—as opposed to actually lowering taxes. I wasn’t a big fan of that tax shift.”

Sharing his philosophy of not settling on this issue, and certainly providing some welcome company, was Governor Branstad.

“To me the Governor showed a lot of confidence and leadership on this issue. Most governors, especially ones that don’t have the experience and the confidence he has would say, ‘Well, I said I wanted a property tax bill and I’ll take what I can get.’ Instead he said, ‘You know what, it’s not the one I want. We’ll come back and either do it in a special session or next year, but I’m not just going to try and save face and take whatever I can get.’ So I was happy about that.”

Mental Health Reform

Another issue that remained unresolved by the session was reforming the state’s mental health care system, otherwise known as SF 525. To the casual observer this amounted to a mere failure—true in the sense that no reform got passed but, once again, a look at why this was the case unearths undeniable evidence that a strong Conservative presence is asserting itself at the State House.

More than any other issue, this bill split the Senate Republican caucus, with ten voting in favor, nine voting against, and five not voting at all. The eventual fate of the bill was that it was assigned to a committee for further study. When asked about this divide in the Party and the debate in general, Sen. Whitver laid out the issue like this:

“Part of it is a rural-urban divide. There is a lot of agreement that redesigning the mental health care system needs to be done. The difference is, do we want the state to take control of it, or can we let the counties keep control. Being from Polk County, we offer a lot of services that maybe Adams County does not, because they have 4,000 people. If they want to design a system where every county has to offer the same services they are not going to take every county down to Adams County levels, they are going to bring all other counties up to Polk County levels. And at the end of the day it just looks like something that’s going to greatly expand the cost and scope of government, and I think a lot of us weren’t comfortable with that.”

The insight that this answer provides into the thought process of at least a sizeable chunk of Senate Republicans should bolster the resolve of Conservatives state-wide. It is hard to imagine a more positive indicator that Iowa Republicans are serious about actually achieving a smaller government—and not just talking about it.

Realize, especially on an emotionally sensitive topic like this one, what the specific logic they approached this issue with proves—they get it. They are viewing all things through a prism of justified skepticism, asking themselves, “Does this bill have the potential to explode into an over costly, ever expanding leviathan?” This type of foresight, had it been displayed by the Franklin Roosevelt and Lyndon Johnson administrations, could have sparred us much of the pain we are currently feeling at the Federal level.

The Reality of the Minority

In short, the reality of the minority is that you are forced to judge success differently. A look at the 293 votes Sen. Whitver cast reveals a splintered wasteland of votes cast in vain. As the roll calls of losing 26-24, 24-23, 26-21 began to pile up during the session, one has to wonder if the Senator would rather have been back running 5 yard drag routes into 240-pound Big 12 linebackers…minus his pads.

Making matters worse for this particular minority was being under the thumb of Senate Majority leader Mike Gronstal (D-Council Bluffs), who is renowned for both his liberalism and his penchant for using parliamentary maneuvers to avoid votes on hot-button issues. It didn’t take long for Sen. Whitver to experience this approach, “The first thing I saw when I got there was him changing the rules to not allow a majority of the Senators to bring up a bill.” When asked his thoughts on these tactics he joined the near unanimous chorus of Republican anger towards Gronstal, saying, “The ones that I really had a problem with were the ones that had the votes to pass. On same sex marriage, I think we had the votes to bring it up with a majority, and then to get it passed.”

Despite these circumstances, Sen. Whitver deploys a perspective that allows him to take it all in stride:

“Yeah it’s frustrating in the short term, but I have taken a longer view about being in the Senate. It’s a four year term and if I was just looking at the next election I could say, ‘Ok, I’ll vote for that property tax bill,’ but I’m going to look at the big picture. A lot of those 26-24 votes draw a line in the sand and say, ‘This is what Democrats want and this is what Republicans want, and this is our agenda going forward.’ So yeah, it is frustrating to go in there every day and vote no and see something pass, but in the long term I think we are setting up our agenda and what we are trying to accomplish pretty nicely.”

In a political minority, this is what success looks like.

Session Summary

In a state that President Obama carried by 9.5 points, and without a majority in both chambers, fully implementing a Conservative agenda was simply not realistic. In this scenario much of your work is done around the edges and in ensuring bad bills don’t pass. Sen. Whitver summed up the inroads the Party made, and how he sees the political landscape going forward, the following way:

“I think we accomplished three major things, though bills didn’t necessarily get passed out of it. The Democrats admitted that we needed commercial property tax relief and were passing bills talking about it. They admitted we needed the late term abortion bill, they didn’t pass the bill we wanted, but they were on record saying that we need to do something about it, and they agreed we need to limit spending. So three of our major priorities, they agreed with. We didn’t get the exact bills we wanted, but I think that shows that our message is the right message.”

Not only is it the right message, more importantly, a look inside the reasoning behind the votes shows it is a genuine message backed by principal and strong will.

The real story for Conservative Iowans is found in uncovering the reason why more bills failed to pass on major issues. In the case of tax reform, “not good enough” was the why. In the case of SF 525, apprehension to expansive government and cautious foresight were the why.

I think that all concerned Republicans would agree that if the fight is waged on the principals of lower taxes and smaller government, we will gladly take a draw…for now.

Part 2 of this interview will publish Monday August 8th.  Among the issues it will cover are: the battles looming once the next session is gavaled in, the state of public education in Iowa, the politics of Medicaid, and Iowa’s illegal immigration problem.

Click Here To Read Part 2

Should elected party officials endorse candidates before the primary?

Should elected party officials endorse candidates before the primary?

Earlier this week, I received a press release with the following redacted endorsement:
xxx, Iowa– xxx County Republican chairman xxx today endorsed xxx for the 2012 Republican presidential nomination.

This notification stirred me to think about the question “Should elected party officials endorse candidates before the primary?”. As Chairman of the Polk County Republican Party for the period 2009-2010, I made a personal decision that I would not endorse primary candidates for local or statewide offices, but my tenure did not cover a presidential cycle. Should the rules be different for Iowa’s “1st in the Nation” presidential caucus?

I don’t believe there is a clear answer to this question. The best I can do is to share some anecdotal experiences from my time as Chairman that may have relevance to the discussion.

Activist Issues – On several occasions, I received complaints from political activists that we (Polk County leaders) were favoring a candidate. Frequently these complaints were associated with our website coverage and emails related to campaign events held by or on behalf of one of the candidates. Usually the complaint was “Why did you communicate candidate x’s event but you failed to communicate candidate y’s event?”. Almost 100% of the time, our failure to communicate was the result of the campaign failing to inform us of their event. Never the less, some people remained convinced that we had undercut their candidate because we secretly favored another one.

Candidate Issues – On a few occasions, we received complaints from candidates. Usually this was associated with “setting the bar too high” for access or visibility at an event. We paid our bills by conducting these events, so we had to consider every possible revenue source. We thought we set the access fee appropriately. Some candidates remained convinced that we had intentionally set rules to favor only candidates with strong financial support.

Policy/Platform Issues – I feel very strongly that there is only one role for a Chairman when it comes to platform issues. His or her role is to run a platform development process that is broadly based. The process should include meaningful representation from the many precinct caucuses in the county. The platform discussions should be led by a strong facilitator (not the Chairman) who respects the rights of every representative to participate subject to the agreed rules of order. The Chairman should never try to force his or her personal policy views into the process. If a Chairman openly prefers one candidate, is that not clearly an endorsement for that candidates policy views? As an example, many Polk County Central Committee members knew that I supported John McCain in 2008 (before I was Chairman). I had to work hard to convince some members that my effort to broaden the platform committee was not a Trojan horse to place more moderates into the process. The reality is that my only intent was to include more of the elected platform representatives.

It is clear to me that in a local or statewide primary election, a Chairman cannot endorse a candidate without seriously aggravating the suspicions of activists and candidates? Presidential politics in Iowa tend to be fairly emotional. In Iowa we have many of our finest activists joining the fight on behalf of their preferred candidate. By endorsing a candidate, a Chairman will almost certainly alienate some people and lose their support for county activities in the general election.  I would therefore recommend that a County Chairman, or any other elected party official, refrain from making such endorsements.

A Sweeping Declaration of Intent: Gingrich unveils new “21st Century Contract with America”

The DSM Register Independence Day Weekend “Progressive Trifecta” (2nd of 3)

The Des Moines Register’s Opinion Section on Sunday, July 3, 2011 featured a “Progressives Trifecta” of half-truths and sophistry:

Richard Doak – What if the founders were around today?

Donald Kaul – My favorite 4th of July speech

Dean Baker – Keep Social Security safe from politicians who want to save it

This week I will focus my comments on Donald Kaul’s article sub-titled “Real patriotism requires coming to terms with the grimmer side of American history”.

Donald Kaul – He shares viewpoints about the things he likes and dislikes about the 4th of July.  He likes back yard gatherings but he dislikes patriotic claptrap.  He likes patriotism, defined as acts of citizenship and service, but dislikes speechifying.  He likes the flag itself but dislikes flag-waving, defined as substitute emotionalism for rational behavior.  My primary issue with his meandering opening is that he never refers to the holiday by its real name, which is Independence Day, not the “Fourth of July”.

  • Flag Waving Emotionalism-His example of substituting flag-waving emotionalism for rational behavior is “War, for example.  How many times have nations been led into truly stupid wars behind a flowing flag?  Does the word Iraq suggest anything to you?”
    The rest of the story: Which Iraq war was Mr. Kaul referring to?  Why did he select war(s) started under Republican Presidents, but not include Vietnam, started under Democrat Presidents?  There was meaningful United Nations support for both military actions in Iraq.  There was minimal UN involvement in the military actions in Vietnam.  His point about irrational behavior would have seemed less partisan had he said “Does the word Vietnam suggest anything to you?”.
  • Favorite Fourth of July Speech-He proceeds to inform his readers about the great black orator and civil rights leader, Frederick Douglass.  He rightfully acknowledges the key role that Douglass played in pointing out the hypocrisy of the “Independence Day” celebration of 1854, a time when slavery was a legal practice in southern states and segregation a common practice almost everywhere in the United States.
    The rest of the story:  Mr. Kaul does not fully inform us about the political party that was responsible for the safeguarding of slavery between 1789 and 1854.   That was the Democrat Party.   Frederick Douglass supported abolitionist John C Fremont in the 1864 Republican primary.   Lincoln, who won the nomination and the election, was a moderate, not a radical abolitionist. Douglass eventually reconciled himself with Lincoln’s shortcomings and legacy.  Douglass supported Republican Ulysses S. Grant in 1868.  Mr. Kaul, why not acknowledge that Frederick Douglass’ speech was about injustices imposed by Democrats, including Thomas Jefferson and Andrew Jackson?

(On a side note, I wish influential liberal writers like Mr. Kaul would acknowledge that Republicans drafted and passed the 13th, 14th and 15th amendments ending slavery, providing citizenship and voting rights to all minorities.  It is a tragedy that the Supreme Court later gutted the clear intention of these amendments with the Cruikshank decision of 1876. After that, southern Democrat Senators prevented enforcement rights for 88 years until a coalition of Republican and Democrat Senators prevailed with the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965.)

  • Tulsa Race Riot- He concludes with a review of the history of the Tulsa race riot of May 31, 1921. The Wikipedia article on this event varies substantially with Mr. Kaul’s article, but my interests are not to quibble over details.  It was a deplorable event driven by unreasonable fear and hatred stirred up by sensationalistic newspaper reporting.   The town’s black community was burned to the ground and they suffered a large number of deaths and injuries.  I support Mr. Kaul’s desire to educate the public about this event.   Our nation’s history has too many examples of horrible behavior denying life and liberty to minorities and the underprivileged.
    The rest of the story:   Now, it is also a fact that the state of Oklahoma originated in 1907 and had Democrat Governors until 1963.  The Governor in 1921 was Democrat, James Brooks Ayers Robertson.   An article from the Encyclopedia of Oklahoma History and Culture, referring to the early years of the state legislature, “The legislature banned interracial schools at all levels. Many public facilities along with common carriers were segregated. Some 540 railroad depots in the state had to be altered to fit the new separate waiting rooms requirement, while new coaches also had to be added to the lines. Over time, legislators segregated everything from hospitals to housing to cemeteries to restaurants. In 1915 Oklahoma made national history by becoming the first state in the Union to segregate public pay telephone booths.”.[1]  Mr. Kaul, why don’t you acknowledge that the Tulsa race riot was a product of the racist history of the Democrat Party?



A Sweeping Declaration of Intent: Gingrich unveils new “21st Century Contract with America”

New Hampshire Debate Recap: Bachmann Belongs, Santorum Shines, and Newt Successfully Re-Boots

Seven Republican Presidential contenders took the stage in New Hampshire Monday night in attempts to sway the primary electorate in their favor. Though the performances of all were respectable, their level of success in making their cases was varied. The following is a recap of what went down, who went up, who maintained, and what surely raised some eyebrows.

The Format and The Field

In general CNN did a nice job making the debate informative and substantive. What did not work was attempting to do away with the traditional bell or buzzer to limit each candidates response time and giving them only 30 seconds to answer the questions. Thirty seconds is simply not enough time for anyone to explain their position on complex issues, especially when the questions are multi-faceted. The result of this was moderator John King, who I very much respect, constantly trying to interrupt the participant’s responses, some of these interruptions were justified, most were not, and all were distracting.

In terms of the candidates, it was stunning both how cordial they were to each other and how little difference existed between them on the vast majority of their positions. Anyone who closely followed the 2008 primary debates could instantly tell that the Republican Party has shifted further to the right than it was four years ago. To Conservatives this is not only a positive on substance, but is also comforting as it guarantees that the 2012 election will be a clear ideological choice for the rest of the Country. This is something that you could not necessarily say about McCain vs. Obama in 2008 as, though it is hard to believe now, Obama actually ran as a “unifying” moderate Democrat (no chance he gets away with that this time!).

Eyebrow Raisers

Here is a snap-shot of both the good and bad headlines that were made and the things said that could have a lasting impact on the race.

1) Though provoked, Tim Pawlenty inexplicably chose not to attack Romney on health care and Rick Santorum took a pass at wounding Romney on his abortion flip-flop.
2) Michelle Bachmann replaced answering the first question asked of her with the unexpected announcement that she is officially running.
3) Bachmann played into the potential “extremist” label by implying that she believes a pregnant woman whose life is in danger, has been impregnated by a family member, or is the victim of rape should be legally required to give birth to the child. I realize that many hard-line Republicans may agree with this and that often these exceptions can be a ruse to justify an abortion, but the point is that, by and large, this will be controversial to the general electorate.
4) Even after months of running for president Herman Cain still refuses to provide any level of specificity regarding foreign policy, even after being widely criticized for his failure to do so in the first debate.
5) Newt Gingrich “re-back tracked” on his statement that Paul Ryan’s Medicare reform proposal is “right wing engineering”. After saying this initially, then the following day saying his comments were “unfortunate”, last night he dug in and defended his original words (though he gave a fairly effective, all be it nuanced, explanation).
6) Ron Paul, in responding to what he would do regarding our current troop deployment, gave probably the best answer of the night by saying “I wouldn’t wait for my General’s; I’m the Commander In Chief. I make the decisions, I tell the Generals what to do, and I’d bring them home as quickly as possible.” This was great in that it shattered the multi-administration practice of using the Generals and there recommendations as an “excuse” to avoiding making the hard decision of ending a war. As soon as a General says, “I think we should lose this war now and leave immediately” I will characterize this practice differently.
7) Paul emphatically said that as president he would not authorize drone attacks on Al Qaeda in Yemen or in Pakistan (and presumably anywhere else).
8) Paul also said that hospitals should not be required to give illegal aliens (in this example a 5 year old child) emergency room medical care. Now even the most passionate Ron Paul supporters have to realize that, regardless of what merit one might think it has in theory, you simply can’t say something like this in presidential politics and expect to win anything.

The Winners, The Maintainers, and The Losers

This debate saw three candidates gain a great deal; two do enough to keep their position in the field unchanged; and two who likely saw the status they have worked hard to build up diminished. The following categorizations are all based on individual expectations coming in and what they needed to do to boost their place in the pack.

The Winners

Michelle Bachmann—It’s hard to imagine her first appearance in the race, and on the National stage, going much better than it did. It was not only obvious that she belonged in the race, but that she is very near the top tier already. She confidently displayed her firm grasp on the issues, effectively alluded to her large and ongoing role in the fights on Capitol Hill, and emoted aggressiveness in going after Obama—something that Republicans are starving for. She said she would not rest until Obamacare is repealed and would spur job creation by bringing down tax rates substantially and reforming/repealing the EPA. You know it was a good night for her when the only indecisiveness she showed was on the question of who she preferred between Elvis and Johnny Cash, her answer…both.

Newt Gingrich—Anyone who thought Newt was going away anytime soon must now consider that opinion a gross overreaction. Of all the candidates on the stage it was clear he was the most steeped in history, policy, and that he was the most natural debater. The immediate post-debate reaction from the CNN crew tried to make his statement that he would demand anyone in his cabinet be committed to the country and the Constitution akin to McCarthy-ism. That is complete rubbish. He called the Obama administration a “destructive force”, said he would repeal the Dodd-Frank financial reform bill as well as defund the National Labor Relations Board, and would quickly work to repeal Obamacare. Speaking of Obamacare, he was the only candidate to acknowledge the importance of a Senate majority in achieving repeal. He also said that he would re-assess our whole involvement in the Middle East and would bring our troops home as soon as possible (pursuant to their safety).

Rick Santorum—Anyone who sleeps on this guy’s chances is making a huge mistake. His two debate performances have been impressive and even if he is not able to claim victory, he has VP shortlist written all over him. Though you are not hearing a lot of buzz about him he actually gave the evenings most decisive and specific answers, and once again proved that this stage is not too big for him. He fully embraced both Paul Ryan and the Tea Party, said he would cut the capital gains tax rate in half (after 5 years of 0% capital gains), and had a well thought out and specific plan to phase out ethanol. He very successfully made the case that Obama would begin cutting Medicare in 2014, while saying his approach would be to turn the whole system into something very similar to Medicare Plan-D. Overall he delivers clean, forceful sentences and already has a large natural base with the religious right (which either Romney or Huntsman would covet in a running mate should they win the nomination).

The Maintainers

Mitt Romney—Coming in as the perceived front-runner, he likely did enough to maintain this position. He made no mistakes while intentionally breaking no new policy ground. On all major issues he spoke in the most fundamental terms of all the candidates, likely foreshadowing a strategy of staying broad-viewed and specific free in the races early stage. The biggest pluses for him on this night were that he gave the most coherent and convincing defense of Romneycare to date, and was not subjected to repeated attacks from the rest of the field, as was expected.

Ron Paul—Paul gave his standard strong performance, which unfortunately also included his usual hammering on a handful of his positions that make him an unrealistic general election candidate. He is so right about nearly everything in the domestic realm, but no Republican (or Democrat) will ever win the presidency by refusing to pro-actively attack Al-Qaeda with drones. The only way this position would be feasible is if you took the drones off the table while simultaneously offering an alternative strategy to protect us from the threat of terrorism. There is no doubt that the American people would support ending all our current engagements in the Middle East, but just implying that this alone would end the risk of being attacked is never going to fly. It continued to be obvious just how much the Republican Party has gravitated his way over the last four years by how many times the other candidates referenced both his view points and his answers (something that never happened in the 2008 primary debates).
Not only did many of the candidates say, as Paul has forever, that it is time to quickly end all three wars, but I have never heard “states’ rights” mentioned so many times in a debate before…and for that we thank you Ron. If the election only concerned domestic affairs I think it would be shocking how well he would do.

The Losers

Tim Pawlenty – For a candidate that so many expect to break through any day now—the wait continues. Though his performance was solid he really needed to do more, and he had the chances to. Not only did he inexplicably fail to challenge Romney over health care, he also failed to capitalize on being the only candidate so far to have released a specific economic growth plan, which he did last week. Talking his plan up should have been the first thing on his agenda (and the second…and the third). He absolutely could have drawn the distinction between himself and the rest of the field that he desperately needs by saying “I am the only candidate on this stage that has a concrete plan to turn the economy around, the rest of these people are only offering words”. That being said, he did give strong answers on fair trade, right to work, and was the only one to mention the importance of appointing Conservative justices to the courts (which he had a good record of doing in Minnesota).

Herman Cain—While he was able to shine with the lower-tier candidates in the first debate, Cain struggled to stand out amongst the heavier hitters. What hurts him the most is that while others are able to point to decisions they have made, votes they have taken, and legislation that they have championed, he is not able to do the same. Not being able to cast himself in those roles creates a perception, probably an unfair one, that he is removed from the fight. He could counter this by bringing to the debate specific, innovative, and well thought out solutions, but as of yet these are in short supply. Driving this point home was the fact that, despite being the former CEO of a restaurant chain, he did not even have a specific opinion on the FDA—saying in response to a question that “maybe” they need to be reformed or stream-lined. There is a lot to like about him, and he did have some good moments, but how he thinks, after months of running for president, that he can refuse to give specific foreign policy opinions is beyond me. If anyone has the personality to make some populist noise it is him, but more than any other candidate he needs to be offering unique, brilliant, and very specific proposals to stand out. If he does this he will elevate his status, until then he will remain buried in the pack.

Photo courtesy of TEApublican.

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