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Will Cain: Post-debate running diary

Will Cain: Post-debate running diary

This is a guest post by Will Cain.

My retro-diary of Monday night’s CNN GOP primary debate. (I know it’s a cheap rip-off of a Bill Simmons concept. But…but…you’re not the boss of me.)

7:54 The Pre-Game Handshakes

The candidates file-out onstage one-by-one. Romney is acting like the party host, ushering people down the greeting line, “Michelle, you’ve met Tim, right? He was governor of your state. Thanks for coming, can I get you anything to drink?” This subtle condescension is the political equivalent of bouncing up-and-down in the tunnel and screaming “We must protect this house!”

During the group photo Ron Paul looks uncomfortable. He always does. Like he doesn’t know where to place his hands.

8:01 Introductions

The opening introductions turn into a procreation competition. Pawlenty announces he has two kids. Cain tops him with two kids and three grandkids. Romney announces that he has spawned five sons and 16 grandkids. Santorum says he has seven kids. Seven! You can almost feel that he’s about to fist pump when Bachmann calmly throws down that she has five kids and 23 foster children. Everyone exhales in defeat. And then…amidst the silence Paul says, “I’ve delivered 4,000 babies.”

8:05 The Economy

Last week Pawlenty put out a plan where he projected – check that, wished-upon-a-star – that the US economy will grow 5% a year for decades. This would be…rosy. CNN Moderator John King asks all of the candidates if Pawlenty’s projection is realistic. They all say yes. Ron Paul, though, is the only one who seems to understand how to make 5% even a remote possibility by saying, “the problem is we have to liquidate the debt.” By which he means: hitting the reset button on the economy, allowing massive default, clearing historic levels of debt, entering a depression…and then growing out of it. If that’s all unpalatable (and I wouldn’t quibble with you, the only way we know how to get out of depression is war…big war) then we’re looking at 10-15 years of stagnation, with nothing near 5% growth.

8:19 This or That

The candidates are being asked to choose between two alternatives (Spicy or mild wings? Deep dish or thin crust pizza? Etc.) Gingrich is asked: American Idol or Dancing With the Stars? This tweet appears in my timeline: “Newt wins the nomination if he says, ‘That is a stupid f****g question.’”

8:20 Uh, Oh, “Obamaneycare”

The “debate” is now officially a Girl Scout campfire. The candidates are totally unwilling to criticize each other. Michelle, Tim, Herman, listen, Mitt Romney is the clear front-runner. And he’s stunningly vulnerable. He created the model for Obamacare! Why won’t anyone take a punch? John King virtually takes Pawlenty’s glove and puts it to Romney’s chin, and Pawlenty won’t swing through. Check this out:

8:30 First Impressions Trickling In

Amidst early impressions like “Well, I guess Romney looks presidential”, two thoughts take hold. A.) There’s no “there”, there with Herman Cain. He’s likeable, charming, and completely substance-free. He gives vague answers and says obvious things like, “solve the problem!” OK. B.) Michelle Bachmann is completely the opposite. I came into this thinking she was vacuous and partisan. She was sharp and substantive and almost won me over.

My opinion of the “debate” is also forming. Not good. I understand the desire to keep things moving and force candidates to answer the question. But the 30-second answer formula has reduced a presidential debate into less than a YouTube video. What more, as Fox News’ Red Eye host Greg Gutfeld tweeted, the format has made John King sound like a back-up singer in a hip hop video, constantly chanting “uh, uh, uh” to speed the candidates along.

8:54 The Litmus Test: Medicare

Newt is asked whether he stands by his statement on Meet the Press that Paul Ryan’s Medicare reform proposal was “right-wing engineering”. He simultaneously tries to defend his answer, support Ryan, and criticize the MTP question. But he ultimately concludes: “If the American people don’t think it’s a good idea. Maybe it’s not a good idea.” I think he means “popular” instead of “good”. Not the same thing.

The rest of the candidates support Ryan’s plan. When a questioner from the audience asks whether Republicans are going to honor what he’s already paid into Medicare, Ron Paul buries this gem inside a stream-of -consciousness rant that includes John Maynard Keynes, the Beastie Boys, and Stringer Bell: the average American pays $130,000 into Medicare over their lifetime and takes out $430,000. That, right there, is what’s killing Medicare “as you know it.”

9:09 Faisal Shahzad Will Not Serve In My Administration

At this point, both Herman Cain and Newt Gingrich want to make it PERFECTLY CLEAR that they will not appoint militant Muslims, who want to blow up car bombs in Times Square, to their administrations.

9:20 Why Are Republicans So Weird?

Over half-way through the debate and the candidates are now answering questions about the separation of church and state. They’ve also been asked about abortion in the case of rape or incest, gay marriage, Don’t Ask Don’t Tell, and whether or not Muslims would be welcome in their administration. Basically, as National Review’s Jim Geraghty characterized it, they are being asked: “Why are Republicans so weird?” There is, as of yet, no question about any of the three wars America is fighting.

9:40 About Those Wars

Finally the candidates are asked about Afghanistan and Libya, and it serves as a microcosm of the night. Asked whether he would pull troops out of Afghanistan, Romney smoothly pulls off saying absolutely nothing: “It’s time for us to bring our troops home as soon as we possibly can — as soon as our generals think it’s okay.” Bachmann, asked whether military action in Libya served a vital US interest strongly says, “No, I don’t believe it is. That isn’t just my opinion. That was the opinion of our defense secretary, Gates, when he came before the United States Congress. He could not identify a vital national American interest in Libya.”

9:55 The Palin Specter

John King asks whether Obama or McCain made the better VP choice in 2008. In other words, “What do you think of Palin?” Now would be the perfect time for, as NR’s Geraghty tweeted, “the grand finale when Palin’s bus crashes through the wall and screeches to a halt on the stage.” Alas, it didn’t happen, and all the candidates just said Biden was a buffoon.

I wouldn’t doubt if you read this diary and thought, “Hmm, that column is one big Herman Cain. Cute, but relatively little substance.” But I consider it an accurate recreation of the night. Ultimately the debate tried to be cute with all the Coke/Pepsi, Johnny Cash/Elvis (By the way, Bachmann, it’s Cash – geez.) This-or-That questions, but in the end offered little substance. Which, with 30 seconds to answer world-problem type issues, how could it? Still, here are my grades:

Romney:B+ Survived. Sometimes surviving is enough.

Bachmann:B I agree with O’Reilly that this was a VP audition. But I will be watching closer now.

Paul:B- Ron Paul needs an editor. But hidden amongst the run-on-sentences and points-with-no-punch, he says things people need to understand. As someone tweeted Monday night (can’t remember who), “If we could take the crazy out of Ron Paul, we’d have a helluva candidate.”

Gingrich:C Big points for actually answering the questions directly. But his demeanor is too dark to be president.

Pawlenty:C Likeable but weak.

Santorum:C- Strong but unlikeable.

Cain:D You know what, he’s absolutely the most likeable guy on the stage. But I just can’t forgive vague platitudes. Comes off that he won’t – or can’t – answer hard questions.


Will Cain is a CNN contributor, National Review contributor, and entrepreneur who has started two media companies. You can follow him on Twitter @willcain.

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