Sunshine State Spar
Assessing the GOP presidential candidates’ performances.


With the exception of Newt Gingrich, substance did not feature highly in this debate. But the campaign for the Republican nomination is starting to get serious. That means — unfortunately — that the candidates’ focus is going to be increasingly on trying to score points without seeming to be posturing or appearing petty, while also appealing to as many segments of conservative primary-voting opinion as possible. Increasingly, and perhaps inevitably, we’re also starting to hear the candidates make the same points and repeat the same lines — sometimes word for word — that we’ve heard in previous debates.

This is even more unfortunate given the flood of bad news about America’s economy that is crushing business and consumer confidence. We need serious, public, and substantial reflection from aspiring presidents about how they think the United States is going to turn the corner.

It’s too easy to say that such formats as Thursday night’s don’t lend themselves to that type of presentation. Whoever runs against President Obama is going to have to articulate, in very similar settings, a vivid, powerful, and content-rich contrast to the present administration’s economic policies.

The good news is that angry voters (especially independents), disillusioned with politics and politicians in general, aren’t going to buy in to messianic 2008 hope-’n’-change rhetoric in 2012. Yet while anti-Obama sentiment will take the Republican candidate a long way towards victory, it won’t be enough in the current economic climate. Substance — and the ability to communicate it — will matter.

Samuel Gregg is research director at the Acton Institute. He has authored several books, including On Ordered Liberty, The Commercial Society (winner of the Templeton Enterprise Award), Wilhelm Röpke’s Political Economy and, forthcoming in 2012, Becoming Europe: Economic Decline, Culture, and America’s Future.

The long-time professional politicians on the stage, Mitt Romney and Rick Perry — the current perceived frontrunners — lost the debate to Newt Gingrich.

Gingrich came across as smarter, more articulate, and more confidently in command of the moment than either Romney or Perry — because Gingrich is smarter and more articulate and was more in command of the moment than they were.

I would like to see Perry and Romney each answer a question he was not asked.

For Perry: If you ever take the presidential oath, will you fulfill it by enforcing the immigration laws at Texas public universities and deporting the illegal aliens who are currently matriculating under the in-state-tuition law you signed?

For Romney: You have repeatedly attacked Governor Perry for saying that Social Security is unconstitutional — which is different from saying this seven-decades-old program should be abolished, which Perry has not said. What specific clause in the Constitution do you believe authorized Congress to force Americans into the Social Security program? Do you agree with Justice Cardozo — who wrote the opinion justifying Social Security — that it was the General Welfare clause? Do you think James Madison would have agreed with Cardozo on this interpretation of the General Welfare clause?

— Terence P. Jeffrey is the editor-in-chief of CNSNews. 

Mitt Romney gained on Thursday night because he’s a strong debater and Perry was a bit off, but also because this was another pile-on-Perry night. There’s a pattern here that’s been working in Romney’s favor. Back when he publicly refused to repudiate health-care reform in Massachusetts, it looked as though Romney was headed for months of unrelenting attacks by a field competing for the title of The Great Not-Romney.

That’s not how things turned out. Instead of actually going after Romney, the candidates attacked whoever looked like the strongest Romney opponent. Pawlenty was the first target. Now Perry’s it. This pattern lets Romney himself off the hook. Only the lead Not-Romney goes after Romney himself. The others go after the lead Not-Romney.

Pawlenty muffed his big chance to hit Romney, and although Perry held up well against Romney in previous debates, he seemed to tire this time. In any case, the field has put Perry on the defensive. It’s all he can do to fight to a draw. Without a pile-on, nobody’s there to call Romney on his smooth evasions.

Romney is a strong candidate, and the most electable of the lot right now. His greatest vulnerabilities are in the race for the nomination, not the general. So the pile-on-Perry dynamic has the effect of protecting Romney in a general election. If the Not-Romneys continue to kill one another off, Romney may walk away with the nomination, and the presidency too.

— Stanley Kurtz is a senior fellow at the Ethics and Public Policy Center and the author of Radical-in-Chief.