Sunshine State Spar
Assessing the GOP presidential candidates’ performances.


Bret Baier is a breath of fresh air, my candidate for the designation “America’s Anchorman.” Good cheer, articulacy, youthful exuberance, but substance as well.  

The candidates: Romney opened with and kept building on a technique he has steadily been improving — showing fight by showing confidence, and just enough humor, too. I thought Perry won the first debate he was in, at the Reagan Library, but he has been going the opposite route from Romney. Following his strong opening three debates ago, Perry has become less sure-footed and confident in his debating and talking points. And his jokes tend to come off as japes or jabs when they aren’t flubs (as when trying to attack Romney for his flip-flops).  

There is one other growing problem Perry needs to address, if it’s fixable: He has come off, two debates in a row now, as the most liberal man on stage on illegal immigration. His defense of his immigration record as a “last name” or “heart” issue comes off as patronizing and saccharine. Santorum nailed it on why a preference for and subsidization of illegals is both bad policy and wrong. 

I think it’s too early, and would be folly, to dismiss any candidate (at this point in 2007, Giuliani and Thompson were the frontrunners — and neither ever did better than third place in the actual primaries), but one does have to ask what constituency or base or part of the GOP Huntsman represents that is not represented by better-polling and better-funded candidates. Santorum and Gingrich can speak about domestic and foreign policy better than the others, Bachmann is still a tea-party stalwart and can articulate the strongest points in the strongest of ways on several issues, Cain offers the exclusive private-sector background. But at this point, one truly needs to ask what Huntsman’s point is other than trying to prove he’s smarter than everybody else. To be viable, he needs to find an answer — other than running to everyone’s left.

— Seth Leibsohn is a fellow at the Claremont Institute and the co-author, with William J. Bennett, of The Fight of Our Lives: Knowing the Enemy, Speaking the Truth, and Choosing to Win the War against Radical Islam.


Mitt Romney demonstrated the confidence of a candidate who has been to this rodeo before — he had one hand literally in his pocket — with his eyes on winning the general election (see his socialism answer).

Rick Perry looked tired. He is the governor of Texas while doing this, so he just might be.

Rick Santorum, once again, provided solid answers and context, demonstrating the breadth of his policy knowledge and experience. He took on Perry’s “heartless” answer, about in-state tuition for illegal immigrants, with compassion. Ditto the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” question, despite the unfortunate and unnecessary — and media-distracting — sound effects from the audience.

There were some odd images: Gary Johnson’s (or Rush Limbaugh’s) shovel-ready line, Perry’s “mate up” plans for breeding a Gingrich-Cain vice president.

Rick Perry seems to be following a Michele Bachmann model: strong opening, then a fade. It will be interesting to see what it all looks like deeper in the fall. Autumn for which candidates?

— Kathryn Jean Lopez is editor-at-large of National Review Online.


In his comments on in-state tuition for illegal immigrants, Governor Perry said: “If you say that we should not educate children who have come into our state for no other reason than they have been brought there by no fault of their own, I don’t think you have a heart.” On the Gardasil issue, he explained his actions by saying: “I erred on the side of life and will always err on the side of life.”

If he keeps it up, people will start calling him a compassionate conservative.

— John J. Pitney Jr. is the Roy P. Crocker Professor of Government at Claremont McKenna College. With James Ceaser and Andrew Busch, he is co-author of Epic Journey: The 2008 Elections and American Politics.


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