Let’s Play Two

The GOP candidates at St. Anselm College in Manchester, N.H., Jan. 7, 2012


So, I watched the debates on Saturday night and Sunday morning — the two Republican presidential debates in New Hampshire. Did you? In any case, I made some notes — will share some of them below.

And let me caution, as I always do, or often do, that the notes are not comprehensive — they are randomish and incomplete. If you like those qualities, come to me anytime!

The geometry of the debates is cruel: If you’re up in the polls, you’re in the center — the center of the stage. If you’re down in the polls, you’re off to the sides. It must be great to be Rick Santorum and migrate to the center. It must stink to be Rick Perry and be forced to the sides.

Mitt says “take responsibility” several times when he really means “take credit.” Kind of strange.

Santorum says — and I believe this is a verbatim quote — “No one has more experience in dealing with Iran than I do.”

Really? No one? Including the foreign-policy personnel who deal with Iran every day?

All candidates brag. The trick is to keep your bragging semi-plausible.

Santorum criticizes Romney for being just a “manager,” a businessman, not fit to be commander-in-chief and president. He acts like Romney has just waltzed onto the stage from Bain Capital.

This is odd, for two reasons: First, Romney was governor of Massachusetts — right? — so he has public experience as well as private. And he has executive political experience, unlike Santorum.

Second, conservatives don’t usually denigrate private-sector experience, do they? Isn’t that the Democrats’ job?

In attacking Romney, Newt cites the New York Times several times. Over and over, in fact. I have to rub my eyes, and maybe I should have my hearing checked.

The other day, I watched a video in which Romney engaged with an “Occupy” person on the subject of corporate profits. Romney was defending corporate profits. I don’t think I had ever seen a candidate do this. You’re supposed to blast corporate profits or change the subject.

And here Romney is again, onstage in New Hampshire, defending the basics of capitalism: defending it on both moral and utilitarian grounds.

And yet Romney is supposed to be the squish and RINO in the race? Isn’t that what I read in the conservative blogosphere over and over?

Strange . . .

Santorum is very good at slapping down Ron Paul’s absurd and asinine charges of corruption.

He, Santorum, says that his grandfather was a coal miner. He says this rather a lot, I gather. Well, whoop-de-do: Everyone’s grandfather was something.

I remember 1988, when Dick Gephardt was running in the Democratic primaries. He kept going around saying that he was the son of a milkman. He wore it as some great badge of honor.

Reagan was reported as saying, “Son of a milkman? In my community, the son of the milkman was a very big deal. A child to be envied.”

I don’t know whether Huntsman means to condescend. But he comes off as condescending. Maybe he can’t help it.

Huntsman says, “Everybody knows that Congress needs term limits.” Really, does everyone know that? I doubt most Republicans now support that position (and of course the Democrats don’t).

At these debates, Huntsman likes to say that he has “lived abroad four times.” Gee, whaddaya want, a cookie? Are you trying to out-brag Rick Santorum?

Newt handles the “chickenhawk” stuff fairly well, I believe. Ron Paul says what many on the left always say: If you didn’t serve in the military, you can’t support a war. You can oppose one, but you can’t support one.

I think that anyone who thinks this can’t think.

Paul repeats some other grievances of the Left: that black Americans are targeted for drug arrests, targeted for execution, and targeted for war service. When you have Ron Paul around, who needs Mother Jones or Angela Davis?

Am I the last to know that Mitt Romney favors a constitutional amendment defining marriage, in a traditional way (i.e., the way everyone did until about two seconds ago)?

Huntsman seems to congratulate himself on favoring “civil unions.” He preens a bit about this. But then he says he doesn’t favor gay marriage because he’s a “traditionalist.”

Hmm. I have a feeling that, if gay marriage were more popular, he’d support it, strongly — and pat himself on the back for it.

Romney treats Ron Paul with gentlemanly good humor. I’m not sure I could.

Santorum is very clear about the adoption of children by gays: He thinks this issue should be left to the states. He is a federalist here. There should not be a national policy on adoption, he says.

In the case of marriage, however, he says that we should have a national policy, or law. This issue should not be left to the states. Here, Santorum is not a federalist.

I realize you can’t say everything in these little soundbitey debates, but why? Why is adoption a state issue and marriage a national issue? Just ’cause? Just because Rick Santorum got out of bed one day and decided that’s how it had to be? Or is there some principle behind it?

Inquiring minds want to know.

A questioner on the panel keeps saying, “Why can’t two people of the same sex be in a loving relationship with each other forever?” I keep waiting for a particular answer — and it’s Romney who gives it:

“What the hell is stopping them?” (I paraphrase, of course.) “Nothing is stopping them. But the institution of marriage, and the imprimatur of marriage, is something else.”


Newt blasts the mainstream media for concentrating on any right-wing bigotry against gays while ignoring other issues and problems. For example, what about harshness toward Catholic adoption agencies, forced to accept adoption by gay couples or else? How about a little toleration all around?

Bravo, Newt, bravo. Boffo stuff.

Romney says, “When I’m president . . .,” then corrects himself to, “If I’m president . . .” I like that, a lot.

Santorum says that, in the Middle East, President Obama has let America be seen as “the weak horse.” Bingo.

Huntsman challenges him on Afghanistan, taunts him in a way: When will it be time to leave? Santorum answers very well: When our national security is assured (to the extent it ever can be, I suppose).

I’m sure this will mark me as a Communist, but I wince a little when I hear Governor Perry talking about “Eye-rack” and moving “at literally the speed of light.”