It’s the usual deal, for better or worse: I’ve watched the Republican presidential debate. I’ve jotted some notes. I’ll give them to you in the order of jotting (roughly). I don’t intend the notes to form a complete appraisal of the debate. All right then:
‐Watching the sweeping shots of Las Vegas, I think of something Sharron Angle told me, when she was running for the Senate: “We Nevadans generally don’t gamble. But we want you to.”
I’ll bet . . .
‐As I listen to the crowd cheer, I think, “Uh-oh — what’re they going to do tonight? What gross thing — wrong cheering, wrong booing — are they going to do tonight? Because even if it’s one ding-a-ling, the Democrats and the media will pretend that it stands for the entire Republican party.”
Even the president of the United States got into that act not long ago. Are you surprised?
‐Bachmann, as she enters, is stylish, even chic.
‐Newt looks lumpy and happy. Plus, he loves to point into a crowd — even if he doesn’t see anybody in particular. Even if he hasn’t had time to spot anyone in particular. Even if the lights are obviously too glaring . . .
‐Perry swaggers and salutes.
‐Romney looks like a runway model, though slightly hunched.
‐Cain gets huge applause, then pounds his heart, as though to say, “I’m so moved, and I love my public.” I don’t know: Maybe he’s enjoying his celebrity a tad too much?
‐There are just seven candidates assembled, instead of the usual eight or nine. The problem with this is that, whenever you have seven, people say, “Ah, the seven dwarfs!” Even if the seven were all NBA centers, someone would say, “Ha, ha, the seven dwarfs!”
‐The guy singing the national anthem simply can’t sing in tune — or at least can’t this night — and should not be unaccompanied.
‐Interesting that a few of the candidates sing along, even though there is a solo singer doing the anthem. I see Romney and Santorum.
‐Off the bat, Santorum talks about the health of his daughter and addresses his daughter directly. The Oprah-ization of politics is just about complete. It is now so normal, hardly anyone notices. And to object makes you look like Hitler.
Which would be more meaningful: addressing your daughter on the phone, before the debate, or doing so onstage?
‐Ron Paul says, “I’m the champion of liberty.” Oh, you’re the one!
‐About twelve years ago, I met Matt Drudge and said, “Your site is my homepage.” He said, “Oh, you’re the one!”
‐Stressing his business background, Cain says, “I solve problems for a livin’.” Nice. A very nice line.
‐What to my wondering eyes should appear but Wayne Newton (in the audience). We are in Vegas! But hey, where’s Engelbert?
‐Someone has fed Perry the line “conservative of convenience,” as in, “I’m a genuine conservative, not a conservative of convenience.” A jab at Romney. And a pretty good one. Alliterative and all.
‐I feel so at home when Bachmann talks — hearing those Upper Midwestern vowels. I could be in the living room of some Michigan relatives . . .
‐Who would have thought, months ago, that the candidates would be debating Herman Cain’s policy proposals?
‐Out of the gates, Perry calls Cain “brother,” twice. Not so sure this is wise (although, obviously, Perry means nothing bad by it).
‐Perry is sounding more Texan than ever, droppin’ g’s like they cost too much.
‐I’m afraid I would flop on the campaign trail, because I think pretty much all working Americans should pay taxes — from the pimply kid at McDonald’s, with his first job, to Rockefeller (or whoever today’s Rockefeller is). Everyone contributing something to the commonweal, even if it’s a mite.
I’ve been a flat-taxer for a long time — and that’s with no exemptions. Charity, home mortgage, children, etc. See how I wouldn’t fly?
‐If I were a Republican candidate — there I go again! — I would talk about Obama, most of the time. 1) I would want to. And 2) I think it would be effective, politically.
They would invite me to attack another Republican candidate. Fine. I’d do some of that. But my main target would be the incumbent president, whom I was hoping to challenge in the general.
‐Cain calls Romney “Governor Romney.” Romney calls Cain “Herman.” Doesn’t sit too well with me. Leaves me slightly queasy.
‐Bachmann says much of what I believe, about paying taxes, and everyone contributing his mite. Hurray! If I weren’t so comfortable in this chair, I’d stand up and cheer.
‐When he entered the race, all the questions and barbs were about Perry. Now — Cain is the focus of attention. Amazing. (I’m repeating myself, I realize, just like a candidate.)
‐Perry is apparently trying to make up for his subdued performances in previous debates. He’s all wired up, practically in stemwinder mode. This is a little weird, in a debate of this type.
Balance can be so hard to achieve.
‐He’s banging on about the oil under our feet again? I mean, I’m all for what he’s saying and proposing, but he’s in danger of being a one-sector guy — I mean, coming off as such.
‐Mitt Romney has said “Dan Balz,” as though people are supposed to know who he is. (Balz is a Washington Post reporter.) Very insidery. Bit of a slip.
‐He doesn’t mean to, heaven knows, but Rick Santorum can come off as the snottiest kid in school. The most petulant kid, the most aggrieved kid, the kid with the biggest chip on his shoulder. The touchiest kid, the biggest crybaby.
Can this be repaired? Santorum, needless to say, is about a billion times better than the impression he leaves, or sometimes leaves. How do you learn to criticize or complain with some class? I don’t know, but, for the sake of his candidacy, Santorum must try.
(I realize I’m lecturing someone who has been elected to the U.S. Senate twice.)
‐I must say, Ron Paul’s root-and-branch approach to reform can be very attractive. Unworkable, maybe, but attractive.
‐When Paul says the word “party,” as in, “Get it out of the hands of the third party,” he is pure Pittsburgh. Pure, don’t pass Go, don’t collect $200 Pittsburgh.
‐Several debates ago, I said something like this: Rick Perry has got to find a way of saying, “Look, we have millions of poor, illiterate Mexicans coming into our state all the time. That skews our state’s statistics. It skews everything. You-all in the rest of this country don’t have that problem. Come on, give us a break. Look how well we’re doing regardless!”
Tonight, Perry said essentially that — frank.
‐When Perry accuses Romney of the “height of hypocrisy,” I believe he says “heighth” — man after my own heart.
‐But ay, caramba! The charge that Romney hired illegals is absurd! The explanation is so clear: He hired a contractor, and the contractor had illegals, and the Romney family said, “No go.”
‐To me, Perry has a look in his eye that says, “Oh, sh**. I’ve been fed bad information. Someone on my staff is going to pay for this, big-time.”
‐Romney has got to stop whining about whether Perry follows the debate rules or not. He should stop pointing to the rules and debate Perry like a man. Quit complaining about being interrupted, or having your time eaten into, and deal with a give-and-take.
Mitt looks small and crybaby-ish. Don’t fall into the Santorum trap.
‐Romney says, essentially, “I told that contractor, ‘Holy cow, I can’t have illegals around here, because I’m running for office!’” I know what he means. He means, “Now, of all times!” Still, this comes off kind of bad.
So, you wouldn’t have minded the illegals so much if you hadn’t been running for office? Huh, huh?
‐The audience seems disappointed that Cain was only joking when he talked about the electrified fence.
‐Cain keeps saying, “I’m not a politician, I’m not a politician.” What he means is, “I’m not an officeholder. I’ve run for office, but I certainly haven’t gained office.” By virtue of his runs — he’s a politician, whether he wins or not.
Would another candidate dare point this out?
‐Talking about illegal aliens, Bachmann goes after Obama’s African relatives. I’m not sure this is smart. Looks mean, personal — whatever the merits of those cases.
‐Perry goes back to the issue of Romney as hirer of illegals. Come on, Rick, haven’t you been schooled enough?
‐But this is good: For eons — or at least weeks — I’ve been saying, “Perry needs to tell these other chumps, ‘Don’t be tellin’ me about the Texas border with Mexico. I’m the damn governor, been dealing with it for a long time. Y’all don’t know nothin’ compared with me.’”
At last, he does this. A salute to him (as he salutes us). And his words have “the additional virtue of being true,” to borrow Kissinger’s phrase.
‐Romney takes a shot at Perry that goes something like this: “You say you have experience with immigration, but you’re like the high-school football coach who goes 0-and-40 and says, ‘Now I have the experience to be in the NFL.’”
In my view, this is low and stupid — and Romney deserves the boos he’s hearing.
‐In answer to a question about Latinos and how to communicate to them, Newt talks about Americans “of all backgrounds,” Americans across the board.
Well done, Newt.
‐Paul talks about seeing people as individuals, not as members of groups.
Damn well done, Ron Paul.
‐On energy and energy independence, Perry is in danger of becoming a Johnny One Note. It’s a fine note — but there are 87 others (or more). (Or eleven others, if you like.) (What, you don’t believe in microtones?) (Me neither, for the most part.)
‐Not often do politicians say what Perry said, explicitly: You, the journalist, get to ask whatever question you want, and I, the politician, get to say whatever I feel like, even if it has nothing to do with the question.
‐Rights don’t come in bunches, says Ron Paul, they come for individuals.
Again, well done, Paul.
‐Did Bachmann connect with women on home foreclosures and the loss of nests for little ones? I’m sure she did. But she often goes too far, lays it on too thick, gilds the lily. This is a shortcoming in politics, as it can be elsewhere.
‐About Obama, Bachmann says, “He’s failed us.” Yes, that’s the crux of it. That’s the point of the 2012 campaign. “On every single issue, he has made it harder for our economy to reboot.”
I believe that.
‐Now Cain is saying “Mitt,” so it’s Herman and Mitt, rather than Herman and Governor Romney. I like it.
‐Addressing the subject of a pastor’s anti-Mormon comments, Romney says, “I’ve heard worse.” An excellent line — and true, no doubt.
Later, he slightly confuses something, I think. There is no religious test for office. That is, you can stand for office no matter what your religion is.
But a voter can vote for or against you for any reason he wants. For good reasons and bad. He closes the curtain behind him and pulls the lever — and no one knows what lever he pulled, or why he pulled it (unless he chooses to tell).
He may have liked or hated some candidate’s religion. He may have liked or hated some candidate’s socks. He may have closed his eyes and flailed.
Ah, the secret ballot . . .
‐When Sen. Orrin Hatch was running for president in 2000, he told me that one of the reasons he was doing it was to “make it easier for the next guy” — the next Mormon.
‐Newt has the habit of saying things that are true. Simple as that.
‐But will anyone have the cojones to say that foreign aid is often in the American interest?
A few of them do, particularly Romney.
‐A word about Rick Perry, which serves as a general word as well: There are inarticulate people who are plenty smart. There are articulate people who aren’t very smart at all — just articulate. Perry strikes me as cursed with inarticulateness.
But holy smokes, he has been elected governor three times! He hasn’t exactly been hindered.
‐Ron Paul cites Lord Bauer’s axiom without attributing it to him (not that he needs to): “Foreign aid is a process by which poor people in rich countries give money to rich people in poor countries.”
‐Bachmann says that Obama is the first president to “put daylight” between the United States and Israel. This is, I’m sorry, historically illiterate. (She lived through Bush 41, right?)
‐Moreover, I am as pro-Israel as anyone alive, I guess — but it’s not a sin for American policy to differ with Israel. (I hope my masters in Jerusalem and Tel Aviv don’t kill me for that.)
‐So, America doesn’t negotiate with terrorists, Michele? Starting when?
‐Paul says that the Gitmo detainees are “not terrorists.” Great. Anyone for transferring them to his house?
‐Santorum says that Romney ran for the Senate “to the left of Kennedy.” Good thing Santorum isn’t asked to back that up. Does he believe voters will swallow anything he says?
‐Perry says to Romney, “You failed as the governor of Massachusetts.” Does Perry believe voters will swallow anything he says?
‐This is embarrassing. There are all sorts of ways to run against Romney. You don’t have to go as low and stupid as these candidates.
‐And you know what? I’ll say it again: Romney should be gracious about the record of Texas, and Perry’s record in Texas. The state’s record is a good one. Perry’s record is a good one. Every Republican with eyes to see knows it.
Romney might say, “Rick needs to keep doing what he’s been doing in Texas. And I’ll carry the state in November 2012, along with a great majority of the others.”
But remember: I’ve never been elected dogcatcher.