Politics & Policy

Our Quartet in Tampa

Everything seems very serious, very important, very consequential now. The earlier debates — months ago — were looser. The eight or nine candidates would bounce onto the stage. Romney would greet Bachmann with a big mwah. Cain would smile brightly. 

The atmosphere was almost festive.

But now we’ve gotten down to the nitty-gritty — crunch time.

‐Newt immediately links himself to Reagan. Remember when pundits swore the Gipper couldn’t win? he says. He also points out that Reagan’s economic program was labeled “voodoo economics.”

That was Bush 41’s — the future Bush 41’s — line, of course. But the 1980 Republican vice-presidential nominee always had an answer to that. His answer went something like this, as I recall:

What I said was, if Governor Reagan thought he could cut taxes, increase military spending, and balance the budget, without cutting any domestic spending, why, that would be voodoo economics. But then the governor made it clear that he indeed intended to deal with the domestic side.

Ancient history, I realize. (Maybe Professor Hanson should be teaching this, it’s so old.) (Actually, VDH is equally good on the ancient and the right-now.)

‐I know this isn’t a newsflash, but, man, is Newt a good rhetorician. Such a good talker. Extraordinary.

‐When his advisers left him, at the beginning of the campaign, they complained, “He doesn’t think he has to do anything. He doesn’t think he has to work. He thinks he can just show up at the debates, dominate them, and win the nomination.”

Well . . .

‐Newt says he will not go to the White House merely to “manage the decline.” An excellent line.

‐The old COS-ers used to accuse Bob Dole of being “the tax collector of the welfare state.” (COS-ers were members of the Conservative Opportunity Society, a free-market congressional group.)

‐Smart of Mitt to say “influence peddler” — to accuse Newt of being an influence peddler. Skirts the issue of whether he was technically a lobbyist.

‐When Mitt brags about himself, and criticizes Gingrich, he does it very, very badly. I mean, both of those things. He is lousy in those two modes: bragging and criticizing.

Actually, Mitt is nagging Newt — picking at him — more than criticizing him.

I have to say, Mitt looks small, and Newt big. For the first time (in my view), Newt looks mature and Mitt juvenile. For the first time, Newt looks the more presidential.

Just an impression, of course.

‐Santorum is really, really good when he talks about the fight he waged in 2006 — the campaign he waged that wound up losing by a million points. He stood up for Social Security reform, he stood up for the Iraq War, he stood up for George W. Bush, all in a year when those stands were electoral poison.

This is my favorite Santorum moment, from any debate.

‐Brian Williams doesn’t know what “begging the question” means, but then, neither do most people . . .

‐He also says “weekend” the British way — with the accent on the second syllable — which is interesting.

‐Newt makes himself out to be a coalition builder who is the soul of reason! Fun.

‐I’ve never seen Mitt such a stumblebum, on a debate stage. This is a low, I believe (and not a terribly low low — not Perry-esque).

‐Newt is in his statesman mode, a good mode for him (although he won South Carolina, by a landslide, in angry operatic mode, didn’t he?).

‐Newt makes his work for Freddie Mac seem quite reasonable.

‐He is also skillful on the issue of Medicare Part D — not an ideologue, someone who wants reasonable and helpful government, not stupid and smothering government.

‐People play a trick on Romney: They keep citing his dad to him. I wish he’d say, “You know, I appreciate your repeated invocations of my dad, but, you know? I admire him even more than you might. And I also knew him better. So why don’t you cut it out?”

People tried to do the same thing with the first Bush: They played gotcha against him, using his dad (the late senator Prescott). I hated that.

‐Mitt is asked, “What would you do about a half a million people coming from Cuba?” He never answers. I can’t really blame him, though: That question requires serious study and thought.

Bill Buckley used to say, “That question is like Peking duck: Requires 24 hours’ notice.”

‐Ron Paul does what he always does: conflates a dictatorship with the millions the dictatorship rules. Keeps saying “the Cubans” or “those people,” when he just means the Castros’ regime.

In the past, he has done this with Iran, Syria, and others. It’s his habit, and it’s obnoxious. I’m not sure I’ve ever heard anyone call him on it.

For a big libertarian, he has an awfully hard time separating people from the particular government they have, whether by consent or not.

Remember his slander of Bachmann? “She doesn’t like Muslims, she hates them, she wants to go get ’em.” Yup, the mullahs who rule Iran, the girls they stone to death, for the crime of having been gang-raped — what’s the difference? “We have to talk to them.”

‐Newt has the attitude of, “I’m the front-runner now, I can afford to be statesmanlike, calm, and gracious.” And this has a corollary (if that’s the right word): “Let Mitt be desperate, tinny, and whiny.”

‐Okay, here’s something I like about Paul — a minor linguistic matter: He pronounces the word “height” as though it had an additional “h” on the end, sort of like “length.” I’m familiar with this from my home state, Michigan. Sounds perfectly natural in my ear.

In other ears, it must sound like, “What the . . .?”

‐Here’s a phrase I’ve never been able to get used to: “fighting season.” We use it with regard to Afghanistan. I think it sounds absurd.

‐A questioner essentially — essentially — asks Santorum to choose between tourism for Florida and oil drilling off Florida. (I could get into details, but will not bother to take the time. I trust a transcript is available, for those who want to investigate!)

Santorum answers very shrewdly, I think. What will most benefit tourism, he says, is a growing economy — people with jobs, and money to spend.

True, true.

‐This same questioner asks what I think is a very good question: You guys say you’re for English only, but you’re appealing to voters in Spanish. Isn’t there a speck of hypocrisy here?

I’m not saying there aren’t answers. I’m saying it’s a good question.

‐I wish Romney would get off the Obama-and-golf thing. If people think that Obama’s rounds of golf are the equivalent of “Let them eat cake,” they’re badly confused.

Does Romney want Obama to redouble his efforts at policymaking?

‐On Terri Schiavo, Santorum great.

‐Newt perhaps even better: Even murderers on Death Row get extensive hearings, right?

‐The questioner says to Paul — I forget which questioner — “You’re a doctor, what is your view of the Schiavo case?”

I believe the case was far more moral than medical.

‐I realize Mitt is campaigning in Florida, but come on: He acts as though the national space program were a matter of jobs on Florida’s “Space Coast.” “The Space Coast is suffering,” he says about 30 times.

Ay, caramba. NASA is not supposed to be a jobs program. If we should embark on certain space projects or missions, fine. Let’s do it. But not because “the Space Coast is suffering.”

‐I can just hear him in Houston . . . 

‐The candidates talk a lot about ridiculous, choking regulations. Let me offer a recommendation: They should come up with particular stories, anecdotes, Reagan-style. Would do them a lot of good.

‐I think Mitt’s answers late in the debate are good — particularly about his personal strengths, his accomplishments. He states them without being particularly braggy about them.

‐When Newt cites his conservative résumé — it’s a helluva résumé.

‐His distinction between being “for” someone and being “with” someone is kind of inspired. Don’t just be for me — don’t just vote for me — be with me. Help me get this done, these plans for America.

‐Talking about conservatives who supported the Wall Street bailout, Santorum has a nice line: “When push came to shove, they got pushed.”

‐Overall, Santorum has a very strong debate. Newt is just superb, I think — in complete control of his thoughts and words. Graceful, interesting, effective. He manages to come off as both rebel-like, or maverick, and presidential — a neat trick.

Paul is Paul. I think he performs the same, from debate to debate. Sometimes he doesn’t get the questions that allow him to shine. (Same with all the candidates.)

And Mitt? Despite a couple good answers late in the game, he is weak, all too weak. On the tax-return thing, he is pathetic. I don’t know why. If he’s caving in to pressure — throwing away his timetable — he should give an explanation.

I think Tampa has been his weakest debate, when he needed his strongest. I’ve already peeked at some of the commentary — others’ commentary. I gather the consensus is different.

Anyway, my two cents, comme d’habitude, as Romney would say (in a Gingrich commercial). See you!




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