If there was a loser on the debate stage tonight, it was CBS. First, they scheduled their debate on a Saturday night between two major football games. Then they decided to only broadcast the first hour of their 90-minute debate. Then their Internet feed failed for the final 30 minutes. This was CBS’s first and only debate — and it showed.
Scott Pelley was a terrible moderator. He treated the men who might be the next commander in chief like schoolchildren, cutting them off in mid-sentence, lecturing them to answer his questions. He even lectured Newt Gingrich on policy, telling him that killing “terrorist suspects” is “not the rule of law.” Big mistake. Newt smacked him down, explaining that we are at war and in war we are allowed to kill the enemy without a court order.
Of the candidates, Rick Perry had his best debate by far. His construct of starting at zero on foreign aid with every country (including Israel) and then deciding from there what is in our national interests got good applause, and both Newt and Romney openly embraced it. He had several self-effacing jokes about that agency he forgot about at the last debate (Energy) which got big (friendly) laughs from the crowd. Despite Pelley’s blatant efforts to trip him up, he did not trip. Who would have imagined that Perry’s best debate would be on foreign policy?
Newt had a very good night as well. In addition to smacking down Pelley on killing terrorists, he refused to take the bait in Pelley’s effort to start a fight between him and Romney. He was clear and articulate and will only enhance his growing following with his performance.
Romney put in another strong night. His best moment was when he was asked if he would negotiate with the Taliban: “We don’t negotiate with terrorists, I won’t negotiate with the Taliban.”
Bachmann got off several good lines, declaring that Obama stands with Occupy Wall Street but not with Israel, and that when it comes to terrorist interrogation, Obama is letting the ACLU run the CIA.
Cain seemed to struggle and was out of his element. Seemed like every answer was: I will gather the facts and consult with my commanders/cabinet. His best moment was when he was asked about waterboarding and declared clearly: “I do not agree with torture. Waterboarding [is] not torture. It’s an enhanced interrogation technique.” (Romney was not asked, but his campaign tweeted his agreement with Cain).
It was a good discussion, undermined by Pelley’s poor moderating and CBS’s failure to broadcast effectively. Fortunately, there will be another discussion of foreign policy and national security soon: the AEI/Heritage/CNN debate on November 22. It will be in prime time on a Tuesday — on a network that knows what it is doing.