• Facebook
  • Twitter
  • Subscribe
  • RSS

The First GOP Debate: Clash Of The Pygmies

Let’s get one thing out of the way here. None of the five men who appeared at the GOP Presidential debate in South Carolina last night are going to be the Republican nominee for President. With the possible exception of Tim Pawlenty, none of them are likely to be on the short list for Vice-President. That doesn’t mean the debate was a waste of time, though, because as one commentator wrote yesterday afternoon, there is some value in seeing candidates who actually believe strongly in something:

2012 is coming soon, and it’s going to be a huge election year.  The presumed frontrunner Republican candidates are, quite honestly, no good. So what’s so great about tonight’s debate? They won’t be there. Instead, we’ll be hearing from the people who actually have things to say – things that you won’t hear when those bigger names are in front of the camera.

Not everyone in tonight’s debate is a great candidate, but if you watch this evening, you’ll be exposed to some great minds – people who have real ideas for how to make America better who typically have to fight for their fair chance to be heard.

I’d like to ask each of you to tune into tonight’s debate. Watch it with an open mind and give fair consideration to what each of these candidates has to say. You may see somebody who stands out from the crowd – someone who resonates with what you believe.

It was with that spirit, and the hope that there’d be enough material for me to make fun of on Twitter during the debate, that I tuned into a debate that, thanks to a certain President’s decision to authorize the mission to kill Osama bin Laden, turned out to be much more about foreign policy than anyone had anticipated:

GREENVILLE, S.C. — The first Republican presidential primary debate — with some of the key contenders AWOL — kicked off the nomination fight Thursday with shots at President Barack Obama’s domestic and foreign policy.

The faceoff, co-sponsored by Fox News and the South Carolina Republican Party, came just days after Obama announced that Osama bin Laden had been killed. Bin Laden’s death sharply reoriented the debate among the five candidates here — the first 15 minutes were spent on foreign policy — not jobs, the economy or the national debt, which have been key issues for the GOP.

It also muted some criticism of Obama — and the first time his name came up, it was to praise from former Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty.

“I do congratulate President Obama for the fine job that he did in making the tough call and being decisive as it related to finding and killing Osama bin Laden,” Pawlenty said. A good job. I tip my cap to him in that moment.”

Of course, Pawlenty and most of the rest of the other debate participants — Ron Paul and Gary Johnson being the exceptions — tried to burnish their Republican credentials by trying to argue that the man who had just ordered a SEAL raid into an ally’s territory wasn’t tough enough. At one point, Herman Cain even seemed to suggest that we needed to go to war in Syria. In any event, I think that this portion of the debate pretty much established something that I had been thinking since Sunday night — that the killing of Osama bin Laden pretty much takes foreign policy off the table as an issue the GOP can use to go after the President in 2012.

As for the debate itself, it was, well interesting, but I don’t think that any of the candidates came out of this as the “winner” or that this debate is going to have any significant impact on a race that doesn’t even start for months.

Ron Paul: Paul’s biggest problem in debates last time around was that he seemed to wander off topic a lot, thus losing an audience that already wasn’t entirely sympathetic to his ideas. Things have changed. For one thing, the GOP is arguably more in line with Ron Paul’s positions on a whole host of issues now than it was in 2008. For another, Paul did a much better job of staying on point, most of the time. That said, he did wander off the reservation a few times, such as during a question about drug policy where he ended up talking about heroin, and during a response to a question about the Defense Of Marriage Act, where he once again totally mis-stated what the lawsuits challenging the law are all about. It probably helped that the audience seemed to have a fairly good contingent of Paul supporters, who applauded after many of his responses. Nonetheless, it’s unlikely that he made many friends among the social conservatives that dominate the South Carolina GOP.

Herman Cain: Going into this debate, many people on the right were saying that Cain would “win” this debate, and he certainly seemed well-positioned to do so. With a career in radio behind him and what many have called a dynamic and engaging public speaking style. Not surprisingly, after the debate was over last night, many bloggers on the right such as Stacy McCain, Jim Hoft, and Peter Ingemi, bolstered by a mostly useless Frank Luntz Focus Group segment, to declare Cain the “winner” of the debate. Frankly, though, I didn’t see it. His answer to a question about the war in Afghanistan was mostly incomprehensible, and his answer regarding energy policy could basically be summarized as “Drill Baby Drill.” Cain threw a lot of red meat to the conservative base, though, so it’s no surprise that they’re rallying around him, especially since most of the other candidates that they’d find acceptable stink.

Tim Pawlenty: Before the debate, Noah Green was wondering why Pawlenty would agree to appear on stage with four incredibly low-tier candidates. Part of the reason, of course, lies in the polls that show him in the basement for the GOP nomination, behind even Ron Paul and even behind people who haven’t even decided whether they’re or not they’re going to run for President. So, he cannot afford to pass up opportunities to get his name out there.  He did okay, I guess. Frankly, I’ve never been impressed with Pawlenty as a speaker and he didn’t seem to be any more energetic in this five-candidate forum than he was in his speech at CPAC. If Pawlenty is going to break out, he needs to get people thinking that he belongs with the big fish (Romney, Huckabee, Gingrich, etc). I don’t think he did it last night.

Rick Santorum: What can you say about Rick Santorum? He attacked Muslims, people who don’t speak English, working women, and homosexuals. So, it was a pretty standard night for him. The social conservatives probably loved him, but he has no bona fides when it comes to fiscal conservatism after you look at his voting record as a Senator. More importantly, he lost a re-election bid in Pennsylvania, a state Republicans have to win in 2012. He’s going nowhere.

Gary Johnson: I’ve made no secret of the fact that I’m a Johnson fan, so I guess I’ll say I’m disappointed that he didn’t do better last night. He did very well on the questions about Afghanistan and Libya, and he handled the drug policy issue better than Ron Paul did, but his delivery was off and he didn’t get his ideas across well at other times. Also, he got a little whiny over the fact that he wasn’t getting any questions, that’s never the right thing to do. Hopefully, he’ll improve his debating style before the next big debate in September.

To wrap things up, I don’t think this debate will really have much of an impact on the race, although it may energize the supporters of some of these candidates, such as Ron Paul and Herman Cain. It was fun to watch, even more fun to make fun of, but in the end it’s not really going to matter.

If you’re interested in others takes on the debate, you can check out what Chris Cillizza, Jazz Shaw, Conor Friedersdorf, and Jason Pye have to say, or, if you’re so inclined, you can watch the entire debate for yourself:

Photo via Fox News Channel

Related Posts:

About Doug Mataconis
Doug holds a B.A. in Political Science from Rutgers University and J.D. from George Mason University School of Law. He joined the staff of OTB in May, 2010 and also writes at Below The Beltway. Follow Doug on Twitter | Facebook

Comments

  1. Ryan Spires says:

    I swear that this debate by Faux News was just to intentionally pose questions that would hurt Paul and Johnson. For example, how the interviewers would make derogatory comments and jokes at the two libertarians, but Rick Santorum was only asked a tough question- but was given the time to answer without audience reaction or anyone framing the question as poorly. Of course Fox picked Cain to “win,” they want to spread the Republicans out so win they lose in 2012, more $ for Murdoch.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  2. Doug: Great post title.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  3. My alternate selection was “Midget Wrestling”

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  4. TG Chicago says:

    the killing of Osama bin Laden pretty much takes foreign policy off the table as an issue the GOP can use to go after the President in 2012.

    Nope. It makes it harder for the GOP to go after Obama on foreign policy in 2011, sure. But a year and a half from now, there will be plenty to talk about.

    *We’ll be drawing down troops in Iraq and Afghanistan (or we won’t) which will be an opportunity for criticism no matter how it goes.

    *Will Libya still be on the radar at that point? Depending on how that turns out, the GOP might be able to use it against Obama.

    *Syria and Egypt could turn out badly for Obama. Yemen, too.

    *Actually, the bin Laden killing might sour relations with Pakistan, which could open up a front for the GOP.

    *If Iran gets closer to getting nukes, that’s an easy target (and if they actually get them, that would probably be the main GOP talking point throughout the campaign.)

    *The continuing economic rise of China and other foreign powers can be used to hit the silly “Obama doesn’t love America enough–Socialist!” stuff on the right. Trump, at least, is going for that.

    *Palestine is trying to get UN recognition. No matter what happens, you know there will be silly “Obama doesn’t love Israel enough–Muslim!” stuff on the right.

    And of course there could be any number of unforeseen flare-ups in North Korea, Russia, Africa, Mexico, or really anywhere. Killing ObL helps today and might help some in 2012, but it doesn’t take foreign policy off the table entirely. Way too soon to say something like that.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  5. Steve Verdon says:

    What can you say about Rick Santorum? He attacked Muslims, people who don’t speak English, working women, and homosexuals….He’s going nowhere.

    Thankfully. We don’t need a jackass like that as President.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  6. Tsar Nicholas says:

    There was a GOP debate last night??

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  7. Tlaloc says:

    My alternate selection was “Midget Wrestling”

    I like that one better.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  8. G.A.Phillips says:

    What can you say about Rick Santorum? He attacked Muslims, people who don’t speak English, working women, and homosexuals….He’s going nowhere.

    Load of crap…yet you let little liberals whisper it into your ear….

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  9. Tlaloc says:

    Ultimately modern debates strike me as useless. Lincoln-Douglas these are not. They serve merely as a filter for how telegenic a candidate is.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  10. G.A.Phillips says:

    Going into this debate, many people on the right were saying that Cain would “win” this debate, and he certainly seemed well-positioned to do so.

    lol, Cain Rules!mighty good for his first.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  11. G.A.Phillips says:

    Tim Pawlenty;SIDEKICK!!!!

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  12. G.A.Phillips says:

    Ron Paul:Crazy as a def bat, but he makes me laugh:)

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  13. G.A.Phillips says:

    Gary Johnson;SIIIIIiiiiiiiiDEKICK!!!!!!!!!!!!!

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  14. Wiley Stoner says:

    While the political giant Mataconis looks up at those he, using the somewhat racist term Pygmies, from a position subservient to theirs. Every single man on that stage is more qualified to hold the office of President than Obama was in 2008. I am beginning to wonder if the name Doug Mataconis is not a pseudonym for Markos Moulitsas. The ideology is nearly identical.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  15. [...] 2: Doug at Outside the beltway calls it the Clash of the Pygmies, I’m sure many an explorer laughed at “pygmies” right up until they got a spear [...]

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  16. An Interested Party says:

    Load of crap…

    How’s that? Has he not spoken out against these groups?

    …using the somewhat racist term Pygmies…

    Written by an expert on the subject…

    Every single man on that stage is more qualified to hold the office of President than Obama was in 2008.

    And yet, not one of these men will ever get anywhere near the presidency…what a shame…

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  17. mannning says:

    It takes one to tell one.

    Way to show you stripes!

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  18. john personna says:

    Sky High reference noted ;-)

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  19. mantis says:

    TG Chicago,

    Maybe Doug means that foreign policy is off the table as far as traditional attacks against Democrats in that area go. They have traditionally been, at least since Carter, of the “too weak” variety. Killing bin Laden pretty much takes the “too weak” argument off the table, but not other lines of attack (too inconsistent, the whole “lead from behind” thing, etc.).

    It’s kind of funny how Democrats nominated John Kerry in 2004 at least in part because they thought it would defang the traditional “weak Democrat” attacks (it didn’t), but they nominate a never-served intellectual four years later against a bona fide war hero, and he’s the guy who wins the election and goes on to start yet another war and authorize the killings of the most wanted man in the world, and pirates! Oh, the irony.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  20. Yes, that’s where I was going. Using foreign policy as part of an “Obama is weak” or “unAmerican” argument isn’t going to work outside of the crazed contingent of the GOP base.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  21. Murray says:

    I really wanted to watch this debate but I also had the chance to get a root canal without anesthetic­.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  22. Southern Hoosier says:

    Let’s get one thing out of the way here. None of the five men who appeared at the GOP Presidential debate in South Carolina last night are going to be the Republican nominee for President.

    Eighteen months before the 2008 election, I believe people were saying about the same thing about Comrade Obama.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  23. mantis says:

    Eighteen months before the 2008 election, I believe people were saying about the same thing about Comrade Obama.

    Actually in May 2007 the frontrunners among Democrats were…..drumroll…..Clinton and Obama. They were pretty neck and neck in the polls in early May, nationally, but Clinton pulled ahead during the summer and held the lead over Obama in second, and Edwards in third, for the rest of the year.

    So no, that’s not what people were saying about Obama 18 months before the 2008 election. Clinton was the favorite, but I don’t think people were saying the guy in second place couldn’t possibly get the nomination.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  24. TG Chicago says:

    Using foreign policy as part of an “Obama is weak” or “unAmerican” argument isn’t going to work outside of the crazed contingent of the GOP base.

    I still don’t see how that speaks to the items I listed. If Egypt goes to extremists, you’re going to hear that Obama blew it. If we pull out of Iraq or Afghanistan and things go sour, it’ll be put on Obama. Any talks about Palestinian statehood are likely to be negative for Obama. And most of all, if Iran gets a nuke, then you’ll hear an unending stream of “Obama is weak and unAmerican”.

    It was thought that McCain would be helped in 08 by his vigorous support of the surge in Iraq. Turns out by election time, few people cared about it. Do you believe that if some major foreign policy problem had come up in 1992, people would have said “Well, we really liked how Bush handled the Gulf War 18 months ago, so we’re going to ignore this new issue”?

    Seems unlikely. Memories are short.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  25. superdestroyer says:

    That the media spent more than two seconds reporting on the Republican nomination process should demonstrate to everyone how brain dead the media and policy wonks are.

    There is zero chance that President Obama will lose in 2012. Even if President Obama is found in bed with a dead girl and a live boy, every single Democratic block of voters will deliver massive margins for the Democrats. President Obama will win with a larger margin than he did in 2008. The Republicans will not only lose the presidential race but lose much of the gains that were made in 2010. The Republicans are just that incompetent.

    The only thing that the debate showed is that the Republican Party is irrelevant to politics in the U.S. Five months of having a Republican as Speaker of the House, everyone should not realize that the Republicans are not capable of delivering on any political process and that the Democrat will get what they want. That people consider the Republicans relevant to politcs and governance is the U.S. demonstrates how deluded most people are.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  26. TG Chicago says:

    President Obama will win with a larger margin than he did in 2008.

    I find that pretty unlikely. I think he’ll win more likely than not, but by a tighter margin.

    If the economy makes a huge comeback, then you could be right. Otherwise, I don’t see it.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  27. superdestroyer says:

    Obama will get a bigger margin because the margin will be bigger in the big states like California, NY, Illinois. Also, the Hispanic turnout for Obama will probably be bigger. The tax the crap out of white and give the money to Democratic Party blocks will be a huge winner.

    Anyone who voted for Obama in 2008 will surely vote for him again. The Repulbican nominee will alienate some segment of the Repulbican Party and force Republican turnout down.

    The real question is not if Obama wins but whether the Democrats can get the House back or get so close in the House that they have effective control. The Repulbicans are basically irrelevant at the national level and serve as a speed up for the Democrats.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  28. [...] meet Herman, they like Herman.”Do not underestimate the man. Because I’m keeping score. Doug Mataconis is already on the record:None of the five men who appeared at the GOP Presidential debate in South Carolina last night are [...]

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  29. Rock says:

    “Pigmies” is racist and Midget is a word forbidden by political correctness. Doug might have meant “Clash of the Vertically Challenged.” Who knows?

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  30. [...] and full video to the GOP debate in Greensville, SC. (plus what the GOP debated on during their last [...]

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  31. Patrick T. McGuire says:

    None of the five men who appeared at the GOP Presidential debate in South Carolina last night are going to be the Republican nominee for President.

    That’s interesting! So who will be the Republican nominee then?

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  32. G.A.Phillips says:

    “Pygmies” is racist and Midget is a word forbidden by political correctness. Doug might have meant “Clash of the Vertically Challenged.” Who knows?

    I know some of them like to mate with elephants, maybe that’s what he meant?

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  33. TG Chicago says:

    Anyone who voted for Obama in 2008 will surely vote for him again.

    If they vote at all (a whole lot stayed home in 2010). We’ll see if President Obama gets people as excited as Candidate Obama did. My guess is that with the economy still recovering very slowly, he won’t.

    BTW, between the full extension of the Bush tax cuts and the stimulus-related tax cuts, I find it hard to see where you get Obama taxing the crap out of anybody.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  34. If they vote at all (a whole lot stayed home in 2010).

    Setting aside anything to do with Obama, there is always lower turnout in mid-terms. As such, the electorate in 2010 was substantially different than that of 2008 and likewise, 2012’s will be different from 2010’s.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  35. [...] Andrea MitchellUncoverageDa Tech GuyRed Dog ReportHot AirCan I Just Finish My Waffle?James LindsayOutside the BeltwayCubachiThe Loud TalkerThat Mr. GuyRepublican RedefinedFishersville MikeHerman Cain Wins 2012 [...]

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  36. [...] Juice’s mistermix highlights this discussion on PBS NewsHour of the little-watched first Republican debate: MARK SHIELDS: But one test, Jim, that is a great test is how candidates handle something like [...]

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  37. Ernieyeball says:

    G Spot sez: “I know some of them like to mate with elephants…”

    Like yer Mama!

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0