CNBC Republican Debate Winners And, Well, Loser

Last night's debate was about more than Rick Perry's gaffe.

As James Joyner already noted this morning, the big headline out of last night’s CNBC debate was what I guess you can call the Rick Perry brain freeze. It’s all the political pundits are talking about this morning, with some wondering if this means the end of his campaign. Less than an hour after the debate ended, The Washington Post’s Aaron Blake was reporting on Twitter that a top Perry fundraiser had said “Perry campaign is over. Time for him to go home and refocus on being Gov of TX.” The Perry Campaign’s quick efforts to finesse this gaffe, and even get some humor out of it, were signs of a good campaign organization, but I fear it won’t be enough for the Governor. The fact that Rick Perry had a brain freeze isn’t the issue. We’ve all had moments like that at some point in our lives, sometimes they’re pretty embarrassing, but you move on. Of course, most of us don’t have television cameras running when it happens, we don’t have YouTube clips of the gaffe floating around the Internet before the night is over, and we don’t have a history of debate performances behind us that were pretty darn bad. The problem with Perry’s gaffe is that it reinforces a narrative that has been in place since September. Will his campaign survive? Sure it will, he’s got plenty of money. However, the odds that he’s going to rise again in the polls nationally or in states like Iowa just got a whole lot slimmer:

Here’s the problem for Mr. Perry: There isn’t all that much time left. Iowa will vote less than two months from today, with New Hampshire and South Carolina following on its heels. This is about the point in time at which voters, donors, and party officials need to think tactically, betting on a horse whom they think can win. Thus, Mr. Perry’s demise could be a self-fulfilling prophecy: If everyone thinks he is going to lose, he almost certainly will.

So let’s just get things out of the way and declare Rick Perry the loser of this debate, whether he really deserves it or not that’s how it’s going to be spun. In all honestly, this debate probably would be quickly forgotten had it not been for the Perry gaffe, which is likely to be right up there with Gerald Ford’s Poland comment in the annals of bad debate mistakes. Nonetheless, there were a few matters likely to have some impact on the race.

Going in, of course, the 800 lb gorilla in the room was the sexual harassment charges against Herman Cain. There was much pre-debate speculation about whether the subject would come up in a debate that was supposed to be focused solely on the economy. Personally, I didn’t think it would come up simply because it would be so wildly off-topic. But, it was CNBC host Maria Bartalomo who ended up asking the question, with her colleague John Harwood following up:

But, first, Mr. Cain, the American people want jobs, but they also want leadership. They want character in a president. In recent days, we have learned that four different women have accused you of inappropriate behavior. Here we’re focusing on character and on judgment.


You’ve been a CEO.

CAIN: Yes. BARTIROMO: You know that shareholders are reluctant to hire a CEO where there are character issues. Why should the American people hire a president if they feel there are character issues?

CAIN: The American people deserve better than someone being tried in the court of public opinion based on unfounded accusations. That’s…


And I value my character and my integrity more than anything else. And for every — one person that comes forward with a false accusation, there are probably — there are thousands who would say none of that sort of activity ever came from Herman Cain.

You’re right. This country’s looking for leadership. And this is why a lot of people, despite what has happened over the last nine days, are still very enthusiastic behind my candidacy. Over the last nine days…


Over the last nine days, the voters have voted with their dollars, and they are saying they don’t care about the character assassination. They care about leadership and getting this economy growing and all of the other problems we face.


HARWOOD: Governor Romney, when you were at Bain Capital, you purchased a lot of companies. You could fire the CEO and the management team or you could keep them. Would you keep a CEO — are you persuaded by what Mr. Cain has said? Would you keep him on if you bought his company?


ROMNEY: Look, look, Herman Cain is the person to respond to these questions. He just did. The people in this room and across the country can make their own assessment. I’m not…



HARWOOD: Governor Huntsman, let me switch back to the economy. The…


Clearly, that didn’t turn out the way that Bartalomo and Harwood thought it would. I’ve got to say that, even though I’m not a Herman Cain fan, I thought he handled his response to that question better than he’s handled his response to any question on this issue so far. It’s not going to make it go away, and there are likely to be further revelations from the women accusing him in the days to come, but between this response and the fact that everyone will be talking about Rick Perry today, Herman Cain probably bought himself some relief for a day or two. Romney also did the right thing in choosing not to attack his opponent, because there’s just no way to do that right without coming away looking bad.

As for the debate itself, it pretty much went as expected. Herman Cain’s response to seemingly every question about the economy was to bring up his 9-9-9 plan, the only difference is that, this time, none of the candidates really bothered to really counter him on the plan’s obvious flaws. Michele Bachmann and Rick Santorum were their usual selves but they seem to be fading into the background more and more at these debates. Ron Paul was, well, Ron Paul, and, quite honestly, what Rick Perry said on any other topic last night has been drowned out by his gaffe.

This was another debate, like pretty much every one that has preceded it, where Mitt Romney effectively won by not letting anyone touch him and by displaying the kind of command of the issues that one expects to see from a Presidential candidate. The crowd was behind him thanks largely to the fact that his personal ties to Michigan are nearly as deep as his ties to Massachusetts. Romney wins for the most part, though, because nobody touched him and because of the mistakes that his opponents made. Romney did stumble a little bit over a health care question, but not in a way that anyone is going to remember. He also had a bit of a brain freeze moment of his own when he said he and his wife had been married for 25 years, quickly correcting himself and joking that he “better get that right, or I’m going to be in trouble.” Rather than audible gasps when Perry stumbled, Romney was able to get a laugh out of his mistake. That’s the difference between an experienced and an inexperienced campaigner.

The other winner of the night was Newt Gingrich. As improbable as it seems, the former Speaker is starting to get a lot of respect on the right that he didn’t have before, and people are beginning to wonder if he’s the man who will rise when Herman Cain inevitably starts to fall in the polls. If that happens, part of the reason will be because of debate performances like last night. Gingrich was at times professorial, detailed in his answers, and much appreciated by the audience. The problem is that he was also Newt Gingrich, meaning that he once against got into an argument with the moderators, this time with Bartolomo over the media’s coverage of the economy, in an exchange where Newt clearly did not come off as the winner:

Do something like that in a General Election debate and you’re going to come across as an un-Presidential jerk. As tempted as they might be to rally around him, Newt Gingrich would be electoral poison for the GOP.

Mitt Romney is still the candidate to beat, though, and the question that really remains unanswered is whether Herman Cain continues to be his primary opponent in this race. If he does, then Gingrich really won’t get a chance to rise and the GOP will have to decide whether it wants the flashy guy with no substance, or the guy who actually has a chance of winning the election in November.

FILED UNDER: Campaign 2012, US Politics, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,
Doug Mataconis
About Doug Mataconis
Doug Mataconis held 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 contributed a staggering 16,483 posts before his retirement in January 2020. He passed far too young in July 2021.


  1. MBunge says:

    I’d rather have Romney as the GOP nominee than Cain, but I’d rather have Gingrich than Romney. I don’t think Romney would do anything stupid or bizarre in the White House, but I wonder what a man who’s spent the last 4 or 5 years so utterly debasing himself might do when he finally gets the position he’s mindlessly lusted after for so long. I mean, Cain has 999, Paul has foreign policy and even Bill Clinton had the whole “help the folks who played by the rules” shtick. Romney has nothing more than “I’m Mitt Romney and I should be President because I’m Mitt Romney.”


  2. matt b says:


    I’d rather have Romney as the GOP nominee than Cain, but I’d rather have Gingrich than Romney.

    Ok… so the rest of your post is an argument for someone other than Romney, because he doesn’t have anything else.

    But I kinda missed, what exactly does Newt has (other than “damn the media”)? What exactly — please specify — makes him a better presidential option that Romney?

  3. michael reynolds says:

    The game we were playing as Democrats last night was, “Which of these jackasses would be best for Obama?” There’s an embarrassment of riches. Would it be best to have Cain the Ignoramus? Crazy Michele? The Hateful Mr. Gingrich? Flip Flop Flounder? Or Governor Stupid?

    Mitt is of course the most dangerous since his superpower is the ability to turn into any other person for brief periods of time. (It’s subverted somewhat by his inability to turn back into himself.)

    But Gingrich — who has the superpower to make anyone hate him merely by opening his mouth — would be the most fun. Obama would beat Gingrich with 500 electoral votes — that’s right, Gingrich is so heinous that whole new states would form, join the union and vote, just to ensure the epicness of his crushing.

  4. Hey Norm says:

    Yeah…Romney will stay at 25%…Gingrich wins the debate because he will probably soak up Perry and Cain supporters and be the next flavor savior of the month.
    The big winner…Obama…I just cannot imagine any of these clowns measuring up against him. The guy that got OBL against a guy that won’t stand behind his biggest public policy achievement. Romney last night said Obama

    “gave GM to UAW, he gave Chrysler to Fiat.”

    In a room full of sycophants telling that lie might be a popular. In the Michigan and Ohio outside that room, where people know that the auto-bailout saved the industry and over a million jobs, not so much. And on a debate stage Obama would have him for lunch over that BS.
    On healthcare no one had a single new thing to say…just the same old platitudes. We have to get back to patient/doctor relationships. Not even a glimmer of acknowledgement that insurance companies determine health care practices…not doctors or patients…in other words not even a glimmer of reality. Obama will destroy Romney up on health care…because Romney has traded what soul he had for a Tea Bag.

  5. WR says:

    I’d like to see one of the regular posters who keep writing about how stupid it is for anyone to go to college and get a degree in anything other than engineering discuss the fact that Newt claims Fannie and Freddie paid him $300,000 for his brief services as a historian. Clearly there’s more money in the liberal arts than you guys are willing to admit!

  6. Dave Schuler says:

    One loser? I’d say seven losers and one weathervane.

  7. Barb Hartwell says:

    If I was a Republican, I would be so ashamed and frightened that I would need to pick one of these clowns to be the most powerful person in the WORLD. I hope a lot of Republicans think clearly on election day.

  8. MBunge says:

    @matt b: “But I kinda missed, what exactly does Newt has (other than “damn the media”)? What exactly — please specify — makes him a better presidential option that Romney?”

    He’s smart by political standards and has enough experience on his resume that he should be able to handle the basic requirements of the job. That’s what makes Newt better than some of the other candidates on stage last night. As for what makes him better than Romney? Newt, even with his global warming commercial with Nancy Pelosi, has almost infinitely more credibility with conservatives than Romney. Newt also has a defined and relatively consistent personality and ego. You might not like what President Newt would be like, but it’s fairly easy to imagine. On the other hand, what the hell would President Romney be like?

    Also, if Newt runs and loses it will be a lot harder for conservatives to continue their delusion that being more conservative is always the answer. On the other hand, a Romney loss will just further cement that idea. And the mainstream media and pundit elite won’t be able to BS themselves about a potential Newt administration. I’ve seen and read people starting to advance the idea that if Romney wins, GOP insanity in Congress will somehow be defused and we’ll get back to business as usual with Romney acting as another Clintonian technocrat. That idiotic fantasy is much harder to indulge with Newt.


  9. Hey Norm says:

    @ WR…
    That claim by Newt was also a lie. That’s not what he was hired for. Check out what Frum has to say about it.

  10. WR says:

    @Hey Norm: What’s that you say? Newt was lying? I’m shocked to my very core.

  11. ponce says:

    There’s an embarrassment of riches.

    For the poor Republicans watching that debate. it must be like standing in the prison lunch line hoping you don’t get any body parts in your meal.

  12. Drew says:

    Fascinating thread. We have a President clearly in over his head – always has been and always will be – half as smart as advertised, with no positive record to run on, emerging as a liar with no practical sense of judgment on issues like Solyndra and Fast and Furious…………………and all the invective is on “Republican Clowns or Meanies.”

    Now THAT’s entertainment!

  13. Hey Norm says:

    You live in a fantasy world.

  14. michael reynolds says:

    Well, no record to run on if you don’t count saving us from a depression, passing health care reform where every previous effort had failed, getting us out of Iraq and having Osama Bin Laden’s balls in a pickle jar.

    The bigger bit of ‘splainin for you and your fellow Republicans is this: if you’re so smart how come all your candidates are idiots?

  15. jan says:

    Reading through the comments here was ‘fascinating,’ using Drew’s descriptive word.

    The trivia produced from these debates does create a circus atmosphere for these republican candidates. However, beneath some of the exhibited buffoonery, often cultivated by the inane choreography of the questions being asked, there are more experienced, knowledgeable, people, with a better grasp of economic policy, vying for the presidency, than what we have in the man currently occupying the WH.

  16. Hey Norm says:

    Jan and Drew inhabit the same world of delusion.

  17. Hey Norm says:

    Eric should be poking his head in from the same paralell universe, that Jan and Drew share with him, any second now.

  18. jan says:

    if you’re so smart how come all your candidates are idiots?

    That reminds me of the movie where everyone called Forrest Gump an idiot, in the form of being stupid. His refrain was simply, “Stupid is as stupid does.” …and, considering Mr. Gump left everyone in the dust with his stupidity/idiocy,maybe such a slur isn’t so bad.

  19. EddieInCA says:

    Um.. Jan…

    You do realize Forrest Gump was… um… a movie, right?

    As in… um… not real.

    Here’s a better one for you if we’re talking about make-believe: Dumb and Dumber.

  20. Hey Norm says:

    @ EddieInCA…
    In the context of republican intellectualism…a world in which Gingrich is considered the pre-eminent genius…Forrest Gump is probably regarded as a ground-breaking documentary film. Well, to all the candidates on the stage last night, I say: “…run Forrest, run…”

  21. ponce says:

    That reminds me of the movie where everyone called Forrest Gump an idiot


    Republican Slogan: Vote Forrest Gump, he’s not that dumb!

  22. jan says:


    Um.. Jan…

    You do realize Forrest Gump was… um… a movie, right?

    My previous post started with…

    That reminds me of the movie ….

    Another pointless point.brought to you by Eddie.

  23. mantis says:

    The Republican Party: Because being dumb worked out just fine for Forrest Gump.

  24. Nightrider says:

    A Texas governor’s inability to remember all of his own prior opinion is not equal to a sitting President of the United States in the middle of the Cold War thinking Poland wasn’t part of the, the, *Warsaw* Pact.

  25. Hey Norm says:


  26. Restless says:

    Forrest Gump is a terrible movie. Three hours just…gone.

  27. Neil Hudelson says:

    Did Jan really just argue “Forrest Gump turned out ok in that one movie, so why not give an idiot a chance at being leader of the free world?”

  28. matt b says:

    Actually, I think @jan’s reference to Forrest Gump is pretty much spot on and helps explain the popularity of Cain and the issue facing Romney.

    Simply put, the populist movement of the GOP is looking for Forrest Gump and has been for quite some time. They want to find someone whose inherent “goodness” trumps everything and makes them always right. In many ways they are looking for the Anti-(Bill) Clinton and Anti-Obama. One was criminally smart, the other book smart. Both were considered to be bad presidents.

    For them, smarts are a dangerous thing — a reminder that the world isn’t simple and that you can’t know everything. Look no further than the average attack on Climate Science (the science is wrong and the scientist are deceitful).

    The promise of Palin, Cain and others is that they are ANTI-experts. That they “speak their mind” and go with their gut. Gingrich sorta gets a pass (as he allows a certain pass on proving that they are not “anti-intellectual).

    Romney — on the other hand — is seen as a bad candidate because he ultimately is far too close to Clinton or Obama for their tastes.

    Sadly, all of those Forrest Gump’ers forget that generally speaking, Forrest prospered because of chance and all the people around him and took very little action himself.

    Or perhaps they do remember that and there hope is that their Guy will just spend the next few years running across the country leaving VP-Sargent Dan to run the show. Of course, we saw how well that worked for the first four years of GWB’s term when Sargent Dick was the man behind the man.

  29. Hey Norm says:

    It’s really no more ridiculous than some other arguments she has made.

  30. EddieInCA says:

    Romney/Cain 2012 – Together Like Peas and Carrots.*

    Romney/Bachmann 2012 – Cuz Jenny said so.*

    Perry/Gingrich 2012 – Sometimes we all do things that, well, just don’t make no sense.*

    Santorum/Bachmann 2012- You have to do the best with what God gave you.*

    Bachmann/Santorum 2012- God is listening.*

    Palin/Bachmann 2016 – Stupid is as Stupid does.*

    *Actual Forest Gump Quote

  31. mantis says:

    They want to find someone whose inherent “goodness” trumps everything and makes them always right.

    Yeah, but they aren’t look for a “good” person. They are looking for an asshole who they think pisses off liberals. It doesn’t matter how dumb, crazy, and destructive that person is (in fact, those are often features), as long as they stick it to wingnuts’ enemies, their fellow Americans. Being a prick automatically makes you correct in the Republican Party.

    After all of this filtering that has gone on in the primary process, who is coming out on top? Romney gets all the reasonable, sane Republicans, a shrinking group. The rest, which are the bulk of Republican primary voters, are gung ho for one of the two biggest assholes on the stage: Cain and Gingrich. Regardless of how obviously dumb he is, Perry would still be in it if he was meaner, especially to Hispanics.

  32. David M says:

    I’m not sure if Jan meant this, but although Forrest Gump is a nice guy and things work out for him in the end, there is absolutely no way he should have any real responsibility. Actually a good slogan for most of today’s Republican Party:

    GOP 2012: “There’s no reason we should be given any responsibility”

  33. James in LA says:

    @Drew: Prove the statement, “The President is in over his head.”

  34. Rob in CT says:

    That reminds me of the movie where everyone called Forrest Gump an idiot, in the form of being stupid. His refrain was simply, “Stupid is as stupid does.” …and, considering Mr. Gump left everyone in the dust with his stupidity/idiocy,maybe such a slur isn’t so bad.

    Allow me to make a different movie analogy (no, not Idiocracy, though that’s tempting):

    Tropic Thunder.

    Kirk Lazarus: Everybody knows you never go full retard.
    Tugg Speedman: What do you mean?
    Kirk Lazarus: Check it out. Dustin Hoffman, ‘Rain Man,’ look retarded, act retarded, not retarded. Counted toothpicks, cheated cards. Autistic, sho’. Not retarded. You know Tom Hanks, ‘Forrest Gump.’ Slow, yes. Retarded, maybe. Braces on his legs. But he charmed the pants off Nixon and won a ping-pong competition. That ain’t retarded. Peter Sellers, “Being There.” Infantile, yes. Retarded, no. You went full retard, man. Never go full retard. You don’t buy that? Ask Sean Penn, 2001, “I Am Sam.” Remember? Went full retard, went home empty handed…

    The GOP has gone full wingnut.

    Never go full wingnut.

  35. Hey Norm says:

    Rob in CT wins.

  36. Fiona says:

    @Rob in CT:

    The GOP has gone full wingnut.

    Never go full wingnut.

    Best line and best analogy of the day.

    I can’t resist the temptation to say something about Newt. Aside from oozing arrogance and narcissism and coming off as the worst kind of intellectual phony, his three wives and two major cheating scandals will prevent him from winning the nomination. It’s pretty tough to be the candidate of the family values party when you have all the family values of the average weasel. I’d like to think the Republicans have at least some standards. Even if Cain falters, I doubt Newt will end up being the anti-Romney. He’s just too damned slimy.

  37. michael reynolds says:

    Rob in CT has crushed the thread.

  38. Moosebreath says:

    “It’s pretty tough to be the candidate of the family values party when you have all the family values of the average weasel”

    I know some weasels who are highly insulted by this comparison.

  39. mantis says:

    Our ability to weasel out of things is what separates us from the animals! Except for the weasel.

    – Homer Simpson

  40. G.A.Phillips says:

    Sorry to interrupt this circle jerk but a comment section full of liberals saying that people are dumb is just stupid….

    Oh, and Cain, will not be stopped, and Obama and his weredonkey proxy Oramacare suck!

    Thank you very much, you may now continue applying the lotion…..

  41. matt b says:

    I nominate @Rob in CT‘s post for an OTB “Silk Purse from Sow’s Ear” Award.

  42. Hey Norm says:

    I can’t believe I have gotten two thumbs down for endorsing Rob’s comment…geez…get a life.

  43. G.A.Phillips says:

    I can’t believe I have gotten two thumbs down for endorsing Rob’s comment…geez…get a life


  44. matt b says:

    @G.A.Phillips: speaking of circle-jerks

    Cain, will not be stopped,

    Can I quote you on that in say… three months?

  45. WR says:

    @Fiona: “. It’s pretty tough to be the candidate of the family values party when you have all the family values of the average weasel”

    It would be nice to believe that, but the “Family Values Council” just gave their highest defender of the family award to a sleazy Illinois congressman who owes his wife a hundred grand in back child support which he ducked out on saying he was broke while he’s loaned his own campaigns over thirty thousand dollars.

    These people don’t care about family values. They care about punishing sluts and making sure dark people don’t get anything from their tax dollars. That’s it.

  46. WR says:

    @G.A.Phillips: My favorite internet moment of the day: GA complaining that people say Republicans are stupid.

    Next up: Newt Gringrich complains that people call politicians narcissistic.

  47. EddieInCA says:

    The GOP has gone full wingnut.

    Never go full wingnut.

    “And the award goes to….”

  48. G.A.Phillips says:

    Can I quote you on that in say… three months?

    Why would you not?

    GA complaining that people say Republicans are stupid.

    No I was saying libs are to stupid to realize that anyone else is, so how can they tell? like in everything else they have nothing for comparison, except dumb ****.

    Its a towel around the head type thing….

  49. sam says:


    “like in everything else they have nothing for comparison”

    I dunno, GA, you’re the standard meter bar for stupid. We’ve got that.

  50. David M says:

    @G.A.Phillips: By the way, congratulations on winning the first “Maybe we do need to block certain avatars” contest.

    As in allowing people to choose to block / hide some avatars…

  51. G.A.Phillips says:

    I dunno, GA, you’re the standard meter bar for stupid. We’ve got

    wow that’s funny…..psych………

    sam, you don’t want none you grumpy old indoctrinator.

    As in allowing people to choose to block / hide some avatars…

    censorship ain’t right…it’s left, lol…..

  52. David M says:

    @G.A.Phillips: I’ll try and help you out, because you’re obviously missing the picture. I’m not talking about you or anyone else not being able to choose their own avatar. I’m talking about other users being able to hide avatars they don’t want to see, for themselves only. If you think that’s censorship…well, I guess that shouldn’t surprise me given your other comments.

  53. G.A.Phillips says:

    David M, um, I joke around a lot….and hope people can figure out when:)