This was the most social issues-heavy debate of them all. In New Hampshire. It was no coincidence.
In an election cycle where the economy is more important to voters than it’s ever been, focusing on social issues not only lets Obama off the hook, but also paints Republican candidates as “extreme” due to the GOP’s backwards inability to effectively and attractively message values.
In one of the most bizarre debate moments of modern times, candidates were asked whether or not states should be allowed to ban contraceptives, based on the illogical presupposition of a Santorum stance, one which he was not given the courtesy of clarifying before moderators proceeded with their misdirected question. This discussion went on for nearly a half an hour.
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Following this, the discussion of gay marriage, which both Newt Gingrich and Rick Perry effectively shut down (and the moderators quickly changed subjects) when they pointed out the severe hypocrisy of talking equality in a country that discriminates against Christians, with the example of adoption and the Catholic Charities.
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It took 3/4 of the way into the debate before candidates were asked about the economy. During a time when unemployment is, cosmetically, at plus-8% with hundreds of thousands giving up on the workforce entirely (before you celebrate the barely visible dip in the unemployment numbers by way of a shrunken workforce), quite frankly, no one gives a damn about gay marriage. People care even less about contraceptives, which no one believes states should or will ban.
Was this a case of the media assisting the narrative that the GOP is extreme by focusing on such issues? Only a small fragment of Iowans, according to caucuses’s entrance polling, cared even about social issues above the economy, and those were mostly Santorum’s folks. Santorum as the surprise insurgent in the GOP primary, the social issues candidate, the candidate who mistakenly wants to kick off the 90s’ culture war instead of focusing on the issues where Obama is the most vulnerable, had this debate tailor-made for him. The questions were designed to make him look ridiculous and Romney refrained from validating the question and attacking him when first asked about federalism and contraception.
The questions in this debate were beneath Sawyer’s marquee name and overall, means this debate will be taken less seriously than the previous ones.