What Happened in Vegas: GOP Debate Roundup

Mike Flynn, BigGoverment EIC: Rick Perry bought himself some time. His performance was uneven, but he showed glimmers of real energy and a fighting spirit. It was his best performance to date. His plan to boost energy production is a solid plan and, since it can be done largely through executive action, very achievable. That said, he needs to do a better job of linking his plan to the overall economy and how his policies will benefit voters in non-energy-rich states. He’s running for President of the US, not Texas.

Throughout the debate I kept having to remind myself that Ron Paul is a little bit crazy, because he turned in a very good performance. His campaign this time around is tacking more to mainstream GOP issues, rather than some of the more fringe issues he focused on in the past. He and Gingrich are acting as a kind of Greek chorus, providing something of a conscience for the other candidates.

As expected, Mitt Romney gave a solid debate performance. He’s good in these venues. He is very good at playing the role of President; the problem for him is that many conservatives worry about what he’ll do once he is actually President. I don’t think conservatives saw anything last night to make them more comfortable with Romney, but I expect mainstream GOPers will start to openly endorse him.

Cain will fade. There is too much ambiguity around his 9-9-9 plan and he isn’t doing anything to build up a campaign infrastructure. My private theory is that he is a stalking horse for Romney. His role is to block Perry from consolidating the anti-Romney vote. Cain is running to be Romney’s VP or a cabinet secretary.

Larry O’Connor, Breitbart.tv EIC: It seems that every debate thus far has had a front-runner or “flavor of the month” go down under an assault by all of the other candidates. Bachmann and Perry both came into debates over the past months with weekly news magazine cover stories, momentum and targets on their backs. Each could not live up to the expectations they brought. Last night it was Herman Cain’s turn, and as long as the discussion stayed centered around domestic and fiscal policies, he actually maintained his presence as the most interesting and inspiring candidate. But he truly showed his lack of preparedness on foreign issues and Republican voters tend to want a candidate who knows his way around tricky world affairs.

Gov. Perry going after a five-year-old story about illegal immigrant gardeners hired by a contractor for Mitt Romney came across as desperate and ineffective. The fact is anyone who has ever hired a gardening service or cleaning service for their homes is susceptible to this kind of attack and Perry turning so hysterical over this point actually made Romney seem sympathetic – something Romney himself has been unable to do for the entire campaign.

Finally, I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: Ron Paul, get off the stage. If his ridiculous positions on foreign policy and the use of American troops abroad weren’t enough to convince you, maybe his clumsy, awkward and risible call for the candidates to condemn Ronald Reagan over Iran-Contra should seal the deal.

Joel Pollak, Breitbart.com EIC: After tonight’s mess on CNN, there is one meaningful question left in the GOP primary: can Herman Cain govern? He is winning because he combines positive energy with firm principle. We know he has a clear vision for economic growth and fiscal reform. We know he embraces traditional social values. But we also need to know that he has sound views in other areas–especially national security and foreign policy. We need to be reassured that he can manage the complex machinery of government. We need to know, in short, that despite Cain’s lack of executive experience in government, he can pass the commander-in-chief test. That’s what the remaining debates will test–and Cain must be ready, or else Republican voters will turn, warily, to one of the two governors. As for Romney and Perry, a strident debate is a good thing, but the party deserves better than the bickering they provided tonight. With all due respect to the remaining candidates, some of whom I agree with and support, there is almost no chance of a late surge by any of them, and the GOP presidential primary contest is a two-or three-candidate race going forward.

Alex Marlow, Breitbart.com Managing Editor: Tonight’s debate was made for television… daytime television. I found myself fist-pumping and whooping throughout. Referee Anderson Cooper let the players play: he wasn’t calling fouls and he wasn’t about to slow down the action. This moderation style lead to a night of emotions, personality, harsh words, and entertaining political discussion. It was by far the most fun debate to date, and that’s a good thing for just about everyone.

I attribute it all to Huntsman’s boycott.

Briefly:

Romney – Romney got aggressive tonight and went negative on a couple of occasions, which likely will be a Rorschach test for GOP primary voters. If you’re a Romney fan, you probably thought, “Good! This will prove to people he’s not wooden.” If you don’t like the man, you probably thought, “Jeez! What a baby!” The other candidates saw blood in the water on the RomneyCare issue, but do voters care? He has promised to repeal ObamaCare, and are voters really looking for something beyond that?

Cain – His 9-9-9 plan came under fire for the first time and his defense of it was less than persuasive. Does the plan raise taxes on the poor and middle income brackets? If so, is that a good thing? If it’s a good thing, is it politically viable? Does 9-9-9 have a “value added tax”? If so, what the heck is that? Is it bad? These are all important questions, and the answers to them are considerably less clear now than they were at the beginning of the night, and that is not good for Mr. Cain.

Perry – Perry finally took the gloves off and that made for some great television, but I’m not sure it was enough to revive a campaign on life-support.

Gingrich – Another solid performance from Newt, who is looming in the polls.

Paul – Ron Paul talking foreign policy in a presidential primary debate is an embarrassment to the Republican Party.

Bachmann – A participant in last night’s debate.

Santorum – I’ve got a soft spot for Santorum, but injecting the word “family” into as many answers as possible is not going to make him a contender.

The surprise winner of the debate was tonight’s moderator, AC360. Mr. Cooper seems to have some sort of split-journalist-personality disorder: one day he’s giving life to the “teabagging” meme or shilling for various liberal causes, and the next he’s a competent and serious newsman, eager, thoughtful, sharp… The latter Cooper was at the helm last night, and did the best job of any moderator thus far.

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