It seems like there's been a million GOP presidential debates so far, and there are even more on the schedule. But I still tune in and hope for something new or something different. It's hard to get any real substance with one minute answers and thirty second rebuttals, but in the case of CNBC's debate on Wednesday night, I'm glad I watched. The candidates were sharp, on message, and for the most part, kept the focus on Barack Obama and the economy. There were definitely winners and losers, with some candidates continuing to rise, while others are sinking like lead balloons.
The whole idea behind CNBC's "Your Money, Your Vote" GOP Presidential Debate was to get the candidates to focus on the economy and jobs. Both the panel of moderators and the GOP hopefuls did a a great job of staying on message. Of course, there were a few stray bullets here and there, but mainly, we all were able to get a grasp of where the candidates stand and how effectively they can present their ideas.
The debate started with a question to Herman Cain. Considering all the attention Cain has been receiving lately regarding accusations of sexual harassment, I'm sure many viewers were like me and were thinking, "Oh boy, here they go." But, instead, the moderator asked about Italy's financial troubles. Once the question was asked, I was finally able to exhale.
Of course, CNBC couldn't totally ignore the issue. After all, this was a debate on the economy and jobs, right??? But, the question was asked. The moderator framed it as part of a CEO's character and should Americans elect a CEO if he or she has a character issue like the one alleged by Cain's accusers. Personally, I found the reaction of the audience to be very telling. As the question was raised, the audience started booing. They weren't booing Cain; they were voicing their displeasure with the question. As he answered, their boos turned into cheers. What does that mean? It means that even with a name and a face behind the accusations, Cain is still part of the mix.
Rep. Ron Paul and former House Speaker Newt Gingrich had great replies to a question regarding student loans. CNBC's Sharon Epperson pointed out that student loan debt is higher in America than credit card debt. But in typical liberal fashion, she seems to think that the only way that students can pay for college is with the federal government's help.
I love it! Pay for college by working? What a concept!
The candidates stuck to their messages, and the best performers, were Romney, Cain, Gingrich, and Paul. If Cain can get through the current media firestorm, it can still be a race between him and Romney. If not, Gingrich is the candidate who stands to gain. In the debates, we are reminded of just how much he knows on so many different topics and how well he can explain a subject to the American people.
Huntsman, Bachmann, Perry, and Santorum did not do anything to change the game or the GOP presidential dynamic. In particular, Perry suffered yet another set back. Since he stormed onto the scene and seized the frontrunner position, he has seen his support erode with each passing debate. Pundits have said that he needs a homerun. Instead, he provides a strikeout. Whether it's an incoherent speech that was reported last week, or his gaffe last night. Perry is destroying his candidacy.
Perry talked about the three departments he would eliminate if he were president. Unfortunately, he could only remember two out of the three.
The third department was energy, and Perry said it later in the debate, but the damage had been done. In post-debate analysis, CNBC's Lawrence Kudlow called it a fatal blow to the Perry campaign, noting that not only do these candidates have to debate each other, but the winner will also have to debate Barack Obama.
For those sick of the 30-second sound bites, Gingrich did propose a series of "Lincoln-Douglas" debates between him and Obama. Wouldn't that be a spectacle? Instead, this is the format that we have. It's certainly weighted to style over substance, but it is what it is.