Thoughts on the Nevada GOP debate
Oct 19, 2011

Thoughts on the Nevada GOP debate

This post is a collection of miscellaneous thoughts regarding the Nevada GOP nomination debate. There is no particular order or theme. 

Cain and 9-9-9:
In the previous New Hampshire debate, just after Herman Cain's ascendancy in the polls, he spend most of the debate trumpeting the 9-9-9 plan in reference to almost any question or issue. Importantly, he was largely left unchallenged on it by the other opponents. In the Nevada debate, however, the first several segments focused entirely on essentially every candidate attacking Cain's 9-9-9 plan. It was the perfect example of how people are allowed to say really unorthodox things when they are irrelevant, as Cain was, and that as soon as they start getting relevant, they are going to face the full criticism of the unorthodox positions that makes them unelectable prima facie. While there are many different ways to attack 9-9-9 that coincide with Republican talking points and were raised by the others, it was only Ron Paul that identified the major problem: it is horribly regressive giving enormous tax breaks to the rich and to corporations (high 30's down to 9) while raising costs on the poor and middle class. My previous discussion of 9-9-9 is here. 

Newt Gingrich:
Against my better judgment, I kinda like the guy. He often plays the pragmatic and realist cards, which is a refreshing change from the consistent ideological slants of the others. He frequently seems to try and turn the debate from something black and white as being cast between others (such as Romney vs Perry on the border or healthcare) and show how the issue is actually much greyer. Ultimately, he is a policy wonk like myself and offers various specific policy details and is probably the most concrete of the candidates in the things he says. I may well disagree with his actual policies, but the focus on policies and not ideology is good.

My objective in watching:
My main goal with watching these debates is partly just entertainment but also is to try and better understand conservatism and what kinds of statements get appeal and which don't. Especially considering how frequently liberal pundits misunderstand conservative appeal, this is important. However, I don't really expect to really learn much in the way of new facts and policies ideas and the like, such debates just aren't the right forum for this if someone is as involved in politics as I am. Of the various candidates Gingrich is the one who actually provides new tidbits of knowledge—particularly about 80s and 90s politics (his heyday)—and I like listening to him for this.

Rick Santorum:
Santorum's largest differentiator that he brings up multiple times in different debates in an attempt to separate himself from the field is the focus on the family and on faith. In some sense this is difficult because everybody except Paul is a staunch religious social conservative. However, the debates thus far have been light on these issues and so Santorum can deliver platitudes (and he never goes more specific than this) about family and faith and get a bit of a spotlight for this. His other differentiator is the issue of cutting corporate taxes on manufacturing to absolutely zero. Most other candidates pay lip service to manufacturing's importance and to cutting taxes, Santorum takes the route of taking this to its extreme.

From a personality perspetive, I think that Santorum has a real likability problem. Perhaps it is just me, but he comes off perpetually angry and bitter. And not the sort of anger at the problems which feeds the passion to fix them, angry at pretty things like the way the debate is going, time allotments, responses from other candidates, and the like. He is consistently the most negative candidate on the stage and even in the issues he talks about, he spends a lot of time criticizing others on the stage but very little time proposing anything more optimistic on his own behalf.

Michele Bachmann:
Despite the standard liberal rhetoric that Michele Bachmann is completely crazy, I have actually thought she has been handling herself very well over these debates. She is saying the same general sentiments with the same general rhetoric as well as any of them. Because the campaign is so focused on candidates repeating fairly extremely ideological platitudes, it is a bit defeating to be able to present oneself as the most Seriously Conservative of the bunch, which is really what the Tea Party and Michele Bachmann try to do. That said, this time she did say one thing that was really out there, which brings me to my next point:

Foreign Aid:
One of the questioners asked about whether we ought to entirely eliminate foreign aid. I personally find such blatantly unempathetic us vs them mentalities disheartening and wished we had a political culture where CNN didn't think this was an appropriate question to let through vetting. Despite the US giving less per capita than most western nations, all of them seemed to agree that it should be cut more. Romney ludicrously claimed that China ought to be doing the foreign aid instead of lending us money, and this man wants to become President? Michele Bachmann however took this distasteful issue to the ultimate extension. She claimed that Libya and and Iraq should be paying the US back, instead of the other way arround, because of all the good work the US had done bombing their countries. Sigh. With the exception of Ron Paul, everybody of course made an exception for a single country: Israel.

Most candidates managed to slip in various belligerent remarks towards Iran. The recent rather unconfirmed and rather ridiculous "plot" from Iran fits precisely in with their narrative and was used repeatedly in attacks against this pariah. This belligerence culminated in Bachmann's description of Ahmadinejad as a "genocidal maniac".

Rick Perry:
Perry has a couple times actually represented reasonable and pragmatic policies in contrast to his much more elevated Republican rhetoric; mostly this has been as a defensive move from attacks by others. For example his funding of Gardacil in Texas and his support for allowing illegals to get instate tuition levels were both attacked in previous debates and his best moments in my perspective (although they probably would poll poorly) were when he passionately defended these which was about the only actual time when illegals were humanized opposed to dehumanized. In this debate, the issue was about a fence along the border. While Bachmann was championing a double walled fence along the entire border, Perry actually acknowledged the realpolitik that it would be enormously expensive, take a long time to build and be of limited effectiveness and suggested alternative more pragmatic approaches. However, he lost his brief moment of credibility when he argued for the use of Predator drones on the border explicitly referencing busting up things like the Iranian assassination plot.

The major issue that Perry brings up that differentiates him from the field is that of energy; is repeatedly brings up the need to drill and remove regulations. There have actually been several instances where he does this rather inappropriately completely ignoring the asked question to bring this issue up without even the semblance of segue (the way Cain segues all questions into 9-9-9).

Liberals who like Ron Paul:
There is a tendency among the left that I do not share to find Ron Paul really attractive. This is largely because there are many issues upon which the left and Ron Paul can be allies, in particular his stance of foreign policy non-interventionism and civil liberties such as opposition to the Patriot Act. However, on so many other domestic issues, Ron Paul's libertarianism is enormously ideological and the antithesis of a liberal worldview as he advocates for essentially the complete dismantling of any and all forms of government. Even the noninterventionalist foreign policy is largely taken for entirely different sets of reasons. I think it is quite dangerous to be so effusively supportive of him.

Getting personal:
There were two major personal attacks on candidates personal lives (opposed to general attacks on record, values, etc.). The first was Perry's attack on Romney that he had hired illegals to work on his house, and known about it for a year. Romney soundly beat back the attack as vacuous and while I don't care to fact check this irrelevancy, it was a clear victory for Romney with the crowd booing Perry at the end (a rare occurrence). The other was Michele Bachmann's attack on Obama regarding his relatives who have questionable legality in the US. A quick google indicates there is nothing to suggest any shred of influence let alone wrong doing on Obama's part. It is sad because, like the birther and "Obama is a Muslim" remarks before it, it appeals to the worst and most divisive in us.

Values vs. Policies:
It is true that as a precursor to determining what good policies ought to be one needs to determine what values we share first. That said, especially when there is so much homogeneity among the values espoused in the field, it becomes high time to talk about policy. However, on balance, there was very little policy discussion in the debates and the general take a way theme was of each trying to out do each other on repeated the orthodox republican value platitudes. For example, despite multiple explicit questions about this, nobody offered up any policy ideas on healthcare outside of calling for the complete repeal of Obamacare. As silly as it is, the only real person running on a specific policy proposal first and foremost is Cain and his 9-9-9.

Mitt Romney:
At the end of the day, the reason this is Romney's election to lose was made clear. Compared to the field he was easily the most reasonable, the best debater, and the most prepared to present himself as a genuine Presidential candidate. Despite heated exchanges, particularly with Perry, he easily came out on front, consistently managed to get cheers from the crowd and did nothing to substantially slow down his momentum. I have many issues with him that I won't get in to here, but it is quite clear that he will win this nomination. 

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