William Katz: Urgent Agenda
9:50 P.M. ET: Last segment. They're asked what they would bring to the White House. This is silly stuff. Padding. Okay, the debate is now over. It was raucous, but not particularly good. We'll now watch all the pundit yapping that follows.
9:48 P.M. ET: The national-security segment was much too short. They're on another break. I think these debates should be reduced to 90 minutes. Two hours is too long. The eyes glaze over.
9:39 P.M. ET: National security is up. Always a critical issue. Ron Paul is up with his left-wing foreign policy positions that would make Code Pink happy. Nutbag. Real nutbag. Santorum answers very well. Paul is up again, channelling Code Pink once more. Fortunately, a good part of the audience booed Paul, which redeems the audience in my eyes. Perry is giving a mushy answer – got to end our military effort in Afghanistan, but must do it safely. Not much of an answer.
9:34 P.M. ET: Hey, Romney is to the right of Rick Perry on immigration. That's the headline. They're still talking about it. Perry holds his ground in defending his more liberalized immigration position. One thing I really like about Perry: He doesn't fold just because someone disagrees with him. He's no bowl of jelly.
9:27 P.M. ET: The subject is illegal immigration. Now this is interesting. Perry's view of illegal immigration is actually more liberal than that of the others on the panel. And he got booed by the audience. (That may actually help him with general voters.) On this Perry is articulate and passionate. But his views, on this subject, are not popular with Republicans. Fascinating little bit.
9:22 P.M. ET: They're on a break. I'm not impressed with the debate so far. I thought the last one was better. The raucous audience isn't improving things. Wolf Blitzer's questions are fair and intelligent, a far cry from the obvious bias we saw in the questions asked at the last debate. I think Romney actually has better answers than Perry, especially in an election that will be decided by independents, but Perry has that visceral gut appeal that can't be denied.
9:16 P.M. ET: They're talking health care. I think that, despite the controversy over Romneycare in Massachusetts, Romney came out well ahead here because he knew the subject better than anyone. He also had specific proposals. Again, Perry told us what he's against.
9:07 P.M. ET: They're talking about executive orders and presidents and governors seizing too much power. This is inside baseball. I don't think it has resonance with the average voter. I'm impressed with Rick Perry's admission that an order he gave requiring a certain vaccine to be given to young girls in Texas was wrongly handled. He explained how he'd do it now, but also explained why he gave the order. He sounded good and sincere. However, when the camera isn't focused on Perry, and you see him in the background, he seems to be sneering at the other candidates. You're always on when the camera is on, and he's got to correct that.
8:55 P.M. ET: Back on economics. They're talking about the Fed. Bachmann is asked about Perry's statement of several weeks back that Fed Chairman Ben Bernarke is engaged in treasonous behavior. The audience applauds. This is kook stuff. You don't accuse people of treason loosely. This is a throwback to an old Republican Party that almost destroyed itself on several occasions. Perry tries to explain the use of the term, but, in a general election, that kind of stuff doesn't play.
8:53 P.M. ET: They're on a break. Summary thus far: It's between Romney and Perry, but a highly biased pro-Perry audience is disrupting things. I get the sense that the audience is way to the right of the nation generally, and I'm interested in winning an election.
8:37 P.M. ET: Question is how the candidates would restore the economy. Perry has some ideas, but Michele Bachmann steals the show with a really good presentation of what needs to be done. And Herman Cain is great.
8:30 P.M. ET: Talking about government spending. Perry on, very effective about things done in Texas. Romney on, also effective. Money is his issue (and he has plenty of it). Other candidates speak. I am frightened by the applause Ron Paul gets over his isolationist principles. Every one of these rounds of applause confirms the worst impressions of the Tea Party.
8:14 P.M. ET: First question deals with reforming Social Security. Bachmann says it must be modernized. No ideas, though. Perry on. Stands his ground that Social Security is a Ponzi scheme, but, again, no specific ideas on fixing it. Romney on. Goes after Perry, who wrote that the program is unconstitutional. An effective attack. Perry responds. Gets applause from the Tea Party audience, but his actual reply is vague. Great two-man Q and A between Perry and Romney. I thought Romney got the best of it, but the Tea Party audience disagreed.
Ron Paul gets on and says we have to stop all this foreign war stuff. Audience applauds. YUCH! The audience is not doing the GOP much good when it applauds isolationism. The Tea Party has declined dramatically in popularity, and maybe we're seeing why. Ronald Reagan would not make it with this crowd.
Newt is on. Wants to privatize Social Security. Santorum has some stuff. But the real debate is between Romney and Perry. Perry is effective in criticizing the program, but must get down to details. He'll be debating Obama, poor president, great candidate.
8:11 P.M. ET: Candidates make opening statements. Nothing special. No scandals, no breakthroughs.
8:09 P.M. ET: Wolf Blitzer announces the rules. Wolf is a pretty straight shooter, and I don't think there'll be a bias problem.
8:05 P.M. ET: The debate program begins. The lead-in reminded me of how they introduce figure-skating contests, will little personal descriptions of the candidates. I expected to see Mitt Romney perform a double axel, but it just didn't happen.
This is a Tea Party audience, and, when introduced, Perry got much greater applause than Romney.
September 12, 2011