Derek Hunter
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He won this debate, hands down. He handled the jabs thrown his way and stayed on message. He offered some specific ideas and stayed calm while others got upset. He stressed his business experience and attacked the failures of President Obama. In many ways he “seemed Presidential,” which is both cheesy to say and important. That doesn’t mean he’ll win the nomination, but it did help him win this debate.

Newt Gingrich - The man knows his stuff. Yes, he’s got personal baggage, but who doesn’t? I’m not a fan of his shortcomings, but I’m less of a fan of Barack Obama. If this were an election to pick the guy to marry my sister, Newt would be out. We aren’t, we’re looking to elect a President.

This isn’t an assessment of his entire campaign, mind you, just this debate, and debate is like water to Newt - it seems like it’s 90 percent of his body. Being a former history professor helps, but being able to recall what you know helps more. He was the first, and maybe the only, person to drop the “R” bomb - Reagan - and while he got justifiably testy at a point or two, he was always spot-on. Indignation, when deployed judiciously, is a powerful weapon. His calling the “Super Committee” a “dumb idea” was a brilliant moment, mostly because it is. And his answer on loyalty tests for government employees was perfect.

If given ability to build a candidate you’d probably use Newt’s brain, but that, and his passion, might be all you’d take. Then again, maybe not. The conventional wisdom is that his wounds have been self-inflicted. That, to a large extent, is true, but they’ve also been unfair. The media has obsessed over how he’s spent his own money while ignoring how Barack Obama has wasted all of our money.

If he’s able to raise some money off his impressive debate performance and regain his campaign sea-legs he could be a force. But that’s a mighty big IF.

Rick Santorum - He has no money and comes in just above “Who is running again?” in the polls, but he came through Thursday. Santorum is a smart man, and a personable man, he just doesn’t have whatever “it” is on the campaign trail and in interviews. But he had “it” in the debate. He seems more comfortable in these situation, which might come from his years in the Senate where everything is timed and people address each other formally. Whatever it is, he was surprisingly good.

He also didn’t get a lot of face-time. The unfortunate part of being a low-polling candidate is no one wants to ask you a question when they can ask someone with higher poll numbers. It might not be fair, but it is none the less. He probably would’ve been better served had he decided to run for his old Senate seat again. He lost in a tough year for Republicans (2006), but Pennsylvania has since elected Pat Toomey to the Senate, so the state seems to have a reddish hue at the moment. It was possibly a missed opportunity, but far be it from me to tell anyone what think they should do. It’s his life, it’s his call, and he did a fine job in this debate.

Herman Cain - It’s refreshing to have a non-politician in the race. In the past they’ve sort of been clownish or one-trick-pony, single issue candidates, but Cain is a serious man. More importantly, he speaks like a normal human being. The other candidates, and President Obama, stick to their main points and the word choice they’ve found most effective. I’ve had the pleasure of interviewing Herman Cain on my radio show and you get the sense that the conversation you have with him in an interview setting is the conversation you’d have with him over dinner or in a bar. That’s refreshing.

That being said, sometimes the guy in the bar, while smart, doesn’t always have all the answers to every question. He’s a former radio talk show host, which is a great plus in helping him talk to people, but on certain issues, mostly foreign policy, he’s not quite “there” yet. He’s a brilliant man and will, in time, get there, but he just doesn’t seem so yet. He’d make a great governor, Senator or Cabinet member, or even a great Presidential nominee in the future. He’s ripening, for sure, but he just doesn’t seem ready to be picked.

They Were Also There

Tim Pawlenty - He was on stage, he threw some jabs, took issue with Romney and Bachmann, but he was mostly just there. He made a joke about President Obama not having an economic plan and Romney having a big lawn, but if you offered me money to quote anything else he said your money would be safe.

His biggest problem has been his style. People have wanted to like Pawlenty since he first announced, they just haven’t. He’s placed a lot of importance on the Ames Straw Poll, which is a mistake, but he’s chosen it. If the results yesterday weren’t favorable to him I hope he doesn’t let it force him out of the race. He’s a good candidate in theory, he just needs to translate that into reality. I don’t know what would do it, maybe caffeine or listening to loud music before going on stage, but he needs some energy on stage. He’s a former hockey player, as am I, and I can tell you that you need to get pumped up before you hit the ice. He needs whatever it is that gets his blood and adrenaline flowing in that situation to be just off stage and use it, and worry less about the other candidates.

Jon Huntsman - How he met the 1 percent in the polls requirement to be invited to the debate I’ll never know. Maybe they accidentally polled some media people in their sample group.

All jokes aside, he was horrible. The only reason he didn’t make my “Losers” list is because he didn’t belong there in the first place.

There’s little point to addressing what he said because who can remember what he said? He’s the only guy in the world who can make Romney and Pawlenty look like guys who would fight over who is next in the keg-stand line. Plus, he’s a squishy liberal Republican. That explains why the media loves him, and it explains why he’s irrelevant.

Look, the guy served his country as Ambassador to China and was probably a fine governor of Utah, but simply wanting to be President isn’t a good enough reason to run. Why he is running is unclear and will probably remain that way as he fades away.

Losers

Ron Paul - I would vote for Ron Paul in a second...if we were holding elections for President of Domestic Policy. I’m serious. I’m with him on domestic issues, but I would want his power to stop at the water’s edge. I’m so serious about that that I wouldn’t allow him to have any power over any island in lakes inside the continental United States or Hawaii. The man is a dead-right on fiscal policy and spending as he is wrong on foreign policy. And that’s where he loses me.

He’s in the loser category because he supports a nuclear Iran, or at least sitting by while they develop the bomb. He also blames the US for Iran’s hostility toward us because of the 1953 coup. While the CIA was involved in that, so what? He also supports Miranda Rights for terrorists. The only way I’d support Miranda Rights for terrorists is if they were engraved on the bullets we use to shoot them.

He’s retiring after this election, and that’s a shame. Where he’s good, he’s great. Having him in the House of Representatives serves a purpose few others could serve. Having him investigate the Federal Reserve is his natural environment and where he can best serve his country. But where he’s bad, he’s horrible. He’ll keep his ardent supporters, but they won’t grow based upon his performance in this debate.

Michele Bachmann - This is the one that is going to get me in the most trouble, but she was simply awful. From the first question, when moderator Brett Baier asked candidates to not use talking points and stump soundbites and she answered exactly that way, to her continual use of the phrase “I led the fight,” she said nothing of substance. She’s not a dumb woman, she’s very intelligent, which made her answers all the more disappointing.

On “leading the fight,” it’s important to know that means they opposed it or supported it. Other than that, it doesn’t mean anything of substance. Politicians use it all the time because it gives the impression that whatever the issue is, it was their idea, or they were rallying people, convincing them to one side or the other. All it really means is they voted for or against it. There were very few issues she was asked about that she didn’t either lead the fight against or for. But that platitude is not an answer.

She also contradicted herself pretty badly. She said she opposed raising the debt ceiling, in fact she “led the fight” against it. Yet she voted for the Ryan budget plan, which raised the debt ceiling by about $6 trillion over 10 years. Of course she was talking about the most recent deficit deal, but she was saying it was never ok to raise it. Maybe she didn’t remember, maybe she was hoping no one else would remember, but when you speak in absolutes you’d better be damn sure you’re absolutely right on the facts.

What she also fails to realize on the debt ceiling issue was that it had to be raised. The “fight” we just had happened too late to not raise it. We’re borrowing $.40 out of every dollar we spend and had weeks before we hit it when it became an issue. There was no way to cut that much spending at once, in that short of a timeframe. There was no choice but to raise it. Yes, we could’ve hit it and deal with prioritizing our payouts for a while, but not for the rest of the year. Cold turkey on borrowing sounds great, but it’s not only impractical, it’s impossible. Weaning, preferably accelerated weaning, is the only way it will ever happen.

She also had no rebuttal to the fact that she’s had no legislative accomplishment. Yes, we need people to say “no” to a lot of what government does and tries to do, but we need them in Congress. We need a person in the White House with a vision of what government should to be become more limited, with ideas and a record. She doesn’t have it.

Her answers were platitudes, soundbites and slogans. I would say they were all sizzle and no steak, but there wasn’t any sizzle. As with Huntsman, I have no idea why she wants to be President. I don’t know what she wants to do as President beyond have a “constitutionally limited government.” That’s great, I want that too, but what does it mean to her? I have no idea. What would she cut, what wouldn’t she? I couldn’t tell you.

I want her in the political fight, I’d even like her to “lead” it, but from Congress. I’m not saying she will never be ready, but she’s not right now.

The Ghosts

Rick Perry - The Governor of Texas wasn’t on stage, but he was on everyone’s minds. At least on the minds of those asking questions. Perry’s entering the race will hurt some and not others. Those on the cusp will run risk of seeing their anemic support fritter away, if only because they don’t have more. Those with a lot of support will see some of it go away, but it will be Perry’s to keep, not theirs to regain. Fred Thompson got support from the leaders when he entered the race in 2007, but he did little to inspire it beyond entering and it soon returned from whence it came. Some people are just attracted to buzz, but they need more than buzz to stick around. A bad movie, properly promoted, can attract large crowds opening weekend, but word of mouth will trump slick marketing the next weekend. Whether Perry will be a good or a bad movie remains to be seen, but right now all we’ve seen is the trailer.

Sarah Palin - Is she or isn’t she? She’s the only one who knows for sure, but she sure seems to be having a lot of fun making everyone, particularly the media, guess. No one can blame her for waiting, she has that much juice. She’s not a shoo-in for the nomination if she gets in, but she has the luxury of waiting because her support is broad and adamant. She won’t have the fundraising issues most late entrants face, or the enthusiasm gap. She’s taken the bullets shot at her by the Left and media with a grace rarely seen in any aspect of life, let alone politics. It’s not a matter of “can she,” it’s a matter of “does she want it?” Whatever the answer to that question is, she’s going to be a force in this election, as a candidate or surrogate, all the way through to November.

Yes, this is a different format than I usually write, but I wanted to weigh in on the field before it starts to thin. I’ll be back next week with a column like I normally write.

I am curious to know what you think. Where am I wrong? Where am I right? What am I missing?

Whatever your answer to those questions are, remember one thing - Barack Obama doesn’t walk on water, he sinks in the bathtub just like the rest of us. No matter who we nominate they’ll be better for the country than him. He’s not a genius, he’s this guy. Watching him give a speech is like watching someone watch tennis - it’s “right teleprompter, left teleprompter, right teleprompter, left teleprompter.” The only people left he still sends thrills up the legs of are employed at MSNBC, and his only support comes from voters we aren’t going to get anyway. He has nothing but his base left and there’s more of us than there is of him. That doesn’t mean sit back, you can miss a tap-in putt pretty easily. We’ve got to remain vigilant and engaged. Getting the best candidate we can is just as important as winning in 2012, and that goes for Senate and House races too. Measure twice, cut once.

That is all, go about your week.

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Derek Hunter

Derek Hunter is Washington, DC based writer, radio host and political strategist. You can also stalk his thoughts 140 characters at a time on Twitter.