It’s fair to say tonight’s CNN/Western Republican Leadership Conference debate was anything but boring. The star studded event was attended by Steve Wynn (the man who called the Obama Administration a wet blanket to business), Miss Nevada, RNC Chairman Reince Priebus, Nevada Governor Brian Sandoval and Mr. Las Vegas Wayne Newton to name a few, but GOP candidates left the stage tonight with one person as the winner, President Obama.
The debate covered important topics including energy policy, illegal immigration, jobs, the economy, faith and finally RomneyCare, but the candidates spent more time fighting with each other than attacking the real problems: Barack Obama’s policies.
Here’s the breakdown:
I put Rick Santorum first for one reason, he is the only candidate in eight debates who was finally able to nail Mitt Romney for RomneyCare. He was also able to force Romney to address the connections between what he did in Massachusetts and ObamaCare in way we haven’t seen yet. Outside of his direct blows to Romney on healthcare, Santorum was able to tout his winning record in the swing state of Pennsylvania and received roaring applause when he said defense is the first obligation of the federal government.
Because Jon Huntsman decided to boycott tonight’s debate, Herman Cain was the only man on stage this time wearing a golden tie. Despite many believing Cain would be taking most of the hits tonight, the debate quickly went from criticisms of 9-9-9, which in the process somehow got turned into a fruit basket of apples and oranges, to RomneyCare. Cain didn’t have a stellar debate performance but didn’t do anything to severely damage his current standing. He struggled when asked about exchanging hostages for the release of GITMO detainees and told people to do their own calculations of 9-9-9 rather than explaining the plan. He defended 9-9-9 as a simple alternative to the current “10 million word tax code mess.” He did well answering questions about illegal immigration, saying he would empower states to deal with the problem as president. He stood by his comments against Occupy Wall Street protesters saying, "They might be frustrated with Wall Street and the bankers, but they're directing their anger at the wrong place. Wall Street didn't put in failed economic policies. Wall Street didn't spend a trillion dollars that didn't do any good. Wall Street isn't going around the country trying to sell another $450 billion. They ought to be over in front of the White House taking out their frustration."
Romney took the biggest beating tonight, but once again, his smooth debate skills were on target, even when he had to tell both Rick Santorum and Rick Perry to let him speak. As usual, Romney stuck to his RomneyCare is not ObamaCare argument but once again promised to repeal ObamaCare as president. Romney gave strong answers on the illegal immigration issue, saying we must eliminate magnets in America that attract illegal immigrants to come here in the first place while promoting border security. He also laid out specific economic policies he would put in place to jump start the economy including cutting discretionary spending back to 2008 levels, reducing the federal work force by 10 percent and suggested federal worker paychecks be slashed below private pay levels.
Bachmann did well tonight. She gave strong answers on foreign policy and scored major applause when she called Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad “genocidal.” She suggested English be the official language of the United States and required for all legal immigrants seeking citizenship on top of building a border fence and allocating all necessary resources to secure the southern border with Mexico. On the tax issue, Bachmann hit home the point Occupy Wall Street protesters are missing: government ramps up taxes, not producers selling products. For what it’s worth, Bachmann also received an endorsement from Mr. Las Vegas Wayne Newton tonight.
Gingrich had a less than entertaining night. He nailed Romney on his Massachusetts healthcare plan, accusing his campaign of hiding big government policies backing RomneyCare, but in return took a hit when Romney accused Gingrich of supporting an individual mandate at one point in time. Gingrich confirmed once again tonight that the super committee is a really dumb idea, adding, “putting American defense up against some arbitrary number is suicidely dumb.” He also gave Herman Cain credit for jump-starting the conversation about tax reform.
Another debate… another debate Rick Perry just wasn’t very good at. Perry didn’t answer a single question directly and at one point jumped from health insurance for children to immigration policy, where he failed miserably to pin Mitt Romney for allegedly hiring illegal lawn mowers. His attempts to focus on and attack Romney were a complete failure. Campaigns wreak of desperation when the level of debate has to be brought down to who is mowing your opponent’s lawn, but that is where Perry is. In addition, Perry has yet to offer a solid economic plan. The only coherent point Perry made tonight was his suggestion the United States stop sending money to the United Nations.
The only valid suggestion Paul had tonight was putting troops on the border with Mexico. Other than that, Paul said Occupy Wall Street protesters are “victims," that we should cut foreign aid to Israel and said people being held in GITMO aren’t terrorists because “they haven’t been convicted.”
Line of the night: “Unlike President Obama, I’m proud to be in Vegas.” –Newt Gingrich
When the candidates took the stage tonight, Romney by far received the loudest applause, with Cain coming in second. Overall, the debate was less focused on economic issues than I had expected considering the state of Nevada’s economy.
I caught up with Arizona Governor Jan Brewer after the debate and asked her what she thought about the candidates’ responses to questions about illegal immigration. She said all the candidates seem to have a lot of answers and solutions to securing the border, but has to ask:
“Are they really going to do it?”
Sidenote of the evening: Remember when Anderson Cooper referred to tea party protests of big government as “teabagging?”
Feel free to tell us your thoughts about the debate in the comment section.