John King. Here's some of my thoughts on how it went:
- The debate format was, in my opinion, a wretched mess, as the candidates were asked questions about complex issues but were only allowed seconds to answer. CNN also managed to set up a beautiful, elaborate stage, but apparently didn't have room in the budget for the lights that normally signal to the candidates when their time was up. Instead of giving an intern a stopwatch and a flashlight, King resorted to making weird grunting noises to interrupt the candidates. It sounded very unprofessional and was extremely annoying. Many of my comments on twitter were venting about how wretchedly awful John King was as a moderator.
- Also annoying: the "this or that" questions that King asked the candidates before and after each commercial break. They may have provided a few seconds of entertainment, but when our national debt is $14 trillion and counting and we seem to be invading a new Middle Eastern country every week now, we have more important issues than knowing what kind of pizza Herman Cain likes, or whether Tim Pawlenty prefers Coke or Pepsi.
- The Newt Gingrich campaign has pretty much melted down completely, but he sounded strong and sharp last night. I wonder how he'd be doing if he had listened to his aides and skipped the vacations and book tours to hit the campaign trail harder. Love him or hate him, Gingrich is a smart guy and he knows how to discuss the issues well.
- Herman Cain gave a solid performance, as usual. He's a natural at public speaking, and that benefits him in a debate like this where you have to think on your feet. I especially liked when he corrected King and told him not to try to put words in his mouth.
- Tim Pawlenty's answer in support of right-to-work laws was spot on, and he gave an overall solid performance, but he missed an opportunity to go for Romney's jugular on the Romneycare aka Obamneycare issue. I would have liked to see him be a little feistier on that. Pawlenty defended his failure to attack Romney on Fox & Friends this morning, essentially making the same point I made a few weeks ago, saying that he didn't mind if people call him vanilla, because that's the most popular flavor and with vanilla, "you know what you get."
- Rick Santorum was there? Oh yeah. He's a nice enough guy, but nothing he said really stuck with me. Mediocre is not going to cut it in a field where there are already two other white guys with brown sculpted hair and dark suits. He needed to distinguish himself but he failed to do so.
- Ron Paul, oh what to say? I'm not even going to pretend to be unbiased. The Official Cranky Troll of the GOP never quite worked himself up to his full monster rage levels, but he did manage to throw in a dig at the Catholic Church and demand that the other candidates answer what they think about the Fed. Honestly, whenever Paul speaks, I have trouble hearing the words. He just sounds like "growl growl growl audit the fed rowr growl constitution growl grrrrrrr growl liberty rowr" to me.
- Michele Bachmann was a delightful surprise star. I've seen her speak in person several times before, so I knew she was a great speaker, but she really knocked it out of the park last night. Her experience as an attorney served her well as she responded directly to the questions but rebuffed attempts to rush her or twist her words. Most importantly, she sounded polished and professional, calming fears that her talents were limited to being a firebrand for tea party rallies.
- Mitt Romney gave an impressive performance. I especially liked his answer on the auto bailouts. He's being credited by many in the media as "winning" the debate, but I'm not so sure of that. He merely didn't fail. Romney is topping the polls right now, but I credit a lot of that to the fact that he is one of the most well-known names. If you were asked to chose between Romney and half a dozen names that you barely recognized, who would you pick?
- My main issue with Romney is that not only did he create the Romneycare system that paved the way for Obamacare, he remains unwilling to admit there are any major problems with Romneycare and also doesn't seem to see that things like government takeovers of health care and individual mandates are not conservative ideas.
- I'm not the only one with this opinion of Romney. The media wants to crown him king of this debate and of the eventual GOP nomination, but I was not seeing much enthusiasm for Romney in Twitter or Facebook posts during the debate, or in any of the posts on conservative blogs and news sites afterwards. Memo to the media: it is entirely possible for a GOP voter to watch Romney's performance last night and recognize that he did well, but still refuse to support him.
- My current shortlist for the GOP nomination is now: Tim Pawlenty, Herman Cain, Michele Bachmann, and if they get in, Texas Governor Rick Perry and Congressman Paul Ryan.
- Right after the debate I noticed that the "trending topics" on Twitter included a mention of "#cnndebate," the official hashtag for the debate. Twitter also allows trending topics to be searched by geographic area. Most interestingly, the only candidates who had a significant presence in any city's trending topics were Cain and Bachmann. Now, I have no way of knowing whether they were being discussed mostly positively or negatively, but the presence of their names on the trending topics lists means that the people on Twitter who were watching the debate were most intrigued by Cain and Bachmann.
Here's the city-by-city analysis of trending topics (numbers looked up right after the end of the debate):
Orlando: #CNNdebate and "Herman Cain."
Tampa: #CNNdebate #gopdebate Bachmann
Tallahassee: [Nothing political. Still mostly about NBA game.]
Miami: #CNNdebate "Michele Bachmann"
Atlanta: #CNNdebate "Michele Bachmann"
Austin TX: #CNNdebate #gopdebate "Herman Cain" "Michelle Bachmann" [misspelled Michele]
Boston: #CNNdebate "Herman Cain" GOP
Chicago: #CNNdebate "Michelle Bachmann" [misspelled Michele]
Cincinnati: #CNNdebate "Herman Cain" Santorum GOP
Cleveland: #CNNdebate [No candidates listed.]
Columbus: #CNNdebate "Herman Cain"
Dallas-Ft. Worth: #CNNdebate "Michele Bachmann"
Greensboro: #CNNdebate Romney
Houston: #CNNdebate [No candidates listed.]
Indianapolis: #CNNdebate "Herman Cain"
Los Angeles: #CNNdebate "Herman Cain" "Michele Bachmann"
Memphis: #CNNdebate "Herman Cain"
Nashville: #CNNdebate"Herman Cain" Bachmann
New York City: #CNNdebate "Michelle Bachmann" [misspelled Michele]
Philadelphia: #CNNdebate "Michele Bachmann"
Raleigh: #CNNdebate "Herman Cain"
Richmond: #CNNdebate "Herman Cain"
San Diego: #CNNdebate Bachmann GOP Romney Republican CNN
San Francisco: #CNNdebate "Michele Bachmann"
Seattle: #CNNdebate "Herman Cain" "Michele Bachmann"
St. Louis: #CNNdebate "Herman Cain"
Washington DC: #CNNdebate #gopdebate "Michelle Bachmann" Obamneycare DADT [misspelled Michele]