I'm heading down to the Orange County Convention Center for all the Presidency 5/CPAC Florida excitement, and definitely looking forward to tonight's debate.
I'm a voting delegate for Presidency 5, and for the record, my mind is not made up yet who is getting my vote in Saturday's straw poll. I've been getting lots of mail and robocalls and email messages from most of the candidates but tonight's debate is going to be key in my decision. I know I'm not alone in not feeling completely tied to a candidate yet.
Before I get into tonight's debate, a quick note about speculation regarding candidates who may-or-may-not get into the race. It's "put up or shut up" time, folks. Michelle Malkin was on Sean Hannity's radio program yesterday and commented that the debate process is valuable because it forces the candidates to refine their positions and makes sure whoever we send against Barack Obama is battle-tested, fully vetted, and ready for the fight. I agree with Michelle 100%, and that's why I want all the candidates who are going to get in, to get in, and start participating.
Any candidate who has not joined the race missed multiple chances to share their ideas with the voters, and we missed the opportunity to evaluate them on stage side-by-side with the other contenders. If you believe you are qualified for an elected office, then you shouldn't fear the voters. You should want to meet us, discuss your ideas with us, and be judged and questioned by us. As I said, I haven't made up my mind yet, but the door is nearly shut on my willingness to consider anyone who gets in much later.
OK, my thoughts on I want to hear from the candidates tonight:
- Let's have some specific ideas and plans for reducing our national debt, reforming our insanely complicated tax code, reducing regulation. Many of the candidates have substantive relevant experience either in government or in the private sector, and I want to hear details. We all agree that the $14 trillion-and-counting national debt is too high, but what exactly do you think is the solution?
- I have more faith that the Fox News moderators will avoid the "gotcha" questions like CNN's John King or the clowns from Politico, but if they do, I want the candidates to call them out on it. Newt Gingrich has done a darn good job pushing back on this. Too often, conservatives get distorted treatment from the media ("Governor Perry, how do you sleep at night with all those people Texas has executed?) and we just turn the other cheek and move on. No. Fight back.
- On the note of fighting, go ahead and criticize each other. We have these debates to see what the differences are between you are. I've always thought that most people who whine about "Reagan's Eleventh Commandment" completely miss the point. Go back and look up the Republican debates for the 1980 race. Did Reagan really not point out differences between his ideas and record and those of his opponents? Of course not. How the Reagan Commandment should be interpreted is to say that Republicans should not make dirty personal attacks on each other. Stick to voting records, business history, campaign promises, etc.
- While I am fine with the candidates criticizing each other, I expect Republicans to hold themselves to an extremely high standard of honesty and accuracy. Romney's characterization of Perry's position on Social Security a few weeks ago was unfair, and Bachmann's viciously false attacks on Perry regarding the Gardisil issue would be slanderous in any context other than a political election. If you're going to attack, make the attack, but be dead sure you are precise, accurate, and fair.
- The candidates should keep in mind that it's not just Republicans watching these debates, but also independents and moderate Democrats who may consider voting for a Republican in 2012. I'm not saying to tone down their positions, but I do think it is valuable to consider how ideas are presented. Also, this nationally-televised debate is an excellent platform to shine a spotlight on the many failings of the Obama administration and draw media attention to the mounting scandals: Fast and Furious, Lightsquare, Solyndra, etc. If there's an opportunity to throw an attack at the Democrats that's sharp and on point, do it!
Watch for me tonight on Fox 35 Orlando. I'll be doing pre-debate commentary at 6 pm and possibly making some post-debate remarks as well.