The Tea Party hosted a debate in Florida on September 12, on CNN with Wolf Blitzer. The huge Tea Party crowd in attendance was extremely friendly to the candidates, all of whom seemed totally at ease. All questions came from the audience, both present there and in groups located around the country. Wolf Blitzer was the sole moderator, and did a very good job, in my opinion. It may have been the fairest of the debates thus far — for participation time and number of questions directed to candidates other than Perry and Romney, but the speaking time was again dominated by the two leaders. This happened because Romney and Perry were constantly attacked, by each other and by other candidates, so they received lots of rebuttal time. A few times, the two went back and forth with each other without Blitzer’s intervention. As in the last debate, Perry and Romney were placed in the center. In my view, this is unfair to the other candidates. Stage placement should be randomly assigned.
Topics discussed included job creation, the economy, Social Security and Medicare reform, tax reform, and illegal immigration. Romney was pounded by others for his Massachusetts health care plan and lack of job creation, while Perry was sharply criticized for his mandate in Texas to have young girls given vaccine shots to prevent cervical cancer, as well as his views on Social Security – the “Ponzi Scheme” remark. Perry admitted he made a mistake in the way he handled the issue but maintained it was right to prevent loss of life. Michelle Bachmann was particularly hard on Perry for the mandate, trying to make a distinction between the right to opt out, as given by Perry to the parents of the girls, to the right to opt in, which Bachman said should have been specified.
The only other candidate to receive criticism was Ron Paul, who was booed by a few of the crowd at one point when he commented that the 9/11 attack was America’s fault for not staying at home. Rick Santorum attacked him sharply for that.
While the polls may decide otherwise, I believe that Perry and Romney were hurt somewhat by the constant attacks they received, even though they responded well. They weren’t able to totally dismiss the criticisms. One charge, that Merc political donations were the real reason Perry gave the vaccine mandate, was made by Bachmann – Perry said the donation was only five thousand dollars, out of thirty million he received, and he was offended that Michelle thought that was enough to buy him. After the debate, CNN commentator Paul Begalla remarked that crony capitalism would become a persistent issue for Perry.
Michelle Bachmann probably helped herself more than anyone else. She was sharp and on the attack. Newt Gingrich again made sharp, astute comments and didn’t hurt himself. Rick Santorum was good but may have helped Newt more, with several references to things Newt had said – endorsing Gingrich’s ideas with phrases like: “As Newt said . . . “ I’d say Gingrich should have helped himself but polls may show that it makes little difference how he does. Santorum constantly referred to himself as courageous, and repetition wasn’t persuasive.
Huntsman and Cain were solid. Huntsman may rise a bit. Cain gave his best performance and is beginning to appear competent. Paul would probably sink like a rock if he didn’t have the support of other Libertarians, who may be as crazy as he is.