CNN, with Wolf Blitzer as master of ceremonies, held what I’m calling the 12th debate. Blitz called it the 11th, probably omitting the Family Leader debate, which wasn’t televised. No matter. This one was on national security, and held in Washington DC. It was sponsored by the American Heritage Foundation and the American Enterprise Institute, both Republican think tanks, and the entire staff of those organizations was in the audience. It was therefore, without much doubt, the smartest and most informed audience the candidates will ever face. Quite a few questions came from officers of the think tanks.
There was some contention. For the first time, candidates argued against Newt a time or two. Bachmann and Romney disagreed with him, particularly on immigration.
I didn’t watch any post-debate commentary, and I’m not sure whether anyone has picked up on it, but Romney may have made his first major mistake so far. The questioning had strayed to what to do about the 12 or 13 million illegal aliens in this country, and Newt had been asked about a prior opinion that there should be a path for illegals to stay. He suggested each case should be reviewed by a board, similar perhaps to a draft board, and persons who had lived here a long time, had committed no crime, had paid taxes, should be allowed to stay, all others deported. Romney jumped on that and said he was absolutely opposed to amnesty. To me, that implied he would deport all illegals currently in the country. He went back and forth with Newt a time or two, and never seemed to change this stance, which seemed a bit heartless. Should a family who has been here 25 years, held steady jobs, and have been good citizens be deported? I took Romney’s answer to be yes – deport them all — although he talked around the issue somewhat and didn’t actually say for certain.
Some conservatives may dislike Newt’s somewhat humanitarian stance. Bachmann also criticised amnesty in any form, but IMO wasn’t overly effective, misstating Newt’s position. It remains to be seen whether either Newt or Romney will be hurt in the race.
In my judgment, on substance, the order of finish was: Newt won the debate, hitting homeruns every time up; Bachmann was steady, intelligent, and probably 2nd, and as a member of the House Armed Services Committee her answers were authoritative. Romney was enthusiastic and generally good. I’d rate Santorum’s performance 4th. The also-rans were sometimes good but less substantial. Paul said the drug war was a big mistake, implying he’d legalize drugs. Cain and Perry were confident but didn’t impress me on substance.
A good place to learn more about the debate is CNN Security Debate. There are some good video clips and commentary here. You can find a link to view the entire debate at Republican presidential candidate debate schedule.
There will be 2 debates in December, on the 10th and 15th, conducted by ABC and Fox, respectively. They will be held in Iowa, ahead of the Iowa caucus on January 3. I imagine these will be intense. A previously scheduled debate on December 19 has been cancelled.