Debate Report Card

The eight major Republican candidates for President squared off Tuesday night in Washington, D.C. in their eleventh debate of this year - how did they do?

Newt Gingrich - Now at the top of the GOP polls, Gingrich had another strong debate performance just a few blocks from the White House.  In a change of pace, Gingrich didn't even tangle with the debate moderator, Wolf Blitzer of CNN, even praising Blitzer for asking a question that was "perfect."  As I wrote in another blog, Gingrich highlighted his more moderate views on illegal immigration which seem certain to earn him some scrutiny from Tea Party Republicans; one anti-illegal immigrant group proclaimed last night that "Newt Gingrich is finished!"

Mitt Romney - Romney was again very much at ease talking about national security issues, unlike four years ago at this time.  Once again, Romney wasn't really challenged by any of the other Republicans on stage, though he did get into a spat with Jon Huntsman over whether the U.S. should withdraw troops from Afghanistan.   Romney staked out an aggressive opposition to automatic across-the-board budget reductions that will hit the Pentagon as a result of the failure of the Super Committee to reach a budget deal.  He did nothing to put his top-tier status in danger.

Herman Cain - After having some foreign policy related troubles over the past week, Cain did no damage to his candidacy on Tuesday night as he left almost no ripples in the GOP Debate Pond.   Cain reminded me of Romney four years ago, somewhat unsteady on foreign policy matters, but there were no "Libya" gaffes by the Georgia businessman.  And in the end, that may have been the best outcome for Cain, who has lost big ground to Gingrich in the last two weeks.

Rick Perry - Just as Herman Cain seemed somewhat unsteady on foreign policy issues, Perry also had moments where it was obvious that the words just weren't flowing off of his tongue, though there were no "brain freeze" moments of any sort.  Perry made some news early by saying "I would not send (Pakistan) one penny, period," if the Pakistani government wouldn't help the U.S. deal with Al Qaeda.  Michele Bachmann then stepped in to zing Perry, saying "I think that is highly naive."

Michele Bachmann - Along with the jab at Perry, Bachmann had one of her better debates.  Her time on the House Intelligence Committee has made the foreign policy arena one where she is comfortable, and that was obvious on Tuesday night.  Bachmann also got involved in the debates over spending, complaining at one point that, "We aren't even talking about the central issue, and that is balancing the budget."

Jon Huntsman - For Huntsman, this may have been his best debate.  The former U.S. Ambassador demonstrated his ease on the foreign policy front, as he scrapped with Rick Perry over withdrawing U.S. troops from Afghanistan and just seemed much more at ease with his campaign message.  Huntsman broke with some of his Republican competitors by saying that the defense budget must be on the table for efforts at deficit reduction.

Ron Paul - With some recent polls showing an uptick in Iowa and New Hampshire, Paul seemed to have a bit more spunk in him on Tuesday night, as he clashed with the other debate hopefuls on a wide array of issues, from the Patriot Act ("I think the Patriot Act is unpatriotic because it undermines our liberty") to the budget ("We're not cutting anything out of anything.")  Paul also demonstrated his isolationistic feelings on foreign policy, something that probably prevents him from really going mainstream inside the GOP.

Rick Santorum - Santorum had one of his usual debate performances where he struggles to get more time in the spotlight.  He made waves early in the debate by saying he would engage in ethnic profiling at the TSA for airport security.

The next debate is Saturday December 10 in Des Moines, Iowa.