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Michigan GOP Debate: Atrocious Moderators and Perry Implosion…

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The Michigan debate between the GOP Presidential nominee hopefuls, Wednesday, November 9th, was notable first and foremost for Rick Perry’s implosion (which we’ll get to later), but also for the behaviour of the moderators: CNBC inexplicably decided to include Jim Cramer among the rotating panel of moderators (yes, it apparently takes at least six CNBC people to moderate a debate, because it is important for a no-name network to get as much exposure as possible for its “talent”). Mr Cramer, he of the “I’ve had too much coffee and must yell in all instances” schtick, annoyed immediately and repeatedly, starting off by insisting that the Italian economy is “too big to fail” in making his own case for a US bailout while attempting to bait candidate Representative Ron Paul. Each time Mr Cramer opened his mouth, the credibility of CNBC took a hit. Mr Cramer is, quite simply, rather too buffoonish and far too much the cartoon character to ever be permitted a role (much less a speaking role) in an important thing such as a debate.

Moderator Maria Bartiromo rolls her eyes as Newt Gingrich responds.

The next low point arose almost immediately: in a debate ostensibly focussed solely on the economy, moderator Maria Bartiromo instead asked Mr Cain about the various allegations recently leveled against him. The audience, rightly, booed. The next question remained on the topic, when moderator John Harwood followed up by asking Mr Romney if he would fire Mr Cain, were Herman Cain the CEO of a company Mr Romney had acquired. The audience booed more loudly, candidate Romney shook his head in disbelief and responded by saying that Mr Cain was the one to answer that question and that he just had. The moderator then announced the focus would return to the economy, and the crowd erupted into applause. This, it seems, is the level to which CNBC has sunk in attempting to grab headlines in lieu of taking their debate responsibilities seriously. This was, by far, the most poorly produced debate to date, and two of the many moderators (Mr Cramer and Ms Bartiromo) seemed far, far out of their depth. Rick Santelli, meanwhile, with his extremely long-winded questions and pedantic delivery proved himself well suited for work outside the realm of television.

Here, then, is a summary of how the candidates performed:

Herman Cain

Mr Cain, former CEO of Godfather’s Pizza and former lobbyist for the National Restaurant Association, focused heavily on his now famous “nine nine nine” plan whenever possible (to the point that Mr Cramer asked him not to include “nine nine nine” or any other numbers in one of his final responses).

When asked about the recent allegation against him, Mr Cain made a forceful case against having one’s character put on trial in the court of public opinion via unproven allegations from, in at least three cases, anonymous sources. Shortly thereafter, Mr Cain made the perhaps imprudent decision to refer to former House Speaker Nancy Pelosi as “Princess Nancy” – something which will no doubt be analyzed in the context of the allegations he has been facing.

On topics outside of taxation and the economy in a general sense, Mr Cain (as we noted previously) seems far less certain of himself, and occasionally struggles to answer. But when he gets into territory he is more comfortable with, he is routinely able to hit it out of the park with his delivery. The “nine nine nine” refrain is wearing awfully thin, however, and he’ll need to get some new material to keep things fresh.

Overall score: B

Ron Paul

Representative Ron Paul of Texas had a reasonably good showing. Asked about his plan to eliminate student loans (which currently total an astonishing $1 trillion), and how students would pay for their tuition, Dr Paul answered, “the same way they pay for their cell phones and computers.” He went on to point out that every sector of the economy the government gets involved in faces substantially higher rates of inflation, and gave as examples housing, health care, education and stocks.

Representative Paul continued his common themes of the need to audit the Federal Reserve, and then abolish it, made the distinction between “crony capitalism” (current GOP buzzword) and plain old “capitalism” (while avoiding an attack on Governor Perry, which is what the moderator seemed to set up the question for) and emphasized his plan to cut $1 trillion from the federal budget in his first term in office.

Overall, Ron Paul fared well, but will be lost in the attention Mr Perry is going to receive, which is going to be overwhelming, given his massive gaffe (see below).

Overall score: B+

Mitt Romney

Former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney gave a middling performance, and clearly has an ongoing and serious problem with the health care issue and his imposition of a personal mandate in the state he previously governed. It is a problem that both won’t go away (and will only get worse if he ever goes up against President Obama) and can’t be solved, because Mr Romney’s arguments are logically inconsistent and there is no possible answer that logically reconciles his insistence on repealing “Obamacare” with his actions while Governor in instituting a materially similar plan. Mr Romney looks rightfully pained when the topic comes up, but he can’t possibly believe it isn’t going to come up in every single debate and many interviews too.

The moderators pointed out inconsistencies in Mr Romney’s position on bailouts (he was against them before he was for them before he was against them again) to question his consistency, which Mr Romney rebutted unconvincingly.

Not the best performance for Mr Romney, but with Mr Cain dogged by scandal and Mr Perry accelerating his implosion, Mitt Romney gains simply by running in place.

Overall score: C+

Newt Gingrich

Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich was in a testy mood, and took the moderators to task repeatedly. The first instance came when he scolded the media for their poor job of educating the public on matters economic. Moderator Bartiromo seemed to take that remark personally, and was clearly irritated by it.

Later, the moderators asked each candidate in turn to spend thirty seconds explaining their plan for health care once “Obamacare” is repealed. Mr Gingrich was the sixth candidate to respond, and he started with, “My colleagues have all done a fine job answering an absurd question”, before pointing out that a topic which consistutes eighteen percent of the economy and affects every person in America requires a more elaborate answer (and plugged one of his books in the process). Moderator Bartiromo told the former Speaker to take all the time he needs, to which Mr Gingrich clumsily demurred, claiming the other candidates would object.

Overall, though, Newt Gingrich had a fairly strong performance, and once again came across as the most intelligent (and most belligerent) of the people on the stage.

Overall score: A-

Rick Santorum

Rick Santorum continued to push his plan to eliminate the corporate tax for the manufacturing sector. While this may play well in his home state of Pennsylvania, and perhaps Michigan too, the moderators (in one of their few redeeming moments) pointed out the logical inconsistency of being opposed to the government picking and choosing individual companies as winners and losers in the economy while being in favor of the government picking and choosing individual sectors of the economy as winners and losers. The point seemed lost on Mr Santorum, but it is an important one, because he seems to be arguing not that government should not pick winners, but rather that the government should pick winners in a different way: “the federal government should indeed meddle in the economy, and here’s how I would do it” is what his position amounts to. That’s a strange position to take while strongly arguing the federal government has no busines in mandated health care.

Mr Santorum, like Mr Huntsman, is seriously short of money and typically polling in the bottom single digits, and is unlikely to be in the running much longer.

Overall score: C-

Rick Perry

Another horrible performance from Perry – it is becoming physically painful to watch Governor Perry attempt to keep up with the grown ups in the room. Mr Perry’s worst moment of all the debates so far came when he announced his plan to shut down three Departments, and began to list them off. “Commerce”, he said. “Education. And…um…ah…” One of the other candidates finally threw out the EPA as a helpful suggestion, and Mr Perry said, “Ya!”. The moderator then asked if the EPA was indeed one of the departments Mr Perry would eliminate: “No.” The moderator then followed up by asking if Mr Perry really couldn’t remember the third Department he would shut down. Mr Perry couldn’t.

The only reason Mr Perry is taken even remotely seriously as a contender is because he has raised an awful lot of money. He is not a serious contender, and never was (as we previously noted, “…it’s hard to imagine a scenrio whereby he recaptures the lead in the polls, or comes anywhere close to the Republican nomination”) – he is of the school of politician which believes policy positions are incidental to obtaining power: pick whatever positions your crack support team thinks will get you in office, then you can do what you want. In a more intelligent politician, this can work (see Obama; Bush). Not so Mr Perry.

Rick Perry’s run is done, and no amount of money can help now – that clip is going to be viral on Youtube by the time this article is posted. And so the political system shows its strengths: given enough exposure and opportunities to hang themselves, many frauds inevitably reveal themselves. Mr Perry is one such fraud: the former chair of Al Gore’s Presidential campaign in Texas; the Governor who increased spending over 80% during his time in office but campaigned as the “true conservative”; he of the tongue tied moments, repeatedly, and cursed with an inability to clearly articulate the time of day has been exposed as little more than a political opportunist.

Overall score: F (is there a lower score available?)

Jon Huntsman

Back on stage after boycotting the Las Vegas debate, former Utah Governor and Obama Ambassador to China Jon Huntsman didn’t have any notable moments, but thankfully didn’t try too many of his usual poorly delivered jokes.

Mr Huntsman has all his marbles on New Hampshire, and doesn’t have much cash on hand. Not a signficant contender, and did nothing to persuade viewers otherwise.

Overall score: C-

Michele Bachmann

Minnesota Representative Michele Bachmann, normally one of the stronger debaters, didn’t have a particularly strong showing by her standards, nor was her performance particuarly poor. Her explanation of her opposition to cuts in the payroll tax wasn’t fully formed, and much of her answers were recycled in whole from prior debates.

Overall score: C

3 Responses

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  1. […] Scott Pelley of CBS and Major Garrett of National Journal were a substantial improvement from the moderators CNBC featured in the Wednesday economic debate in Michigan-  neither Mr Pelley nor Mr Garrett featured the synthetic histrionics of a Jim Cramer or the eye […]

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