Some have asked me to share my thoughts, so here goes.
I didn't even plan to watch last night -- due to activities with my kids, etc, but turned on the TV anyway and more listened than watched, as my computer monitor faces the opposite direction of my TV in my office. I did turn around often enough to get a feeling for the appearance and projected presence of the participants.
I most certainly did not intend to live-Tweet during the debate, but allowed myself to get lured in as I was reading the comments of those I follow. So I Tweeted up a storm with my ongoing thoughts.
I must confess at the outset that I went into the debate with a few biases, the main being that I had strong negative feelings about Tim Pawlenty's flirtation/mild love affair with environmentalism and cap and trade. That is quite a big negative to me and will require further explanation from Pawlenty and more research on my part as to precisely what he did in this regard. Beyond that negative feeling, I just had the impression that Pawlenty was probably an uninspiring RINO -- not the type of guy I believe is needed to shake things up and help America back on the road to fiscal sanity.
I also went into the debate with strong positive feelings toward Rick Santorum; I know him a little bit; talked with him on the phone a few weeks ago and was, as I expected, very impressed. It's not that he called me, but he was riding in the car with a friend of mine, who is running for Congress here in Missouri, and he called to get the two of us together for a few minutes. The point is, I am very impressed with Santorum, his earnestness, his authentic conservatism and his courage to take tough positions, about which he reminded us during the debate.
I also have strong positive feelings toward Herman Cain, but I confess that I didn't have very much optimism about his electability -- mainly because he's an unknown. Also something tells me that black conservatives have a very tough time, and are disgracefully mistreated. They would have a tough time getting the black vote, but maybe not anymore than any white GOP candidate would have; just not sure. At any rate, for whatever combination of reasons, as the debate began I was very doubtful about Cain's electability.
As the debate began, my first impression was that I had grossly underestimated Pawlenty. He was very impressive. His answers were succinct, cogent, forceful, intelligent and clearly compatible with my Reagan conservatism -- refreshingly so. He continued to impress me throughout the debate. I was particularly impressed with his effective answers of tough questions, including the one concerning Creationism, among others. Suffice it to say that he skyrocketed in my mind, from an uninspiring RINO with a very troublesome environmental pedigree to a very impressive, presidential guy who isn't nearly as lackluster or boring as people say -- and as many kept saying in their post-debate analysis. This guy is substantive and presidential. I left thinking, "Man, I wish I could get over my concern about his environmentalism, but that's going to take some further research and evaluation." I might add that some people were saying that Pawlenty was a bit too much of a politician -- which I take to mean kind of robotic and plastic and insincere; you know, kind of Romneyesque. With that in mind, I have to say that authenticity, integrity, honesty couldn't be more important to me, especially in a president, and one debate is insufficient to inform us beyond general impressions as to anyone's character. My first impression is very good, but I need to do more due diligence. And this is relevant, by the way, beyond whether he's honest in general, but because I assume we will ultimately have to assess Pawlenty's environmentalism or lack thereof, based on whether we trust him. I'll put it this way: I certainly hope I end up believing he is sincere in his denial that he's an environmentalist (and that he never really was), more than I believe that Romney is completely sincere about some of his flip-flops (e.g. abortion). I hope I come to believe Pawlenty's explanation on his environmentalism more than I believe Romney's unsatisfactory explanation about Romneycare. Bottom line, really impressed with Pawlenty last night and need to due more research on him. But very pleasantly surprised.
I thought Santorum did a very good job. I liked his answers and I liked his delivery -- personally. My concern is that others will perceive that he is strident and perhaps defensive. Again, I don't think so, but we're talking about what others might think and how that translates into electability. I was gratified that certain conservative commentators (I believe I read this in the Washington Examiner), thought he did very well. His defeat in the Senate election makes one wonder about his electability, but we shouldn't allow ourselves to be too prejudiced by that. Many factors were involved. Santorum is strong and he knows who he is. I love that he's an unapologetic social conservative. I fear we are neglecting social issues to some extent today, given our understandable and justifiable near panic over the national debt. But we mustn't shun any of the three legs of Reagan's 3-legged stool. I also might point out that I reject the idea that Santorum was condescending toward Sarah Palin in his allegedly controversial comments about her. I completely disagree with the conventional media wisdom that he was patronizing or insulting toward her. These are manufactured conflicts and I am not biting. Bottom line: I'd be proud to vote for Santorum for president; I hope he resonates. He understands we're in a war and he's willing to fight.
Herman Cain was a delightful breath of fresh air. He couldn't have acquitted himself much better and picked himself up by the bootstraps from a politically unknown, to a man who might actually fight his way into contention. He was very impressive. Strong, direct, articulate, organized, succinct. He was also witty and didn't back away during questioning. I was gratified that he did so well in the Luntz poll -- he went from one person supporting him before the debate to some 50% favoring him after the debate. I love that Cain literally dissed Obama in his response to the question about his lack of political experience. Bottom line: This self-made phenom in business is quite capable of becoming a self-made phenom in politics. He will have a tough road ahead because people will continue to say he's inexperienced and therefore not qualified. But I think he will disprove people as long as he continues to study the issues and convinces the people his knowledge is indeed comprehensive and deep, beyond the superficial level required for debate soundbites. That is to say, because Cain lacks the political pedigree, there very well might be a presumption that he doesn't have enough background and knowledge in political science and statecraft. So the burden is on Mr. Cain. I'm confident he can meet the burden.
The other two candidates are not serious contenders and so I don't see much point in dissecting their comments.
So, as the debate ended I was very gratified and energized by the performance of no fewer than three of the candidates, most of whom have been said to be in the second tier. If this is our second tier, we have a lot to be optimistic about in 2012.
As I've written in my columns and stated in the podcasts and Twitter and at the dinner table, this is the GOP's election to lose, not Obama's. He's been a disaster and most people know it. My concern has been that our side sometimes doesn't appear to realize it is in a fight and therefore may not challenge Obama head-on and vigorously. My only beef with Paul Ryan, for example, is that he said he thought Obama invited him to his budget speech because he intended to extend him an olive branch. I love you Paul, but we can't be naive about Obama and his hyper-partisan intentions. We'll not solve our nation's problems through compromise with this guy; we must defeat him. That said, I thought all these guys demonstrated their awareness of that reality and took it to Obama in a big way last night. No apologies; they hit him squarely between the eyes on a wide spectrum of issues. Beautiful.
Finally, some of my winger friends on Twitter lamented that the Fox panelists asked too few questions about Obama's most vulnerable areas: the economy, the debt, and Obamacare. Moreover, they complained, the debaters didn't inject enough of their own opinions about the economy.
My response was and is: I disagree. They covered those issues enough and when they covered them, they covered them well. There is plenty of time to go into these bread and butter issues. We are in the beginning phases of this campaign. In fact, I thought this was good because it showed that Obama is vulnerable on every other imaginable issue as well, and that our guys have the goods on him and are willing to use them.
Maybe I'm fooling myself but I was just very pleased with the debate last night. I'm jazzed and we're just beginning.