Halperin Grades the New Hampshire Debate

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Candidate grades are based on both performance and success in using the debate to improve their standing in the nomination contest.


ROMNEY

Style: A much different presence, deliberately, than in the 2008 debates — less awkward, coldfishy, and show-offy, with a sharper viewpoint and a more natural and leaderlike sensibility. Avoided the fusty, musty old-fashioned language he habitually employs. Announced Bruins 4-0 hockey lead with more charm than he usually demonstrates in public.

Substance: Missed a chance to further distinguish himself from his rivals by failing to offer solutions along with his critique of Obama’s policies. Did not explain with any specificity how he would better handle the economy than the president.

The worst point: Twisted himself in a bit of a rhetorical pretzel trying to explain his past statements about the Detroit auto bailout. Also: There was distracting perspiration on upper lip from the get go, and he looked unusually tired—if still movie-idol handsome.

The best point: Calmly and clearly handled RomneyCare versus ObamaCare. For the foreseeable future: asked and answered.

The main thing: Took a page from Hillary Clinton’s 2007 playbook by agreeing with his Republican competitors whenever he could and pivoting to attack the other party’s incumbent president. The best news of the night for his supporters: rivals took a pass on invitations to go after him on health care and abortion flip-flopping. Leaves St. Anselm even stronger than he entered.

Grade: A-

Candidate grades are based on both performance and success in using the debate to improve their standing in the nomination contest.

BACHMANN

Style: Appeared polished, serene and in-command. Smoothly used the names of audience questioners in her responses. Went for soundbite applause lines more often than her rivals, with a pretty high success rate, while still coming off more serious and credible than her usual caricature. Shed the wacky-eyed look she has evinced on cable news in the past.

Substance: Offered up more promises of repeal than ideas of her own. Seemed confused about 10th Amendment, saying she would let states make their own decisions about gay marriage, then stating that she supported a constitutional amendment defining marriage.

The worst point: Seemed gimmicky and process-focused when she ignored the first question to announce with a self-conscious flourish that she had just filed the paperwork to become an official candidate.

The best point: Used her status as a sitting member of Congress to brag on her forceful efforts to reverse Obama policies.

The main thing: Seems to have taken advice from her new blue-chip advisers about how to modulate her performance to expand her appeal beyond her current core supporters. Her overall presentation and rhetoric will play even better before partisan audiences in South Carolina and Iowa.

Grade: B

Candidate grades are based on both performance and success in using the debate to improve their standing in the nomination contest.



PAWLENTY

Style: Shied clumsily away from direct confrontation on Romney’s Massachusetts health care plan. Overcame some visible anxiety to appear tough, resolute, and confident when talking about Obama’s record. Stressed his blue-collar roots without sounding forced. At times seemed overly grim when discussing the current state of the country.

Substance: Bragged about his pro-life record without heeding the intricacies of general election politics. Neglected to hammer hard on the economy and explain his new economic blueprint.

The worst point: Nervously addressed moderator John King instead of the audience during the first response.

The best point: Delivered a strong, heart-felt answer on the Founders’ conception of the separation of church and state.

The main thing: He started out a bit tentative and never fully seized the stage in a presidential manner. But with a strong heart and steady head, he showed some of the potential necessary to become the Romney alternative if the time comes.

Grade: B

Candidate grades are based on both performance and success in using the debate to improve their standing in the nomination contest.

PAUL

Style: The same every time: direct, intense, a bit hard to follow.

Substance: Stayed on his limited government message. His years of experience in Congress showed through – he knows the minutiae of every area of federal policy.

The worst point: Occasionally went on one of his fast-talking, House-floor style rants — all trees and no forest.

The best point: A model of consistency and true confidence. When judged by his own rules and expectations, he pretty much always wins these debates.

The main thing: The only one to present a consistent worldview with passion and experience, but did little to expand his following to the kind of mainstream voters he needs to have a real chance – and lacked some of the freshness and verve he had four years ago.

Grade: C+

Candidate grades are based on both performance and success in using the debate to improve their standing in the nomination contest.

CAIN

Style: To some, authoritative, booming, and confident, to others, bumptious and ineffective. Those just seeing him for the first time might have been surprised by his apparent lack of political heft.

Substance: Boldly called for personal savings accounts for Social Security, but dodged on raising the retirement age.

The worst point: His explanation of his early support for TARP clanked. Also: Risked mainstream support when maladroitly restating recent comments about having Muslims in his government.

The best point: As the only non-politician on the stage, played his business executive experience card at every turn.

The main thing: Did nothing to slow down his recent rise in the polls, but did nothing to accelerate it either.

Grade: C

Candidate grades are based on both performance and success in using the debate to improve their standing in the nomination contest.

GINGRICH

Style: Started strong, hammering on the “Obama depression.” But soon was lecturing the audience in the didactic manner that inspires some and turns off others. Failed to present a clear overarching view of where he thinks America needs to go.

Substance: Showed off his expertise on health care, but failed to live up to his press clippings as the smartest person on the stage.

The worst point: Seemed mired in the issues and attitudes of the ‘90s, when he was Speaker.

The best point: Big and bold on immigration in a way that could win over conservatives and/but still lead to a bipartisan solution.

The main thing: Gingrich was exactly what Chris Matthews predicted he might be—not a candidate, but a pundit who wandered onto the wrong stage.

Grade: C-

Candidate grades are based on both performance and success in using the debate to improve their standing in the nomination contest.

SANTORUM

Style: At times, a little shrill and sometimes even whiny, but occasionally pleasantly normal.

Substance: Talked about his work on welfare reform in the ‘90s. Offered a passionate defense of the Ryan House budget.

The worst point: Showed zero personality when asked a softball question about his Leno / Conan preference.

The best point: Got adequate time to present himself as he truly is to the audience.

The main thing: Not strong enough to stand out against some of his more fiery rivals, and too backward looking towards his years in Congress.

Grade: C-

Candidate grades are based on both performance and success in using the debate to improve their standing in the nomination contest.

Related Topics: 2012 Elections

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