By Randy Evans, on May 7, 2011
Several Republican candidates for President appeared in Greenville,
South Carolina on May 5th, in the first of many "debates" to come. Not
every candidate or potential candidate made his or her way to South
Carolina, the home of the third state to decide in the nomination
process (after Iowa and New Hampshire). Indeed, several political
heavyweights who are considering a presidential run decided to pass on
the Fox News sponsored debate, including former Arkansas Governor Mike
Huckabee, former Alaska Governor Sarah Palin, former Massachusetts
Governor Mitt Romney, Congresswoman Michelle Bachman, businessman
Donald Trump, and former Speaker Newt Gingrich.
It is actually hard to imagine how the debate would have worked if they
had all appeared along with the five candidates who did. More than ten
people on the stage would have been unwieldy. If everyone shows up to
future debates organizers will be faced with a difficult challenge to
create a format that would permit meaningful answers with so many
candidates on the stage.
But, political debates really do not involve much actual debate anyway.
Unlike a real debate, political debates consist mostly of a series of
short speeches in response to a statement by someone in the media
followed by a question mark. A lot of that happened in the first
Many believed that the Republican candidates who did appear would be
given a free pass by Fox questioners just for showing up. They were
not. The questions were tough, direct, and well researched. Indeed,
there were instances where video was played, quotes from books were
read, and votes were cited, much to the surprise of everyone. These
candidates were grilled and grilled seriously. The looks on their faces
told the story.
Of course, it was not all bad for the candidates on the stage, each of
whom was afforded the opportunity to expound upon their signature issue.
Former Senator Rick Santorum staked out his place as the most socially
conservative candidate on the stage.
Congressman Ron Paul explained his views on individual liberty. Former New Mexico Governor Gary Johnson
explained why he supports the legalization of marijuana. Former
Minnesota Governor Tim Pawlenty took a free shot at Obamacare (and
Romneycare). And, Herman Cain made the case (convincingly) for the
adoption of the Fair Tax.
More importantly, Fox was quite generous in posting the resumes and bios
of each of the participants. For candidates just trying to break
through the name recognition barrier in states other than their home
states, this was no small thing. In isolation, it was just another
night on Fox News for many of them. As a first step in an election
marathon, it was a big step for each of them.
Not surprisingly, all five candidates did agree on one thing – President
Obama should be a one-term candidate. Certainly, the backdrop of the
killing of Osama Bin Laden cast a different shade on the debate than
just a week ago. Every candidate had to concede that President Obama
deserved some credit for bringing Osama Bin Laden to justice. Yet,
there was no shortage of criticism, and unemployment, the deficit, and
high gas prices provided great fodder.
Probably the most entertaining part of the debate came when those who
appeared were asked to comment on those who did not – by name. Those
were some of the many light moments during the debate as the candidates
proved worthy of the most basic voter approval test – would you want to
sit down and have a drink with the candidate?
There were no real surprises during the debate. But when it was all
over, there was one big surprise from the assembled focus group: the
winner of the debate was Herman Cain. He was clear, articulate, and
convincing. Most importantly, he did not sound like a politician in
tone or content. Instead, at a time when the economy is the number one
issue for voters, Herman Cain sounded like a businessman who knows how to create jobs.
And, importantly, he looked Presidential.
Of course, this is just the first debate with many more to follow. The
race for the Republican nomination will take many twists and turns,
especially after many of the leading contenders join the race. But,
this debate was a good start. It was a good start for Fox News, which
proved it will be as tough on Republican candidates as it is on
President Obama. It was a good start for the five candidates who
appeared, with each getting some quality time to make the case for
moving into the top tier.
And, finally, it was a great start for Herman Cain – the man that no one
gave a chance, but who proved rather convincingly that he can play with
the best of them.
Randy Evans served as the outside counsel to the Speakers of the 104th through the 109th Congresses of the United States – Speakers Newt Gingrich and Dennis Hastert. He chairs the companies of Newt Gingrich and former House Republican Conference Chairman J. C. Watts. He is the senior member of the five-person Georgia State Election Board and was the General Counsel of the Georgia Republican Party. He represents a host of well-known public officials including Senators, Members, Governors, and state elected officials. Evans is a partner at McKenna Long & Aldridge where he chairs the Financial Institutions practice. He has been recognized in various publications as one of the "Best Lawyers In America" and one of Georgia’s "most influential people." Randy has authored two books and writes a weekly newspaper column that appears in newspapers around Georgia.