Why Herman Cain Won and Rick Santorum Lost the GOP Debate

Below the Gnat Line

A libertarian-leaning conservative Republican looks at our nation and the state of Georgia from below the Gnat Line.

The South Carolina Republican presidential debate was held last night and featured five GOP candidates that Democrat pollster and Fox News analyst Doug Schoen described as “the B team”. Herman Cain, Gary Johnson, Ron Paul, Tim Pawlenty and Rick Santorum showed up and delivered an energetic, friendly debate that generated some noteworthy video clips and sound bites.

“Winning” the debate is an obvious goal, but candidates had more important things they needed to achieve. Both Herman Cain and Gary Johnson needed to increase their name recognition and prove they could stand on the stage with the competition. Though Johnson is a former New Mexico governor, he is unknown to a vast majority of people and in the South is probably less known than TEA Party icon/businessman/radio talk-show host Cain.

Minnesota Governor Tim Pawlenty is well-liked in the media. He’s well-spoken and his positions are mainstream. Unfortunately for him, some are not mainstream for Republicans. Pawlenty needed to convince voters that he’s not simply a more articulate, wrinkle-free version of John McCain.

Texas Congressman and libertarian darling Ron Paul had a difficult task. During this campaign, he has to convince a lot of people that what they “know” about him isn’t accurate. Paul has been painted as a “loony” and “dangerous” by political opponents, even though he holds a medical degree from Duke University and was first elected to the US House in 1976. In addition, the Congressman can come across as professorial when discussing economics and his foreign policy is not supported by most mainstream Republicans.

Finally, there is former US Senator Rick Santorum. I was surprised when Chris Stirewalt’s analysis on the Fox News website offered up Rick Santorum as the winner. I didn’t see him as the winner and after further reflection, I still do not see it. With his experience and relatively high profile, Santorum needed to show he was the class of the debate and consequently, was the only one who actually needed to win.

Pennsylvania’s Santorum has a well-earned reputation as a conservative. He is openly patriotic and has shown he will go to the mat for conservative causes. He would like to be the heir to Ronald Reagan, but his visible lack of comfort and joy prevents him from being the next incarnation of Reagan’s “Happy Warrior”.

Santorum, presented as a checklist of positions and as a squeaky-clean public servant should chart high with conservatives. Santorum’s personal presentation though was stiffer than a plank and his expression was wooden, as well. The Rick Santorum who was first elected to the US House of Representatives at the age of 32 was joyful, passionate, and witty. Speaking during “Special Orders” in the US House, he demonstrated his thoughtful support for the conservative cause with a real smile on his face. If that Rick Santorum does not reappear, along with his missing smile, then this Rick Santorum should simply go home because voters will not support a man this difficult to like.

Gary Johnson came across as a smart man with a sense of humor, but his attempts at using cost-benefit analysis as a platform did not score with the audience. Tim Pawlenty got points for his kind treatment of absent colleagues, but was entangled in his former position on Cap and Trade legislation. Neither completed the needed tasks.

Ron Paul held his own and his supporters were enthusiastic. He got some significant applause lines and laugh lines, but his task is a long-term one. He has to convince voters that his ideas aren’t crazy just because they are different. He certainly lost no votes because he stayed on message and his candor may have brought some new listeners, but he did not dominate the debate. The unanswerable questions at this time are, “Was it enough?” and “Will his message begin to resonate with a broader audience?”

The big winner was Herman Cain. Cain clearly won the debate on two levels: his performance and his accomplishment of what he needed as a candidate. Last night Herman Cain proved he belongs on the big stage and that his message has an audience. Pundits may dismiss Cain and we must remember it is a long campaign, but anyone who thinks Herman Cain won’t be around is going to be proven wrong.

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2 thoughts on “Why Herman Cain Won and Rick Santorum Lost the GOP Debate

  1. Pingback: Santorum vs. Cain act 1 « THE STR

  2. Pingback: First Republican Presidential Debate « THE STR

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