Oddly, this Republican debate has more to do with the general election than with the primary. It comes on the heels of the most traumatic week of the Obama Presidency and gives the Republican candidates their first real chance to comment on the failed policies that led to the disastrous economic and tragic military news of this past week. Now, they can offer their alternative visions on policy and perspective and contrast them with those of this increasingly discredited president.
And, for the rest of us, this debate gives us a chance to vent our anger at the sight of a president hosting a hip hop party when the Dow drops 500 points and an American helicopter is shot down costing 25 brave, young SEALS their lives. And the further spectacle of his hosting a birthday bash – at $71,000 per couple – right after a further 500 point decline and the downgrading of America’s credit rating. This president has literally fiddled while Rome burned.
The debate itself will be dominated by a man who won’t be there: Texas Governor Rick Perry. His expected candidacy casts a long shadow over the proceedings and must influence how each candidate approaches the debate.
Mitt Romney has to shore up his credentials with conservatives, allay their fears that he might not repeal Obamacare, and emphasize the sincerity of his social conservatism. Perry, purist on all these issues, will likely hammer the former Massachusetts Governor on these points and this debate is Romney’s chance to inoculate himself against these charges.
For Michele Bachmann, the debate gives her a marvelous opportunity to criticize the debt deal passed in Congress – over her negative vote – and to appeal to the Tea Party spirit which animates the entire Republican Party. After the market crash and the downgrading of our credit, she can argue that the politicians in Washington settled for too timid a package and that they paid the price for it in the past two weeks. As the only member of Congress on the platform, she has a unique opportunity to position herself in stark contrast to the ways of Washington.
Herman Cain, who has never been able to bring to the debates the same originality and charisma he shows on the stump, has to distinguish himself and galvanize the enthusiasm of the Tea Party activists. He entered the last debate tied with Bachmann. But she soared and he has not. This is his chance. It would be great if he could bring the same eloquence and originality to his debate performance that he has been showing in my lunch alert interviews with him!
Ron Paul will be able to look on the recent economic events and claim that they vindicate his views and highlight how his remedies contrast with the conventional and weak remedies being offered by today’s political leaders. This debate is his chance to become a serious candidate, not just a right wing gadfly.
For Newt Gingrich and Rick Santorum, this debate is their last chance to climb back into the ring and be serious candidates. For Tim Pawlenty, another weak debate performance coupled with a defeat in the Ames Iowa Poll on Saturday, could knock him out of the race.
This debate is Ron Huntsman’s first chance to address a national audience. Let’s see what he’s got.
But the debate will be cathartic for us all because it will give us a chance to hear real alternatives to the mess Obama has created in Washington. See you there!