Thursday, February 23, 2012

Thoughts on the Arizona debate

I agree with observers like Philip Klein, Guy Benson, Rich Lowry, Jennifer Rubin, and Michael Barone that Rick Santorum had a poor debate. He was spending too much time on the defensive trying to explain away votes from when he was in the Senate. It's why those in Congress make poor national candidates. They have too many votes that included both good and bad aspects and so can be picked apart. He was correct that sometimes a legislator votes for things in order to "take one for the team," but that sure makes a bad selling point for someone who wants to be the leader of the country. And selling himself as a team-player for President Bush's agenda might not be the most appealing message in today's politics.

So if Santorum did well, Romney benefited. I don't think that Romney was particularly wonderful. He stayed on the offensive and made sure to get his talking points in. And since Santorum was defensive and abstruse in explaining Senate details, Romney could appear stronger in the contrast. Romney came across as aggressive in getting in jabs at Santorum, but poorer at explaining his beliefs.

This was especially notable since Gingrich was back to his earlier form using humor and conservative principles to explain positions. I found this especially notable on the question about the auto bailout. Romney went on and on talking about a "managed bankruptcy" and how that was what he wanted but never really got at why that was preferable. Then he used awkward phrasing like Obama gave the companies to the UAW. Gingrich came back with a few sentences that perfectly summed up the problem with the bailout. He pointed out that there are plenty of successful car companies operating in America that didn't need a bailout but that GM and Chrysler had gotten themselves in such bad shape because of the spending commitments they'd made to the unions and that Obama up-ended bankruptcy law by favoring the unions above the bond-holders. Here is Gingrich's answer when John King asks him about the bailouts and says it's a tough question.
GINGRICH: It's not tough. First of all, there's a huge amount of the American auto industry that was just fine. BMW in South Carolina was terrific. Mercedes in Alabama was doing just fine. Honda in Ohio was just fine. So the -- Toyota was just fine. What we have is the United Auto Workers and a management system that had grown very, I think incapable of tough decisions because they were used to selling out to the United Auto Workers. And so they came in and said, oh we can't change. And this president on behalf of the United Auto Workers said, you're exactly right.

Now, the fact is, Chrysler is now Fiat. So when we talk about saving the American auto industry, let's be clear what they were doing. I think that they would have been much better off to have gone through a managed bankruptcy, I agree with Governor Romney. I think it would have happened. I think what would have happened is the UAW would have lost all of their advantages and the result was, what you had I thought was an unprecedented violation of 200 years of bankruptcy law by Barack Obama to pay off the UAW at the expense of every bondholder. (APPLAUSE)
Why can't Romney make that argument instead of just repeating "managed bankruptcy" over and over?

He's a smart man and can memorize lots of oppo research against Gingrich and Santorum, but can't seem to learn succinct conservative arguments on various key issues. I don't understand that. Maybe it is that he just doesn't care.

But any support that Gingrich might have won back will probably come out of those who might have voted for Santorum. Ron Paul was good at what he does and reminded us of his strength at returning to the principles in the Constitution of limited government for every question. That was a contrast to Santorum and again helped Romney. And so the night helped Romney.