I am waiting for the numbers to see how many people watched the Republican debates with Wolf Blitzer last night on CNN. I think the timing was curious. Wouldn’t Friday night have been much better or even next Sunday? I watched most of it but admit I fell asleep just as it was ending, not because the debate was boring (I thought it was the most substantive so far), but because I was so tired from running to school for a Thanksgiving Assembly, working, then heading to Sam’s Club for a chafing dish, to Trader Joe’s for a turkey that was not only defrosted but already brined and finally, to Jerry’s for their wonderful homemade pie crust that I love. Hello, men in charge? A lot of women will be busy the Tuesday night before Thanksgiving!
There were so many curious things about this debate. Not just the timing. Why I wondered, didn’t they reference Paul Wolfowitz and tell us that he was a deputy Secretary of Defense under George W. Bush when he got up to ask a question about whether the U.S. can still afford foreign aid? If the end game in the debates is to educate the public, then educate the public. No one confuses a debate sponsored by the American Enterprise Institute and the Heritage Foundation with a town hall meeting where REAL people ask the questions, but if you have an insider like Wolfowitz at the mic, who not incidentally was a major architect of our engagement in Iraq, I think you are obligated to tell the audience who he is.
In terms of initial reactions and winner versus losers, I think the winner was Jon Huntsman with Newt Gingrich and Mitt Romney tied for second. There is no denying that Huntsman knows his stuff and as a former Ambassador to China, last night was his moment to shine. Take the exchange between he and Romney over troop withdrawal in Afghanistan. Romney is calling for a phased pull out while Huntsman believes we’ve achieved our goal of driving the Taliban from power and executing Osama bin Laden. Huntsman stood up and stood out for questioning Romney, really forcefully at one point, whether we can afford to keep 100,000 troops in Afghanistan with our economy imploding at home.
Huntsman said, “Our biggest problem is right here at home. So I have to say that our biggest problem is right here at home. And you can see it on every street corner. It’s called joblessness. It’s called lack of opportunity. It’s called debt, that has become a national security problem in this country. And it’s also called a trust deficit, a Congress that nobody believes in anymore, an executive branch that has no leadership, institutions of power that we no longer believe in.”
Huntsman asked, “How can we have any effect on foreign policy abroad when we are so weak at home?”
“We have no choice,” Huntsman said. “We’ve got to get on our feet here domestically.”
I thought the loser was Herman Cain. He looked like he was visualizing post-it notes from a debate prep session when he repeatedly referred to Iran being “mountainous.” (I can just see the notes cribbed from Wikipedia; Capital: Tehran, Official language: Persian, President: Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, Terrain: mountainous) The question was whether the U.S. would bomb Iran in support of a pre-emptive strike by the Israelis. Repeatedly saying, “I would need to see a clear plan and be confident that we could win because the country is mountainous,” didn’t really cut it. Huntsman did have the guts to say trying to get support from the UN for additional sanctions won’t work because 1) Iran already has the nukes and 2) we already know China and Russia aren’t going to support more sanctions.
By the way, I know it is suddenly hip to be a funny Republican, with Michelle Bachmann going on Jimmy Fallon and Huntsman doing Saturday Night Live, Romney, is and always has been really funny. I like his line last night when he chided Cain that, with Syria’s 7 or 8,000 tanks, maybe a “no drive zone” would be more effective than a “no fly zone” there.
Gingrich has emerged as a favorite of some moderate Republicans recently. He took the far right to task over immigration saying he would send illegal immigrants back who had arrived recently but isn’t going to break up families who have been here 20 or 30 years. He further went out on a limb to distance himself from the neo-cons by suggesting the military can’t afford weapons systems that take 15 years to make and that yes, even the Pentagon’s budget needs some trimming. Rick Perry put the big Texas hat on when he said Leon Panetta would resign if he were “a man of honor” over the recommendations he’s made to slash the Defense budget.
The next debate is Dec. 3 on Fox News with Mike Huckabee as moderator.