Herman Cain had a bad night at the Nevada debate.
He couldn’t coherently explain his silly 9-9-9 tax plan. He kept saying the critics were confusing “apples” with “oranges,” but he didn’t make any sense.
Plus, he flat-out lied when he said his tax plan wouldn’t “raise taxes on those that are making the least.” But the Tax Policy Center examined Cain’s plan and said it would raise taxes on those making between $10,000 and $20,000 by a staggering 950 percent.
Challenged about this, he urged people to go to his website and to do the math themselves, which isn’t exactly an enticing prospect.
On the subject of the TARP bailout of the banks, Cain channeled John Kerry by saying that though he endorsed it, he wasn’t in favor of all of it. He was for it at first, but now he’s against it.
He defended, to the applause of the crowd, his astonishingly callous comment about the people at Occupy Wall Street, in which he said: “Don't blame Wall Street, don't blame the big banks. If you don't have a job, and you're not rich, blame yourself." His only modification was to tell them to blame Obama.
And he had a very difficult time defending a comment he made earlier in the day that as President he’d consider negotiating with Al Qaeda to swap an American prisoner for prisoners in Guantanamo.
It looked to me like Mitt Romney, of the leading candidates, won by default. Rick Perry seemed desperate and mean and really unlikable. Nor was he very agile in responding to his critics or in answering the questions put to him. He, too, tried to have it both ways on the TARP.
Romney came off as the smoothest and the best debater, though bordering on smarmy when Perry repeatedly interrupted him.
Actually, the candidates who did best were those in the second tier, though the corporate media, obsessed with the horse race, wouldn’t let on.
Rick Santorum landed several body blows, first against Romney on his Massachusetts health care plan and then on both Cain and Perry for supporting the TARP.
Michele Bachmann, for all her hideous anti-immigrant rhetoric, technically had a good debate. She tagged Cain as “naïve” for his Al Qaeda negotiation comments. And unlike Cain, she showed sympathy for people suffering in this economy, especially women who were losing their homes.
Newt Gingrich seemed to be enjoying just being on stage. When Anderson Cooper asked him why he had recently called Cain’s 9-9-9 plan a hard sell, Gingrich chirped: “Well, you just watched it,” referring to the several previous minutes of Cain’s floundering. Gingrich may have had the most outrageous comment of the night, though, when he said, “How can I trust you with power if you don’t pray?” For atheists like me, and for anyone who respects the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment, this was a stunner.
As he has in several of the debates, Ron Paul showed himself to be the most interesting and unpredictable of the candidates. Though he believes the free market is the answer to everything, including male-patterned baldness, he did criticize Cain for blaming “the victims of this business cycle.” He also criticized Cain’s 9-9-9 plan as “regressive,” a term that Republicans rarely utter.
On foreign policy, Paul called for bringing our troops home from Afghanistan and Iraq. He pointed out how costly and useless it was for the United States to still have troops in South Korea, Japan, and Korea, and a total of 150 countries when we’ve got such a big budget deficit. He called the United States an “empire.” And he took Santorum to task for saying the Pentagon shouldn’t be cut by even a penny. Said Paul: “We have enough weapons to blow up the world about 20-25 times. We have more weapons than all the other countries put together essentially.”
Paul also didn’t buy into Bachmann’s never-trade-with-terrorists position. Noting that Ronald Reagan had done so, he dared the other candidates to criticize their beatified former president for doing so. No one did. And when Santorum referred to the detainees in Guantanamo as “terrorists,” Paul responded: “But they're all suspects. They're not terrorists. You haven't convicted them of anything.”
These exchanges were much more illuminating than Cain’s 9-9-9 discussion, or the umpteenth attack on Romney for his “Obamacare” program in Massachusetts, or the tit-for-tat exchanges between Romney and Perry.
The performances by the second tier showed the value of having a large field in the race.