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The Republican debate last night is getting reported as a raucous and wild event. And, no surprise here, the media is reporting that as a negative. Can I just say that if this were a Democrat debate and the crowd was hooting and hollering at the answers being given by the candidates - if they were booing what they saw as conservatively biased questions from the moderators and jeering those who gave answers that didn't espouse liberal ideology...like suggesting we need to see the wars through to completion - how do you think the media would have reported on it? How do you think MSNBC would cast such an evening?
You know exactly how it would be reported. They would say it was a clear sign of the energy and enthusiasm of the Democrat electorate. You would hear how there's never been this much excitement in the Democrat Party and how that energy - once it is channeled behind one candidate and turned against the Republican candidate - would turn into a political juggernaut. But, of course, this shoe is on the other foot and so the media reporting is nothing like this.
You are hearing stories about how the crowd was rabid, out of control, vitriolic, classless and wild. I call bull. They were fired up. They were pumped up. They were ready for the red meat that most of the candidates threw out to them. Republican voters are ready to see some candidates with some backbone and they were getting that last night from most of them.
Anyway, so here were my thoughts on what I watched from the various candidates - nothing formal here, just a stream of consciousness. Newt had a spectacular night. He was back on his game after a little venture off the free enterprise reservation. Mitt had his weakest performance that I've seen to this point in the debates - I thought Santorum got the best of him a couple times, I thought he was weak against some of Newt's lines, and I think that a fair minded voter saw some chinks in his armor that has to concern them a little bit. Will that be enough to up-end his march through South Carolina? We'll see. I have my doubts. Did Newt's performance help him rebound from his slide? Probably so.
I thought Ron Paul was bizarre. I thought it was his most rambling, confused, and disjointed. His non-answer to Bret Baier's question regarding the illegality or legality of going after bin Laden was the kind of embarrassing dodge that Ron Paul folks usually condemn in others. There were times I even was leaning forward trying to help him through his statement. It almost seems like Ron Paul is getting really tired in this campaign - and that's not a criticism as much as it is an observation that makes sense given his age and the unbelievable intensity of a presidential campaign.
Rick Perry had some good one liners, but nothing of the kind of substance I think he will need to sustain anything past South Carolina. I think he has been the biggest disappointment of the campaign. That's certainly the case for me personally.
Santorum was fine. In fact, at times he was quite good. He had an excellent exchange with Mitt, but here's the problem with Santorum. And I'm just going to be honest. He struggles with not being boring. He dives into the nitty-gritty of Senate policy and doesn't want to stop talking about it even when he's off on a tangent. There's also a personality/personable issue with Santorum that I can't really explain, but it's there. That issue makes him forgettable or at least not a stand out in these debates. I like Santorum. I want him to do well. But I doubt the debate will assist in that regard.
Biggest story of the night though for me was the crowd. It was a fired up conservative crowd, and I'm excited to see that. The media will report them as raucous and unhinged - and when you consider who and what the media is, that's probably a good thing. There is an excitement about finding a conservative to go toe to toe with Obama and demolish him and the socialism he champions. You saw each of the candidates on the stage picking up on that and finding, at various times, the toughness to hammer their points in a way that is music to conservative ears.
Harry Reid may be out there on Meet the Press publicly hoping the Tea Party and conservative resurgence is dying out. They are not. And that's the biggest takeaway I had from the debate last night.