On Thursday night, the four remaining Republican presidential candidates met on the campus of the University of North Florida at Jacksonville for the nineteenth debate of the season. My grades for each candidate, as well as the moderator, are as follows:
Ron Paul: A+. This was the best performance for Paul of the entire debate season. He made no incoherent responses and delivered sound arguments to the audience that were substantially different from the positions of the other three candidates. Paul also gave moderator Wolf Blitzer a spanking when asked about his medical records. His suggestion that we should put some politicians on the moon brought some levity to the debate about space exploration. Paul’s Cuba policy was the only one that made sense in light of the historical effects of sanctions on dictatorships. Paul was the only one of the four who resisted Blitzer’s attempts to get the candidates to pander and fight amongst themselves. Even his introduction had substance to it. For being the most reasonable candidate on the stage, Paul gets an A+.
Mitt Romney: B+. Romney went on the offensive against Gingrich, and seemed to best him at every turn. His criticism of Gingrich for going around the country looking for pet projects won points with an anti-earmark audience, and his counter to accusations about his investments effectively silenced Gingrich. He seemed to suffer a minor blow from Santorum’s attacks on Romneycare, but didn’t let it get to him. Romney did look a bit aloof for not having seen an ad that his supporters made against Gingrich, but this is part of the problem with super PACs. Romney won more points against Gingrich for saying he would fire a CEO who came to him with a lunar colony idea. For effectively going on offense and shrugging off attacks, Romney gets a B+.
Rick Santorum: C. Santorum had a good night, but he simply went unnoticed. True to form, he attacked the two frontrunners, but he had no new substance to bring against them and his attacks mostly fell flat. His bright spot was the suggestion that the debate should move away from the two-man show of Romney and Gingrich, which everyone tired of seeing. He seemed to get under Romney skin a bit when dealing with Romneycare, but he was unable to make Romney lose his cool. He gave a rambling answer on the question of immigration. For performing fairly well but failing to be noticeable, Santorum gets a C.
Newt Gingrich: D. Gingrich needed a big night, but Romney put him in his place for the most part. Gingrich looked a bit timid for seeking to avoid the topic of Romney’s tax returns. Then his attempt to attack Romney on investments in Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac backfired disastrously, with Gingrich basically conceding the point. His attack on Romney for being anti-immigrant similarly backfired. His defense of an exorbitantly costly moon base put him off the deep end. For failing in his attacks and being fiscally unsound in his ideas, Gingrich gets a D.
Wolf Blitzer: G. This was one of the worst performances by any moderator in this debate season. He largely failed to ask questions of substance, instead preferring to ask the candidates why their wives would be the best First Lady or whether Puerto Rico should become the 51st state, among other nonsensical subjects for a presidential debate. It would have been nice to hear a candidate berate Wolf at some length for asking about such asinine topics that have no significant bearing on our nation’s future. He also failed to minimize the infighting between Romney and Gingrich, to the point that Santorum and Paul had to do it for him when they finally got a chance to speak. With all of this in mind, Wolf’s performance was not even worthy of an F grade, so he gets a G.