Obama is evil. Tax cuts are the answer to everything. We need to cut spending, but don't you dare ask for what specifically should be cut. Holy crap, Obamacare is bad for deep and sinister reasons we won't bother to explain. Attacking Libya was bad, but it's also bad that we're not attacking Libya more. We would be better off if the American financial and automobile industries had been allowed to fail completely, even if that meant millions more unemployed. Bailouts are bad, but huge tax breaks and subsidies for corporations are totally acceptable. Obama is somehow in bed with both unions and big corporations. Gays are bad, Muslims are worse.
That's pretty much all you need to know. My initial reaction: Meh. Nothing substantive was said. The personalities, at least, provided some interest.
Romney is still a flip-flopper, albeit more effective. Apparently would have opposed invading Afghanistan back in 2001. I bet. He doesn't seem to grasp what effect huge bank failures and the death of GM would have had on the economy. His distinction between Romneycare and Obamacare was absurdly thin. But he does come off looking like the only serious candidate on stage. His smirk while Pawlenty tried to squirm out of the "Obamneycare" line was classic, but he might want to watch it. It was just that sort of thing that got Al Gore into trouble in the debates with George W. Bush.
Pawlenty either lacks the courage of his convictions or is a classic case of good man/lousy politician. He's fine attacking Mitt Romney when Romney isn't standing next to him (like, for instance, on a Sunday morning talk show), but shrinks from that attack three times while on stage with Romney. Was that an attack of conscience we saw on stage, or simply cowardice? The first option is admirable in a person, but fatal in a politician. The second is desirable in neither a person nor a politician. Either way, no one will be impressed at him for backing off an attack 24 hours after starting it. To quote Tony Blair, "Weak, weak, weak!" Also, is it just me, or does everything he says come out awkwardly? His voice, his sentence structure, the way he looked from the moderator to the camera to the crowd, it all conveyed a sense of nervousness and discomfort. Perhaps it was because Romney was on stage, unlike in South Carolina? If Republicans think Obama is too professorial, what must they think of Pawlenty? And if he's gun-shy of attacking Romney, his campaign is over. He can't out-Tea Party Bachmann. His only path forward is to destroy Romney and then unify the party under his banner. So far, that's not appearing likely.
Bachmann is aggressive, but still crazy. Telling people to "take it to the bank" is a nice sound bite, but guaranteeing the repeal of the ACA is a pretty ludicrous statement. There's this thing called a "filibuster" that she, being in the House rather than the Senate, apparently doesn't understand. She's just launching her campaign, so she's still in the "all style and no substance" phase, and getting away with it. No specifics at all, even compared to the rest of the group, which is saying something.
Santorum: Wackjob. Good luck with that Federal Marriage Amendment, pal. As my wife and I joked last night, "One, it doesn't have the votes. Two, it still doesn't have the votes. Three, it's a horrible idea to get the government in the business of defining marriage, not to mention discriminating. Four, even if it weren't a horrible idea, it still doesn't have the votes." My favorite Santorum complaint is that Google is biased against him. Word of free advice, Rick: You might want to avoid saying the word "Google" at all costs.
Gingrich has given up. It was written all over his face. It's over and he knows it. That "loyalty oath" crap was ludicrous, insane, bigoted, and he should be on his knees issuing retractions and apologies to anyone who will listen this morning. But I'll settle for him dropping out of the race, which he inevitably will.
Herman Cain still hates Muslims, and is still a joke candidate. I'm sorry, but there's a word for people who take his candidacy seriously: They're called "idiots."
Ron Paul has this unfortunate quality of having some very cogent, insightful things to say, but then immediately following them up with statements that can charitably be described as nuts. Someone said in a review of his performance last night that "his act is wearing thin." Yes it is.
In short, I think the two serious candidates on stage were Romney and Bachmann, who will garner the support of the "Stop Romney" crowd. If Rick Perry decides to run, then Bachmann has a fight on her hands for that constituency. That may be conventional wisdom, but in this case I think it's on the money. No one else on that stage looked remotely serious as a contender for the presidency. Naturally, I'd love to see Santorum or Cain win the nomination, because I think Obama would defeat them in a laugher, but that's not going to happen.
Gary Johnson and Jon Huntsman could threaten Romney, but they weren't on that stage.
I still want some debate moderator to ask this question: "You are all prating on about more and more tax cuts. But taxes are at their lowest real percentage since the fifties, and we've just had a decade of huge tax cuts. If tax cuts really are the solution, why wasn't the last decade the best in American history?"