Republican Presidential Debate: Will the Winning of the Republican Nomination be a Pyrrhic Victory?

— Richard E. Vatz

The ongoing presidential nomination drive in the Republican Party is simply dispiriting.

The right-wing anger and contempt for Barack Obama appears to reward in the polls — at least at this early stage, but that may change — the Republican who most bitterly opposes the president.

Thus, Jon Huntsman, President Obama’s Ambassador to China, consciously or unconsciously is eliminated as a candidate in many Republicans’ minds.

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The same for more moderate Republican presidency-seekers who oppose the president with insufficient vitriol, such as Minnesotan ex-Gov. Tim Pawlenty, who could not garner much support and had to withdraw from the race.

That leaves, for moderate conservatives, Massachusetts ex-Gov. Mitt Romney and for less moderate right-wing voters Texas Gov. Rick Perry, who, not coincidentally, is less likely to win a general election.

Last night’s debate also featured Republican aspirants Michele Bachmann, Newt Gingrich, Ron Paul, Herman Cain, and Rick Santorum, none of whom will get the Republican nomination.

So, let’s concede that Santorum did well substantively, as did Paul; but between Perry and Romney, it was Romney who seemed more viable as a candidate, which may not mean that he will be the nominee. Parenthetically, Brian Williams and John F. Harris of NBC and Politico respectively seemed to be as condescending, self-important and unimpressed by the candidates as “disinterested” moderators could be — for just one example, Williams in his prefatory remarks asserted that polls indicate that “a majority” of Americans held the Republican policies as responsible for “the economic mess we’re in.” That was only one instance of many.

On to Romney-Perry: on their first clash in the first 1/2 hour — on jobs and unemployment — the nod would have to go to Gov. Perry, with Gov. Romney holding his own with regard to the advantages of Texas and his (Romney’s) own relatively successful advantages in turning a bad situation around in Massachusetts.

Throughout the rest of the debate it was “Advantage: Romney” in style and substance, but not by a lot.

Gov. Perry mouthed some platitude about supporting “people,” not “government.” Gov. Romney went over his now-published economic proposals, all reasonable conservative recommendations for cutting liberal chains from the economy and resource-development.

Gov. Perry attacked Ron Paul as not supporting Reagan pursuant to Paul’s attack on Perry’s supporting Hillarycare — perhaps not the highest and best use of the new leader’s precious debating time.

Perry was attacked for his executive order mandating vaccinations for women, for which he apologized for using executive orders — this has been a criticism of some conservative bloggers as well. Perry attacked Karl Rove, who as a Bushite is anti-Perry, as extreme; does that resonate with Republicans?

Perry says that the low high school graduation rate in Texas is now improved — is that convincing?

Perry says that Obama “lied” about borders being safe — bad rhetoric; ask Rep. Joe Wilson.

Romney identified with “a lot of what the Tea Party is for” — seemed not to have his heart in it, but it was better than nothing.

Perry gives the president credit for the bin Laden capture, but not as much as he gives the Seals — appropriate and fair.

Perry reiterated his doubt regarding global warming but seemed to doubt precisely only that man caused it. He ended with a strong defense of the death penalty.

The best moment in the debate was Huntsman’s ridiculing candidates’ “hand-raising” on complicated issue propositions in debates — dumbest, most anti-democratic tomfoolery to exist in these forums. The second best moment was the abjuring of taking pledges — cannot recall who said that…oh, yes: Huntsman.

Again, finally, Romney wins and Perry loses, but it was not a knockout. We shall see if in time the primary electorate agrees.

Professor Vatz teaches political persuasion at Towson University and is author of a new book, The Only Authentic Book of Persuasion (Kendall Hunt, 2012)

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