Republican Presidential Debate at Drake University: An Arguable Draw; ABC Returns Arbitrary Verdict of Romney Self-Destruction

Good Lord. Can nobody but Wolf Blitzer and CNN run a presidential debate?

Diane Sawyer was relatively inoffensive with her idiosyncrasies of over-indulgence, and George Stephanopoulos suffered only mildly from the Brian Williams “It’s About Me Disorder” (IAMD) with his irrelevant interruption of an interesting debate on the merits of restoring the payroll tax (with an exclamation of the fact that the Republicans were divided!) and interrupting and ending the interesting exchange on Newt Gingrich’s dismissing the history of the Palestinians.

But ABC, in what seemed like a Saturday Night Live takeoff, exclaimed at the end of the debate that Gov. Mitt Romney’s joking bet of $10,000 — regarding whether he said something in his book supporting individual mandates in government health insurance — would significantly and substantially hurt him in not just the debate, but his candidacy for the presidency as well. This absurd analysis constituted a majority of ABC’s correspondents’ lockstep post-debate analysis — analyst after analyst. People are unemployed, so the former governor’s facetiously throwing around rhetoric of betting large amounts will be quite offensive, the reasoning goes.

If people pick up on this innocuous aspect of the debate, it will be due to a self-fulfilling prophecy, no more.

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The debate in fact presented only minor surprises. Gingrich, who would be a likely loser in the presidential election, looked like the brilliant, irresponsible iconoclast as he doubled down on his description of the Palestinians as illegitimate aspirants to statehood. Romney responded tellingly that even the “truth,” Gingrich’s god-term, had the potential of undermining responsible negotiations.

There really was little new — immigration, the economy, foreign policy…what new policies could credibly emerge? There were a few novel emphases on well-established ground.

Romney’s attack on President Obama’s “Entitlement Society,” wherein only the government gains, rang so true that he and the other Republican aspirants should adopt it as a consistent anti-Obama campaign theme.

Ron Paul admitted unambiguously his opposition to “interventionist” foreign policy. Brilliant but isolationist rhetorician has an immovable ceiling of support.

Rick Santorum, although chance-less in the presidential sweepstakes, seems to be the only one willing to bring up the devastating social and economic effect of broken families in the United States.

Bachman was, as always, intelligent and articulate, especially regarding why the elimination of the payroll tax should not be extended.

Rick Perry, despite a few conspicuous hesitations, avoided any major gaffes, but his viability is simply gone for this presidential go-round.

In sum, not a very consequential debate unless ABC’s untoward segue from disinterested moderating of the debate into Grand Arbitrary Interpreter triggers public interest.

Prof. Vatz is professor of political rhetoric at Towson University and is author of The Only Authentic Book of Persuasion (Kendall Hunt, 2012)

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