If you didn't watch the GOP presidential debate Thursday night, hosted by CNN, and your only input on how it went came from news reports, you could be excused for thinking that Mitt Romney had a great night.
He didn't and neither did Newt Gingrich, and I say that as a teacher of communications and public speaking at the college level. I was not impressed by either and many people with whom I have spoken since, who did view the debate, had much the same impression.
It was a dismal debate performance for Romney and Gingrich and reinforces the question that many Republicans have been asking for months now; why are GOP candidates subjecting themselves to debates hosted by liberal moderators who are in Obama's camp and want him re-elected? It was dismal because both Gingrich and Romney came across as spoiled brats who absolutely, positively had to get the last word.
Totally childish, hardly presidential.
The actual winners clearly were Rick Santorum and Ron Paul, although their performances may not translate to enough votes in the Florida primary on Tuesday to change the outcome. Florida's primary is winner take all, and both Paul and Santorum appear to be too far back in the polls to make much of a difference. (I use the word "appear" because the polls we have been assaulted with for the past week are incomplete, have huge margins of error, and probably are no closer to accurate than they were in Iowa.)
Nonetheless, Santorum came across as a knowledgeable adult who admonished both Gingrich and Romney to knock off their childishness and petty personal sniping, and stick to the issues.
Paul showed a sense of humor and grasp of reality that has been missing in previous debates, usually because he gets off on his foreign relations tangent and loses the audience. That didn't happen Thursday night, and instead he had a great one-liner and a shot at the moderator, Wolf Blitzer, that were very well received.
Paul's best one liner came when Blitzer asked him what he thought of Gingrich's plan to restart the space program and build a colony on the moon by 2020. Paul responded that other than sending some politicians to the moon, he didn't think it was a good idea, which the audience loved.
When Blitzer took a shot at Paul's age by asking whether he could reasonably expect to survive four years as president, Paul challenged everyone on stage to a 25-mile bike ride, and then warned Blitzer "You know we have age discrimination laws, so you'd better watch out."
But as is often the case in these debates, Gingrich and Romney had far more face time than the other two candidates and used it in non-stop bashing of each other. In fact, when Gingrich attempted to call a truce and stick to the issues, Romney acted like a petulant prima donna and refused.
You can blame both of these candidates for their gutter tactics, but I think it bears repeating that it was Romney who started the war by dumping $3.5 million in negative ads on Gingrich's head in Iowa, which led to a Santorum victory, although you wouldn't know that by the media coverage.
Yet, ever since Iowa, the fighting between Romney and Gingrich has taken center stage and seems to lead the news at every hour of the day. This even when Americans are being taken hostage in Egypt and Obama is proposing massive cuts in our military at the same time our biggest adversary, China, is going in the opposite direction.
Instead of news, we get character assassination.
In fact, I was contacted Friday by a close associate who lives and works in Florida and was told that the debate Thursday night solidified his decision to vote for Paul, even if it is only a protest vote. And he is not alone.
"The air down here is poisoned with attack ads," he told me, and the negative impression he was getting from both Gingrich and Romney was only reinforced by their actions at the debate.
Romney has been lauded by the media which has all but anointed him as the GOP candidate - caucuses, primaries and conventions be damned - but he actually came across as a petulant sixth-grader in his snit over Gingrich's attacks on his record and his money.
Gingrich for his part, came across exactly as he shouldn't have when he proposed to space agency workers that he would restart our space program that was shut down last year by Obama, and colonize the moon by the end of his second term as president.
It was bad enough that Romney accused him of interstate pandering by promising needed projects to residents of every state where he campaigns, but Gingrich should have seen the jokes at his expense coming from the far side of the moon.
It didn't take even one news cycle for a FOX News commentator to refer to Gingrich as a "lunatic" pun intended, hah, hah, hah.
Let's put aside the hypocrisy of the media that two generations ago lauded President John F. Kennedy for his vision of putting an American on the moon ahead of the Russians, both for national pride and security.
Let's put aside the fact that modern technology and understanding of our universe have gone light years further than they would have in the same time without all the research and development that went into our space program.
Let's just focus on the fact that our space program, such as it is, now is run by the Russians and the Chinese, neither of whom can reasonably and reliably be considered friends or allies. What the hell is wrong with our country when we concede the effort to benefit from the exploration of space to the two countries on this earth who would still love to see us crushed and groveling in the dirt?
Romney said he would fire anyone who proposed a moon colony to him. I think a functioning colony might be outside the grasp of our current financial status in the next eight years, but a controlled effort to do it should not be ridiculed. On that issue Romney should be fired for failing to grasp international intrigue and lacking imagination and vision.
Gingrich also has a problem here, and it is one that surfaced earlier in the campaign but was ignored by most of the media. Gingrich is a highly intelligent man, but his intelligence seems to be focused in philosophical concepts without a corresponding level of ability in the technical or scientific arenas.
In short, Gingrich's intelligence doesn't make math as easy and natural to him as government and politics.
Someone should have told him that even mentioning the moon in the current political environment would leave him wide open to media assaults, not to mention ridicule from Romney and his supporters. Gingrich would have won the hearts of space workers simply by vowing to put them back on the payroll without going Kennedyesque.
But he did and now he will have to live with it.
We can only hope that in the remaining 46 states (or 53 if you are an Obama supporter - thank you Sarah Palin) our GOP candidates take a deep breath, and in the case of Romney and Gingrich start acting like adults and leaders instead of spoiled children in a school yard fight.
One debate does not a campaign make, but frankly, if I have to watch another two months of this nonsense I may be taking my vote elsewhere. Remember, it is the Obama administration that is running this country into the ground, and it is Obama who must emerge as the loser on Election Day.
Anything less would be - uncivilized.
Saturday, January 28, 2012