Eight GOP presidential candidates met around a table in Hanover, New Hampshire, for a presidential debate forum focused exclusively on the economy.
The debate was notably more subdued than the past three matchups — the candidates — and the audience — were relatively well-behaved, and the conversation mostly stayed focused on the topic at hand.
Once again, former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney emerged as the clear winner of the debate, keeping his cool and rising above the fray. Meanwhile, Texas Gov. Rick Perry faded into the background with a mediocre performance, his spotlight usurped by upstart candidate Herman Cain.
Despite Bloomberg’s best efforts, the debate offered little practical substance — once again proving the inutility of primary debates — but actually provided a pretty good barometer of where the candidates are at this stage of the campaign. And it did have its raucous — and entertaining — moments.
Here’s what you missed:
The whole debate focused on Herman Cain’s “9-9-9 Plan”
Cain’s “9-9-9” tax plan became the centre of the discussion again and again, despite moderator Charlie Rose’s repeated efforts to move past the topic.
The plan, if you haven’t heard, would get rid of the federal income tax code and replace it with a 9% corporate tax rate, a 9% flat individual income tax, and a 9% federal sales tax. It has almost zero chance of ever getting passed. But that didn’t stop it from dominating the debate.
Almost all of the candidates referred to the “9-9-9” plan, even if only to make a snarky comment. Jon Huntsman, the smart-arse of the group, called it a “catchy phrase” and said he “thought it was the price of a pizza.” Michele Bachmann went one step further, basically calling Herman Cain the devil:
“Turn it upside down,” she said. “The devil is in the details.”
Cain, a former pizza magnate who has surged to the top of the GOP field, defended the plan effectively, pushing back against his opponents’ derision and dismissing a Bloomberg analysis of the plan as simply “incorrect.” (Bloomberg says he is the one who is incorrect).
Bachmann still doesn’t know Perry isn’t the frontrunner.
Despite the fact that Perry was seated next to her for the first time in three debates — the result of his 50% drop in national polls — Bachmann doesn’t seem to realise that Perry is no longer the man to beat in this race.
Bachmann focused most of her offence on Perry, directing her one candidate question at his fiscal record as Governor of Texas and accusing Perry of ‘crony capitalism.’ And the Bachmann camp sent out a flurry of oppo releases to hammer home her Perry attacks to the press during and after the debate.
Jon Huntsman is still not funny.
Huntsman, one of three candidates who actually has a jobs plan, forfeited his credibility once again with snarky remarks and uncomfortable “jokes.”
The former Utah Governor’s seriously unfunny jokes have been a hallmark of the last few debates (remember his weird Kurt Cobain reference?) But last night’s quip was particularly awkward.
Addressing Romney, a Mormon (and incidentally his distant cousin), Huntsman, also a Mormon, said: “Since this discussion is all about economics, Governor Romney, I promise this won’t be about religion.” And then in aside to Perry added, “Sorry about that, Rick.”
Is this a joke? What is the joke? And who is the punchline? All questions Huntsman should have considered before he made everyone in the room totally uncomfortable.
Herman Cain is maintaining his aura of mystery.
When asked who is advising his campaign on economic issues (or any issues for that matter), Cain was once again weird and evasive.
The one person he named was some guy named Rich Lowry, from either Cleveland, Ohio, or Cleveland, Texas — Cain mentioned both. He also said that he also gets help from “a number of other well-recognised economists.” But apparently Lowry isn’t even an economist.
The whole thing is totally mystifying. At some point, we are going to stop believing Cain’s mystery economists exist.
Newt Gingrich basically filibustered the debate.
Gingrich, a longshot candidate who has done little actual campaigning, shanghaied the debate at several points last night with aggressive tirades against Fed Chair Ben Bernanke, Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner, the media, and the “left-wing agitators” of the Occupy Wall Street movement.
Later, he called for U.S. Sen. Chris Dodd and U.S. Rep. Barney Frank, authors of the Dodd-Frank financial reform bill, to be thrown in jail, vaguely alluding to past ethics scandals. Even the normally nonplussed Charlie Rose didn’t seem to know how to handle Angry Newt.
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