Tonight's Republican debate in Constitution Hall in Washington, D.C. illuminated much in the area of foreign policy, but this observer at least found no surprises in the participants' contributions.
Before I get to those, a word must be said near the outset about the job performance of CNN's Wolf Blitzer: this was a near-perfect moderating of a political debate: just as many truly great acting jobs go almost unnoticed because of their authenticity and lack of false dramatics, the few flawless debate stewardships also may not be memorable. Mr. Blitzer covered almost all relevant issues (maybe not nuclear proliferation much), avoided focusing on himself, moved the issues along while including everyone and yet ensured that just about all participants were able to articulate their positions fully.
The vote here is that Wolf Blitzer has a head start for being informally elected as "America's Moderator."
All of the strengths and weaknesses this observer has seen previously were true to form tonight:
Former Gov. Mitt Romney was clear, articulate, knowledgeable and presidential. He (and Michele Bachmann to be fair), unlike Gov. Rick Perry, knows you cannot simply cut off aid to a major international player such as Pakistan (until they prove they're a genuine ally) without likely disastrous policy fallout, pun intended.
Former Speaker Newt Gingrich was clear, articulate, fair to his opponents and weak on one salient issue: illegal immigration. It may be hard to imagine telling 25-year law violators that they are not entitled to stay in the United States, but there is no legal squatter's right or statute of limitations for being in the United States illegally, and such caving is not popular with Republicans or other conservatives. Substantively, it is an insult to those who legally wait their turn to immigrate -- clear and simple. Gov. Romney's warning against incentivizing illegal behavior was classically and irrefutably good, conservative-consistent philosophy.
Gov. Perry has calmed down and seemed more relaxed, but he will not regain the surging popularity he once had. His relatively strong performance tonight, however, should ensure that he is no longer a laughing stock anywhere.
Herman Cain was, as he always is, likeable and unremarkable. I find him an impressively knowledgeable citizen, but so is my Uncle Fred, and I wouldn't want him for president either. As candidate Richard M. Nixon used to say, "Experience Counts," and it does; we need someone at the least with political executive experience.
Rep. Michele Bachman showed once again that women can be serious policy discussants, if anyone ever doubted it. Clear policy declaiming distinguishes her from another likeable politician, Sarah Palin, but she (Bachmann) is too far out on a number of issues and has no executive political experience.
Jon Huntsman is the least impressive intelligent politician since Gov. Bill Richardson of “Withdraw Now” fame in the Democratic debates of 2008. Answer after answer filled with weak or generalized policy recommendations drove the discerning viewer to distraction. We are "a country of values...we need an honest conversation..." Blaaugh. Oh, and outside of the debate Huntsman is pandering with the proactive assertion that he'd be "the first person to sign up...absolutely" to be Rep. Bachmann's running mate if she were the Republican presidential nominee.
Ron Paul's sophistry also is so dispiriting for such a fine mind. Rejecting much of the Patriot Act, he summarizes his position: "You never have to give up liberty for security." How irresponsibly simplistic. I wonder if he would take that position if his son were in the hands of foreign terrorists. Gingrich destroyed Paul's atypical example of Timothy McVeigh by pointing out that McVeigh's terrorism succeeded. Paul looked as if an impenetrable argument had struck him in the face.
Former Senator Rick Santorum was bright and not uninsightful, but the Uncle Fred analogy applies to him as well as Mr. Cain.
Regardless of no one's sticking out in a manner contrary to prior debates, this Republican clash was filled with informative clash and honorable disagreement.
You want to know what a good, solid -- if not brilliant -- debate looks like?
It looks like the Republican debate on national security with Wolf Blitzer moderating.
Red Maryland: The Premier blog of conservative and Republican politics and ideas in the Free State, named one of Maryland's best political blogs by the Washington Post.
Prof. Vatz teaches political persuasion at Towson University and is author of the newly released The Only Authentic Book of Persuasion (Kendall Hunt, 2012)