One Clear Winner or Two?

In order to avoid lending my own bias to the results of the polls I put up at the conclusion of the Cain-Gingrich debate, I withheld my own opinion on the performance of either man, and instead focused on the format of the debate, and my own thinking about that aspect of the story.  For the record, the polls have closed, and you can see the results here.  In this instance, I agree with the majority opinion on all three questions, including particularly the question “Who won?”  It was clear that while Herman Cain is a very likable man, at least insofar as his debate performance goes, the problem with Herman Cain has nothing to do with style, but instead entirely with substance.  It’s not that Cain didn’t score some points with me, as he most certainly did, but most of the points he scored with me were on a non-specific basis, or on the basis of his affability.  In terms of the issues, while I did not agree in every dimension with everything Newt Gingrich said, I nevertheless admire his command of the issues at hand, whether or not his views or ideas aligned precisely with my own.  He understands the issues in specific detail, and his knowledge as an historian lends to his presentation.

The truth is that the specifics of issues seem to pose a problem for Herman Cain, and to be honest, we knew this well in advance of this debate, so it’s worth noting that Cain at least had the courage to come forward in a venue where he knew that he was at a distinct disadvantage.  While that’s to Cain’s credit, the simple fact that he couldn’t provide any information on the subject of defined benefit plans suggests he simply isn’t ready.  He had some excellent one-liners, but then again, so did Gingrich, but the problem for Cain is that in the details, Gingrich demonstrated a detailed level of understanding that simply out-classed Cain.  Cain’s knowledge was general, and generic, and at that same time, Gingrich knew the nuts and bolts of the subjects under discussion.  There simply is no way to ignore the truth of the matter.

If the presidency were based on likability, Herman Cain would have won this debate, but the truth is that being President is a serious business, and knowledge of these issues is critical to the sorts of reforms we hope the eventual nominee will advocate, whoever that turns out to be.   Unfortunately, the presidency isn’t solely about detailed knowledge either, because what conservatives want is a president who they can trust, and whose first instinct isn’t to create another program or department or bail-out.  Conservatives want to know that a president has their backs.  Gingrich suffers from the deserved impression that he may lose his grounding under some circumstances, as expressed through his Global Warming defection during which he appeared with Nancy Pelosi in a joint advertisement on behalf of Global Warmists.

This is the dilemma presented by the Cain-Gingrich debate.  I suspect that even those who rated the debate “a draw” will admit that on the totality of the issues, Gingrich really was the superior of the two, but that their impression of Cain was informed by his engaging, and at times, humorous presentation.  I also suspect these are people who, like me, still feel a bit burned by Gingrich on a few matters, like the aforementioned Global Warming surrender.

There can be no real doubt: Gingrich absolutely dominated the facts and the issues in this debate, and on that basis, he must be considered the victor, but whether he can smooth over his past failures in the eyes of conservatives is another question.  The truth is that I suspect most conservatives wish that Cain had Gingrich’s grasp of the issues, or that Gingrich inspired conservatives as well as Cain does.  Conservatives want the “complete candidate” for a change, without compromise, and some of us thought we had spotted one, but she chose not to run.  We’re coming rapidly to the time for choosing, and the fact is that conservatives are still unsettled about it.  What the moderates and establishment Republicans hope to do is to make it difficult for conservatives to settle on a single choice, thus dividing the conservative wing of the party in the hope that they can be conquered.   So far, that strategy is paying off as the party is fractured but Romney’s support remains steady at around 25%.

Like many conservatives and Tea Party folk, I thought we would have a unifying conservative candidate, but that choice hasn’t materialized.  I say to my conservative and Tea Party brethren that among those still in the race, these two are probably the best, although I’d like now to see Gingrich face Bachmann in a similar style debate.  I’d like to see Cain against Romney.  I’d like to see Perry against Paul.  The format of this debate was the best of them in my view, and clearly in the view of my readers too.  This is the debate we should be having.  Let’s get to it.

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