Mark Haperin, who runs The Page on time.com (a site that grew to be relatively important during the 2008 election), has posted his debate grades.
Before I start, I think it’s worth discussing that Halperin has a growing reputation for being a hack, but a portion of that comes from partisan blogs that don’t like his half-fair half-attack tendencies.
I look at Halperin through the “Jon Stewart lens” of the media, which is that media has a sensationalism bias and laziness, not partisan bias. Halperin, at his core, follows stories, pumps up controversies sometimes that shouldn’t be stories, but is a relatively fine reporter as far as what the job is supposed to entail. Reporters aren’t supposed to be brilliant prognosticators (as Halperin sometimes tries to be and sometimes falls short at). They’re supposed to track stories and report them. He’s a hack sometimes, but, hey, not everyone can be as good at reporting and writing as Ryan Lizza (check his great piece on Michelle Bachmann here).
Moving forward, here are Halperin’s grades:
A lot of people in blog media tonight are saying Romney succeeded by not losing ground. I disagree, because of the Rick Perry factor. When Perry joins the race in 3 days, he’ll immediately be at about 18% in national polls, to Romney’s 25ish% (and that is being generous). It means that comparing Romney to the people on the dais tonight is omitting a lot of the psychological factors at play in voters minds. The fact the Romney held ground instead of gaining ground means, in my mind, he didn’t do A-grade well tonight. I’d give him a B- or B, tops. It is more than likely that he won’t be the frontrunner anymore a month from now.
A lot of people are high on Bachmann as well, but I firmly believe she showed herself to be, for lack of a less sexist word, shrill. She showed that she can’t engage in debate without resorting to personal attacks instead of talking about substance or policy. In the long run, she will be hurt by tonight’s debate. I’d give her maybe a B for the night, C- long term impact.
Pawlenty will likely not win this nomination, but tonight he did exactly what he needed to do: make news. His performance is being met with less than optimistic responses tonight as well, but instant reactions are based too much on exact words said. Debates are about the impression you leave (I’ll get to that about Ron Paul later). Pawlenty left people with a few new impressions:
1) I’m not afraid to fight to defend my record
2) When I engaged in direct debate I’m not boring
3) I can tell a joke
All of those are very important in the long term. I’d give him a solid A for the night and for long term. His performance will invigorate his staff and volunteers, and will give him video clips to use online in emails and on their website. He also landed some solid blows on Bachmann, saying outright that she “lies” and hasn’t accomplished anything as a legislator.
Both have the benefit of being true.
Huntsman deserves his C+, but it doesn’t matter because he wasn’t remarkable to make a difference in perception so his C+ is worth an F. People in New Hampshire might be happy with some of his answers though, including presumably his support for civil unions while no other candidate supports them.
Gingrich probably deserves a solid B. He had some good moments then shot himself in the foot to mitigate any gains. He was wonky and interesting, but followed that with ranty and angry. He make a good point that Chris Wallace was asking too many pointed questions….but then brought it up again later and it felt like a dodge the second time instead of righteous indignation like the first. At any rate, for a guy that has been written off he surpassed expectations.
Giving Santorum a C is a laugh. He said women should be forced to carry their rapists babies, he talked about polygamy with glee, and he boasted about his support for going to Iraq. He apparently though he was in a debate for President in 2002. You know, back when he was still in Congress before he was voted out because he compared homosexuality to bestiality. F for fucked up.
Ron Paul did wayyyyyyy better than C-. I admit (and live blogged) than he spoke like a crack addict in the middle of a massive high (he spoke really fast and jittery). But he make strong points about anti-militarism that did and will play well with the increasingly big libertarian wing of the GOP. He defined himself as basically the only pick for conservatives unhappy with the wars in the middle east. I’d grade him at B+, minimum. He may win the Ames straw poll this weekend. It won’t matter, but it will let him claim some level of electoral credibility to be able to say “all of you that agree with me but dont think I can win so you support others, think again”. If he can convince those people that he is viable, he could end up with maybe 30% support in every primary state. With so many candidates that’s a chunk that could be a plurality in some places.
Cain was folksy as usual, but showed his deep lack of policy smarts. On the substance of what he said, I’ve give him a C. But on the fact that he needed to gain ground to have a shot at anything (aka to get more of the voters that he will have to compete with Rick Perry and Michelle Bachman for), I give him a D. Maybe D-. He’s like the 2008 Kucinich of the 2012 GOP field. He’s upbeat, has…ideas, no one dislikes him (because no one is afraid of him), and has a certain charm that draws a small devoted following. But like Kucinich, Cain would answer a question about aliens if asked instead of ignoring it, which is amusing but not Presidential.
Ron Paul: B++
Bachmann: B, C- long term
Huntsman: C+, F long term
Herman Cain: D/D-
I’m not sure if Cain and Santorum will stick around until the Iowa caucuses in January (February this year?).
If Palin doesn’t run, I would probably put some money on a Perry/Pawlenty ticket (for the right odds). Pawlenty is instantly a viable VP after this debate. He will never outshine someone like Perry, but tonight he showed he is a capable attack dog with a strong record to fall back on. The best comparison might be something like Al Gore 1992 as Clinton’s VP. Or even Joe Biden, in the sense that Pawlenty can speak enough about policy to never be labeled a “Palin”esque pick. I don’t see Pawlenty being a viable VP for anyone besides Perry though (def not for Romney).