Published On: Sat, Dec 17th, 2011

The Final 2011 Republican Debate

They saved the best for last.

Everyone was on their game Thursday night and did themselves no harm. With the exception of the loony Ron Paul anyone of the candidates at the podiums would be a worthy opponent for Barack H Obama. The primary process is messy and it is often as uncomfortable to watch as the making of sausage, but it is necessary to take the measure of each candidate. The many debates this year have sharpened each of the candidates’ messages and now the voters will get their chance to begin to decide in less than three weeks who deserves to be the Republican nominee for President

Newt Gingrich had some uncomfortable moments explaining his work for Freddie Mac but no real blood was drawn. On policy questions Newt gave the answers which most pleased the partisan audience. Mitt Romney was his usual competent self but ignited no passion in the hearts of conservatives. Ron Paul was great on domestic issues, but when it came to foreign affairs, the zany Ron Paul emerged. Michele Bachmann did the heavy lifting of taking on Newt’s record, but she is unlikely to have done herself any real good at this late date. Rick Perry had perhaps his best debate, but his earlier performances doomed his campaign. Too often in past debates he came across as George W Bush’s less smart little brother. Rick Santorum has all the right positions for conservative Iowans and he has practically lived in Iowa all year, nevertheless he is unable to break single digits in the polls. Jon Huntsman again seems to have wandered into a Republican forum by accident.

The latest polls show that Newt Gingrich is showing some slippage under the weight of the attacks on his uneven record from the other candidates. It appears that the beneficiary of the Gingrich slippage is Ron Paul in both Iowa and New Hampshire, but a good showing by Paul will really benefit Mitt Romney. It is unlikely that any of the four other candidates will emerge as a contender at this point. So, the race comes down to Gingrich and Romney and the voters will begin to weigh in on that choice in less than three weeks.

The debate on Thursday night reinforced the view of Gingrich as the man with the big ideas and the ability to articulate them. He did take some heat from his opponents, mostly Bachmann, on his spotty record, but no one scored a knockdown. Gingrich has a lot of baggage both personal and professional with which to deal, but he has established a real command of the Republican audience through his debate performances and if he can weather these assaults from his opponents, and the Republican establishment, he will be a hard man to beat for the nomination.

Mitt Romney is the candidate who is most likely to profit from a Newt Gingrich collapse. Romney is aware of that, which explains why he has brought out the big guns against Newt. He and his surrogates have been savaging the former speaker for days. Yet, at the final debate, Mitt chose to leave the attacks on Newt to others. Time will tell if that decision was a wise one.

In just 17 days, Iowa Republicans will brave the cold Iowa January nights to caucus all over the state. They will separate themselves into groups based on their favorite candidates. The adherents of candidates who get little support will be importuned to change their vote to another candidate. By the end of the evening the final shape of the Republican field will have become more clear.

Each of the seven people at the podiums on Thursday evening deserve our thanks. They are the ones, out of all the Republicans in the nation, who chose to put it all on the line. They are willing to suffer the slings and arrows of fickle fate in order to change the direction of the United States from the one set by Barack Obama. They criss cross the nation seeking support from the voters who are often cranky. They have to plead for cash to support their campaigns and they have to suffer many fools gladly.

Only one of these candidates can possibly emerge from this endeavor successfully.  Only one of them will face off with Barack Obama next fall. That person will have earned the opportunity to replace the current president and implement the ideas that they have been espousing since early in 2011. May the best person win.

About the Author

- Paul Bianco, retired from a career in sales, now spends his spare time as a gadfly on the many political blogs. Paul says he is just going through a phase, but that phase seems to have lasted two decades. Paul's conservative political philosophy was formed well before conservative talk radio and Fox News came along. Paul remembers the days when conservatives like William F Buckley Jr were voices in the wilderness "standing athwart history, yelling stop!" From time to time Paul contributes some of the insights he has gained from observing politics for so many years, and hopes that readers will be entertained and perhaps even enlightened.