Political pundits opined in earnest this week about whom they believe won last Monday night's New Hampshire Presidential debate. Mitt Romney "looked very presidential," Anne Coulter remarked to a Fox news host. Coulter said he delivered "good enough answers" to the questions posed to him. Another columnist thought Michelle Bachmann’s knowledge of Congress and the specifics of issues eclipsed that of Sarah Palin, who hasn't yet announced a run for the White House. Dick Morris observed that Herman Cain's lack of political experience along with his no-nonsense business approach provided a breath of fresh air to the Republican field.
The final poll numbers seem to be in for the overall performance of the 2012 candidate hopefuls who were on hand in New Hampshire. For better or worse, it appears that Romney and Bachmann were the clear winners.
One might think that former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum was the clear loser since he looked terribly uncomfortable the entire evening. He may have answered questions sufficient for the moment but before each of those questions, he wore a pained expression that seemed to scream, “Please, please, please, don’t let me be next!”
Regardless of the actual debate results, the most obvious loser was the debate itself. From living room sofas to bars to newsrooms to reporters in the halls of the Capitol, there seemed to be a general consensus that it was far and away one of the most poorly-organized and moderated debates in recent memory. The whole affair was so unorthodox and strangely- conducted that some reporters remarked they wish they could turn to the Canucks game!
CNN's John King seemed to be under the impression that a large portion of his job was to entertain the television audience. He continuously interspersed serious inquiries with quick quiz questions that were supposedly meant to provide the audience with personal knowledge of their candidates. Someone should have informed the CNN anchor that knowing whether or not Tim Pawlenty preferred hot wings to mild or that Bachmann has Elvis on her iPod was of little concern to the millions of Americans who are out of work, and own homes that are upside down in mortgage value!
The question of "thin crust or deep dish" directed to former Godfather's Pizza CEO, Herman Cain, seemed a bit of a tease. To his credit, Cain kept his balance, leaning into the mic and, mimicking a hearty bass, said, "Deep Dish." He sounded like one of the Oak Ridge Boys! About the only question missing from the evening was “Paper or plastic?" The quick quiz questions led news media and people on Facebook and the internet to begin inventing their own “either/or” scenarios. The cackles of humor after these ridiculous questions deterred from what little dignity the debate possessed
When King managed to get around to questions on actual issues, he spent more time talking about how much time the candidates would be allotted than they had to answer! Then, as they delivered their answers, he interrupted them, often even talking over them to give his own particularly liberal spin on the subject.
Thankfully, this second debate of the 2012 election cycle was held early enough that any damage it might have done would probably be minimal. Whatever expectations American voters had for the seven Presidential hopefuls, were met with a reasonable amount of straight talk, plenty of politeness, and no real surprises. The amazing part of the debate was that anyone managed to get anything across; it was none too obvious that the candidates were struggling in earnest to adapt to CNN’s strange format.
The viewing public wasn’t so lucky. The debate was excruciating to watch. It was a shame that CNN's John King appeared to have a journalistic amnesia where he thought he had been invited to moderate a panel on a brand new network -- the Cartoon News Network! All that was missing from King’s rapid-fire presentation was Speedy Gonzales’ trademark yellow sombrero, red kerchief and the command,”Andale, Andale, Arriba Arriba!" Maybe the most important question to ponder regarding future debates is “CNN or not CNN!”