At this point, I'm not sure if we are watching the Republican presidential debates to see who might win the nomination or if we are watching them to see who will make the most outrageous claim against the President Obama. Last night's debate in Mesa, Arizona was a lot like one of those greatest hits concerts where the audience knows every word of every song the band plays.
Mitt Romney must have some sort of internal "enough of this debate" clock that goes off at the 90 minute mark, which is about when he feels the need to tell the moderator “I get to answer the questions the way I want”, a sure fire method of appealing to Middle America if I ever saw one. When the attacks from other candidates hit too close to home, Rick Santorum could’t help but exude the kind of exasperation with the world that adult males from “certain ethnic groups” have when they come from a suburban time-out kind of upbringing.
Newt Gingrich got his number of attempts of using the adverb “fundamentally” up to his per debate average, but it felt like he was flinging all of his usual rhetoric from three point range, as if he was afraid to step into the paint with Romney and Santorum. Even Ron Paul, who so far is the only candidate among this bunch able to look an opponent in the eye and declare without equivocation exactly what his attack ads say to their face, seemed to be pretty predictable.
If you were to judge the candidates by the veracity of what they said, everybody but Ron Paul would get an F. The kind of audience these candidates had, whether they were present in the auditorium or at home watching on TV, are not the kind of people who are going to go out and look these things up. But the eventual nominee already has these votes anyway. It is the voter who does look things up that these candidates will have to appeal to in order to win in November.
One of the things I never hear about when TV pundits discuss the eventual GOP nominee’s chances in the fall is the number of new voters the GOP is expected to register. Registering new Democrats played a big part in the 2008 election, and will be a key part of the Obama 2012 campaign. As a point of reference, the Bush campaign registered 3 million new voters in 2004. I’m not seeing a concerted effort to expand the GOP electorate from any of the Republican candidates who were on stage last night.