From Des Moines I can report that Tim Pawlenty and Herman Cain wowed the 1,000 at the StrongAmericaNow “Deficit Free America Summit.”
The Republican candidates are doing well because it is a strong field making strong and persuasive criticisms of a failed president. MSM efforts to sow discord, belittle the candidates or amplify the fissures within the GOP just aren’t going to work very well when the president presents such a stark contrast to all of the GOP candidates.
The Des Moines Register correctly noted, by the way, that Pawlenty knocked down the David Axelrod charge that the former governor left Minnesota with a $6.2 billion deficit, which I asked him to comment on during our interview on stage after his speech. (Note to the Register’s Jason Clayworth: I am not one of StrongAmericaNow’s “organizers,” but just another journalist tasked with asking questions of candidates.) The Herminator answered my questions on TARP, the Second Amendment and an audit of the Fed –all issues which had generated controversy for Cain in recent weeks. Herman noted that he would never have supported TARP if he had known how far from its original aim it would stray. He emphatically repeated his strong support of gun ownership rights, which had been questioned by some after a garbled Q&A last week. He also stated that he was not opposed to an audit of the Fed, just that it wasn’t a priority for him. (We also had some laughs onstage and off on my position that Herman shouldn’t be in the debates with the serious candidates. He very graciously allowed as that my plate of crow didn’t have to be too big. He really is a very charming and funny guy, and I was quite obviously wrong about Cain’s standing among the party faithful.)
A different Des Moines Register reporter, Kathy Obradovich, recorded the key points of my interview of Gary Johnson here, and I spent most of my time with him reviewing his call for a 43% reduction in defense spending, which led to the governor’s suggestion that aircraft carriers are an “outmoded technology.” The governor’s response on the broader issue of drug legalization outside of marijuana sidestepped the obvious problems with his and other legalization advocates’ positions, but he’s an interesting fellow.
With zero chance of being the nominee, like Ron Paul, which is why Johnson and Paul shouldn’t be on the debate stages. Unlike Cain, Paul and Johnson argue for far-outside-the-GOP-mainstream positions, stances that preclude their winning the nomination under any circumstances. Cain is a very long shot, but he is a passionate conservative with positions acceptable to three-quarters or more of the GOP’s primary voters. The difference between long shots like Cain and Michele Bachmann and fringe candidates like Johnson and Paul came through loud and clear today, and it is a crucial distinction for debate organizers to keep in mind.
Note also the sort of questions I posed the candidates. I brought up specific charges made against them on issues of supposed political vulnerability, questions of high interest to GOP primary voters. I posed them in non-confrontational ways and gave them enough time to answer them completely, but when necessary as with Johnson’s evasions on defense spending, pushed for clarity.
This is exactly what most or even all conservative journalists would do if seated opposite the candidates –tough, relevant and pointed questions politely posed with enough time to answer– and it is why the debates down the road should skip the MSMers with their agendas and absurd time rules and turn instead for at least some of the debates to the right’s great supply of reporters and pundits to pose the queries the audience of GOP voters actually want answered.
UPDATE: The Register’s Clayworth reports on part of my exchange with Cain, but doesn’t give the context or any hint of Cain’s answer on the Fed or the 2nd Amendment. Given that it is an internet story with no limit on length, why in the world does a “reporter” not report the substance of the candidate’s remarks on two issues of interest to key constituencies?
UPDATE 2: Kathy Obradovich’s tweets provided a much more accurate, complete and interesting account of the day’s proceedings in Des Moines than the blog posts. Going to have to add her to the twitter feed for good reporting from now through the caucuses.