President Obama is a "failure." He has done nothing to improve the economy. He’s not a leader. He has no foreign policy.
These were the assessments of the GOP field at their debate Monday night in New Hampshire. Former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney used the word "failure" so many times, it started to become more a study of elementary political messaging than a smart analysis of the president’s policies and performance. The GOP candidates don’t like Obama. That was obvious. But is it news? And more importantly, is an early debate useful to primary voters if all the primary candidates insist on pretending they are each in a head-to-head with the Democratic general election foe?
It’s normal for primary candidates to avoid saying anything too specific in early debates; that’s a good way to avoid being taken apart by various policy analysts and foes in both parties. Former Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty is feeling that nonlove already, with attacks coming swiftly and brutally on his insistence that the foundering economy could grow at 5 percent a year. But at least he put out a plan.
No such details came from the panel of Republicans last night on the testy issues of the day—Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, debt. Never mind the issues that were not raised—homelessness, poverty, a rethink of No Child Left Behind. The contenders were instead content to direct their vitriol at Obama. They even avoided going after Romney, who has been oddly deemed the front runner despite the fact that not a single vote has been cast. Pawlenty, who recently referred to "Obamneycare" as a derisive reference to both the federal and Massachusetts healthcare laws, did some fancy footwork to avoid repeating the (for Republicans) legitimate questions about the similarities between the Massachusetts law and the federal law so hated by the GOP. To attack Romney would be to acknowledge him as the group’s leader, so they left him alone. [Check out political cartoons about the 2012 GOP field.]
The highlight of the debate—if we can call it that—was Romney’s announcement that the Stanley Cup-seeking Boston Bruins were up by four over the Vancouver Canucks (or the "Canuckleheads," as Buffalo News columnist Bucky Gleason cleverly calls them). [Vote now: Who is your pick for the 2012 GOP nomination?]
Early debates often simply serve to introduce candidates to the New Hampshire audience. The voters may have to wait longer to learn why they should pick one contender over the others.