John Baer: For Newt, no-news debate is good news

Posted: November 23, 2011

THE START of last night's Republican debate seemed to promise a whack-a-mole evening for the GOP's latest front-runner, Newt "Not-a-lobbyist" Gingrich.

Two of his opponents for the party nomination introduced themselves by saying how long they've been married: Rick Perry, 29 years of "wedded bliss" to his Anita; Jon Huntsman, 28 years just last week to his Mary Kaye.

Newt's a three-time groom; nice of Perry and Huntsman to remind the party's Christian conservative base.

But that was about the only slap at Gingrich.

Nobody else took a real shot, not even on Newt's recent assertion that child-labor laws are stupid and that poor kids ought to work in schools as janitors.

(I did not make that up.)

I figure Newt's known debating prowess scared everybody off, save for the two little digs at the start to which, of course, he wouldn't want to reply.

In fact, though Gingrich is entirely capable of blowing himself up at any point on almost any topic (and probably gave himself a mild hotfoot with conservatives by saying "let's be humane" on immigration), even he largely refrained from imparting damage to his newfound status.

Throughout the two-hour CNN event live from Constitution Hall, in Washington, Newt demonstrated historic knowledge of foreign affairs and national security, and made most of the other seven candidates seem like they were repeating names and facts recently learned in cram sessions.

"I spent years studying this stuff," crowed Newt, and it showed. Later, there were several times when multiple opponents said, "I agree with the Speaker."

The rest of the bunch was pretty much as the rest of the bunch has been, though the evening was not without contention, and Ron Paul was feistier than normal.

The three-time presidential candidate and Texas congressman railed against "endless wars" and protecting Israel and Congress' failure to act on the deficit.

"They're not cutting out anything," Paul said. "The biggest threat to our national security is our financial situation . . . it's a road to disaster. We better wake up."

There was lots of talk about U.S. military involvement, humanitarian aid and hot spots around the globe.

Former front-runner Perry restated his opposition to blank-check aid: "If you're not going to be an ally, do not expect a dime."

Former front-runner Michele Bachmann called Perry "highly naive."

Former front-runner Mitt Romney and Huntsman got into a scuffle over drawing down troops from Afghanistan sooner rather than later: Romney said that military commanders think that withdrawal before 2014 imperils progress made; Huntsman said that America's "getting tired" of the cost and loss of life.

Former front-runner Herman Cain called debate moderator Wolf Blitzer "Blitz" and then, a few seconds later, apologized.

So all in all, there wasn't much new, different or especially embarrassing.

Romney continued to lie like a lion in the tall grass hoping that his prey devours each other or succumbs to death-by-debate.

Cain, the "non-harasser," maintained his simplistic strategy. Asked about the value of certain foreign aid, he actually said that "it may be worthwhile to continue, it may not be."

But, to his credit, he did not mention 9-9-9 or "Ubeki-beki-beki-stan-stan."

Perry didn't seem to forget anything. He even managed a dig at organized labor. On a question about airport security, the Texas governor said that it can be improved if we "get rid of those unions."

Going into last night's debate, the average of several national polls compiled by the political website realclearpolitics.com had Newt ahead with 23 percent, Mitt at 21, Cain at 18 and nobody else in double figures.

After last night's debate, I figure Newt and Mitt will remain in the lead with Cain, Perry, Paul and Bachmann well behind and Santorum and Huntsman, the 2-percenters, staying at 2 percent.


For recent columns, go to philly.com/JohnBaer. Read his blog at www.philly.com/BaerGrowls.

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