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GOP debates help Democrats

Susan Estrich

Susan Estrich

It’s not that easy to find good news these days, at least for Democrats.

You pick up the paper in the morning (or read it online the night before), and it’s gloom and doom. Sure, the president always looks better when he’s out of Washington, talking to real people, reminding us of exactly why we had so much hope in the first place. But still. To say that Democrats are nervous and disheartened is an understatement.

But take heart, ye of little faith. I have an answer.

Watch the Republicans debate!

I have to admit that even though I’m sometimes in the business of being a talking head, I have not watched all of the Republican debates. Why not? No offense, but I’m just not that interested in what Rick Santorum or Gary Johnson has to say. Aren’t the clips good enough?

So this week, in preparing for the midterm exam in my undergraduate presidential politics class, it only made sense to check in on the Republicans. So I watched a recording of the Fox News/Google Orlando debate with my students, many of whom are eager to find a Republican to like. After nearly two hours, the only people smiling were the Democrats.

The clips are dispiriting; the full tape is downright despair or delight, depending on your perspective.

Rick Perry was even worse than I imagined. Just awful. I’m not talking about his positions. I’m not expecting to be convinced. But how could a guy who has been in politics so long have so much trouble presenting his views in a coherent way? When he entered the race, he was the great hope of conservative Republicans. Man, they must be depressed.

Michele Bachmann? OK, my expectations were low, but how low can you go? When she boasted that she had raised five “biological” children, you could hear the groans. Ouch. When she denied having attacked Perry and his support of the safe and effective vaccine preventing cervical cancer, you could see the heads shaking. What was this woman doing on that stage? Why were the other candidates treating her as a serious person?

When asked whom they would put on the ticket, only Mitt Romney and Newt Gingrich refused to play “Hollywood Squares.” The rest looked silly for not only answering the question but for going out of their way to say they would be happy to run with anyone on the stage. Seriously, Bachmann makes Sarah Palin look like a rocket scientist. This is the only woman in the group? Shameful.

I like Gingrich. He is very smart. But if you didn’t know that in advance, you wouldn’t know it afterward. Ditto for Jon Huntsman.

And then there was the new hope of the Republican Party: Herman Cain. The former CEO of Godfather’s Pizza is at least fun to watch. Charismatic. A character. But a president? Ready to take on Barack Obama in a serious debate about foreign policy or education or the environment? Not.

Who was that weird guy who made no sense, one of my students asked me afterward. He could have been referring to almost anyone on the stage, but actually, it was Santorum.

Running for president only looks easy. Ditto, especially, for these cattle-call debates. Even the best candidate has trouble shining in one-minute answers on a crowded stage. Maybe Perry will learn to get out a thought coherently. Maybe Johnson will find a better way to talk about job creation than crediting his neighbor’s dogs for creating shovel work. (My own create indoor carpet cleaning, but I do it for free.) Certainly, it’s just as well (for Republicans) that more people aren’t paying attention.

By far, the most impressive guy, the most polished by a mile, was Romney, the self-described conservative businessman. But anyone who lived in Massachusetts while he was governor would probably use another word, like “moderate.” His biggest accomplishment is now his biggest problem: RomneyCare.

And that’s not his only problem. There was a reason (or a host of them) why he didn’t get the nomination last time. It certainly wasn’t because of any love affair between conservatives and John McCain. Frankly, it’s not at all clear to me that Republicans, much less the country, will support a Massachusetts Mormon who used to be a moderate. I’m from Massachusetts, the home of liberals and lobsters. I have nothing against Mormons or moderates. But then, I’m a liberal who likes lobster.

It’s true that many people are disappointed with Barack Obama. But it’s also true that when compared to the Republicans, at least as of today, he looks pretty darn good. ©2011 Creators

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