Tonight, there will be yet another GOP debate, this one at the Orange County Convention Center in Orlando, Florida. It has been an eventful week since the last debate, so there will no doubt be a lot to talk about.
Michele Bachmann, sensing a successful avenue of attack, went after Rick Perry full throttle on the Gardasil issue, but muddied the waters by claiming that the vaccine was unsafe–something completely unsupported by the facts, but which would appeal to anti-vaccine conspiracy theorists. Bachmann has always had a problem with message discipline. While she has tried to walk back her statements about the safety of Gardasil, she is now plummeting in the polls, and it is a question as to whether her campaign will ever recover.
Other candidates are now reportedly furious at Bachmann. They have questions as to whether Perry’s mandate was a proper use of government authority, and as to whether Perry was swayed more by hundreds of thousands of dollars in campaign contributions and his many links to Merck lobbyists, rather than by good sense. Now if they question Perry on the issue of Gardasil, they risk tying their rowboats to Bachmann’s sinking ship. To further complicate matters, Perry’s minions have hit back by releasing video of a 31-year-old woman who was good friends with Perry, and who died of cervical cancer. However, what is overlooked by many people is that the woman in question met Perry only after he issued the mandate, and that the mandate had nothing to do with him having sympathy for her plight. Bringing her up is thus a rather cynical attempt to derail questions about Perry’s links to lobbyists and his receipt of campaign funds.
It is not clear how all of this will play out. Do candidates go after Perry for being a typical politician who is masquerading as a reformer? Or, do they give him a pass on Gardasil because they are afraid of being seen as cold-hearted and do not want to be linked to Bachmann?
The only person happy about the situation is Mitt Romney. Obviously, if Romney had been governor of Massachusetts at the time, he may well have mandated Gardasil himself, hence his comment that Perry should be given a Mulligan on this issue. However, the current kerfuffle destroys Bachmann’s campaign while hurting Perry’s at the same time, and also has the virtue of diverting attention from the other candidates.
There are also serious questions being raised about Perry’s immigration policies. If we were talking about another politician, one would say that his ideas on immigration are nuanced. Perry is so completely against illegal immigration that he wants to use Predator drones and the US military to protect the border, but he is also so deeply concerned about the plight of those poor, non-taxpaying illegal immigrants that he wants to offer them in-state tuition and drivers licenses. Shock and awe meets compassionate conservatism. However, nuance is not Perry’s shtick, so a better explanation for Perry’s actions are that Perry will say whatever he needs to say to convince Republicans that he despises illegal immigration, but has in fact molded his policies on illegal immigration to gain Hispanic support. And indeed, this week Perry is in New York courting Hispanic business owners.
Perry’s comment on Social Security being a Ponzi scheme is not polling well with independents, so he is now trying to walk back his statement and wants to change the subject to how to fix the system. This will be another big topic in the debate.
Herman Cain will of course talk about Chile (or is it Chi-lay?) and his 9-9-9 plan. Meanwhile, not a debate has gone by without Mitt Romney being capable but cautious, without Rick Santorum attacking Ron Paul, without Ron Paul saying something nutty, without Newt Gingrich refusing to answer the questions but offering up great soundbites, and without Jon Huntsman reminding us why he is in the wrong party.
As an added wrinkle, former New Mexico governor Gary Johnson will now be allowed to participate. As a libertarian, he is to the left on many issues, most notably on the legalization of marijuana. It will be nice to have a fresh face at these debates, and we can expect stoners to tune in to a GOP debate for once, assuming that they can find the remote.
Of course, the US government is going bankrupt, and since the last debate Obama has released a nonsensical jobs plan along with a scheme to raise taxes by $1.5 trillion. These issues might also be on the debate agenda, though it would be uncharacteristic of this group of candidates to actually focus on Obama rather than each other.
By the way, is anyone else getting tired of these spectacles? There is no question that we need to examine the candidates thoroughly before we choose one to go up against Obama. Obama will have $1 billion in corporate campaign contributions and a full wind behind him when the election comes in earnest. And it will be the most negative, mudslinging election America has seen in over 100 years. So far, we have a doctored video of Bachmann supposedly making a racist remark, and multiple news sources reporting that Republicans cheered at the idea of an uninsured man dying, even when a look at the tape shows that this is a bald-faced lie. Things will get much worse, so we are right to put our candidates through the wringer before we send them out to meet Obama.
At the same time, having so many debates so early in the campaign season does not benefit the candidates–it just makes people tired of the whole lot of them. Message and candidate fatigue is already setting in, and we are yet months away from the first primary. This vindicates the decision to wait until October if you are a Christie or a Palin wanting to throw your hat in the ring. Indeed, if Bachmann had waited until October to announce and were now spending her time just focused on Obama and the Democrats, then she would have avoided the whole Gardasil issue, along with many of the attacks from the Democrats, the press, and other Republican candidates, and would be peaking in the polls by the time the first primaries came around. In her case, we may be thankful that things have worked out the way they have, as she lacks the message discipline and experience to defeat Obama. However, she, Herman Cain, and Tim Pawlenty would have all benefited by waiting, as will Chris Christie, Sarah Palin, and anyone else if they decide to run.