The Republican Presidential candidates had another debate Wednesday night, but by the end of the night no one really remembered.
Part of the reason is because almost immediately after the debate ended, Joe Paterno was fired and most 24 hour news channels switched to coverage of that debacle.
Part of the reason the debate was forgettable was that it simply reinforced what we already knew: Romney is still the front-runner despite what the polls say, Herman Cain is well-liked and will be a formidable opponent, Rick Perry is done, Rick Santorum is annoying, Michele Bachmann is a little creepy, Ron Paul is a little crazy, Newt Gingrich is really smart (and could be a viable VP candidate), and Jon Huntsman doesn’t get nearly enough air time.
CNBC, who moderated the debate, made it clear that Romney and Cain were the center of this debate and both handled themselves with the kind of preparedness and cogency we’d expect from a nominee.
If Cain intends to win, he needs to be able to answer a question without using his 9-9-9 plan. At one point, he was drawing laughter from both the candidates and the audience for constantly referencing his flat tax plan.
But later, in an ingratiating and insightful moment, he made a joke about not wanting to mention it.
Cain may be the warmest of candidates, someone every one can associate with, despite the fact that he’s a millionaire former CEO (Like Romney).
He will have to answer sexual harassment questions for at least a few more weeks until someone has some sort of evidence to present that might actually impugn his credibility.
Romney, on the other hand, is not taking some of the hard conservative lines as his fellow candidates, but does have a way of making clear his positions in a coherent way (unlike Cain, who tends to repeat his talking points without really explaining them).
Furthermore, our soon-to-be-former President will be an extremely game adversary in debates heading into next November. The Republican candidate will have to be able to hold his own to have any chance of winning.
That’s why Rick Perry, who couldn’t flesh out a massive set of cuts to federal programs (If you’re only cutting three departments, and they’re umm…kind of big departments like Education and Energy, you need to remember them) can’t be the nominee.
It’s why Gingrich would be a terrific vice presidential candidate because he probably couldn’t beat Obama, but he certainly can demolish Joe Biden in a debate setting, something Sarah Palin was unable to do (among numerous other things).
These debates may not be telling us anything new, but reinforcing what we already believe only grows support for candidates like Romney and Cain as the peripheral candidates continue to sputter.
The more we see them, the more we’ll grow attached to them, not to mention the more the American people will be reminded that a new face of American politics is needed.