That’s probably what was on the minds of the Republican Party presidential candidates as they took the stage for their second debate last night on CNN. Last month’s lackluster showing on Fox News formally introduced the crop of candidates who think they have a fighting chance against the Obama machine in 2012 and that was about it. This time we hoped to get a better sense of who was for real and who just wanted to see themselves on TV. Not sure this was accomplished.
Let’s be honest, While Mitt Romney has become the frontrunner by default. A mere two weeks ago GOP leadership was looking to recruit a balding Midwestern governor who had been cuckolded by his wife. Before that, the talk of the GOP was reality-tv star turn “birther” Donald Trump. Perhaps his current lead was the reason why none of the candidates dared to challenge Romney on anything last night. Not his flip-flopping, his healthcare plan or the fact that he made his money from cutting jobs. This obviously means the other candidates don’t see his lead as being insurmountable, or even stable. For example, when the Democrats were debating in 2007 and 2008 they ganged up on Hillary Clinton because they knew what a frontrunner looked like. Mitt Romney? Not so much.
The candidate who really gained ground was Michele Bachmann who managed to sound like a real candidate and not a Tea Party pin-up girl for the first time in her life. Yes, it was annoying (and awkward) to see her answer her first question with an announcement saying that she was running for president (duh?). But other than that, she answered questions well and gave the right wingers some raw meat without sounding insane. She consistently pointed to legislation that she was actually pushing for instead of pointing out stuff she ‘used’ to do (*cough* Romney and Pawlenty). The fact that she was one of only two people on stage (Ron Paul being the other) who is actually an elected official still serving in office helped too. Last night’s losers were much easier to spot and we shouldn’t be surprised if these guys drop out of the race by the end of the year, if not the summer. The biggest loser, former Minnesota governor Tim Pawlenty, who was in the perfect position to step his game up, but he disappeared like LeBron James in the fourth quarter. In case you missed it, Pawlenty had been talking so much -ish about Mitt Romney and his health care reforms, calling it “Obamney care” just 24 hours before. When CNN debate host John King gave him the floor to explain his statements, Pawlenty punked out.
Big time. In the words of Ed Lover, “C’mon son.” If you’re afraid to call out another candidate this early in the campaign you’re basically auditioning for Vice President.
Speaking of auditioning for other jobs, it’s hard to tell if Herman Cain is running for president or for the starring role in an Alan Keyes biopic. Didn’t he see in the 1990’s that being the extra conservative black guy may get you air time, but won’t work on the campaign trail? Cain’s rejection of gays in the military, open admission that he would be “uncomfortable” with appointing Muslims to his administration and attacks on government make him indistinguishable from Michele Bachmann, except he’s black and less electable in the minds of Republicans. If you’re the former CEO of Godfather’s Pizza you of all people should be talking about jobs and the economy, not who marries who. By the way, does anyone actually know where a Godfather’s Pizza is?
The rest of the cast, former Pennsylvania Senator Rick Santorum, Newt Gingrich and perpetual candidate Ron Paul player hated from the sidelines with their best Waldorf and Statler impressions but they didn’t move the needle.
So in the end, did the Republicans re-introduce themselves last night? Not by a long shot. There was no stand out star of the bunch. No one who’s name you wanted to make a bumper stick of.
This article originally appeared in TheLoop21.com under the headline “Republicans Fall Flat with Second Debate on CNN.”