THE WOODLANDS, Texas — The rancor that defined much of the last week on the Republican presidential campaign trail subsided a bit here on Saturday night, as Newt Gingrich and Herman Cain basked in each other’s company and the warm embrace of the Texas Tea Party for what was styled as an old-fashioned issues-focused debate.
The challenges facing the Cain campaign over the last week, as it struggled to deal with revelations of sexual harassment accusations made against Mr. Cain while he was head of the National Restaurant Association in the late 1990s, were not addressed at all.
The event, formally titled the Cain-Gingrich Debate 2011, was actually a fund-raiser held in a cavernous hotel ballroom north of Houston that was packed with 1,000 people. It felt more like a conservative love-in, with each candidate going out of his way to compliment the other and shower praise on the audience.
After Mr. Gingrich took a few minutes to answer a question on Medicare, saying that there was need for radical change, Mr. Cain was to offer a rebuttal.
“I’m supposed to have a minute to disagree with something that he said, but I don’t,” Mr. Cain said to some chuckles and applause. “I believe, as Speaker Gingrich believes, that we can’t reshuffle Medicaid, Medicare or Social Security; we must restructure.”
When one opportunity for a clash did emerge, it was quickly set aside. “I’m going to sidestep the temptation to talk about ‘9-9-9,’ ” Mr. Gingrich said after Mr. Cain brought up his signature economic plan, which would replace the tax code with a 9 percent flat tax on individuals and corporations while adding a 9 percent national sales tax. They focused more on what they had in common. “We are the two most radical candidates,” Mr. Gingrich said as Mr. Cain looked on, approvingly.
Who won the Cain-Gingrich debate? « Hot Air
Mostly, I think the voters won this debate. We finally had 90 minutes of substantive discussion of the real issues in entitlement reform, offered in positive terms from two of the men who want to lead this country. With media “moderators” out of the way, we put aside slogans and soundbites and the sniping that broadcast outlets love to provoke to write stories on the fluff rather than the issues.
This could set a standard for debates in the future, but only if Republican voters demand to see the other candidates in similar forum models. I’d love to see Rick Santorum and Ron Paul debate foreign policy, for instance, or Mitt Romney and Rick Perry debate economic policy, for 90 minutes with no moderators and no media needling. That would produce real choices for voters, and strip away the gotcha strategies to find out which candidates have substance and which have really good tailors.