Radio station 640 WGST and TheTeaParty.net joined forces to produce the first Twitter presidential debate today, hosted by radio host Rusty Humphries, along with author and Twitter sorceress S.E. Cupp. I was honored to join Jeffrey Kuhner of the Washington Times for the on-air panel discussion.
Attending were candidates Michele Bachmann, Herman Cain, Newt Gingrich, Gary Johnson, Rick Santorum, and Thad McCotter. We really missed the candidates who didn’t show up. So did the audience.
The format involved presenting the candidates with some questions for the hosts and panel, then opening the format to take some questions from the Twitter audience. The questions and answers were all delivered with those merciless 140-character Tweets. It’s a terrific format, because it lets the moderators and panelists easily review live answers to questions in real time. The lean and mean nature of Twitter keeps the candidates focused. Fluffy answers stick out like a sore thumb when the other candidates are serving up 140-character bites of prime rib.
The entire debate can be viewed here. My impressions, with the various abbreviations used by respondents to fit within the Twitter size limit “unpacked” to make easier reading:
Michele Bachmann, Newt Gingrich, and Thad McCotter are very good at using Twitter. Bachmann and McCotter have a knack for providing memorable and concise answers. Gingrich plays Twitter like a pipe organ of data. Watching his answers pour out in real time was like reading the waterfall display from The Matrix.
Gary Johnson also turned in a strong performance. I thought he came of better, and scored more points, here than in he has in live debates… or maybe he’s been training to put up a better fight, and this was his first opportunity to show off his new kung fu.
Herman Cain did not fare as well in this format. His voice and presents are great assets that cannot be leveraged in Tweets. He gives a lot of very general answers, some of which are very well composed, but his devil continues to lurk in the details.
Thad McCotter is very aggressive about swatting aside what he sees as the false premises in certain questions. Asked to weight the cost of fighting the War on Terror against the debt crisis, he replied, “I reject the premise of the question, for it’s a corollary to the Left’s inane ‘peace dividend’ trope of the 90s. The fiscal implosion was caused by welfare state spending on favored constituencies, not by our army security liberty.”
He did the same thing when the question was about creating jobs without expanding the role of the federal government: “Unlike the incumbent, we know a President only ‘creates jobs’ in the bloated and imploding public sector. Thus, we must restructure Big Government into self-government, to match our consumer-drive economy.”
Michele Bachmann is very fast on the draw. When asked what entitlements should be cut, in the quest to achieve a balanced budget, she shot back “ObamaCare, the largest entitlement and spending program in our country’s history,” while most everyone else was talking about block-granting Medicaid. Not that there’s anything wrong with block-granting Medicaid, but discussing any other weight-loss program is silly while Uncle Sam is still carrying around the huge rolls of ObamaCare flab he packed on during the 2009 Christmas party.
Bachmann also got off a blunt “won’t get fooled again” zinger that should be delivered every time Washington talks about tax increases now, and spending cuts later: “The lesson of ’82 and ’90 is promised spending cuts never last, while higher taxes persist. No more business as usual. No debt hikes.”
Speaking of those block grants, Gingrich, Johnson, and Santorum were quick to bring up Representative Paul Ryan’s name. That’s fine, and Santorum is entitled to boast of his swift support to embrace the Ryan budget plan without reservation. I would caution every candidate that if you’re going to offer support for the Ryan plan as a major selling point to the voters, you had better become as good at explaining and defending it as Paul Ryan is. You won’t get to call him for help during debates.
Bachmann and McCotter channeled the Tea Party spirit most powerfully, with McCotter warning that “the Tea Party’s role remains to be determined – not by its members – but by the GOP’s actions.” Gary Johnson touched on an important point by describing the Tea Party as “giving voice to millions of Americans who are not satisfied with the traditional parties.” One of those parties had better make with the satisfaction, pronto.
Gingrich made two fascinating observations about the Tea Party. He suggested it will play a role in moving the Democrats to the right, and therefore shift the political center of gravity, by helping to elect more conservative Democrats. He also pointed out that its most important role is “not in elections, but in developing local solutions as we move power out of Washington.” Someone needs to be there at the state and local levels, when all the decentralization and block-granting kicks in.
Gingrich mentioned the importance of executive orders, but Rick Santorum offered a very specific example, when he said his first executive order as President would be “to suspend all spending on the implementation of ObamaCare.” Bad legislation can be weakened through starvation, before it’s put out of our misery.
All of the candidates offered remarkably potent visions for avoiding Obama-style American decline. Their most important goal at this point is connecting solid and specific policy proposals to a grand vision. For my part, judging by the results of this unique debate, I thought Bachmann, Gingrich, and McCotter were closest to achieving that goal.
Republican voters are looking for a fully functional, high-performance candidacy, not an intriguing blueprint, or a bag of loose parts. It is important to weave policy specifics into a logical and inspirational narrative. That level of cohesion is remarkably easy to detect in the cascade of a Twitter stream.