By Tom Quiner
Some say this crop of presidential candidates represents a weak field. I’m not one of that crowd, because I saw a lot of political talent on the New Hampshire stage. Even more, I saw top conservative leaders giving some good answers to some tough questions.
There were also some lousy questions tonight, and it was a flawed format. Thirty seconds just isn’t enough time to answer questions on complicated subjects.
Nonetheless, a few things hit me.
I was surprised Tim Pawlenty let Mitt Romney off the hook on the Massachusetts health care bill he signed.
I was surprised that Newt Gingrich continues to voice his reticence, although with softer rhetoric, toward Paul Ryan’s Medicare proposal. It takes some political courage to do so, because the conservative base seems pretty receptive to Mr. Ryan’s ideas.
I really liked the way that both Mr. Gingrich and Michele Bachman answered questions that tried to box them into a corner. In the case of a question on abortion directed toward Ms. Bachman, she made it clear that pregnancies involving rape, incest, and the mother’s life represent a minute percentage of all pregnancies.
In the case of an immigration question directed at Speaker Gingrich, he made it clear that immigration policy doesn’t have to be all or nothing, that comprehensive legislation isn’t necessary, or even possible. Rather, let’s start working on the issue one step at a time beginning with enforcement.
One of the shining stars of the evening was surely Rick Santorum. He demonstrates a depth of knowledge on every single issue that is impressive. My sense is that there’s not a politician in America with a cleaner slate. That matters a lot in these days of Weinergate.
Mr. Santorum is smart and experienced. Tonight’s debate says we should keep an eye on him.
Mitt Romney looks presidential. He sounds presidential. He’s a good man, but he carries political baggage that will take some explaining. I like him, but he’s going to have to prove himself to me.
Tim Pawlenty also bears watching. He’s quick on his feet. I like the way he thinks. He seems like a straight shooter to me, too. I heard him speak in Des Moines a few months ago at a small gathering. He was asked about mistakes he’s made. He said one was coming out in favor of the global warming initiatives a few years ago. He said he changed his position after becoming more familiar with the science, or rather the lack of sound science behind the movement. I liked the way admitted a mistake once he was presented with better information.
I like Ron Paul’s economic thinking most of the time, but not his foreign policy thinking. I do not like his demeanor and have no confidence in his ability to lead.
Herman Cain is concise and entertaining, but lacking in experience to be President of the United States.
The overall thinking of these candidates is right on track on economic matters. I’m impressed. I don’t think there were any big winners or losers tonight. I liked the way Romney, Pawlenty, and Santorum handled themselves the best. I give them each an “A.”