by Art Kelly
The CNN presidential candidates debate in Las Vegas--the eighth in the series and the fifth in the last six weeks--was described by several commentators as a fight that bloodied the candidates.
Jeffrey Rendall of ConservativeHQ.com and both Aaron Blake and Chris Cillizza of the Washington Post likened the event to "Fight Night in Vegas."
Rendall wrote, "There were jabs, body blows, upper cuts, left-right combinations, and even plenty of low blows… And there was a heavy dose of animosity -- especially between Mitt Romney and Rick Perry. Quite frankly, the meanest debate sequence I've ever seen.
"True to predictions, CNN's liberal debate moderator, Anderson Cooper, did just about everything to stir up trouble by asking pointed questions meant to get the Republicans back to beating each other up."
Rendall called the fight "a draw--leaving each competitior bloodied, but everyone still standing."
Michelle Malkin called the encounter "a brawl" and her website displayed a picture from Brad Pitt's 1999 movie Fight Club.
Blake and Cillizza pointed out that Romney "took some body blows." He "became visibly angry and actually put his hand on Perry's shoulder for a moment. Then he got a little personal," alluding to Perry's poor performances in previous debates.
Noting Romney "got in some jabs of his own," Blake and Cillizza wrote that "the totality of the attacks left their mark on a candidate who has been more the Teflon candidate than a punching bag early in the 2012 campaign."
Writing from Georgia, Jimmy Murphy also thought the event was just like a fight.
"Rick Santorum landed some heavy blows against Romney early in the debate," but Romney knocked Newt Gingrich "flat on his butt," with the line, "I got it from you," regarding the individual mandate in Massachusetts' Romneycare. "Newt countered weakly and then Romney pinned him in the corner with the Heritage Foundation study and Newt sagged to the canvas," Murphy wrote.
Despite the "knockout" on health care, Sarah Palin told Greta Van Susteren on the Fox News Channel (FNC) that Gingrich won the debate and hinted she thought he had won some of the previous ones, too.
"Tonight Newt Gingrich again I think did the best because he seems to be above a lot of the bickering that goes on. Everybody could learn from Newt Gingrich and the way his calm, cool, collected manner…He would clobber Barack Obama in any debate, any forum that had to do with substance when it comes to policy and solutions for the challenges that America faces," she said.
In response to the heated exchanges between several of the candidates, Gingrich observed, "Let me just point out for a second that maximizing bickering is probably not the road to the White House."
The next evening, Gingrich told FNC's Sean Hannity, "Once or twice last night the level of intensity, particularly between Romney and Perry, got to be almost like 7th graders at a school yard. And I felt very uncomfortable and I thought it hurt the entire Republican Party."
Mediaite did a report card on each of the candidates and awarded Gingrich an A-minus grade. "Gingrich will probably see his poll numbers rise based solely on the fact that he seemed to be the voice of reason in all of this," the website said.
While noting that "the Republican field is beginning to resemble a junkyard dog convention in a butcher shop," Mediaite's other grades and comments were:
Mitt Romney: A-minus. "Romney was the clear winner of the debate, but showed moments of real weakness during the melee. When he tried to shush Rick Santorum, the Jedi mind trick didn't work."
Ron Paul: B-plus.
Rick Santorum: B-minus.
Herman Cain: C-minus. "Cain was the candidate with the most to lose and he lost badly…For a guy who knew his vulnerabilities going in, Cain was woefully unprepared."
Rick Perry: D-plus.
Michele Bachmann: D-minus.
Other observers agreed that Cain did poorly. Murphy, who like Cain is from Georgia, wrote, "Cain needs to take a week off from the campaign. He needs to come back home to Atlanta and spend some serious study time" on the issues.
Rendall of ConservativeHQ.com also noted Cain's confusion on several matters. "As a person who's made a career out of speaking extemporaneously in a motivating fashion to a variety of different audiences, it certainly appears that Herman Cain can't always recall, precisely, what he says."
The Post's Cillizza called Cain one of the losers of the debate:
"For the first ten minutes of the debate, the former CEO of Godfather's Pizza was under near-constant attack over the specifics of his 9-9-9 plan. For the rest of the debate, he was almost nonexistent…And, when it came to foreign policy and national security, Cain seemed distracted, at best, and totally out of his depth, at worst. His answer on the Guantanamo Bay prison was, um, not good."
Perry received mixed reviews.
Cillizza called the Texas governor's aggression one of the winners of the debate and his bullying one of the losers. "Aggression giveth and aggression taketh away," he wrote.
Malkin agreed that Perry had much more energy. But she worried that he "suputterd in the middle of an answer to a question about religion…and the bizarrely paused mid-sentence several times. Brain freeze. Shuddering at the thought of this happening during a general election debate. Egad."
Murphy was upset at that prospect too. "Can you imagine Governor Perry going up against the President in a debate? I can tell you right now I would not have the stomach to watch such a mismatch."
Rendall had both favorable and unfavorable things to say about Ron Paul's performance in the debate.
"Paul has the most consistent limited government message of any of the Republicans, by far. If packaged in another politician's body, one could see the ideas really catching on. Appearances aren't everything, but Paul's somewhat frail physical presence doesn't exactly project an aura of strength," he wrote.
It is true Paul, age 76, does not look well. U.S. News and World Report recalled that, in the 1960 presidential campaign, Vice President Richard Nixon had been hospitalized just before the first debate with Senator John Kennedy. On TV, he didn't look good, but on radio, he sounded just fine. Polls showed that persons watching the debate thought Kennedy won, while those listening to the debate thought Nixon won.
Cillizza added, "The Texas Congressman's coat was at least two sizes too big. The ill-fitting coat made Paul look tiny, never a good image to project when you are running for president."
All of the analysts agreed that Michele Bachmann did poorly.
"Bachmann is becoming less and less relevant as times goes on…She just appears lost," said Rendall.
"Almost every answer the Minnesota Congresswoman gave was the dictionary definition of a non-sequitur…(She) left the impression she was participating in a conversation apart from the one happening on stage," Cillizza stated.
Mediaite provided an example in which Bachmann said, "The president of Iran is a genocidal maniac." Moderator Anderson Cooper had to remind Bachmann, "The question was about budgets, actually."
The next debate will be held on November 9. Hopefully, that encounter will be less like Fight Night.