On Saturday night, GOP presidential hopefuls Newt Gingrich and Herman Cain sat in high-backed chairs on a Texas stage and engaged in a "historic" one-on-one debate. The affair was hyped as a modern version of the "Lincoln-Douglas" debate — a series of seven dramatic events in 1858 in which little-known lawyer Abraham Lincoln and powerhouse Sen. Stephen Douglas held rigorous discussions about slavery. The Cain-Gingrich face-off, of course, was much friendlier. (Watch the video below.) With no moderator prodding them toward dispute, Cain and Gingrich spent 90 minutes mostly agreeing on how to reform entitlement programs like Medicare (It's a "total mess," Gingrich said), Medicaid (Our abuse of this system is like a "crack problem," Cain said), and Social Security (Let's ape the Chilean model of personal retirement accounts, Cain said). With Cain still leading the GOP pack despite sexual harassment allegations, and Gingrich's star on the rise as other conservatives fade, who benefited the most from this debate?
Gingrich destroyed Cain: This debate "was 90 minutes of Newt showing why he is the smartest guy on any stage," says William A. Jacobson at Legal Insurrection. Cain stumbled awkwardly over several answers, while the man once hailed as the intellectual voice of the conservative movement "was in command." Gingrich sounded every bit the brilliant strategist when he explained how Republicans could brush aside Democratic "scare tactics on Social Security." I'd love to see Gingrich take on the president in this format. "Obama's lack of depth would be exposed by Newt for all the world to see."
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But Cain wasn't that bad: It's obvious that Newt has a stronger command of the issues, says Dr. Mercury at Maggie's Farm. But Cain had his moments. Thankfully, he "didn't try to squeeze 9-9-9 into every other sentence," and he coherently addressed problems like Social Security, offering "not only solutions, but perspective." Cain "doesn't fall back on tropes and platitudes." That's why "he connects with people" — "he really is more like us than the dreaded them."
Are these guys running on the same ticket? Cain and Gingrich appear awfully buddy-buddy these days, says Libby Spencer at The Impolitic. Really, this debate seemed like "a showcase to introduce the new GOP ticket for 2012," assuming Cain can win the nomination. But guess what? He can. Evidently, no scandal or gaffe is sufficiently damaging to bring Cain down. His campaign may have begun as a vanity project, but the "base loves bombast, and he delivers it in bulk." Cain obviously "now believes he can win this thing, and suddenly, so do I."
The real winners are American voters: Finally, says Ed Morrissey at Hot Air, "a substantive debate on the biggest issues of the cycle." No "media 'moderators'" interfered, "soundbites" and "petty sniping" were set aside. Instead, we got an in-depth exploration of the critical issue of entitlement reform. I wish Mitt Romney and Rick Perry would debate economic policy under the same conditions. Let's "strip away the gotcha strategies" that abound in our muddled, eight-candidate debates and "find out which candidates have substance and which [just] have really good tailors."
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