Why the Recent GOP Debate Should Worry Republicans

Last week’s Republican Presidential Debate, aka, the Rick Perry Train Wreck, was a real ratings winner for Fox News. Some 6.1 million viewers tuned in. That’s almost a Jersey Shore level of numbers. Perhaps such a ratings success for a political debate is due, in part, to the fact that the GOP debates have had almost as many fights, verbal gaffes, and lusty displays of uncouth behavior as one might encounter during a night out with Snookie.

Despite those solid ratings numbers, grown-up Republicans have to look back on last week and worry. Perry, their leading candidate going into the debate, had such a disastrous showing that even conservative opinion leaders were bashing him, the Florida GOP audience offended many people when they booed a gay American soldier defending their freedom to safely boo with his service in Baghdad, and the Florida GOP straw poll winner was Herman Cain.

Cain may be a swell guy to have a beer and a slice of pizza with, but he is not remotely qualified to be President of the United States. Take a look at this clip from Fox News where Chris Wallace asks Cain about what his policy toward Israel would be if he became President and about “the Palestinian right of return.” In his stumbling response, Cain reveals that he does not have a clue what “right of return” is, even though it has been one of the central obstacles to solving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict for decades. It of course revolves around the question of whether or not displaced Palestinians have a right to return to live in what was once their homeland. That same week, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said that the return of Palestinian refugees to Israel is “not going to happen. Everybody knows it’s not going to happen.”

Netanyahu is apparently wrong about everybody knowing it. In that Cain not only did not know “it” was not going to happen, he doesn’t even know what “it” is. And GOP activists just made Cain a straw poll winner. In Florida, no less.

In another Fox News interview about his 9-9-9 economic plan, Cain would not reveal to Chris Wallace the identity of the “best economists in this land” who helped him come up with the plan. It’s a secret. And just how he arrived at the figures are secret. But trust him. He majored in math. And he really made good pizza.

Wallace was not buying what Cain was trying to sell, and pointed out that in November 2005, the bi-partisan Advisory Panel on Federal Tax Reform appointed by President Bush presented a report that included an analysis of the Fair Tax Plan. The panel found that in order to be “revenue neutral,” the Fair Tax plan would require a national sales tax of 34 percent on everything. Really, everything. And, in order to make the plan less regressive on the middle class and the disadvantaged, the federal government would have to send out monthly “prebate” checks to every family in America, regardless of their income level.

The bipartisan panel found that this plan would increase the tax burden on the middle class, create the largest entitlement program in the history of the country, and increase the size of government. Chapter Nine of the report shows that the Fair Tax plan would basically result in a shift of about $250 billion of the total tax burden away from the top 20 percent of American taxpayers and onto the lower 80 percent of American families. It would be a big tax cut for the rich and a big tax increase for the middle class. Calling it a Fair Tax is a pretty sharp work of irony.

The next Republican debate is scheduled for October 11 on the campus of Dartmouth College in Hanover, New Hampshire. It’s a badly needed chance for the GOP candidates and the GOP crowd to look more like level-headed New England grown-ups than some cranked up DeathMatch groupies.

It will also be a chance for Mitt Romney to get a little love and respect from a home court crowd. Romney’s reception by Southern Tea Party types has been decidedly cool up to now. But recent polls showed that among likely GOP voters in New Hampshire, Mitt is a heavy favorite with a huge lead over Perry.

And even though conflict is good for the ratings, the GOP should consider itself lucky if the debate crowd in the “Live Free or Die” state tones it down a notch and doesn’t cause another embarrassing backlash by cheering for the waterboarding of immigrant puppies or some such. Well, at least not this time around.