GOP Debate Audience Makes Quite a Comeback

The audience made quite a comeback last night at the GOP Presidential debate on the Dartmouth College campus. After rather embarrassing performances in the previous three debates, the live crowd in Spaulding Auditorium in Hanover, New Hampshire, managed to get through the night without producing a single cringe-worthy moment.

Perhaps it was because at least the college students who were in audience had been warned in advance by the college newspaper to act like humans. The Dartmouth wagged its editorial finger, saying:

Embarrassing incidents of audience misbehavior have marred several of this year’s Republican primary debates … . It would be an enormous black eye for the College and a damning indictment of our maturity and political culture if Dartmouth’s debate were to be characterized by another inappropriate outburst.”

And indeed, with the exception of a muffled outburst near the end, the Dartmouth audience was much more well-behaved than in previous debates. This made it more like a debate and less like a pep rally for death. No cheering executions or booing gay soldiers.

There was a healthy protest across the street, though, before the big event. Late in the day, in the golden autumn light, a fenced-off pen on the college greensward filled with anti-wall street, anti-Republican protesters, a diverse group in yellow shirts holding up signs for AIDS awareness, as Keggy the keg (the unofficial mascot of Dartmouth) danced nearby followed by his Beer Party supporters. They all mixed amiably with a handful of thin, flinty men holding up Ron Paul signs and a few neatly dressed women of a certain age with Michele Bachmann signs. It was actually an attractive display of American democracy at its diverse and civil best.

A protester holds a sign outside of the GOP debate at Dartmouth College in Hanover, New Hampshire. (Photo by Barry Nolan)

But inside, up on the stage, was a different story. There was blood on the floor early on.

Mitt Romney, on his home turf and well ahead in the New Hampshire polls, had one of his best nights yet. His high point came when Texas Gov. Rick Perry, hoping to score some points of his own, asked Romney about his Massachusetts health care bill. Romney turned it around on Perry and beat him mercilessly with statistics about how few uninsured children there are in Massachusetts now and how there a million children in Texas without health insurance. It was not a good night for Perry, and he needed one desperately. He looked sullen at the end.

Several of the candidates went hammer and tong at the surging Herman Cain and his 9-9-9 economic plan. Cain patiently explained that his simple plan was crafted with the aid of world class economist Rich Lowrie, of the Cleveland, Ohio, Lowries. It turns out that Mr. Lowrie is actually a wealth management adviser who just has a bachelor’s degree in accounting. The Ron Paul camp fired off e-mails to press members throughout the debate trashing Cain. Ron Paul did his thing about gold and the Federal Reserve. Newt Gingrich seems to want to put, not Wall Street types — but Barney Frank types in jail. For something.



Michele Bachmann continues to give the appearance of someone recovering from recent head trauma. She resurrected the discredited hooey about death panels, Romney and Gingrich resurrected their discredited GOP meme about Obama apologizing for America all the time. And Perry often sounded like he was using a language that is not his original tongue.

The subject for the evening was the economy and how to create jobs. Not one person even mentioned education. The subject just didn’t come up, even though it should have. In the last jobs report from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, you can read that the overall unemployment rate is 9.1 percent. For those with less than a high school diploma, the situation is far worse, at 14.0 percent. But the unemployment rate for those with a bachelor’s degree or higher is just 4.3 percent. We won’t fix this problem of jobs without addressing how to provide access to higher education for more Americans.

After the event, in the spin room, the big press gaggles were around Romney’s guy and around Candidate Huntsman himself. Though Huntsman barely shows up in the polls, he is clearly a serious, qualified candidate, and he had a good showing in Dartmouth. If he were elected President, all of Europe and much of the rest of the world would not be saying the day after the election: “What? Are the Americans on drugs or something?” Meanwhile, the Bachmann spin machine was looking a little lonely. No one was interested. The press can smell political death.

One surprise guest in the spin room was the peppery Debbie Wasserman Schultz, Democratic Congresswoman from Florida and Chief Deputy Whip. Asked which one of the Republican candidates she would like to see go up against Obama, she said: “They’re all the same. They all want to give tax breaks to the rich, don’t have a jobs program, and want to shred the social safety net. They’re all interchangeable. They’re like LEGOs.” Ouch.