Saturday night in The Woodlands, Texas, two men from Georgia running for President came together for what was billed as a Lincoln-Douglas style debate. Herman Cain and Newt Gingrich faced each other in more of a discussion than a debate. The host of the event, Texas Patriots PAC, a Tea Party group, brought in Rep Steve King from Iowa and Americans for Prosperity's Texas Chairman Ben Streusand as moderators.
I had the privilege of being in the room and these are some thoughts about the event.
First let me say, it wasn't a debate in the traditional Lincoln-Douglas style by any stretch of the imagination but it was an in-depth discussion. The discussion is certainly preferable to the sound bite answers and one minute time frame of traditional presidential debates. Mr. Gingrich shines as the smartest man in the room and this is a perfect venue for him. What is obvious is that the two men are friends and like each other. Both are respectful of the other and as Gingrich pointed out, there were no gotcha questions throughout the event. The two men have worked together since they both opposed Hillarycare in the 1990's so there is a personal history there.
The discussion focused on entitlements.
Representative King was too talky. As a politician, every question he posed was in reference to something he was working on or something he thought should be worked on in Congress. He droned on too much.
What is clear is this - Herman Cain, while a smart guy and successful in his own private sector career, is not ready to lead the nation. Not the whole nation and not ready to deal with all of our problems, both domestic and foreign. He passed to Newt several times when he was to begin a discussion on specific reforms on Medicare and on Social Security. Cain relied on jumping off of Newt's points and was prone to speak in generalizations. This venue was to allow the candidates to drill down and get into specifics, so Cain looked to be weaker.
For instance, when asked about problem solving to reform a defined benefit plan in the current Medicare system, Cain punted and asked Gingrich to speak first. Gingrich was able to speak of several benefit plans without hesitation, as though off the top of his head. Newt pointed to the fact that entitlement reform comes from providing a better value, not mandatory laws.
Both men are supportive of Rep Paul Ryan's economic plan. Cain said, "I haven't found anything I disagree with in it".
Gingrich loves to tweak the national press and did so Saturday night. With the back wall of the room filled with media and bloggers, and the C-SPAN cameras rolling, Newt expressed his opinion that many are more interested in writing about opinion, not facts. Cain, when asked by Gingrich what the most surprising thing is that he's discovered as he's been running for President, said that he wasn't expecting the press to simply lie while reporting a story. He prefaced that opinion by saying he didn't go to "PC" school.
Gingrich said his formula for solving problems is: 1. Go with bold ideas with definite deadlines, 2. Delegate like crazy, and 3. Do not allow 'experts' in the room. He said that common sense is such a radical idea in Washington that no one understands it.
Gingrich, a former history professor, explained the history of Social Security as it moved from a free-standing program to a part of the national budget during the days of LBJ. President Johnson did it to cover up the national deficit. He advocates for Social Security to go back to a stand alone budget.
No one explains American history better than Newt Gingrich.
Newt said that any candidate "who isn't ready to allow younger workers to choose (private investment) isn't serious" about entitlement reform of Social Security. Cain brought up his favorite example of Chile and its model for retirement investment. Gingrich brought up the Galveston, Texas model. Cain stated that 30 countries have an optional personal account retirement opportunity and that he liked the reform put forward by former President George W. Bush, which didn't get through Congress at the time.
Neither man approves of Barack Obama in the White House as President. Gingrich said, "This president is about as candid and accurate about what he tells the American people as Bernie Madoff".
I think there was more vigorous applause for Gingrich during the evening, maybe due to the fact that Gingrich is able to go into detail and speak in a common sense language. And it is obvious that Gingrich has pondered these issues for a long time.
Newt announced that Sean Hannity has offered an hour on his show to the two men for a discussion, perhaps on economics, in the future. Cain seemed to approve of the offer.