Monday afternoon brought a Lincoln-Douglas style debate between Jon Huntsman and Newt Gingrich. Held at The New Hampshire Institute of Politics at Saint Anselm College in Manchester, New Hampshire, the event was sponsored by the College Republicans and the moderator was Patrick Griffin, a Senior Fellow. The three men sat at a table and the audience was under strict orders to only applaud after the introductions and after the closing statements.
The subject matter concentrated on foreign policy and national security. I will say that I would have really enjoyed being in this audience. This was a meeting of intellectual equals and contrasted starkly with the previous Cain - Gingrich debate in The Woodlands, Texas for which I was in attendance. Former Governor and Ambassador Huntsman and former Speaker Gingrich proved to be imminently qualified, common sense problem solvers, strong on foreign policy and both are far superior to Barack Obama as serious thinkers.
This was a civilized, serious policy discussion - not silly sound bites and gotcha questions. There was no inclusion of personal lifestyle questions and no pledging demands. It was for grown-ups.
Remember that Jon Huntsman so worried Barack Obama as a challenger in 2012 that he appointed him as ambassador to China. Newt Gingrich was so successful in setting a conservative agenda with a conservative majority in Congress that he forced Bill Clinton to the middle of the political spectrum, allowing such historic legislation as welfare reform domestically.
These two men are friends in real life. Gingrich mentioned that he and Callista were visitors to the Huntsmans as they were still unpacking from their move to China. They arrived in China on the second day of Huntsman's assignment as ambassador and were welcomed into their home.
Huntsman makes a strong case for withdrawing troops from Afghanistan. He rightly says we have met our goals there: destroyed the Taliban, scattered al-Qaeda, and helped usher in free elections. He spoke of meetings with Karzai and how difficult it is for him to govern Afghanistan as a whole country while the old tribal form of life continues.
Both men were very strong on support for Israel. Huntsman said, "there should be no blue sky between the U.S. and Israel".
Newt complimented Huntsman for his knowledge of China and the coming challenges with that country. It was the first time I've heard him acknowledge that a debating partner had more knowledge about a subject than him.
Huntsman mentioned at the end that it was good to have a debate without a "raise a hand" question. Gingrich said, "This is not a Hollywood game, this is not a reality show. This is reality." That is reference to the need for serious discussion between the candidates, not quick answers tailored for the next morning's headlines. Huntsman took the opportunity to jab Gingrich with "I can't wait to compare this with the Trump debate with the Speaker". A civilized zinger from a man from whom huckster Trump wouldn't even take a phone call. To Gingrich's challenge of Obama - that he'd ask for seven such debates with him - the moderator said, "I betcha $10,000 he doesn't show up." That brought much laughter from the audience.
I hope a large audience took the time to watch this debate. More of them are sorely needed. We are in very serious times that call for them. We should demand them.