Tea Party Debate: Winners and Losers

NEW YORK ( TheStreet) -- GOP presidential hopefuls clashed on Monday night for the first-ever Tea Party debate in Tampa, Fla. With arguments about Social Security, Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke and Chile, TheStreet couldn't resist picking the winners and losers with another GOP Scorecard.
Republican presidential candidates

Rep. Ron Paul (R., Texas)

The Good: Paul made a clear distinction between military spending and defense spending. The Texas congressman said the U.S. needed to cut its military spending, which he said included the 900 military bases abroad and the purchase of airplanes and other weapons used in war. All the money the country spends to police the world could be reapportioned to help the economy, he said.

Paul said defense spending -- or the money needed to protect the U.S. at home -- would cost the country much less. Also, after former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum (R.) made a broad statement about jihadists, Paul called him out. He said that the simplistic idea that the Muslim world hated the U.S. because it was free and prosperous was untrue. Paul then cited "hundreds of thousands" of Iraqis that had been killed since 2003, and asked, "Would you be annoyed?"

The Bad: Paul continued to decry American involvement in engagements abroad and said that the United States needed to immediately withdraw troops and use the money that the government has spent on wars for domestic issues. It's not a poor idea, but Paul failed to address how he would handle the withdrawal. Thus the problem the congressman confronts with the general electorate is that he hasn't responded to the repercussions that his plans would have if enacted.

Grade: C+ A full letter-grade drop since the last debate as the congressman was a bit more quiet on stage and didn't bring the same panache. Paul also will need more concrete economic ideas to gain traction with Republican voters. His hope to end the Fed and cut the Department of Education isn't enough to offset the nation's debt and deficit.

Texas Gov. Rick Perry

The Good: Perry stood out as the most active candidate on the stage. Whether he had to defend his record as governor, admit to mistakes or reiterate his contentious views on Social Security and immigration, Perry continued to use the airtime to further expose himself to national audiences. He toned down the Ponzi-scheme comments on Social Security and instead focused on saying the system needed to be fixed. He admitted that he was wrong on the executive mandate for human papillomavirus (HPV) inoculation in Texas. But he established himself as the most experienced candidate on immigration: "Nobody on this stage has had to deal with border security more than I have," Perry said.

The Bad: Perry had to talk a lot. He was asked to respond to nearly every question while other candidates slipped by and were able to take a break. At times he seemed to relate every issue to Texas as though the concerns that face the United States already had been confronted by the Lone Star State. Perry reiterated that freedom from litigation and taxation had enticed companies to relocate in Texas, but he never specified what types of litigation and taxation he had avoided to attract businesses. All of them?

Grade: B The governor handled an abnormal amount of criticism from almost every candidate in the field, not just from former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney. But he also received the most focus as he has a decade-long political record that has encouraged scrutiny.

Former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney

The Good: Romney still has the most detailed economic plan of the bunch. In fact, his plan probably only falls behind President Obama's as the most comprehensive. Most questions about jobs and the economy were fielded with ease by Romney as he simply reiterated the points in his plan. Romney avoided most talk of "Romneycare" for this debate. Candidates spent so much time on Perry that the former Massachusetts governor eluded most criticism. He also got his punches in on Perry at the very beginning when Perry said he thought there ought to be a conversation about the health care issue. "We're having that right now," Romney snapped back.

The Bad:Romney, in order to stay out of the way of criticism, ceded a lot of talking time to his main competitor, Perry. Romney didn't take the opportunity to expound upon what he disliked about Obamacare, which he has done spectacularly in the numerous town hall meetings he has attended over the past few months.

Grade:B Romney wasn't a high priority target for the rest of the field, but he also seemed relatively quiet. It seemed like this was a tactical decision by the campaign to let Perry -- the frontrunner in most polls -- trip over a few of his own words.

Former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum

The Good: Santorum found his voice and connected with the Tea Party crowd. He referenced his record as a former senator much more in this debate. He expounded upon a health care plan, which he said needed to use private sector insurance. "I think we have to keep a prescription drug component for Medicare but we have to pay for it," Santorum said. He got a good dig in on the president when he said that Obama's policies were so bad that an improvement would only then elevate his presidency to a disaster.

The Bad: Santorum still offered very few plans. He gave a few talking points on each subject, but there was no real detail to enrich the discussion. Like Newt Gingrich, Santorum has been out of politics for a few years, and it doesn't bode well for a man who wants to attain the highest political office in the country.

Grade:C- He brought a sense of presence and preparedness that we did not see in last week's debate. If he begins to offer plans instead of a few ideas, he could gain more support.

Rep. Michele Bachmann (R., Minn.)

Bachmann managed to elevate her relatively quiet debate performance from last week and channel the voice that originally made her popular among voters. She candidly criticized opponents, offered popular rhetoric and made controversial statements. Yep, sounds like the Bachmann of old.

The Good: Bachmann seemed subdued in last week's debate, but on Monday night she injected herself into the middle of many heated exchanges. The Minnesota congresswoman relentlessly attacked Perry on an executive mandate he attempted to pass in the state that would have required young women to receive inoculation for HPV. She substantiated her critiques with a claim that Perry's chief of staff stood to benefit from the mandate as he was a leading lobbyist for the drug company Merck ( MRK), which would offer the vaccinations. Perry denied the claim.

The Bad: When the topic of immigration arose, Bachmann went on a mini-tirade in which she said that for immigrants to stay in the United States they would have to speak English and study American history and the U.S. Constitution. As a preface to the statement, Bachmann said that the American way was not to give taxpayer benefits to people who have broken U.S. laws. Her response echoed the sentiments that many Americans share, but it was intellectually lazy to lump the nation's illegal alien troubles with the country's requirements for aspirant citizens.

Bachmann also said that as president she would not reappoint Bernanke. Bachmann stuck by her Tea Party principles on this one, but the congresswoman doesn't seem to recognize that Bernanke doesn't act alone and that the Fed makes collective decisions. Even Perry, who bashed Bernanke last month, didn't go so far as to say he'd cut the chairman.

Grade: C+ Bachmann made an impression on the field, but she pushed the same policies that have alienated her from the broader electorate.

Former Godfather's Pizza CEO Herman Cain

Why he is still in this race might best be answered by Cain. After an indistinct appearance last week, Cain failed to expound upon his campaign promises.

The Good:Cain defended his ideas such as the 9-9-9 plan for 9% federal sales tax, 9% federal income tax and 9% corporate tax, and the "Chilean model" of Social Security. These plans remained distinctly Cain's. When asked if a candidate could be pro-worker and pro-business, Cain said that his experience as an employee and an owner led to him to believe that he could support both. He has successfully managed to market himself as the most knowledgeable and experienced businessman of the group -- which should make Romney's campaign shudder. Cain connected with the Tea Party crowd relatively well and elicited cheers, which didn't happen in the last debate.

The Bad: Cain touted many sweeping generalizations, to a point at which it appeared like the former CEO hadn't studied for the test. His answers were very short and at times lacked complex sentence structures. When asked about a plan to reduce the cost of health care, Cain simply said that he would first repeal Obamacare, but every candidate in the field has already said that. He said he wanted market-driven reform, which Cain wanted to be spurred by association health plans. The problem is that Cain has delivered ideas, but he hasn't supplied voters with detailed plans of his ideas off the debate stage.

Grade D- Cain added nothing new to his debate. He seemed unprepared for content, but ready for the camera. One wonders if Cain has an ulterior motive in this primary (maybe vice president?).

Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich

Gingrich brought his polished rhetorical game to the stage on Monday night and he continued to develop the national security theme as the focus of his debate strategy.

The Good: Gingrich knows how to connect with audiences. After a heated exchange on Social Security between Romney and Perry in which the governors accused each other of frightening people, Gingrich said that people shouldn't be worried about the two Republicans when Obama frightens Americans every day with his policies. The crowd in attendance erupted and didn't quiet down for some half a minute. On economic issues, he took credit for his help with former President Bill Clinton to balance the budget. Perry, Romney and former Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman Jr. boasted about their solid jobs records as state executives, when Gingrich interjected: "The American people create jobs, not government."

The Bad: While Huntsman and Romney have established tangible economic plans, and Paul and Perry have run on their political records, Gingrich hasn't presented voters with anything more than speech-making. It is fine for Newt to cite his experience in Congress, but it is a political record that ended more than 10 years ago. The United States has changed significantly since the Clinton administration left the White House. Gingrich has proposed good ideas like energy independence and national security, but he has simply left the open-ended argument that something should be done.

Grade: B-: The former speaker's grade remains unchanged from last week as he performed well and managed to avoid criticism from opponents for his lack of detailed strategies. Expect Gingrich's grades to drop for as long as he doesn't get serious about specific policies.

Former Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman, Jr.

The Good: Huntsman continued effortlessly to navigate questions about the economy as he is one of the few candidates with a concrete jobs and tax plan. Huntsman seized every situation to take a jab at either Romney or Perry and attempted to paint the frontrunners as stereotypical politicians who had little care for voters. He performed well on Afghanistan when he said that the reason the United States needed to leave the country was because America's core was crumbling, and that without a core we would be of no value to the rest of the world.

The Bad: Huntsman has tried to project himself as the candidate who isn't Mitt Romney or Rick Perry. That's fine, but voters need to know the name of that candidate. Further, it's acceptable for Huntsman to hammer the frontrunners, but at times he seemed to come off as elitist and downright negative. Huntsman criticized Perry's program that gave assistance to illegal immigrants who wanted a state university education. But when asked about a program he created as governor of Utah that allowed illegal immigrants to obtain a driver's license, Huntsman didn't do a clear job to distinguish how his program was fundamentally different from Perry's.

Grade: C+ Huntsman lost some ground this week as he didn't have a moment that screamed for distinction. Huntsman has run on the economy, but his strength is international relations.

-- Written by Joe Deaux in New York.

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