Three words. Not. Even.Close.
Newt Gingrich must have felt fairly confident going into Monday’s Lincoln-Douglas debate. His only previous challenge in that format came from Herman Cain, who clearly wasn’t up to the challenge. And when you consider that this format is tailor-made to Newt’s strengths as a professional speaker and raconteur, it would have been surprising if he didn’t feel some measure of confidence in his prospects for success. That is, until Jon Huntsman started talking.
While Newt relied on stories and vague generalities Jon was clear and specific in his responses, matching, and even beating Newt at his own game. Governor Huntsman breezed through the complexities of America’s relationships with Pakistan, China and Afghanistan as though he were talking shop with the Secretary of State. Newt could only fall back upon his penchant for name dropping and storytelling. The great “master debater” looked like the student and Jon the professor.
Some may claim that this format lacks the fireworks, the gaffes and the “gotcha” moments that can be found in the endless network debates that have plagued this campaign season. To them we say, ‘did you really think that policy is exciting’? Was it not you that said that you wished the debates took more of a serious turn and allowed the candidates to display their intellect and abilities? On Monday we, as voters, were given the opportunity to see the two brightest and most talented thinkers in the race go head to head in a substantive policy discussion. And we couldn’t have enjoyed it more.
What Jon Huntsman did during this debate was show that we do not have to settle for the flawed, glaringly unconservative Newt Gingrich to give us the intelligent policy wonk with great debating skills that we seek. He showed that he belongs in the discussion of the top candidates. And he showed that he dwarfs the competition (including the president) when it comes to foreign policy. If the GOP is looking for a candidate that can upstage Barack Obama in a debate, Jon proved that he is that man. And if they want a man who will be able to handle the challenges that China (a nation that conservatives, bizarrely, are completely overlooking in their view of the next 20 years) there is nobody better than Jon Huntsman.
After the debate we saw comments from viewers stating that “this would make a great ticket.” We agree, but the order in which people were envisioning the ticket were reversed. The more successful ticket would be Huntsman-Gingrich. But be that as it may, this only serves to demonstrate the fact that this debate has helped to elevate Jon Huntsman in the eyes of the voters. All it takes is to plant the seeds in voters minds which say “Jon Huntsman deserves to be in higher office.” From there Jon can capitalize on the inevitable Gingrich fall and be left standing alone when it happens. Recent polls out of Iowa suggest this is already happening. With a dominating performance like we saw on Monday, fireworks or not, Jon has clearly set himself up for success from here on out.