(Lori Piotrowski) – Where else would you hear the Phantom open a Republican presidential debate? Anthony Crivello, who plays the title role in Phantom-The Las Vegas Spectacular at The Venetian Hotel-Resort-Casino left his mask in the dressing room but still made the audience shiver with pride and anticipation for what was to come.
Crivello was the last pre-show event. Earlier, former Congressman Jon Porter, who chairs the Western Republican Leadership Conference taking place this week in Las Vegas, took to the stage to introduce a few celebrities, including Governor Sandoval and Mr. Las Vegas, Wayne Newton. He thanked those who worked diligently to pull the conference together, and then brought up Miss Nevada, Alana Lee, who led the audience in the Pledge of Allegiance.
Now the lights come on, Anderson Cooper steps onto the stage and the show is on.
In what may have been a bow to the conservative audience, or just a slip of the tongue, Cooper welcomes the audience and asked, “Are you ready to meet the next president of the United States? He’s going to be here!”
The candidates are introduced, and as Cooper explains the debate’s format, they step behind their podia. All begin to write. I can only wonder whether it’s to quickly jot down notes from their pre-debate work sessions so they don’t forget their sound bites.
Same format as earlier, but no bells or buzzers. Throughout the evening, Cooper can be heard to say, “Time….time…time” as the speaker’s allotted time had ended. Did they ever heed those words? No, not so much.
Candidates are still picking on Herman Cain’s 9-9-9 plan. Cain keeps telling them to read the plan before they jump to conclusions about what will be taxed, who will be taxed, and how much people will be taxed.
For all the Cain they raised about his plan, you’d think that they rest would at least put a tax plan together. To be fair, former Governor Romney has a plan. A detailed plan.
Representative Bachmann talked about her plan, but in such vague terms that nobody knew what her plan was. Except that it will quickly create millions of jobs. Really? Millions? Wow.
Governor Perry didn’t talk taxes so much as he talked job creation through energy. “Resources are being blocked by the administration. We don’t have to wait on OPEC any more.”
Former Senator Rick Santorum spoke about how Europe’s economic mobility, the ability of the poorest of a nation to elevate their status through work, has surpassed that of the U.S.
Meanwhile, Bachmann, down on the end of the stage, waved her hand excitedly and tried to grab Cooper’s attention, much as if she were flagging down a waiter to pay her bill. Speaking of Obamacare’s potential drag on the economy, and last week’s admission that the CLASS Act portion would have to be pulled out of it because the government couldn’t afford it.
Shortly thereafter, sparks flew as Perry turned to Romney and began to jab his finger. Not only did he accuse Romney of personally hiring illegal aliens to work for him, but he called him a hypocrite.
I don’t know how much the TV audience heard, but in the auditorium, you could have heard a pin drop for a millisecond and then everyone began to talk, boo, cheer, groan. A rainbow of sounds mixed in a cacophony of reactions.
Romney rose above the accusation to reflect the anger back onto Perry. “Rick’s had a tough couple of debates,” he explained.
The issue is one quickly resolved by the e-Verify system. Some of the states have implemented it, and e-Verify is being used by some companies in Las Vegas.
The immigration issue continued for a bit, with Cain getting the most applause for his comment, “Empower the states to do what the federal government is not.”
Fence building, virtual and actual, was discussed by the candidates. Figures were thrown out about costs. Several discussed the idea of eliminating the reasons illegal immigrants risk their lives to get here, which brought the discussion full circle as Perry once again accused Romney of being part of the problem.
“We’ve been down that road sufficiently, Rick. And the audience agrees with me,” Romney said to great applause.
Former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich reached out in a different manner to explain, “All of us up here want to send a clear message to Americans of all backgrounds. America has been the most open country to immigrants. We all want the same things, an economy that grows, health insurance we can afford, the ability to educate our children. We want to make America work again.”
Bachmann used some of her time during the foreclosure discussion to hammer the point that she is a mother, who has talked to mothers, and mothers are the ones who feel the pain the most. She could have included more factual information, but the audience was left wondering whether something more substantial could have been said.
As the topic moved on to the Occupy Wall Street protests, Cooper asked Cain to clarify or stand by an earlier comment he made. Cain stood fast, saying that those who are protesting are focusing their anger in appropriately. “They should be in front of the White House showing that anger,” he said.”
Congressman Ron Paul suggested that part of the budget issue was the fault of the Federal Reserve, which created the housing bubble. He also suggested that the U.S. should eliminate foreign military bases and use that money to help reinforce the border with Mexico.
As foreign affairs, began to bubble to the surface of the budget debate. Bachmann suggested that Iran’s Ahmadinejad was a “genocidal maniac” and the U.S. should not eliminate military spending.
Gingrich agreed that taking the eye off Iran has been a problem for the current administration. “It’s suicidally stupid to pit military needs and America’s protection against an arbitrary number on a budget sheet.”
The debate was in its final stages when new topics were introduced: terrorism, negotiations for hostages, foreign aid.
Paul recommended that the U.S. pull all foreign aid, including that directed for Israel, which wasn’t such a popular statement. Bachmann countered by saying that Israel is the U.S.’s strongest ally in the Middle East and that “this is the first president that has put daylight between” the two, which has led to the multitude of problems seen in the last few months. Romney suggested that is was lunacy to borrow from the Chinese to be able to give money to a third world country, saying, “Let China help that country directly.”
Cooper tried to round up the night’s discussions, but by then, the candidates were all in a frenzy to get the last word in. They picked on each other’s track records, threw out soundbites, and Newt challenged Obama to 7 three-hour debates, a la Lincoln-Douglas, to which Cooper said, “CNN would like to cover those.”
The debate ended, the audience rose to leave, rubbing their hands together to get warm again. While heading down the stairs to the exits, I realized that much of what we heard was a rehash of previous debates. It’s exciting to be a part of the audience, but just as frustrating as watching at home as your favorite candidate misses an opportunity to move in for the kill.
These debates are fixed. Not by the sponsor or the moderator, but by the candidates themselves. They are the one who choose who they will elicit responses from and who they will debate. The timing system doesn’t allow for in-depth responses, and when they continually speak over one another to use up the other’s time, voters are left still not knowing much about those on stage.