Escape from the media-dictated sound bite gotcha format is possible! The "Lincoln-Douglas" style debate between Newt Gingrich and Herman Cain Saturday night was congeni8al, collaborative, informative, and completely devoid of any gotchas. Susan Saulny of the New York Times writes:
The rancor that defined much of the last week on the Republican presidential campaign trail subsided a bit here on Saturday night, as Newt Gingrich and Herman Cain basked in each other's company and the warm embrace of the Texas Tea Party for what was styled as an old-fashioned issues-focused debate. (snip)
The event, formally titled the Cain-Gingrich Debate 2011, was actually a fund-raiser held in a cavernous hotel ballroom north of Houston that was packed with 1,000 people. It felt more like a conservative love-in, with each candidate going out of his way to compliment the other and shower praise on the audience.
After Mr. Gingrich took a few minutes to answer a question on Medicare, saying that there was need for radical change, Mr. Cain was to offer a rebuttal.
"I'm supposed to have a minute to disagree with something that he said, but I don't," Mr. Cain said to some chuckles and applause. "I believe, as Speaker Gingrich believes, that we can't reshuffle Medicaid, Medicare or Social Security; we must restructure."
When one opportunity for a clash did emerge, it was quickly set aside. "I'm going to sidestep the temptation to talk about '9-9-9,' " Mr. Gingrich said after Mr. Cain brought up his signature economic plan
I predicted precisely this outcome, though some others did not. On November 1st I wrote:
It would not surprise me if the two men engaged in more of a collaborative than a confrontational mode. Newt has all the experience and policy depth that Cain lacks. Cain has the likability and the commitment to principle that the conservative base craves. I earlier offered a thought experiment on a running mate able to backstop Cain's profile as a new entrant to politics. Newt brings many of the same compensating virtues that Romney would, minus the fundraising potential.
At one point in last night's debate, Herman Cain asked Newt what his first act as vice president will be.
The debate aired during the much-hyped (legitimately so) LSU-Alabama football battle between the number one and number two teams. It was a riveting game that went into overtime. But fortunately, C-SPAN maintains a video archive, and you can watch at your leisure (here), or listen while you multitask on the computer.