The 10 Most Jaw-Dropping Media Interview Answers

Written by Brad Phillips @MrMediaTraining on September 26, 2013 – 6:02 am

Since beginning this blog in August 2010, I’ve written about hundreds of media disasters.

Today, I decided to go back and look at the most outrageous things people have said over the past three years and compile the most jaw-dropping sound bites I could find.

My list is subjective. If your personal favorite isn’t on this list, please leave it in the comments section below, preferably with a link to the video or news story.

Without further ado, here are 10 of the most jaw-dropping media interview answers from the past three years!

If you’re watching this at work, please note that a few slides contain bad language.  

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The 10 Worst Media Gaffes Of Election 2012

Written by Brad Phillips @MrMediaTraining on October 28, 2012 – 12:10 am

Next Tuesday, millions of Americans will head to their local polling places to select the next President of the United States.

It’s about time. We’ve been subjected to a two-year campaign in which the candidates have been on our television screens for hundreds of hours. Most of those hours have been unremarkable—but a few memorable moments turned into PR disasters for the campaigns.

This post will highlight the ten worst media disasters of the 2012 presidential campaign.

You will notice that there are more Republicans than Democrats on my list. That’s not due to political bias, but simple math: There were eight Republicans competing for their party’s nomination, while President Obama ran unopposed. Republicans debated one another during the primaries almost two dozen times; President Obama debated no one on the Democratic side.

Therefore, Republicans were much more visible during much of the campaign, occupied a lot of the media airtime and headlines, and had more opportunities to make mistakes. For that reason only, you’ll see more of them on this list.


10. Newt Gingrich: I’m Going To Be The Nominee

Last December, former House Speaker Newt Gingrich made a confident declaration:

“I’m going to be the nominee. It’s very hard not to look at the recent polls and think that the odds are very high I’m going to be the nominee.”


Mr. Gingrich’s time at the top of the polls quickly ended after he declared his intent to build a moon colony by 2020. He ended up carrying only one state outside his native Georgia.


9. Michele Bachmann’s Dubious “Mental Retardation” Claim

Michele Bachmann opposes a mandated HPV vaccine, which helps protects young women from cervical cancer. But she went a step too far when she shared an anecdote about a woman on the campaign trail who said her daughter “suffers from mental retardation” as a result of getting the vaccine.

Rep. Bachmann later defended herself by claiming she was just passing along a story without judging it as true. But her dubious medical claim put at risk people who decided to forgo the vaccine as a result of her misinformation.


8. President Obama: “The Private Sector is Doing Fine”

At a press conference in June, President Obama uttered a phrase he came to regret.

While speaking about the economy, he said, “The private sector is doing fine.” By some measurements, that may have been true. But by making such a declarative statement, he handed his opponents a perfect opportunity to paint him as an out-of-touch politician who was disconnected from economic reality.


7.  Herman Cain’s “Rolling Disclosures”

When faced with allegations of sexual harassment last November, Herman Cain responded in the worst possible way: with a series of “rolling disclosures.”

“Rolling disclosures” occur when a spokesperson fails to disclose everything they know from the start, opting instead to drip out information slowly. As a result, every time the spokesperson reveals a new detail—no matter how trivial—new oxygen gets pumped into the story. That approach has the net effect of extending the shelf life of the crisis while diminishing the believability of each new iteration of the story.

Herman Cain’s time at the top of the polls ended due not to the allegations—but his handling of the allegations.


6. Mitt Romney’s $10,000 Bet

When Mitt Romney turned to Republican primary opponent Rick Perry and challenged him to a “$10,000 bet,” he reinforced his image as an out-of-touch rich guy. It wasn’t just his $10,000 bet. He also told one audience that his wife drives two Cadillacs, told another that they should just borrow money from their parents if they’re short of cash, and told a radio host that although he doesn’t watch NASCAR, he’s friends with some team owners.



5. President Obama’s “You Didn’t Build That” and Mitt Romney’s “I Like Being Able to Fire People”

I’m judging both of these as equal gaffes—mostly because both lines were taken out of context by political opponents.

Opponents accused President Obama of saying that small business owners didn’t build their own businesses but that government did. (In reality, he appeared to be saying that business owners didn’t build the roads that led customers to their doors or the Internet they use to conduct business.)

Opponents accused Governor Romney of saying that he liked to fire people. (In reality, he appeared to be saying that he liked being able to cancel policies from bad health insurance companies.)

Regardless, both lines were damaging to both candidates. And it proves that in this media age, you can’t afford to commit the deadly seven-second stray.


4. Herman Cain Draws a Blank on Libya

We’ve all had that terrible moment when we’ve gone completely blank. Unfortunately for Herman Cain, his moment was caught on video. When he was asked why he opposed President Obama’s policy in Libya, let’s just say he struggled to come up with an answer.


3. Mitt Romney’s Secret “47 Percent” Video

At a May fundraiser, Mitt Romney shared his views of President Obama’s voters in a secretly filmed video that was later leaked to the liberal Mother Jones Magazine. In the video, Mr. Romney, said:

“There are 47 percent of the people who will vote for the president no matter what. All right, there are 47 percent who are with him, who are dependent upon government, who believe that they are victims, who believe the government has a responsibility to care for them, who believe that they are entitled to health care, to food, to housing, to you-name-it….My job is not to worry about those people.”


The video was a disaster for Mr. Romney’s campaign, taking them far off their desired messages just two months before Election Day.


2. President Obama’s First Debate

In terms of sheer political impact, little comes close to President Obama’s lackluster performance in the first presidential debate. As Mitt Romney attacked his record, Mr. Obama responded without any discernible passion, instead making meandering points full of “uhhhs.”

As a result, Governor Romney delivered a humiliating thumping to the President, who sank in the polls almost immediately. If President Obama loses next Tuesday, historians will cite this debate as a major reason why. If he wins, it will be a lot closer than it otherwise could have been.

This media disaster ranks number two for only one reason: This list is intended to look at short media moments, not entire debates. But this debate was just too impactful to ignore.

The video below is an edited compilation of some of Mr. Obama’s many “uhhhs.” It’s emblematic of how hesitant and unfocused he was throughout the debate.


1. Rick Perry’s Infamous “Oops”

During a Republican primary debate in November 2011, Texas Governor Rick Perry confidently declared that he would eliminate three government agencies. Unfortunately for him, he promptly forgot what they were.

For 47 painful seconds, Mr. Perry tried to recall the third agency he would eliminate. He finally gave up, shrugged his shoulders, and lamely said, “oops.” That one moment likely sank any remaining chances Mr. Perry had of winning the nomination. In terms of an immediate and spectacular self-immolation, nothing came even close.


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The Iowa Caucus Speeches: The Winners And Losers

Written by Brad Phillips @MrMediaTraining on January 4, 2012 – 1:10 am

As of this writing, at 1:10 a.m., just 18 votes separate Sen. Rick Santorum and Gov. Mitt Romney with 99 percent of precincts reporting. It’s been quite a night.

Although we don’t know the final verdict yet, all six candidates have given their speeches.

Here are my reviews of the candidates’ speeches, what they mean, and what’s next for the candidates:

Rick Santorum hugs his wife after Iowa caucus night

RICK SANTORUM (1st or 2nd Place):  Sen. Santorum gave a terrific (if long) speech that came across as sincere, humble, and grateful. The sour persona that undermined his performances during the debates was largely gone, replaced with a fierce determination and the words “game on.” He appeared less strident and more human than he has in other appearances.

Mr. Santorum did a nice job of laying out a competing vision with the President’s, using his grandfather’s story as an effective speechmaking device. He also, curiously, ran away from the reflexive Republican mantra of “cut taxes,” saying that tax cuts should be a part of the solution, not the sole solution. His focus on the working class was an astute attempt to reach moderates in New Hampshire, which votes next Tuesday.

In short, he gave the best speech of the night.

MITT ROMNEY (1st or 2nd Place): Gov. Romney appeared completely nonplussed by his neck and neck finish with Rick Santorum. In fact, both he and his wife praised Mr. Santorum’s impressive finish. He looked looser than he has in recent months, as two of his toughest competitors – Rick Perry and Newt Gingrich – were likely vanquished tonight.

Mr. Romney came across tonight as confident that he’s going to be the nominee. And he did look presidential, having an American flag framed behind him that made his speech look like a State of the Union address. But his stump speech seemed a little canned, and he risks looking more slick than sincere.

RON PAUL (3rd Place): Rep. Paul finished in third place tonight. Although he enthusiastically pledged to plow ahead with his campaign, he curiously didn’t say much about winning the election, focusing instead on the growth of his movement. His speech appeared to make clear that his campaign is more about disseminating his message than electoral success, and he clearly reveled in the appreciation of his young supporters.

If there was an off-note to his speech, it belonged to his son, Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY). The younger Paul, standing behind his father during the speech, appeared downright glum. He seemed to know that even though his father wasn’t saying it, their best chance to win the nomination disappeared tonight.

Newt Gingrich couldn't hide his anger after the Iowa caucus

NEWT GINGRICH (4th Place): Just five weeks ago, Speaker Gingrich said, “I’m going to be the nominee…the odds are very high I’m going to be the nominee.” He looked like he was having a blast back then. Not anymore.

If there’s one word to describe how Speaker Gingrich came across tonight, it’s this: pissed.  He  emanated anger, directed at Mitt Romney, for the negative ads run against his campaign. He went so far as to suggest that the negative ads against him were not worthy of the sacrifices of American men and women in combat. He then proceeded to unequivocally slam Mitt Romney’s leadership as the governor of Massachusetts. 

Americans do not elect angry candidates. Just ask Pat Buchanan or Howard Dean. If Gingrich can’t get a grip on his temper and radiate some optimism again, he’s going to implode before he ever makes it to South Carolina.

RICK PERRY (5th Place): Rick Perry cried when reading a note that called him a “great man.” No wonder. Three minutes later, he said he was going back to Texas to reassess his campaign (code for “I’m dropping out.”)

I’ve never seen a candidate give his pre-dropping out speech by struggling to read a handwritten note out loud. He stumbled over the words like a barely literate man who had to focus intently on the phonetics (I’m guessing the letter had sloppy handwriting, but Gov. Perry can’t afford reinforcing the narrative of his “limited” intellect). It served as a perfect closing metaphor for his inept campaign.

MICHELE BACHMANN (6th Place): Rep. Bachmann read a prepared statement, barely making eye contact with the crowd and sans the spirit she radiated in her earlier speeches. She claimed she was going to stay in the race, but she looked completely deflated – not surprising, considering her rejection came from her native Iowa. Her defeated tone sounded valedictory, not like a candidate who intends to move forward. 

Her opening line, “We’ll have a party afterwards, so stick around,” bordered on painful: I’ve made Shiva calls that were likely more fun. 

Jon Huntsman (7th Place): Gov. Huntsman did not compete in Iowa and received less than one percent of the vote.

Note: The order above indicates where each candidate finished in the Iowa caucus, not my rankings of their performance.

UPDATE: January 4, 2012, 2:36 a.m.: Iowa’s Republican State Chairman just made it official: It’s Romney over Santorum by eight votes. Eight. What a night. I’m going to sleep. Thanks for reading.

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Scorecard: December 15, 2011 Republican Debate

Written by Brad Phillips @MrMediaTraining on December 15, 2011 – 11:42 pm

Just two months ago, a Newt Gingrich comeback seemed as unlikely as a comeback for other 1990s superstars, such as Color Me Badd, flannel shirts, and that Susan Powter “Stop The Insanity!” lady.

But in tonight’s debate, the former House Speaker entered as the clear favorite in national polling. Did anything happen tonight to threaten his lead?

Here are tonight’s grades, in order of best to worst:


MITT ROMNEY (1st Place, Grade: A-)

Mitt Romney was on his game tonight.

His game plan was clear: He’d be the rational, level-headed one, serving as a nice contrast with Newt Gingrich, who Romney’s campaign accuses of being “zany” and irresponsible. He succeeded.

Gov. Romney  focused his attacks on President Obama – not his opponents – which is good, since he looks unappealing and peevish when he attacks on the debate stage. He looked less defensive in his responses to Chris Wallace’s tough questions than Gingrich did when facing similar aggressive questioning.

Mr. Romney had a terrific line regarding the downed drone in Iran. Reacting to President Obama requesting that Iran return the drone, Gov. Romney caustically said that the President’s response amounting to having a foreign policy of “pretty please?”

Iowa is very much up in the air, but Mr. Romney did a lot to help his chances tonight.

RICK SANTORUM (2nd Place, tied, Grade: B+)

Sen. Santorum had a good night, successfully conveying a single message: Been there, done that.

By using that response, Mr. Santorum successfully whacked all of his opponents. He was able to use that refrain to whack those competitors who have changed their positions over time, and to whack those who he accused of not being sufficiently conservative.

If any of the candidates in the bottom tier move up over the next three weeks, I’m guessing it’ll be Santorum.

RON PAUL (2nd Place, tied, Grade: B+)

Rep. Paul also had a good night tonight. He was more animated than he has been in past debates, even displaying a little humor over his favorite Supreme Court justice (“All of them are good and all of them are bad,” he said.) He made Rep. Bachman look like a naif after a particularly heated exchange over Iran, angrily wagging his pen as he pressed his case.

It’s easy to see why so many Americans have been attracted to his campaign; no candidate on either side of the aisle has been as ideologically consistent.

Still, it’s important to point out that Americans always elect the more optimistic candidate (they’ve done so since the beginning of the 24/7 media age in 1980), and Dr. Paul conveys little optimism. He’d do himself a favor by wrapping his principled arguments in a “can do” spirit that offers fewer strident lectures along the way.


MICHELE BACHMANN (4th Place, Grade: C+)

Rep. Bachmann launched a successful attack against Speaker Gingrich on Freddie Mac tonight, but was less successful when going after Ron Paul on Iraq. The bigger problem for her is that she did nothing to change the dynamic of her campaign. After tonight, it’s tough to see how she finishes in the top three in Iowa, which would effectively end her campaign.

NEWT GINGRICH (5th Place, Grade: C)

Speaker Gingrich had a lousy first half tonight, which may hurt his already slipping poll numbers in Iowa.

When his opponents predictably attacked him, he looked defensive and his face tightened. Given that he knew the attacks were coming, I was surprised he didn’t have a witty rejoinder at the ready – where was the debate wit that launched him into the top tier in the first place?

He used the language of denial – a political “no-no” – by saying, “I have never once changed my positions due to any type of payment.” Count on that sound bite being played repeatedly on tomorrow’s cable news programs. He also allowed himself to be thrust into the role of being a defender of big government. Plus, did we really need a history lesson dating back to 1802?

Mr. Gingrich had his moments, such as when he said, “I get accused of using language that’s too strong, so I’ve been up here editing. I don’t want to be accused of being ‘zany.’” That ‘zany’ line was a sly allusion to an ad being run against him by the Romney campaign.


RICK PERRY (6th Place, Grade: C-)

Listening to Rick Perry speak is kind of like looking at a randomly assorted collection of refrigerator word magnets. His awkward cadence, bordering on manic at times, is like a high-wire act – you know he could slip at any moment (and he often does).

His attempt to relate himself to NFL quarterback Tim Tebow, a darling of conservatives, was a good idea on paper. But in real-life, it’s a talking point that has a high degree of difficulty, and Gov. Perry looked foolish trying to pull it off.

It wasn’t all bad for Perry. His pitch for a “part-time Congress” is the most likely idea to stick since “9-9-9,” and he delivered a strong answer on immigration. All in all, though, not enough to significantly alter his electoral odds. 

JON HUNTSMAN (7th Place, Grade: D+)

We learned something new in this debate: Jon Huntsman’s favorite curse word is “screwed.”

He used the word no fewer than three times: “We are getting screwed as Americans;” “President Obama “screwed up” the economy;” and our “visa system is so screwed up in this nation.” 

For good measure, he threw in a rhetorical question that asked “how stupid are we,” referenced Donald Trump, and alluded to George Kennan, the barely remembered diplomat best remembered as the “father of containment.”

Gov. Huntsman is screwed. His effort to use stronger language that will resonate deeply with the American people isn’t natural for him, making him look desperate. And what was with him looking at his notes as he was speaking throughout the debate? If you can’t deliver an answer without a crutch at this point, you’re, well, screwed.

COMMENTS? Do you agree or disagree with my analysis? Please leave your opinion in the comment section below, but remember the blog’s comment policy – no ad hominem attacks or pejorative name-calling will be posted.

Did you miss the 10 worst media disasters of 2011? Click here to catch up!

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Who Is The Best (And Worst) Debater In Republican Field?

Written by Brad Phillips @MrMediaTraining on November 29, 2011 – 6:23 am

Republican Debate Scorecard: Who Gets The Highest (and Lowest) Grades For Debating Skills So Far?

World’s Most Visited Media Training Website Ranks Candidates’ Debate Performance In First Ten Debates

November 29, 2011 (Washington, DC) – Mitt Romney and Newt Gingrich are the best debaters in the Republican field, while Jon Huntsman and Rick Perry rank among the worst, according to a detailed analysis of ten Republican debates held between May and November 2011.

To help determine the winners and losers, the candidates were ranked using seven specific communications criteria – including clarity of message, optimism of message, and charisma – that have accurately predicted the winners of every general election since the beginning of the 24/7 media age in 1980.

The 10,000-word series appears on the Mr. Media Training Blog (, the world’s most visited media training website. The blog’s author, Brad Phillips, was formerly a journalist with ABC News and CNN. Here are the rankings:

First Place: Mitt Romney (B+) Gov. Romney has been the most consistent debater thus far. He has easily deflected his opponents’ attacks, proving himself to be a “Teflon” candidate to whom nothing sticks. He has demonstrated a mastery of public policy and shown toughness as a debater. The Republican base may not love him, but they have to concede he would fare well in next fall’s debates against President Obama.

Second Place: Newt Gingrich (B) Speaker Gingrich propelled himself to the top of the Republican pack primarily through his strong debate performances, during which he often castigated the mainstream media. Like Romney, he has demonstrated his policy mastery. Unlike Romney, his propensity to go off-script leaves open the question of whether he’s a more disciplined politician than he was in the 1990s.

Third Place: Michele Bachmann (B-) Rep. Bachmann, who briefly flirted with the lead, has shown an impressive ability to articulate an unambiguous message throughout the debates (ObamaCare bad, repeal good). She has also demonstrated a skillful ability to attack her opponents directly without ever appearing nasty. Still, she falls off-script too often, such as when she said after one debate that the HPV vaccine caused “mental retardation.”

Fourth Place: Herman Cain (C+) Mr. Cain dominated the storyline in several early debates with his “9-9-9” plan; no other candidate offered such a memorable proposal. Mr. Cain’s ability to offer a well-timed one-liner helped make him a crowd favorite. But recent debates about foreign policy have revealed his superficial knowledge of international affairs and will likely hasten his decline in the polls.

Fifth Place, Tied: Ron Paul (C) Rep. Paul is the most ideologically consistent of anyone in the field, and is unafraid to defend his views – many of which are unpopular with the GOP base. Still, he too often comes across as lecturing and strident, and hasn’t made the personal connection that will help him expand his reach beyond his relatively small but deeply loyal base.

Fifth Place, Tied: Rick Santorum (C) Sen. Santorum is passionate, but conveys that passion with an ever-present sour expression. Mr. Santorum has launched a few effective attacks on his opponents. But whereas Ronald Reagan used to eviscerate his opponents with a warm smile, Mr. Santorum looks thoroughly disgusted with his opponents. There’s a reason Mr. Santorum hasn’t moved in the polls, and it’s that Americans express a clear preference for sunnier candidates.

Fifth Place, Tied: Rick Perry (C) During the debate held on November 9, Gov. Perry committed one of the worst debate gaffes in memory when he struggled for 43 seconds to identify the third of three government agencies he pledged to eliminate. He never remembered it, ending his answer with a lame, “Oops.” Mr. Perry has careened between too hot and too cold, unable to settle on the right tone. His halting speaking style, filled with long pauses during which he struggles to find the next phrase, makes him hard to watch. But for a strong first debate, Perry would have ranked lower.

Eighth Place, Jon Huntsman (C-) Gov. Huntsman’s debate performances were mostly memorable for his frequent (and failed) attempts at humor. Whether making a joke invoking Kurt Cobain or the “gas” coming from Washington, Mr. Huntsman too often resembled the awkward uncle who elicits sympathy laughs at family events. Still, Mr. Huntsman may be someone to look out for. His last debate performance was by far his strongest, and that makes him the most improved debater in the field.

“This season’s many debates have given Republican voters a clear sense of which candidates would square off most effectively against President Obama,” said Brad Phillips, author of the Mr. Media Training Blog. “That matters, as the more charismatic general election candidate with the clearer message has won the presidency in every election since the beginning of the 24/7 media age in 1980.”


Brad Phillips is the author of the Mr. Media Training Blog (, the world’s most visited media training website. He is the president of Phillips Media Relations, a media and presentation training firm with offices in NYC and Washington, DC. Mr. Phillips previously worked as a journalist with ABC’s Nightline with Ted Koppel and CNN’s Reliable Sources and The Capital Gang.


Brad Phillips,


Below, you will find links to the scorecards for each debate:

November 22, 2011

November 9, 2011

October 18, 2011

October 11, 2011

September 22, 2011

September 12, 2011

September 7, 2011 

August 11, 2011 

June 13, 2011

May 5, 2011

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Scorecard: November 22, 2011 Republican Debate

Written by Brad Phillips @MrMediaTraining on November 22, 2011 – 10:49 pm

The leader board for the Republican nomination has changed more often than Mitt Romney’s policy positions.

Over the past six months, Mitt Romney, Donald Trump, Michele Bachmann, Rick Perry, Herman Cain, and now Newt Gingrich have all led the Republican field.

But the main story tonight wasn’t Newt Gingrich’s sudden rise to the top of the polls. Rather, it was the significant amount of airtime the so-called second-tier candidates received, namely Ron Paul and Jon Huntsman. Both made the most of their chances.

Here are tonight’s grades, in order of best to worst:


JON HUNTSMAN (1st Place, Grade: A)

I never thought Gov. Huntsman would land at the top of my debate scorecard, but he had a good night.

Instead of making lame jokes in this debate (or doing anything to evoke last Saturday’s dreadful Saturday Night Live appearance), Mr. Huntsman made the most of the significant airtime he was offered in this debate.

He was more focused tonight, looking both tougher and more serious than in earlier debates. He made his most genuine connection with the live audience to date, regularly eliciting cheers and applause for his answers. He also stood up well when Mitt Romney attacked one of his points, showing more backbone in a debate than he has thus far. 

As a former diplomat, Mr. Huntsman still has a propensity to utter too many carefully calibrated words before getting to his point – but he gained strength as the debate continued, and he emerges as tonight’s winner.

RON PAUL (2nd Place, Grade: A-)

Okay, Ron Paul fans. I’ve been hard on Dr. Paul through the debate season. No one as un-telegenic has won a general election since the dawn of television, and his delivery evokes The Simpsons’  Montgomery Burns more than a serious presidential candidate.

But Rep. Paul had a terrific night, and made the most of the extra airtime he was afforded in this debate. Instead of merely appearing strident, Dr. Paul made his points with a bit of humor, bewilderment, and bemusement. He held his own in a tough exchange against Newt Gingrich, standing his ground while remaining amiable.

His comments on Israel will likely make some headlines tomorrow, as he’s the only candidate not to offer almost unequivocal military support to the critical American ally. 

MICHELE BACHMANN (3rd Place, Grade: B+)

If someone had told me I’d be ranking the candidates in this order tonight, I would have told them to turn their sheet of paper upside down. But I call ‘em like I see ‘em, and Rep. Bachmann had a good night.

Ms. Bachmann has perfected the art of taking shots at her fellow candidates with a smile. She called Rick Perry out for being “naïve” on aid to Pakistan, and directly challenged Newt Gingrich on immigration. She may not have landed a knock-out blow to either, but she reasserted herself with a demonstration of the political skills that briefly allowed her to flirt with the lead. She also demonstrated an impressive knowledge of foreign policy.

Ms. Bachmann may not gain much ground as a result of this debate, but she likely encouraged her supporters with tonight’s performance.


NEWT GINGRICH (4th Place, tie, Grade: B)

Tonight introduced the newer, gentler, frontrunner version of Newt Gingrich. The former House Speaker didn’t bring the same antagonism toward the media or his questioners as he has in virtually every other debate tonight, meaning he disappeared into the background a bit tonight.

That’s not to say he didn’t have another solid debate performance – he did. He offered a terrific answer early on regarding Timothy McVeigh, for example, eliciting cheers from the crowd.

It will be interesting to see how his answer regarding illegal immigration plays with the GOP base. He said that if a person has been in the United States for 25 years and has deep roots into their communities, they should be able to stay in the country. That may sound obvious to most Americans, but the conservative base takes a hardline on immigration and may view his answer as support for a backdoor amnesty.

MITT ROMNEY (4th Place, tie Grade: B)

Early in the debate, Gov. Romney launched an aggressive attack on fellow candidate Jon Huntsman for his answer on withdrawing troops from Afghanistan. Considering Gov. Huntsman’s low poll ratings, Mr. Romney’s condescending attack came across as an over-reaction. He later went after Ron Paul over budget cuts.

Mr. Romney’s tone has become one of almost permanent “Why am I here” annoyance, and he’s at his least appealing when he presents himself that way. It makes him appear frustrated that he hasn’t been able to break through into a clear lead.

Still, Mr. Romney knows his facts and knows how to win an argument. For example, he got the better of Ron Paul in his answer about defense cuts. 

Tonight’s performance will likely leave the needle unchanged for Romney, who has struggled to break the 25 percent mark in Republican polls.


RICK SANTORUM (6th Place, Grade: C)

There’s little new to say about Rick Santorum. He’s passionate and knowledgeable, but also sour and strident. He hasn’t grown as a candidate or a debater, and he’ll be one of only a few candidates never to have had a shot at or near the lead. Tonight once again showed why.

Many people are also commenting on Sen. Santorum’s “gaffe,” in which he called Africa a country (it’s a continent). I have little doubt Mr. Santorum knows the difference, and don’t think it’s revelatory of any deeper lack of understanding. Slips of the tongue happen, and this one is no big deal.

RICK PERRY (7th Place, Grade: C-)

I could comment here on Gov. Perry’s halting answers, distractingly sweaty upper lip, or his bizarre opening statement about his wife (it was supposed to be about foreign policy).

The truth is, none of that really matters. Mr. Perry’s tone was better-calibrated tonight, but he didn’t make a dent in this debate. He may have stopped the bleeding from his “oops” moment two weeks ago, but he flirted with utter irrelevance in tonight’s debate, which will likely do little to calm his nervous donors.

HERMAN CAIN (8th Place, Grade: D-)

Remember that Happy Days episode when Fonzie jumped the shark? This debate was that episode for Herman Cain.

Foreign policy is undoubtedly Mr. Cain’s kryptonite (well, that, plus former female employees). A candidate can hide behind empty bluster for only so long before his policy ignorance is exposed; tonight was the night it was. There are many reasons to bomb Iran (or not), for example, but Mr. Cain seemed enamored with the idea that we couldn’t bomb it primarily because it is too mountainous.

Mr. Cain couldn’t even get the moderator’s name right, referring to Wolf Blitzer as “Blitz.” This was a bad night for Mr. Cain, who will not get another shot at the top.

Do you agree or disagree with my analysis? Please leave your opinion in the comment section below, but remember the blog’s comment policy – no ad hominem attacks or pejorative name-calling will be posted.

Related: November 9, 2011 Republican Debate Scorecard

Related: October 18, 2011 Republican Debate Scorecard

Related: October 11, 2011 Republican Debate Scorecard

Related: September 22, 2011 Republican Debate Scorecard

Related: September 12, 2011 Republican Debate Scorecard

Related: September 7, 2011 Republican Debate Scorecard

Related: August 11, 2011 Republican Debate Scorecard

Related: June 13, 2011 Republican Debate Scorecard

Related: May 5, 2011 Republican Debate Scorecard

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Scorecard: November 9, 2011 Republican Debate

Written by Brad Phillips @MrMediaTraining on November 9, 2011 – 10:43 pm

Thanks to Rick Perry, no one will be talking about Herman Cain’s sexual harassment allegations tomorrow.

Gov. Perry’s humiliating, 45-second-long gaffe will surely be the main headline tomorrow (the video of his painful brain freeze appears below). But how did the other seven candidates do?

Here are tonight’s grades, in order of best to worst:


HERMAN CAIN (1st Place, Grade: A-)

With another strong performance, Mr. Cain continues to show why he has soared to the top of the pack. When asked about allegations of sexual harassment, he delivered a short, media-friendly sound bite:

“The American people deserve better than someone being in tried in the court of public opinion based on unfounded accusations.”


Mr. Cain also demonstrated why he was an effective marketer, not only continuing to brand “9-9-9,” but seemingly inventing the phrase “sneak a-taxes” – which I suspect we’ll be hearing again.

His answer regarding Italy’s debt crisis exposed gaps in his knowledge, which could hurt him as he moves closer to the nation’s first votes being cast in January.

Plus, I question his decision to label Nancy Pelosi, “Princess Nancy” during this debate, as it’s probably not the right time to give critics any ammunition to label him a misogynist. Despite the downsides, it was an overall impressive performance. 

MITT ROMNEY (2nd Place, Grade: B+)

Gov. Romney’s strategy seems to be to try to win the nomination by remaining steady while other candidates self-immolate, rather than to win by being loved by voters. That strategy may work for him.

Mr. Romney was steady again tonight, although he’s increasingly looking annoyed when answering questions. One humorous (if not telling) moment occurred when Mr. Romney tried to reverse his image as a flip-flopper:  

“I think people understand that I’m a man of steadiness and constancy. I don’t think you’re going to find someone who has more of those attributes than I do. I’ve been married to the same woman for 25 – excuse me, I’ll get in trouble – for 42 years.”


As someone on my Twitter feed recently said, Mr. Romney has a glass jaw, but his opponents have yet to find a way to break it. That must say something about his debating skills.

NEWT GINGRICH (3rd Place, tie, Grade: B)

Speaker Gingrich showed his wit time and time again tonight, most notably when moderator John Harwood tried to get him with a “gotcha” question:

John Harwood: “Your firm was paid $300,000 by Freddie Mac in 2006. What did you do for that money?”

Newt Gingrich: “I offered them advice on precisely what they didn’t do.”

Mr. Gingrich is moving up in the polls (perhaps because the other conservative choices – Michele Bachmann and Rick Perry have flamed out, while Herman Cain is busy fighting tough allegations). It’s understandable why voters are attracted to him – he’s witty, knowledgeable, and tough.

But I continue to question his lack of optimism and his discipline. Why waste several seconds fighting the moderators that he only has 30 seconds to answer a question? He agreed to the rules prior to the debate, and his reaction to the rules being enforced was a waste of valuable airtime. It’s okay to attack the media, but he should pick his moments more carefully.

Little has changed. In August 2010, I wrote on this blog:

“If Mr. Gingrich can find a way to remain stubbornly on message (and can begin to exude some optimism), he can become a viable contender. But until he demonstrates he can do so, he is not likely to win a general election, even against an unpopular president.”


MICHELE BACHMANN (3rd Place, tie, Grade: B)

Ms. Bachmann had one of her strongest performances since her first debate tonight. She began by knocking a question about tax rates out of the park, and made a compelling case that every American should pay at least something in federal taxes, even if it’s just $10.

Ms. Bachmann’s solid performance tonight will likely not prop up her flagging campaign, but it might help keep her supporters from moving to a different candidate…for now.


RON PAUL (5th Place, tied, Grade: C)

We know something about the type of person the American people elect. Since the beginning of the 24/7 media age in 1980, the more charismatic candidate has won every general election. Rep. Paul is not that candidate. 

Many of this blog’s readers are fans of Dr. Paul, and my analysis is not a referendum on Dr. Paul’s ideas. But style points matter to the electorate, and Dr. Paul too often looks more like a scolding nag than a presidential figure. He’s consistent and steady, but isn’t breaking through to a large-enough base to earn the nomination.

RICK SANTORUM (5th Place, tied, Grade: C)

You know that old saw that voters tend to vote for the candidate they’d most like to drink a beer with? It’s hard to see many people choosing Sen. Santorum as their drinking buddy.

Mr. Santorum looks sour. He spends way too much time talking about his 1990s legislative record instead of focusing like a laser on what he would do if elected. Mr. Santorum has run a campaign without any embarrassing headlines – but unfortunately for him, also one without any headlines at all. He failed to distinguish himself any further tonight, and will almost certainly remain in the “also-ran” category.

Despite that, I’m still giving him a “C” because he’s passionate and clearly believes in his positions. He deserves some credit for that authenticity.

JON HUNTSMAN (7th Place, Grade: D+)

If you ask the average American to list the people running for President, I’m betting Gov. Huntsman shows up as little more than an asterisk on the list. Despite national exposure in half a dozen debates, he’s barely made a dent.

He’s trying to run as an intellectual (tonight, he used words and phrases including, “the metastasis effect,” “yield curve,” and “efficacious.” I’m all for big words, but just ask Al Gore and John Kerry how well their intellectualism worked for them.

I’m convinced that Mr. Huntsman is no longer running for President, but rather to boost his chances of a high-profile job post-candidacy. He may be a smart and likeable fella, but it’s hard to see how he’s going to be the Republican nominee.

RICK PERRY (8th Place, Grade: F)

In politics, image is (almost) everything. When Gov. Perry said he wanted to eliminate three government agencies and tried to list them, he couldn’t come up with the third agency. Instead of gracefully moving on, he continued trying to think of the third agency – for almost 45 painful seconds.

With his bumbling answer, Mr. Perry reinforced the now almost irreversible perception that he is not ready for prime time. That indelible moment will linger, and will likely doom his campaign.

It’s too bad. Other than that answer, Mr. Perry finally got his tone right and was steadier in this debate than in any of the earlier ones. But it won’t matter. Here’s the moment everyone will be talking about tomorrow:

What should Mr. Perry have done? As any media trainer would tell you, he should have transitioned – or “bridged” – to safer ground. For example, he could have said,

“You know, I’m having a brain freeze on that third agency, but let me tell you why it’s so important that we make these types of cuts. We need to do that because…”


Instead, Mr. Perry chose to wallow in his mistake with a “deer in headlights” expression not seen in such a high-profile debate since Arizona Governor Jan Brewer committed a similar gaffe in her 2010 gubernatorial debate.

Do you agree or disagree with my analysis? Please leave your opinion in the comment section below, but remember the blog’s comment policy – no ad hominem attacks or pejorative name-calling will be posted.

Related: October 18, 2011 Republican Debate Scorecard

Related: October 11, 2011 Republican Debate Scorecard

Related: September 22, 2011 Republican Debate Scorecard

Related: September 12, 2011 Republican Debate Scorecard

Related: September 7, 2011 Republican Debate Scorecard

Related: August 11, 2011 Republican Debate Scorecard

Related: June 13, 2011 Republican Debate Scorecard

Related: May 5, 2011 Republican Debate Scorecard

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Scorecard: October 18, 2011 Republican Debate

Written by Brad Phillips @MrMediaTraining on October 18, 2011 – 10:45 pm

The Western Republican Presidential Debate found seven GOP candidates in rare form, rhetorical guns a’blazin’ as they attacked one another without mercy. 

Mitt Romney and Michele Bachmann attacked Herman Cain. Newt Gingrich and Rick Santorum attacked Mitt Romney. Mitt Romney and Rick Perry looked like they might come to blows. And as he does so well, Ron Paul attacked legislators who vote for things.

Oh, and the crowd cheered for putting an electric fence on the border with Mexico. It’s an interesting election season, folks. 

Here are tonight’s grades, in order of best to worst:

Photo Credit: Getty Images


HERMAN CAIN (1st Place, Grade: B+)

Mr. Cain’s “9-9-9” plan dominated the early portion of tonight’s debate, demonstrating that he is still having an impact on this race. Mr. Cain’s plan is vulnerable to attack, and I suspect he won’t be able to defend it successfully much longer. But he deflected his competitor’s attacks well tonight, and came away from the exchange (mostly) unscathed. On the whole, Mr. Cain continues to improve as a debater, knows how to deliver an applause line, and intuitively understands how to connect with conservative voters.

Mr. Cain had a couple of off-notes when he risked looking like an undisciplined flip flopper. He backed away from a comment he made earlier in the day about negotiating with terrorists, and again when he claimed he didn’t support TARP in 2008.

RICK SANTORUM (2nd Place, tie, Grade: B)

Sen. Santorum had a (mostly) good night, but lost a lot of points when he interrupted Mitt Romney for a solid 15 seconds, then said, “sorry, you’re out of time.” The audience booed him, and he looked like a bad sport.

That moment aside, he had one of his better performances. Mr. Santorum did a nice job of answering a question about his views on Latinos by praising their faith and commitment to family. He effectively attacked Gov. Perry regarding his previous support for TARP. He also scored some points against Mitt Romney on health care.

Since the beginning of the 24/7 media age in 1980, the more charismatic candidate has won every presidential election. Mr. Santorum conveys moral certitude, but lacks the sunny optimism that wins elections. Still, if he’s aiming directly for his narrow Evangelical base in Iowa, he had a good night.

RICK PERRY (3rd Place, Grade: B-)

Rick Perry came to play tonight. He was tough, steely, aggressive and nasty – and he demonstrated a (somewhat) better command of facts tonight.

At times, he overshot and verged on caricature – but this version of Rick Perry is much more likely to win the nomination than the one who showed up to the last three debates.

He passionately delivered an energy-centric jobs plan that would, he claimed, create 1.2 million jobs. He fought against the idea of building a fence along the entire border, instead making the case for an alternative solution.

Mr. Perry was effective when he attacked Mitt Romney for hiring an illegal immigrant – at least he was effective the first time he used the attack. When he tried to resurrect the attack minutes later, he stretched too far and earned boos from the crowd. When Mr. Romney accused Mr. Perry of attacking him because he’s had a tough few debates, Mr. Perry looked piiiiiisssed.

Still, awkward syntax and over-stretching aside, Mr. Perry asserted himself tonight as a candidate who plans to be in the race for a while. Pundits are already writing that he tried too hard and failed tonight – but his approach will likely appeal to many base voters, and I suspect his poll numbers will bounce a bit in the next few days. 


MITT ROMNEY (4th Place, tie, Grade: C+)

Mitt Romney was more aggressive tonight than he’s been thus far. The Nevada crowd seemed to love his aggressive tone, but his tone won’t play as well in people’s living rooms. The condescending tone he used against his competitors brought out some of his most unlikeable qualities.

When Gov. Perry interrupted him, for example, Gov. Romney placed his hand on Rick Perry’s shoulder during a particularly heated moment. I can’t remember a moment at a debate when two candidates looked so close to coming to blows. He later patronized Rick Perry, scolding: “You have a problem with allowing someone to finish speaking, and I suggest that if you want to become President Of The United States, you have to let both people speak.”

When Sen. Santorum interrupted him, Gov. Romney channeled Ross Perot, shouting “May I finish? May I finish?”

Although Mr. Romney was solid during the second half of the debate, his aggressive responses showed that he still views Mr. Perry as a threat – despite the Texas governor’s dramatically declining poll numbers. It’s a fine line between tough and grating, and Mr. Romney was on the wrong side of that line tonight.

RON PAUL (4th Place, tie, Grade: C+)

As happens often, Rep. Paul found himself alone a few times tonight. For example, he pointed out that President Reagan negotiated with terrorists.

He offered a solid reply regarding storing nuclear waste at Nevada’s Yucca Mountain as it related to states rights, and his opponents found rare agreement with his position.

This was generally a good debate for Dr. Paul, but his performance did little to change the dynamic of the race. He’s trailing badly in all national polls (he’s fared better in a few, mostly useless, straw polls), and tonight will not fundamentally re-set his place in the race.

MICHELE BACHMANN (4th Place, tie, Grade: C+)

Rep. Bachmann had a relatively good night – but like Dr. Paul, she did nothing to fundamentally re-set her place in this race. She had one particularly strong moment when she looked into the camera and appealed directly to women and mothers whose houses are threatened by foreclosure. She also demonstrated her knowledge of foreign affairs tonight.

None of that will matter. Her star has fallen, and she did nothing tonight to help herself earn a second act.

Update: A few readers rightly pointed out a Bachmann gaffe I missed: During one answer, she seemed to forget that Libya is in Africa.


NEWT GINGRICH (7th Place, Grade: C)

For most of tonight’s debate, Mr. Gingrich was a non-presence. He delivered a few winning applause lines, but he’s at his most effective when he shows his softer and more humorous side along with his more bellicose one. He failed to do so tonight.

As a media and presentation trainer, I appreciate strong language – so phrases such as “suicidally stupid” appeal to me. But his pedantic, finger-pointing, and angry responses won’t win him many new votes. Not one of his stronger performances.

Do you agree or disagree with my analysis? Please leave your opinion in the comment section below, but remember the blog’s comment policy – no ad hominem attacks or pejorative name-calling will be posted.

Related: October 11, 2011 Republican Debate Scorecard

Related: September 22, 2011 Republican Debate Scorecard

Related: September 12, 2011 Republican Debate Scorecard

Related: September 7, 2011 Republican Debate Scorecard

Related: August 11, 2011 Republican Debate Scorecard

Related: June 13, 2011 Republican Debate Scorecard

Related: May 5, 2011 Republican Debate Scorecard

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