What the Republicans Missed at the First Presidential Debate

Senator Jim DeMint had it exactly right-- the Republican candidates for president on display Thursday night in Greenville, South Carolina offered no compelling alternative narrative or argument in contrast with the economic policies of President Obama.

With polling I have done for Newsweek as well as the most recent Quinnipiac poll showing-- despite the enormous success and recognition the president has been accorded for the successful raid which led to the killing of Usama Bin Laden-- his economic policies are drawing increasingly negative ratings. Yet, the Republican candidates were unable last night to offer a compelling or coherent narrative of what should be done differently, and with the issue of the Ryan plan and his suggestion that Medicare be eliminated in favor of a block grant becoming increasingly controversial, the Republican position on economic issues appears to be weakening by the day.

In focus groups conducted after the debate by Fox News's Frank Luntz that showed Herman Cain won, it's pretty clear that this means that the field of serious and near serious contenders were unable to lay a glove on President Obama. And on a day when the president quite rightly went to Ground Zero and to a firehouse in midtown Manhattan to privately commemorate the losses suffered and to share memories with families of 9/11 survivors and firemen who lost fifteen or more colleagues on 9/11, the Republican narrative, at the very least, looked hollow.

Indeed, Politico reported this morning that the Republican candidates were far outshined by the Fox News interlocutors-- Shannon Bream, Juan Williams, Chris Wallace and Bret Baier-- a judgment I share.

Put simply, not much was really accomplished for the Republicans last night, and in the context of what happened on Sunday night, that is not really a big surprise, especially given the absence of the first tier of candidates like Mitt Romney, Newt Gingrich, Mike Huckabee, Donald Trump, Michele Bachmann and Sarah Palin.

But more generally, Jim DeMint's point needs to be a point of departure for the Republicans. With unemployment creeping up this morning to 9% and with people paying higher prices for both food and at the gas pump, the administration is vulnerable principally for its economic policy, something the Republicans need to focus on with greater specificity as the campaign goes forward.

Douglas E. Schoen is a political strategist and Fox News contributor. His most recent book is "Mad as Hell: How the Tea Party Movement is Fundamentally Remaking Our Two-Party System" published by Harper, an imprint of HarperCollins. Arielle Alter Confino contributed to this piece.