Opinion: Scoring the Vegas-Style Brawl at the GOP Debate

The Venetian in Las Vegas was the perfect stage to host a heated Western Republican Presidential Debate. Counter-punching brought Perry back to life, left Romney with some bruises, and made Cain smile and counter-attack along the way.  What about the others? They each got in a few good jabs, and a few low blows. But did the brawling leave anyone standing closer to the White House?

Let’s look more closely at the four most memorable moments of the most hard-hitting debate so far:

1. Plan of Attack on Cain

9-9-9 sparked major debate. But Cain remained calm while under attack and even displayed his sense of humor during the mano-a-mano with the other candidates. “Herman, I love you brother,” said Perry, before going on to point out that the plan will force sales taxes on states that don’t have them — like New Hampshire, which just happens to hold the nation’s first primary. Cain countered with a little humor and analogies of apples and oranges that left Cain in good standing and looking poised and non-political.

2. Romney’s Credibility in Question

As with the last debate, Obamacare was a target. Ron Paul said the government needs to get out of health care. Herman Cain said he wouldn’t keep any of Obamacare, calling it “a disaster”. Rick Santorum attacked Mitt Romney over his Massachusetts health care plan, saying “you just don’t have credibility." But his thrust was quickly forgotten in the exchange that followed…

3. A Feisty Rick Perry Hits Back

Perry was more energetic, decisive and direct than ever before. Hands-down the most memorable moment of the debate was his immigration counter-attack against Romney --accusing him of lying to the public about hiring undocumented immigrants. Certainly a clip likely to get thousands of views on YouTube! In the dust-up, Romney and Perry talked over each other and made personal remarks that questioned each other's presidential appeal.

Was going on the offensive the right move to bring Perry back to the top? Or was it an unfortunate moment that made both him and Romney look less presidential than ever --the moment that political boxing turned into mud wrestling....

4. Missing the Mark with Latinos

Then the candidates were hand-gifted a chance to connect directly with Latino voters. And most of them missed badly.

At 8:54 PM, in an effort to take the Hispanic conversation out of the stereotypical immigration corner, a Hispanic man in the audience points-out that not all Hispanics are undocumented immigrants — what about the American citizens? he asks. What do the candidates have to say to U.S. Latinos?

A millisecond of hope came through from candidates like Newt Gingrich who said “Hispanics deserve the same opportunities as all Americans.” Ron Paul said “the solution to the immigration issue is a better economy”…probably one of the simplest and deepest comments on the topic.  But the best answer came from Rick Santorum’s sincere show of respect in recognizing the importance of faith and family for Latinos. This one-liner was the strongest and most genuine emotional connection shared by a Republican candidate in addressing Latinos. Santorum’s response earns him an “A” for an insight that hits home.

But in general, instead of acknowledging the need for an integrated approach to immigration, talk focused on an obsessive discussion of building fences, double-walled fences and electrified fences.  In all the talk of building walls, are Republicans ignoring the 67% of Latino voters that supported Obama? Let’s recall the numbers; swing states like Florida, New Mexico, Nevada and Colorado are all over 20% Hispanic. And a one-note approach to immigration is impacting their ability to connect at a broader level with this community.

Debates are a golden opportunity to win over Latino voters, and unfortunately this debate missed the opportunity badly.

So, who emerged victorious? Was this a make or break debate for Romney, Cain, Perry, others? Tainted by personal attacks that poorly reflect on the party as a whole-- breaking Regan’s eleventh commandment “Thou shalt not speak ill of any fellow Republican”-- has possibly left the Obama team celebrating.

And as Bachman said, what happens in Vegas, doesn’t stay in Vegas. And we Americans, Latinos and all, tuned in and took note.

Lili Gil is an award-winning business and Hispanic market expert, media/ TV contributor and host of the online show Moments2CulturRise. She is also co-founder and managing partner of XL Alliance a cross-channel marketing strategy organization dedicated to helping business executives maximize their efforts into profitable growth. Gil was recently selected by the World Economic Forum as one of only 190 Young Global Leaders identified across 65 countries for her leadership, community and business impact. You can follow Lili on twitter @liligil.

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