Unlike the Republican debate a few weeks ago, which was a complete waste of time, tonight’s debate was interesting and informative. The candidates were asked substantive questions and were given enough time to properly respond. Brit Hume effectively facilitated the event and the questions from Chris Wallace and Wendell Goler were direct and tough but also fair and balanced.
So, who won?
I agree with the Chairman of GOPAC Michael Steele who said that this debate established Governor Mike Huckabee as a first tier candidate. In my opinion Huckabee was the only candidate in both debates to answer every question exactly as they should have been answered. In addition to giving perfect answers, he was funny, he was personal, and he was bold when appropriate.
Huckabee had the funniest line of the night when he accused Congress of spending money “like John Edwards at a beauty shop.” And, he didn’t back down at all from his previous comments regarding Giuliani’s inconsistency on the abortion debate. Instead, Huckabee effectively demonstrated that Giuliani is either a poor critical thinker or a liar. And, he stripped Giuliani’s position of any credibility while at the same time showing respect for the man. Huckabee is a statesman, — something we don’t have too many of in the U.S.A.
“Can anything good come out of Arkansas?” (John 1:46), the apparent answer is “Yes, Mike Huckabee.”
Despite the undressing Giuliani received from Huckabee, Rudy was probably the person who most benefited from the debate. When Ron Paul suggested that U.S. bombing of Iraq was responsible for the events of 9/11 Giuliani squashed him like a bug. Ron Paul was already the candidate least likely to succeed so the benefit did not come from his demise. The real benefit of the exchange was that it showed RG as being the kind of person who could stand toe-to-toe with the Democratic candidate and slug it out. Given that most politicians are girly-men, Republicans wouldn’t mind having a slugger in the ring.
However, I went back and watched the debate a second time. (Yes, I am a glutton for punishment.) With the exception of the Rudy Giuliani-Ron Paul exchange and his projection of strength in the area of national security, Giuliani’s performance was not really very convincing. Not only did Huckabee tag him on the chin pretty good, so did Gilmore on abortion and Tancredo on immigration. Further, Chris Wallace had to ask Giuliani a second time to answer this question,
“You’re pro-choice, you’re pro-gay rights, you’re pro-gun control. You supported Mario Cuomo for governor over a Republican. Are those the stands of a conservative?”
Even after Wallace asked him a second time to answer the question, Giuliani avoided the question and instead talked about Hillary Clinton. That was probably smart on his part because the fact of the matter is that Giuliani is not conservative and the only time he looks like he is a good candidate is when he is standing next to Hillary.
What about the other candidates?
Here is my ordering of how I think they performed:
- Mike Huckabee
- Rudy Giuliani
- John McCain
- Jim Gilmore
- Mitt Romney
- Duncan Hunter
- Tommy Thompson
- Sam Brownback
- Tom Tancredo
- Ron Paul
John McCain presented himself much better in this debate than in the first one. His answers were excellent, he showed strength, projected integrity and character, and came off as someone you could trust with the responsibility. He distinguished himself from the other candidates as a military man who did not believe in torture. When it was implied his relationships with Democrats was evidence of his lack of commitment to conservative values, he gave a very good answer claiming that his bipartisanship was not an indication of liberalism but of leadership.
On the negative side, McCain was blinky and his undying commitment to the war is a bit scary at times. He was also hurt a bit when Tancredo tied him to the “soft on illegal immigration” group.
Along the way, McCain did some damage to several of the other candidates. When Romney took a shot at McCain on the issue of campaign finance McCain answered, “I have not changed my position on even-numbered years or changed because of the different offices that I may be running for.” There was some uncomfortable laughter because everyone knew he was talking of Romney who has flip-flopped more than the U.S. Gymnastics team. In fact, Chris Wallace asked Romney about his nick-name Flip-Flop Mitt, to which Romney gave a very lame answer about an epiphany and being governor of a very tough Blue-State.
Romney was also hurt when Gilmore pointed out that Romney’s national health care plan is another big government mandated program. Gilmore didn’t come right out and say it, but the implication was that Romney is the Republican version of Hillary. Hillary and Romney seem to both move to the right or left depending on how politically expedient it is.
While Romney did not turn in the worst performance of the group, there can be no doubt that he was the candidate who suffered most from it. The more exposure Americans get to the man the more they come to believe that the biggest difference between him and a used car salesman is that Romney wears a more expensive suit and tie.
Jim Gilmore had the courage to say out loud what several of the others should have been saying. That is, that some of the other candidates are NOT conservatives. He did a poor job of pointing the finger, but his premise was correct.
Gilmore turned in a pretty solid performance at times. However, if he had any chance at all of receiving the Republican nomination (which he didn’t), he blew it big time when he lumped Social Security in with “entitlement programs” that are out of control. No one over the age of sixty will every vote for Gilmore again.
Tommy Thompson had a very good record as the governor of Wisconsin, but he really seems AWOC (Absent While On Camera) at these debates. He avoided the question of how he would require certain actions from the Iraqi government, floundered when asked what cuts he would make to government spending, and on one question he spent more time quoting Colin Powell and Ronald Reagan than sharing his own ideas. I’m guessing he needs a good night’s sleep and a double expresso (make that to go).
Duncan Hunter was okay tonight. But, just okay. He tried to be “the buck stops here” candidate, but instead came off as being a bit full of himself. Someone should check how many times he uses the word “I” compared with the other candidates.
And, while you are counting, check out how many times Sam Brownback used “pull us together” That seemed to be his only position. How will you stop terrorism? “Pull us together.” How will you handle the war in Iraq? “Pull us together.” Oh, there was that other wise answer regarding how to reduce gasoline prices; we will buy alternative energy from those states that have early primaries. Wink, wink.
Tancredo was much better than in the first debate, but still towards the bottom in terms of performance. He tried to exert himself and show how passionate he is, but ended up sounding shrill, the word “absolutely” should be surgically removed from his vocabulary, and he needs someone to explain to him the premise behind global warming. However, he has established himself as the candidate with a tough position on illegal immigration and he got in a pretty good quip about how the other candidates are moving in his direction saying that there were more conversions than at a Baptist tent revival. “I trust those conversions when they happen on the road to Damascus and not on the road to Des Moines.” His reference to pop culture icon Jack Bauer was also an effective way to make his point that terrorism must be aggressively countered.
And, finally, Ron Paul. When asked if he was out of step with the Party, he countered that it was the Party which had lost the way.” I suggest that it is a matter of both/and, not either/or. As I said previously, he never stood a chance, but tonight when he suggested that American invited the events of 9/11 he distanced himself from everyone. He suggests isolationist policies, and now he has isolated himself. Hmmmmm. Ordinarily, I might say that he probably needs a hug, but he spent most of the night hugging himself as if he was very cold.
Well, those are my thoughts on the debate. I would be interested in how your perspective differs from mine.