Thursday, November 29, 2007

Winners: McCain, Huck; Losers: Giuliani, Paul, Romney

A few thoughts on tonight's debate:

McCain- While his non-answer answer on "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" was severely disappointing in my mind, and I hated his pussyfooting on the VP office powers, on the whole he reminded us tonight that he's John McCain, not some George Bush wannabe. His confrontation with Romney on waterboarding should have left Romney embarrassed to call himself a human being. Another highlights for McCain included his passionate stand on the immigration question (which stood in stark contrast to the Romney-Giuliani catfight). The confrontation between him and Paul on Iraq served as a stark reminder that there are two honest positions to take on Iraq. While I still tend to agree somewhat with Paul on withdrawal, the fact is that Iraq would not have been as much of a mess if McCain had been President these last 8 years (I might also point out that I doubt McCain would have pushed us into war with Iraq so quickly in the first place). I think he mostly understands (along with Gen. Petraeus, I might add) that if Iraq will be re-built at all, it must be from the ground up, not the top down. Certainly he understood very early on that the war was not going to be a cakewalk and that the Bushies weren't taking the war seriously enough from day one. Anyhow, I think McCain won big tonight, taking advantage of the Romney-Giuliani mutual destruction to remind us that, agree with him or not, he actually believes (most of) what he says.

Huckabee- As many others have pointed out, if I was a part of the Religious Right, I couldn't think of a better candidate. If it weren't for the fact that I disagree with 90% of what he would do as President, I'd even consider voting for him. His confrontation with Romney over the scholarship for children of immigrants was in my mind true Christian conservativism at its finest. As was the case with the McCain-Romney waterboarding stand-off, Romney came away looking mean and insincere, while Huckabee came away with his integrity intact. I also want to say this for the Huckster (who had Chuck Norris in attendance in case Romney tried some Battlefield Earth Scientology voodoo): his response to the question about the literal meaning of the Bible was the type of response I've been waiting to hear from an evangelical for years, an earnest and sincere acknowledgement that there is room for doubt on the Bible, and that anyone who tells you they fully understand every word in the Bible has a very small view of God. This willingness to be wrong, to have doubt is something that has been sorely lacking at 1600 Pennsylvania Ave. for at least the last 7 years. The thing that bugs me about Huckabee is that I can't help thinking that he's Jimmy Carter with an (R) next to his name.

The Ones Who Neither Helped Nor Hurt Themselves:
Tancredo: Dude's a broken record. To an extent I admire his commitment to principle. Unfortunately, that principle is anger and hatred. He tried to get his name in the papers with an attack on Paul over Iraq policy, like Huck and Giuliani before him, but he has one problem: he actually likes Ron Paul personally (they are, from my understanding, friends). So his attack wasn't particularly fiery, and certainly not by Tancredo 2-Minute Hate standards. I'll give him this, though- his response on the bizarre Mars/NASA question hit all the right notes.

Hunter: Is there any doubt that this guy wants to be the US/Christian equivalent of Mussolini? Fortunately, most Republicans even seem to find him a bit scary.

Thompson: I was tempted to put him in the Winners' column, just on the grounds of "If you set the standards low enough, you'll always meet them." Early on, I actually thought I saw him have a pulse, and thought he was going to turn his flagging campaign around. But then it got past his bedtime. In all seriousness, policy-wise, he is I think better than most, and if I could get some statistical support for my "lazy man" theory, I'd probably be willing to back him. (For those who don't know, the "lazy man" theory is the idea that a lazy President is the best thing for a libertarian short of an actual libertarian President, the idea being that a lazy President won't want to interfere too much- that would mean he'd have to work, after all.) Of course at this point, Ron Paul has a better shot at the nomination.


Giuliani: He came across as completely mean-spirited, and possibly unstable, with his "sanctuary mansion" exchange with Romney. He continues to sound like a broken record about his time in NYC, just repeating the same five or six lines whenever someone puts him in a spot about his history as being somewhat of a social liberal. Not only did he manage to get booed just for using the words "reasonable regulation" when it comes to gun rights, he also managed to sound like a first year law student getting grilled by a professor while trying to explain the Second Amendment. When he was discussing the Parker case, I seriously thought Anderson Cooper was going to cut him off and ask, "But Mr. Giuliani, are you describing the holding of the case or mere dicta"?

Add to that the revelations that broke just before the debate about some rather questionable expenses from Giuliani's time as mayor. Between Bernard Kerik, his other now-legendary crony scandal involving a child-molesting priest, and this report, Giuliani must be losing his luster fast with the conservative base. Add to that his performance tonight, and suddenly Giuliani looks very, very vulnerable.

If the whole Presidency thing doesn't work out for him, at least Giuliani knows he has a job waiting for him at Dewey, Cheatem, and Howe (think about it now? Ok, time to move on).

Paul: This should have been his opportunity to break into the mainstream if he was ever going to do it. He got a respectable amount of cameratime in comparison to the other candidates, and the Youtube format should have been tailor-made for him; plus, he had a bunch of momentum from his fundraising and all the media coverage on the rise of libertarianism. There were indeed times during the debate when he got going and had some real "rally the troops" lines that even had some appeal to mainstream Republicans. Unfortunately, that was overshadowed by a couple of things. Most obviously was his response to the question about conspiracy theory fanatics in his base; this was his chance for a Sister Souljah moment, given to him on a silver platter before a national audience of mainstream voters, many of whom were perhaps giving Paul a chance for the first time. His response? In essence, "I'm with them, just not as concerned." While his honesty on this point (I assume he meant it) is certainly commendable, his position didn't exactly enhance his credibility. Indeed, the now-public acknowledgement of his position on conspiracies now destroys any claims that the conspiracy theorists are just "fellow travellers."

Politically, it may be that he would be a good President for libertarians; but you can rest assured that this answer destroyed any minute chance he had of getting the nomination. My concern is thus now about the extent to which "libertarian" and "conspiracy theorist" are going to become synonyms.

Another thing that overshadowed his good moments in the debate was his poor command of the Iraq issue during the McCain confrontation; this may have just been nerves and adrenaline, but his inability to remember that the Kurds live in Northern Iraq likely damaged some of the credibility he had on the anti-war issue, at least with mainstream and undecided voters.

**UPDATE** is not surprisingly claiming that Paul got the shaft in terms of airtime again. From the final speaking times, they seem to be correct. But the numbers seem a bit more balanced than they've been in the past, which was the point I was making above.

Finally, the biggest loser of all:

Romney: Like Giuliani, Romney came across as simply cruel at times, particularly in the confrontations with McCain and Huckabee. Sadly for him, those two confrontations were the least robotic he's sounded in all the debates so far. When he wasn't pretending not to know whether waterboarding is torture, he just seemed to ramble incoherently. His response on "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" was, as Sully points out, "contemptible." His response amounted to admitting that he would be ok with gays in the military- just not now, and only if the generals convinced him the time was right. This, of course, managed to piss off everyone- religious fundies, libertarians, and even neo-cons. Add to that his blatant pandering on agriculture subsidies, which managed to be illogical and insincere at the same time. All in all, I don't see how anyone watching this debate could have come away still thinking that Romney would make a good President. Of course, I could be wrong about this: Michelle Malkin thinks he won, as does Powerline. If they represent the Republican base, then we really are watching the death of Lincoln's Party. Or maybe there's something about Mitt that I just don't get.