Wednesday, January 30, 2008

A Quick Word on Tonight's Debate

I've been too ill to blog anything today about the Florida results, the Giuliani endorsement, or the Edwards news.

But the debate tonight, especially the exchange between Romney and McCain over McCain's accusation about Romney supporting timetables, struck me as noteworthy.

First, in the aforementioned exchange, McCain may have done himself some serious damage, both short and long-term. He came across as a bully who was just out for blood, trying to kick Romney when he was down. It was the first time....ever....that I've felt any sympathy for Romney. The exchange also seriously damaged McCain's claim to being the "Straight Talk" candidate.

I say this as someone who would vastly prefer McCain to Romney (which isn't to say I necessarily prefer McCain overall), but in trying to go for an unnecessary knockout blow of Romney, I think McCain might have given Romney an opening by looking like a complete douche in what may have been a critical debate. Frankly, to out-douche Romney takes a lot of work, but I think McCain managed to do that tonight.

The entire exchange struck me as similar to bickering between an older, favored son, and his younger brother unsuccessfully trying to point out that, in fact, the older brother wrecked the car.

Thankfully, Ron Paul and Mike Huckabee came in and played the parents in the exchange, with Paul taking the role of the disciplinarian father taking them both to task for being babies, and Huckabee being the soft-hearted mother just trying to cool the situation down.

On the whole, Huckabee and Paul were both ignored far too much in a debate that is now down to a manageable number of candidates. While I can understand giving McCain and Romney more facetime overall, the extent to which Huckabee and Paul got the shaft was truly excessive.

Paul, to his credit, did what he could to expand his quixotic attempt to explain the Austrian Theory of the Business Cycle. This is not an issue that works well in a debate - especially one where you're not getting much speaking time - but I give Paul credit for trying to explain what is clearly his favorite topic of discussion, and what he has apparently chosen to make the basis of his campaign now that he knows he is just a protest candidate at best. Unfortunately, explaining Austrian Theory in such short spurts is more likely to just confuse people than do any good. He would have been well-served to focus on less heady issues, though the connection he drew between Reagan and the gold standard probably helped his cause a little. Still, I was happy to see him get to play (along with Huckabee) the role of "adult" at one or two junctures.

In his short periods of camera time, though, Huckabee actually managed to sound the most like a Reagan Republican of anyone on the stage. He managed to pay more than mere lip service to traditional Republican concepts like federalism, taxes, and deficits. There were even times when he sounded almost as libertarian as Ron Paul, particularly because he spoke only fleetingly about "values" issues. This isn't to say that his overall agenda is libertarian in any way (quite the opposite of course), that I could ever support him, or that his performance tonight is remotely indicative of his overall policy preferences...but if anyone sounded like Ronald Reagan tonight, it was the Huckster.

After tonight, I suspect that Huckabee will do slightly better than expected on Tuesday, McCain noticeably worse, Paul slightly better, and Romney slightly better. This would make (gulp) Romney the effective winner of the debate since Huckabee and Paul are so clearly also-rans. However, I doubt that McCain hurt himself enough to cost him the nomination.

More debate reactions (I'm sure) at memeorandum.