Wednesday, May 16, 2007


The Giuliani-McCain Bounce Back

The GOP presidential debate overview is late, since illness and other reasons kept me from catching this live. I instead watched the midnight rebroadcast.

Winners: Rudy Giuliani and John McCain.

Both were much more on their game than at the MSNBC debate last week. McCain gave a solid defense of his Iraq position, but sounded much more avuncular and less snappish this time. His answers denouncing the use of torture on morality and efficacy grounds might not have played to the crowd, but they felt genuine He slapped Mitt Romney vert adroitly when the former Massachusetts governor went after him on McCain-Feingold: After saying that he's stayed consistent on both campaign finance and pro-life, McCain said, "I have not changed my position on even-numbered years or changed because of the different offices that I may be running for." His "drunken sailor" line in reference to congressional spending went over much better (though Huckabee's trumped him shortly afterwards) .On the other hand, McCain's claim that Republicans lost Congress not because of Iraq, but only because of overspending and corruption was a little too cute.

Giuliani got the applause of the night in responding to Ron Paul's "blowback" theory of 9/11. Paul was dumb to include U.S. patrolling of the Iraqi no-fly-zone after the first Gulf War in his claim that U.S. Middle East policy had a role in the run-up to 9/11. Hardly any If he had just stuck to bin Laden's statements about U.S. military bases in Saudi Arabia, he would have been on more solid ground.

But Rudy was smart to jump on Paul's overstatement and pulled the "I paid for this microphone , Mr. Speaker" line of the night: "That's really an extraordinary statement. That's really an extraordinary statement, as someone who lived through the attack of Sept. 11, that we invited the attack because we were attacking Iraq. I don't think I have ever heard that before and I have heard some pretty absurd explanations for Sept. 11. I would ask the congressman withdraw that comment and tell us that he didn't really mean that."

The house erupted.

(However, in the interest of precision, it should be noted that Paul's initial answer -- on general Middle East policy --actually drew light, scattered, applause. Don't take my word for it. Check the replay online.)

That aside, Rudy managed to deflect the abortion and "not conservative-enough for a conservative party" questions and played to his strengths -- security and leadership (strengths which the debate format played). He also managed to display light humor (his embracing of Gilmore's anti-"Rudy McRomney" line as a "ticket" he liked.

Mike Huckabee was also a winner because he took the role Jim Gilmore had in the MSNBC debate -- smart, balanced, knowledgeable conservative -- and added the red-meat anti-Democratic candidate line of the night, that Congress had "spent money like John Edwards at a beauty shop." That's a textbook example of how to deliver a cheap shot -- make it very funny. His defense of his tax policies -- his 94 tax cuts vs. increases for highway maintenance showed the legitimate trade-offs a chief executive has to make. At the same time, he also seemed like the guy who had a broader vision than just the "issues" under discussion that evening.

Losers: Mitt Romney -- aside from the exchange with McCain, Romney didn't have any real flubs. On the other hand, he didn't say or do anything that particularly distinguished him apart from the rest of the crowd -- in ways that McCain, Giuliani, or even Huckabee did.

Gilmore, unfortunately, didn't distinguish himself this time either. When asked to be explicit about the stands of opponents that he had criticized by name on the campaign trail, he backed away. Be direct, Jim, if you have the opportunity. Sam Brownback, Duncan Hunter and Tommy Thompson were "OK", but that's not enough in this crowded field (which may get more crowded with Fred Thompson and Newt Gingrich pondering a run).

Tom Tancredo is a one issue candidate -- immigration.

Ron Paul was neither a winner nor a loser. Obviously, he has no chance of becoming the nominee, but he came across this time as the equivalent of Mike Gravel in the Democratic contest: He had a real influence on the debate, for good or ill. He articulated the libertarian view of the role of government (and, in a post-debate sequence on Hannity and Colmes, explained how one can be libertarian and pro-life). Furthermore, his historical/ philosophical analysis of the Republican strain of non-interventionism is supported by the facts; his appropriation of Ronald Reagan's assessment of the "irrationality of Middle East politics" is, I believe, something that will be picked up, sooner or later, by another candidate. Mark my words.

Finally, Fox News Channel's presentation was a marked improvement over the MSNBC/Chris Matthews Ego Fest. I give it a solid B for its coherent format and question selection. (Fox had an interesting meta-message going too: White House correspondent Wendell Goler's presence meant Fox had a more diverse panel of interlocutors than MSNBC, a fact that Chris Wallace was able to underscore when he asked the "diversity" question: Why does the GOP field look like a country club? Wonder if the Democrats regret blowing up the FNC-Congressional Black Caucus debate?)

However, FNC loses points for its ill-advised hypothetical terror question at the end. Contrary to the "Law And Order" ripped-from-the-headlines plot motif, the question seemed like a ripped-from-the-last-two-seasons-of-'24' idea. I'm absolutely serious: The endangered shopping center premise was taken from the 2006 season; the one-successful-attack-and-more-to-come-with-the-need-to-debrief-captured-enemy-combatants-in-Guantanamo was the story arc from the first quarter of the current season. Tancredo didn't realize how correct he was saying that his response to the question's premise would be to go "looking for Jack Bauer." That's Bauer's storyline! As Paul noted, correctly, there are enough actual ways that the nation has changed because of 9/11 that putting together a hypothetical was a waste of valuable time.

Look, I like corporate synergy as much as the next guy, but this is going a bit too far.

Labels: , , ,

Bookmark and Share

<< Home

This page is powered by Blogger. Isn't yours?

Weblog Commenting and Trackback by AddThis Social Bookmark Button
Technorati search
Search Now:
Amazon Logo
  •  RSS
  • Add to My AOL
  • Powered by FeedBurner
  • Add to Google Reader or Homepage
  • Subscribe in Bloglines
  • Share on Facebook