Thursday, May 03, 2007


The Other "G"-Man

Even though he's considered a "second-tier" candidate, former Virginia Gov. Jim Gilmore impressed me the most at the first Republican presidential debate. He came across as informed and polished, but not slick (as Mitt Romney did). His mantra that he was a "consistent conservative" might actually gain traction, if he manages to raise some money. He brought in the different parts of his resume when appropriate and didn't make it sound random. His explanation of his views on abortion -- pro-choice, but with a history of signing reasonable restrictions as governor -- was far more coherent than Rudy Giuliani's (who now says that he does support the Hyde Amendment prohibiting federal funding after saying last month that he advocated federal funding). Giuliani still can't say that Roe v. Wade was wrongly decided -- but that Justices should consider it as "precedent." This sort of reasoning would have never gotten, say, Plessy v. Ferguson overturned.

Giuliani gets credit for showing that he understood the basics of the Sunni-Shiite divide -- though it was clear that he was praying that there wasn't a follow-up! Some New Yorkers might have rolled their eyes in noting his response to the question about if he had any "regrets" with regard to his relations with blacks: He pointed in a rather halting manner to his reduction of crime and welfare. One can argue that crime and welfare culture have a proportionally greater affect on the black community. But, he seemed to shy away from saying that. The question goes directly to the perception of his creating a climate that led to police shootings of unarmed black men. It's not an easy question to answer, but it's something he should have figured out how to answer by now.

Gilmore also gets kudos for standing up for the right of federal prosecutors to indict someone on perjury if that person lies to a grand jury in the middle of an investigation. That was the correct response to the question about whether Scooter Libby should be pardoned. Half the respondents fell over themselves (Romney in the lead) to denounce the idea that Patrick Fitzgerald shouldn't have continued his investigation once he found out who the "leaker" was in the Valerie Plame saga. As if that gave Libby license to lie when Fitzgerald did ask him questions.

Of all the former governors there (including Romney, Huckabee and Thompson), Gilmore came across as the most "real." And I say that as someone who was more favorably disposed toward Huckabee coming in. Huckabee did manage to steal some of Brownback's territory on the "life" issue. However, he seemed to want to be the most-left candidate economically by coming out against excessive CEO pay and raiding of pensions. Huckabee's line about "not giving a letter grade in the middle of a test" with respect to the Iraq War was corny -- but, given the question, was a really on-point improvised answer.

Brownback, the avowed pro-lifer, also got some good "moderate" credits by saying that he could support a pro-choice GOP presidential candidate -- and for mentioning his support for issues in Africa.

Romney is a very good-looking guy and he "looks" presidential. But he didn't blow me away with anything tonight. His assertion that he became pro-life after he "studied" the issue (which just happened to be the time when he was "studying" the idea of running for president) still sounds as plastic to me as it did when I first heard it. Others can disagree, but that's how I feel. Romney, however, did make the clearest -- and, for me -- most correct answer on the Terri Schiavo question. On the other hand, he gets major demerits for making the already-difficult-to-understand stem-cell issue even more incomprehensible (something about "nuking" something).

John McCain often seemed hesitant and off his step. In 2000, his laugh lines sounded vibrant and off-the-cuff (even after he had said them countless times). Tonight, they sounded very canned. Yes, he made it clear that he was the "warrior candidate." However, it was ironic: While bashing Bush's handling of the war, the maverick has adopted the establishment White House's talking points: "We have a new general; we have a plan." McCain gets kudos for managing to shoe-horn the issue of judges in at the end of the debate. However, his "The first pork-barrel earmark spending bill that crosses my desk I'll veto." Right, as any Congress will introduce a bill called the Pork-Barrel Earmark Act of 2009.

Ron Paul's best line was that he was in the line of Eisenhower and Nixon trying to get America out of difficult, poorly-run wars. Unfortunately, that was probably his high point. I cheered him occasionally for his purist libertarian comments ("We don't need a national ID card."), but he said nothing that actually made one say, "Hmmm...maybe this guy isn't a fringe candidate.

Three out of ten Republican presidential candidates don't believe in evolution (Brownback, Tancredo and one other I couldn't identify on the full-panel shot when Matthews asked the question Huckabee). Hmmm....

Matthews' Bill Clinton question at the end was an embarassment ("Do you want Bill Clinton back in the White House?"). The obvious answer was the one everybody gave -- "No, because it would mean that Hillary Clinton was president." What else would a GOP presidential candidate say? But that wasn't what Matthews was getting at. He was making a Monica reference without actually saying it. So, he comes across as the giggly Catholic schoolboy who feels the need to make a smarmy reference -- but just wants to hint at it and let other people make the smarm explicit. Pathetic.

UPDATE: Peggy Noonan's take: "
Mitt Romney won, Rudy Giuliani lost, and John McCain is still in."

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