Republican Debate in New Hampshire

First a few comments about the debates itself. Wolf did an infinitely better job than Chris Matthews, but obviously the format was better as well. However, at times it seemed like less of a debate than a grilling of the candidates on the failure of the Bush administration (particularly in Iraq) and why the GOP is in such deep trouble. Several questions toward the beginning about the National Intelligence Estimate. Did anyone catch those questions in the Democratic debate, which was CHOCK full of almost nothing but Senators? Wolf started interrupting (thank., thank you…thank you Governor, thank you) almost before most of the candidates opened their mouths. This included interrupting Romney about 15 seconds in as he finished the first leg of a three-legged stool.

And again they were begged by the moderators to behave more like moderates like Arnold Schwarzenegger. Thankfully without him in the audience this time.

Now the candidates one-by-one (in–literally–random order):

Huckabee:
* Funny intro: Hope, Arkansas, give us one more chance.
* Taliban feels THEY won the cold war. We sadly underestimate our foes.
* Great answer on creationism. Enough to be repeated later in the commentary.
* Says GOP lost credibility.
* Great comments reaching pro-life principles above and beyond the abortion issue…and connecting it to terrorism, the anti-life stance.

Hunter:
* Would pardon Campion and Ramos before Libby.
* Talk to your enemies (Iran) but stopping nukes is the top priorities.
* Who’s gonna fill these jobs? American citizens lined up for jobs after sweeps
* Mandated fence by Duncan…it’s a bad bill. Says fence likely delayed to get this bill passed hunter sayss we should be able to buy health insurance across state lines.

Romney:
* Based on info, right decision bad planning, didn’t lose.
* People are testing the US…we have to move Islam…Romney reminds me of Ben Scroggs.
* Says enforce law from 1986.
* Spanish speaking version of his ads and on his website.
* Three legged stool: strong military, strong economy, strong family values.
* Massachussets solved health care private companies not government….
romney eway of the map oon selling stuff to china.

Rudy:

* Iraq not in a vacuum…have to be successful.
* Health insurance is employer and government dominated. pushing Bush’s talking points. Health insurance should operate like car and home insurance. when we make it free just wait and see how expensive it will come. Rudy says the obvious: market principles and good consumer decisions lower costs.
* Immigration bill is a typical Washington mess of compromises.
* Offense on terrorism, strong economy.
* Lightning strikes (disrupting the sound system) when he starts talking about Bishops.
* Freedom, great moral obligation is to share our freedom with our enemies (Middle East).
* Global Warming: need a Apollo mission type project.

McCain:
* Iraq surge strategy needs to get a chance to succeed. If we don’t succeed, they’ll follow us home.
* Poignant speech about Hispanic vets…but completely misses the point (dodges) on English as an official language
* Very pointedly and accurately connects spending with corruption. Corruption is made possible by pork-barrel spending.
* EVERYONE, (including me) raised their hands when McCain says “if anyone has a better idea” on immigration.
* Leave curriculum up to the school districts (re: Creation and Evolution)
* Did anyone catch this?: “We’re not into building fences.” Isn’t that passed law, now?

Brownback:
* Iran is a sponsor of terrorism. Great point in saying talking to them and actively negotiating with them are two different things.
* Need to work with labor union movement in Iran.
* Throws Clinton (CARTER!!) under the bus for being activist on policy while HW Bush has been more strictly active on humanitarian issues.
* Stands for whole-life, so invest the difference apparently is not the right philosophy. (sorry, insurance joke).
* Takes on cancer. Go get ‘em! There’s something we can all agree on.
* AGAIN, would you support a pro-life candidate (Rudy)? Yes (again), but this time adds that he doesn’t think the Republican party will nominate one.

Thompson:
* As usual has the most succinct and logical answer to the “what do we do now in Iraq” question.
* Secure our border.
* Healthcare: quite excited–90% of the costs occur after you become sick…wellness system vs. illness system.
* Tells it like it is on the Libby sentence. Clinton lost his law license. Libby got 30 months. {Clinton was President, though…noone is EVER going to give an acting President jail-time. I mean come on.}

Paul:
* Mistake to go=mistake to stay. Weapons weren’t there…more threatened now by staying.
* “Congress shall write no laws.” Strict constructionism.
* Makes another great point about individual vs group rights in response to the gays in the military issue. (as you’ll see later, this is COMPLETELY passed over by Wolf, who can’t stop talking about it.)
* Pressing moral issue: We now promote preemptive war, and have thus rejected Christian principles of just war.
* A great point about protecting oil interests being central to our foreign policy…a much better argument to decreasing dependence on oil than global warming.

Tancredo:
* Franklin’s quote…we gave you a Republic if you can keep it.
* Immigration: loud applause for Tancredo
* Says Bush probably wouldn’t be welcome at the White House, just as Rove told him.
* Conservationist principles through conservative principles. Cites Teddy Roosevelt.

Gilmore:
* Unfortunately stood out even less on this one than he did on the last one.
* His first comment made a lot of sense, and then he made sense and then rambled on during the audience Q&A.
* Most memorable was the Rudy McRomney comment.

AFTERMATH: I should have turned off the TV after the debate, but being a glutton for punishment I continued to tune in to the likes of Paul Begala (AAARGGHH!!) and Huffington, etc.

So here’s a little Play by Play with my commentary thrown in randomly and without annotation:

McCain interview: bringing families together. battle and struggle on Islamic extremism: good and evil. McCain still thinks things are in the bill that aren’t. “Heavy penalty” eight to 13 year process to citizenship “behind” legal entrants, meanwhile they get to work here AHEAD of legal entrants.

Blitzer: completely misstates the position of all the candidates on gays in the military. “Opposite” of openly gays is not “don’t ask don’t tell” which everyone on the stage supports. The “opposite” would be asking, telling, and kicking out. That was a trap laid out pure and simple to paint the entire stage out to be homophobes. Completely shameless and stupid.

Rudy Interview: When has a military been required a timetable to win? Great question. Precedence is a relevant question there.

Huffington: Says McCain is the winner. Can’t imagine. He’s the most liberal candidate on the stage.

Jeffrey Toobin: compliments Huckabee; Romney incomprehensible. So I agree with him for a whopping 6.8 seconds. After this Toobin goes way off the deep end for the rest of the evening.

Replayed Huckabee’s answer to Creationism. Part of it…didn’t play the most relevant part which answered the actual question Wolf asked.

Romney Interview: quoted Oh Brother Where Art Thou, “Come on in the water’s fine,” when asked about Fred Thompson’s entering the race. Larry asks about Attorney General. Mitt says no wrongdoing has been proven. Larry asks the classic stupid President Question: Isn’t it wrong to say “I’m the best person?” Romney says he can’t do it alone, so he’s pull together the best team. Are you getting tired of the Mormon question? Yes, Larry, so thanks for asking again.

Anderson cites negative poll about Bush administration and SOME Democratic members of Congress. Neglects to mention that the poll was regarding the Democrat Congress as a whole, not a select few who have cash in their freezer.

Mike Murphy says McCain always does what he thinks he’s right.

Huffington: Brownback had “Biden solution” Again kissing McCain’s ass on his poignant Hispanic speech.

Jeffrey Toobin: BULLS*** comment on endorsing policy of President Bush, missing the simple fact that almost everyone on the stage continuously threw him under the bus on management of the war in Iraq.

Mike Murphy points out the obvious that polls and foreign policy don’t always mix.

AARP Commercial: vote for the candidate that has answers. AARP. Socialized medicine?

This is definitely a McCain-friendly debate…Until it gets to “The gut reaction,” real-time metering, where McCain goes WAY into the negative as he tries to defend this immigration bill. The analyst there of course misses the point of course on “trashing Republicans” getting biggest positive responses on the real-time metering. Every time a Republican was trashed it was from the right.

Panel: Begala? Democrats win the election. What a tool.
Never caught this girl’s name? McCain is a God among men.
Wolf talks about Democrats. Gays and Lesbians. McCain the lone champion of letting English not be an official language. A difference between Republicans and Democrats? No. Begala waxes eloquent about consolidation of power in Homeland Security. A new tension in the Republican?

Begala: only 43% know that Rudy’s prochoice. WHAT? Rudy as a third party candidate? Chick (WHAT THE HELL IS HER NAME, IT MUST HAVE SHOWN IT) calls that what it is…wishful thinking. Begala is accusing a PARTY of flip-flopping if they nominate a pro-life candidate. “Well they need to write an apology to all the Democrats they’ve called baby-killers over the years.” How does this guy even make it on television? Thompson would be a more unequivocal conservative.

On Fred Thompson: Mike Murphy points out another obvious: One, it’s too early. Two, Thompson is high in the polls because he’s famous and we keep talking about him. {By the way, Reagan was in politics WHILE he was an actor, just like Fred. And movie acting as a profession in the 60’s was a little different than being a TV actor in the 2000s.}

Gays in the military again. Republicans are all homophobes. Absolute best answer was from Ron Paul, but noone points out that little escape to logic-land.

Huffington: sums it up…things will definitely be worse the closer we get to the election. Can’t believe we’re talking about God…when Democrats talk about God it’s about helping and loving people. By extension, Republicans (except for McCain obviously) just don’t care about helping people.

I just can’t watch anymore. I’ll probably have more to say after you guys comment.

One major point. NONE of the second-tier candidates were interviewed on CNN. Wonder why?

Republican Debate in Reagan Library

Tonight was the first Republican debate of this campaign which in my humble opinion is getting started way too early. Much to my wife’s chagrin, I not only watched all 90 minutes but commandeered the computer in order to take a few notes. I sort of went back and forth on how to relay my comments a) without being up all night, and b) being just thorough enough not to be boring.

So first, I’ll give my general impressions of the format. Second, I’ll give brief summaries of my opinions of the candidates’ performance in the debate. Third, I’ll give my overall conclusions of the implications of the whole debate. Disclaimer: very little of this will reflect any opinions outside of the context of the debate, however discussion after the fact will undoubtedly lead there.

FORMAT:

First of all 10 candidates is simply way too many. It is nearly impossible to really get a good impression of 10 different people in 90 minutes. Since about as much time is spent asking questions and following up as answering, roughly you’re looking at about 45 total minutes of talk time…that’s, on the average, 4 ½ minutes per person.

The moderator, as some of you are aware is one of my least favorite media personalities, so I will not attempt to hide my bias. Chris Matthews is as full of himself as any one human can be, but with two notable exceptions, most of the debate was fairly well-managed.

The first exception was an instance where Chris literally grilled Huckabee on a comment he made about Romney, apparently about his Mormonism (having trouble recalling the details). Chris asked him at least 5 times to justify this previous quote.

The second exception was way more sneaky. Chris went back to Giuliani 4 times with a question about his abortion stance, and did so under the pretense of giving him a chance to “clarify” his position on the subject. Finally Giuliani was forced to state his Pro-Choice stance, his obviously weakest conservative issue, and Chris left him alone. (I wanted to turn it off at one opint because it looked like Chris was simply going to play Hardball with 10 people.)

The questions were varied (coming from Chris himself, from some other guy from Politico.com and apparently from a forum on the Internet), and ranged from the rather obvious, “Who do you think would make the best candidate for President and why?” to the goofy, “What do you think about the idea of Bill Clinton being back in the White House?” to the stupid, “What do you like least about this country?”

CANDIDATES

Fmr Mass. Gov. Mitt Romney
Good Moment: nothing stands out.
Bad Moment: nothing stands out.
Overall: very, very polished.

TX Congressman Ron Paul
Good Moment: The problem with the Government is that they always seem to want to choose between prohibiting and subsidizing.
Bad Moment: I guess in medicine I had to make tough decisions.
Overall: Said “policmen of the world” way too many times. Seemed just offended by the whole role of government, thus not inspiring anyone’s desire to put him there.

CO Congressman Tom Tancredo:
Good moment: very adroitly separated the term, “women’s rights” from “abortion rights”.
Bad moment: Chris literally cut him off mid-syllable and left him looking like a tool.
Overall: very aware of the angle behind most of the questions. Comes across as an intellectual, sort of a nerd.

Fmr. NYC Mayor Rudy Giuliani:
Good moment: successfully answered the (rather from left-field) question on the difference between Sunni and Shiite.
Bad Moment: The twelfth time that Chris came at him (to give him a chance to clarify, of course) with the abortion question.
Overall: Not shy about citing his stats in New York.

Fmr. VA Gov. Jim Gilmore:
Good moment: Karl Rove is not the issue.
Bad moment: nothing stands out.
Overall: struck a very consistent theme of consistent unwavering conservative.

Fmr. WI Gov. Tommy Thompson:
Good moment: 1900 vetoes as governor
Bad Moment: None stick out
Overall: When I was a governor…

KS Sen. Sam Brownback:
Good moment: This is a coalition party, different ideas and different views, but we’ll win on issues.
Bad moment: three state solution in Iraq.
Overall: Christian conservative, family values, culture of life…etc.

AZ Sen. John McCain:
Good moment: Gov’t programs must justify their existence, set goals, and meet those goals or go out of business.
Bad moment: I will follow Bin Ladin to the gates of hell.
Overall: tried way too hard to come across as a war hawk and a domestic moderate…seemed like a caricature.

Fmr. AR Gov. Mike Huckabee:
Good moment: Corporate responsibility from top executives AND a great commentary on the role of faith in policy decision-making.
Bad moment: none come to mind.
Overall: most likely the best balance of true conservatism and poise and confidence.

CA Congressman Duncan Hunter
Good moment: talking about manufacturing/industrial base with better trade laws, and eliminating double taxations on exports, AND saying that Arnold winning as a centrist is not good enough, “we need to win the right way”
Bad moment: None stick out…
Overall: (sincerest apologies for leaving him out; he actually did well in my opinion, but I was trying to get this out in a hurry.) He did of course mention immigration a lot and specifically how effective a fence on the border has been.

IMPRESSIONS

Overall, what I liked most about the debate was the focus on issues. There was a surprising lack of hedging and dodging, and perhaps the short time frame contributed to that. Most of the candidates were die-hard died-in-the-wool conservatives except, oddly enough, the two “front-runners,” Giuliani and McCain, and Ron Paul, the staunch Libertarian. The constant citing of Ronald Reagan got a little old (but Nancy was sitting right there, so what do you do).

The weakest commentary came from the “front-runners” which is common (if you have nothing to lose, you might as well speak your mind—but at the top of the heap, you have market share to worry about), however the “alternative candidates were delightful at times expressing what a whole lot of conservatives have been thinking and acknowledging that the losses of the Republican party have not been due to too little “centrist” government.

SUPERLATIVES

Most comical: John McCain, who just came across as a fist-pounding amateur.

Most surprising: Tancredo, as he has historically had a tendency to get a little too excited, but stayed very even keel and very insightful and witty throughout.

Most boring: Mitt Romney, who just struck me as a Ken doll brought to life by Dr. Frankenstein.

Most disappointing: Ron Paul struck me as simply too aggravated and angry. He has a right to be, but anyone who appears to be saying, “I can’t believe I’m even on the stage with these idiots,” does not garner a lot of love.

Most predictable: Sam Brownback. Can you say Conservative Christian, Family Values Guy?

OTHER HIGHLIGHTS

Romney throws Patrick Fitzgerald under the bus for ignoring the real leak in the Valerie Plame case. Paul said he deserves to go to prison anyway because he helped mislead the US into war in Iraq.

Chris going down the line and asking everybody to vote yea or nay on letting Schwarzenegger run for President…not one yes.

Schiavo?—Romney says Congress should have stayed out. Brownback believes Congress should have. McCain says they probably acted too hastily. A great little back and forth in my opinion because they were all undeniably telling the truth.

OK, who doesn’t believe in Evolution?

CONCLUSIONS

Essentially, though, and unfortunately, I don’t think any of the alternatives had the opportunity to really stand out from the crowd, so I don’t think the “top three” will change as a result of the debate.

I have intentionally avoided reading any online commentary on this, but I’m certain this weekend we’ll have the opportunity to read transcripts and see what the talking heads have to stay. Then again, we could simply just enjoy the weekend.