October 22, 2007

A Good Night For Republicans

Last night, the Republican candidates for President met in Florida and debated on Fox, and by all accounts, all of them acquitted themselves well. They focused on Hillary Clinton more than each other, except in the debates opening moments when the Fox News Channel questioners pushed them into some intramural criticisms. The one conclusion easily drawn from the transcript is that the second tier have begun to fade from moderator attention.

The Washington Post leads with the criticisms, of course:

The leading Republican presidential candidates staged their most contentious and personal debate of the long campaign season here Sunday night, clashing sharply over abortion, immigration, tort reform and their readiness to challenge Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-N.Y.) in a general election.

The debate's opening minutes included a series of personal exchanges that illustrated the growing stakes in the nominating battle and set the tone for the 90-minute encounter. Former New York mayor Rudolph W. Giuliani and former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney were quickly put on the defensive, fending off criticism leveled by former senator Fred D. Thompson (Tenn.), who questioned their conservative credentials. ....

One of the most personal attacks came when Sen. John McCain (Ariz.) joined the fray early in the debate, taking umbrage at Romney's recent statement that he speaks for the "Republican wing" of the Republican Party. "Governor Romney, you've been spending the last year trying to fool people about your record," McCain said. "I don't want you to start fooling them about mine. I stand on my record. I stand on my record of a conservative."

Yesterday, I had other commitments which kept me from watching the debate. This morning, I took a careful read through the transcript instead, which gives an interesting perspective devoid of sound bites and gotcha one-liners. Except for Ron Paul, the candidates mostly confined those moments to the first few moments of the debate, and instead used most of the evening to go on the attack against the Democrats, with varying degrees of success.

First, though, the transcripts reveal a lack of engagement on Fox's part with the second-tier candidates. Last night mostly revolved around the top five of Giuliani, McCain, Romney, Thompson, and Huckabee, the latter perhaps arguably. Hunter and Tancredo got almost no attention, and Ron Paul got his usual entree to wild, unsupportable statements.

To the extent that Mike Huckabee did get air time, he didn't seem particularly effective in using it. The most memorable moment from the transcript was an argument that George Bush shouldn't have used the term "private accounts" in the Social Security debate, but "personalization" instead. "Personalization" would not have won the Social Security debate in 2005 against a Democratic Party determined to demagogue any kind of private accounts-based solution to the program's insolvency, and it doesn't make Huckabee sound very substantive, either.

The top four candidates all fared well, at least on the transcript. I'd have to say that Thompson did even better than in his first debate. He answered Giuliani's criticism of his earlier votes on tort reform by arguing for federalism, and he skewered the laziness smear effectively. Giuliani gave the classic Rudy approach, with "You gotta be kidding me" when Brit Hume suggested that people see no difference between Hillary and himself. Romney scored points for himself when he noted that Hillary has never run anything in her life, while he has run a state, a successful business, and an Olympics that had almost collapsed from the weight of its own corruption.

This debate, however, went to John McCain. He gave better answers on the specifics of foreign policy. He noted that his leadership has been tested in ways that none of the candidates on stage with him have ever had to face. He gave perhaps the best response to Hillary Clinton by noting her efforts to provide earmarks to the Woodstock Museum went beyond his understanding because he was "tied up at the time" of the concert -- as a POW in North Vietnam. But even more than that, McCain sounded -- on paper -- like the senior statesman on stage. He sounded confident, bold, and well prepared.

The candidates gave their party a boost last night with an effective performance that didn't do any damage to the main candidates. We'll see if that boosted any one particular candidate in the coming days.


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Comments (25)

Posted by Vmaximus | October 22, 2007 8:01 AM

I am a evangelical Christian, and have been up in the air about who to vote for. Hunter "fits" me best, but is not going any where. I am still undecided, but McCain is starting to swaying me, (I might even believe his comment about "getting it" on immigration) and I am less afraid of Giuliani than I have been in the past. Also Huckabee, is more than I thought he would be. This debate was the best I have seen so far and was really helpful in restoring some hope to someone who has been disillusioned.

Posted by Gary Gross | October 22, 2007 8:05 AM

As I said here, Rudy, Thompson & Huckabee impressed but I thought Romney seemed a bit intimidated initially. Romney's first question was about Fred Thompson's conservatism. He promptly launched into an evasive non-answer, instead talking about Ronald Reagan's coalition.

That's probably because Romney tried attacking Thompson last time, only to get whacked.

McCain was statesmanlike on a night when I was looking for a fighter.

Posted by paul zummo | October 22, 2007 8:33 AM

I wonder if McCain is embarking on a little "comback kid" tour. He's been all but counted out, but it seems like he's slowly but surely making some inroads. I still would personally put him below Thompson, Romney, and maybe even Huckabee, but I no longer find him quite so loathsome. And if national security/war on terror is your number one concern, he probably should be your candidate, don't you think?

Posted by Silvio Canto, Jr. | October 22, 2007 8:58 AM

Somebody and Huckabee will be the ticket! Great debate!

Posted by bio mom | October 22, 2007 9:10 AM

Don't agree about Thompson. He was a dud but for a little humor. Still looking down at his notes when he tries to answer a question. He leaves me cold. The Democrats would cream him in a debate and in the election. Rudy, Romney, McCain or Huckabee would be able to hold their own. I agree it should be .../Huckabee. The strongest would be Guiliani/Huckabee IMHO.

Posted by NoDonkey | October 22, 2007 9:13 AM

"I wonder if McCain is embarking on a little "comback kid" tour."

The Republican field just so completely outshines the Democrat field in experience and achievement, that this election should not even slightly be a contest. But the MSM's thumb is on the scales, as usual.

I like McCain a lot. He is an authentic American hero. He's got guts and will not take guff from Hillary or for her media flacks during the debates.

Yes, there are things to quibble with in his past. As there is with all of the Republicans.

But there is nothing I can agree with, when it comes to the Democrats. Nothing.

Posted by Chris | October 22, 2007 9:15 AM

Sorry, but I have to disagree about McCain. I think he sounds dull and speaks with little inflection. When it was his turn to answer a question, it's like someone pushed a button and the monotone pre-recorded message starts to ramble out (Romney is similar, but at least he is a better speaker).

Posted by BoWowBoy | October 22, 2007 9:31 AM

If Giuliani, Romney and McCain is the best the GOP can offer ............ they are in "deep shit".

Posted by Angry Dumbo | October 22, 2007 9:37 AM

I'm with Toomey and the Club for Growth. I don't care for Huckabee. Romney is the GOP's answer to the Cleveland Indians, peaked too soon (great in May, stale bad hair in October). I don't like Rudy, and pairing him with Huckleberry Hound won't make him any more likeable to me. I'm voting Republican, but I will have to hold my nose. Last night's sniping about who is most conservative, only served to remind all involved that the only honest answer is none of the above.

Okay, big tent Republicans, this election is yours. McCain who didn't support the Bush tax cuts and did support Bush's amnesty for illegals bill is now the Republican standard bearer.

I hope you have broad shoulders because the almighty moderate "Main Street" Republicans are going to have to do some heavy lifting.

Posted by LuckyBogey | October 22, 2007 9:38 AM

The top tier are all RINOs! I just can't get excited about any of them. I have a new puppy and he is like me. We both are looking for a leader to follow. Now my wife likes McCain! What a sad state of affairs within the GOP. Hillary and her dirty cash making machine will eat them all alive. Madam President, Bill, Sandy, and all the gang will be back! Get used to it unless we find someone to lead this sinking ship!

Posted by Labamigo | October 22, 2007 9:42 AM

Poor McCain.

Terrible how little things like Campaign Finance Reform and Amnesty can get in the way of being nominated to lead the GOP.

Posted by NoDonkey | October 22, 2007 10:15 AM

"If Giuliani, Romney and McCain is the best the GOP can offer . . ."

I'm tired of reading this crap.

They all three tower above Butch Rodham, Borat O'Maddrass and the Shyster Fop.

Yes, they aren't Ronald Reagan. Sorry to tell you, he's dead and he's not coming back (as Johah Goldberg wrote in the National Review last week).

Yes, they all have flaws. So did Reagan.

One of them will be the candidate to run against Butch Rodham. Butch and her little cabal of geriatric hippies will be a disaster for this country.

If you can't see the difference between a candidate who might not live up to your pet vision of a "conservative" luminary and , well, Butch here, you are delusional.

We've heard far too much from the hopeless whiners on the left for the past 8 years; hopeless whiners on the right don't sound a whole lot better.

Posted by hnav | October 22, 2007 10:15 AM

A good night, unless you were a Tribe fan.

I agree Captain and thanks for the fine run down.

However, regarding McCain, I must disagree completely.

Hoping you see this, for McCain flopped again in my humble opinion.

For example, John McCain seems more at ease attacking a fellow Republican than Hillary Clinton.

He basically called Romney a liar, while saying he respects Hillary Clinton.

That speaks volumes.

Doesn't Senator McCain even realize Hillary recently implied she believed General Petraeus to be a liar in the Senate?

McCain continues to come across as the angry jaded party crasher.

His attack on Romney for instance was based on generics, suggesting he is more Conservative than others, and will run on his record.


His record opposed tax cuts...

He voted against tax cuts...

He provided McCain Feingold Campaign Finance Reform.


The Senator actually suggested he believes Hillary and he will have respectful debates.

As opposed to the folks he is on stage with now?

McCain's vivid display, providing more decency for one of the most deceitful Liberal Democrats is deeply concerning.

He dodged attacking Mrs. Clinton with a joke about Woodstock, without making any sincere judgment of Hillary Rodham.

Sorry, McCain simply should get off the stage.

His reference to 'fooling' the American People seems downright delusional.

As if he is projecting about his own nature...

Posted by hnav | October 22, 2007 10:20 AM

Angry Dumbo | October 22, 2007 9:37 AM

"I'm voting Republican, but I will have to hold my nose.'


Yet, I find this 'holding the nose' business to be sincerely weak.

If you cannot be proud to vote against the ugly malfeasant Democrat Party, especially those who slandered General Petraeus, I think you are paying enough attention.

I might be holding my nose, but it will be because of Reid, Pelosi, Rodham, Boxer, Schumer, Conyers, Murtha, Obey, Kennedy, Leahy, etc., etc...

I just feel strongly, some have to get over the perfection, and see the larger picture, which is how pathetic the Modern Liberal Democrat Party has become.

Posted by NoDonkey | October 22, 2007 10:43 AM

"If you cannot be proud to vote against the ugly malfeasant Democrat Party"

Agree 100%.

I would crawl over broken glass to vote for a folding chair, as long as said folding chair was opposed by a Democrat.

Posted by Mr Michael | October 22, 2007 11:18 AM

One of the things I was thinking while I watched the debate was that this field of Republicans was pretty darned 'deep' for a political bench. I mean, I would vote for any of them for President, except for Ron Paul.

McCain: If McCain gets the nomination, I'll vote for him, but my financial and rhetorical support will go towards local candidates; I just won't lie and tell people that I WANT him to be President of the United States. Last night (keeping in mind my prejudice) I thought he was the same old same old... a bitter man who is annoyed at the world and wanting to take revenge. He's done some things desired by conservatives, but so did Bill Clinton. Like a diamond, we judge our politicians by their flaws, not just their basic make-up. You cannot reasonably call him yellow, but he is still too badly flawed to be considered Gem Quality.

Giuliani: If Giuliani gets the nod, it will be because Republicans gave up on their principles and nominated a guy that they think can beat Hillary. Yes, it's a basic requirement, but I think it could be achieved by any of the top five candidates on stage last night. If it were JUST abortion, or JUST the Sanctuary City, or JUST Gun Control or JUST supporting a democrat like Cuomo over a Republican rival, I could live with him. But he's consistently gone the "Rudy way" instead of the Republican Party way. Good on ya, if you are a Legislator... but not as my Republican Nominee for President. He'd make a good Cabinet Member, if he would take the position; let him excersize his strengths as a reformer and a defender as head of Homeland Security. Visibly flawed, but good color.

Romney: I'm less enthusiastic about Romney, but I think he had a good night. He wasn't given the 'good questions' so much as he was given the questions about the other candidates. I think he handled it well, but it's tough to hit a knuckleball out of the park. I would have preferred to see him asked a really direct and tough question beyond Social Security... which he didn't have time to explain his answer very well. As odd as it sounds, he needs some polish and a chance to shine. A fine grade Gem, but needs a better setting.

Thompson: I like Fred, and I think he did very well last night, I think he came in Second. I'd work on his campaign if nominated. I think Fred's laid back style will work for him more on the campaign trail than in the Press... and right now I think he's the front-runner with the folks but not the power brokers. His tussle with Rudy last night may get him some positive reviews with the Press, finally. Gem Grade, but an odd cut.

Huckabee: WHO IS THIS GUY? All of a sudden it's not a sure thing that I'm committed to Thompson for the Primaries! I have to absolutely disagree with you Cap'n. Huckabee stole the show, his answers were complete, well thought out, and home-runs on substance. If he gets the nomination, I'll be a pain in the ass Huckabee Huckster online... I feel sorry for you already. Money is on the way to his campaign today. Top Grade, the stone that was sitting there all the time covered in lint, so you've been ignoring it. One swipe with the cloth (heh... a bonus seminary pun!) and all of a sudden you start to notice how clear he is, and of what a fine cut and polish.

The rest: Should give it a rest. Some good issues, some good personalities, and Ron Paul. But nothing there that can touch any of the names above, either in the campaign or in last nights debate. Good stuff, but not Gem Grade.

My view.

Posted by paul zummo | October 22, 2007 11:26 AM

Huckabee's intriguing. I'd be much more likely to support him were it not for his populist economic policies. But he's a solid conservative in most other aspects, and he's been generally great at these debates. I did watch the tail-end of his appearance on Glen Beck on Friday night, and frankly he answered most of the questions put to him in almost the exact same manner as I would have.

Posted by Vmaximus | October 22, 2007 11:27 AM

I came into the debate thinking there was no way I could vote for McCain, or Giuliani. Not convinced Romney was more that telling me what I want to hear, and not knowing who I would vote for.
I agree with everything hnav said about McCain, but he is moving up in my opinion. I am a NRA life member, and Giuliani still scares me, but I don't get the feeling that I did when I voted for Bob Dole. I think that any of the top tier are good candidates. (and Rudy never did answer the question about why he was different than the Hildabeast)

Posted by Chris | October 22, 2007 11:42 AM

I have to say that McCain may have "won" the debate, but Mike Huckabee won my support. He didn't do as well as he has done in the previous debates (and he didn't get much time to do so) but when he speaks, he speaks from his soul, something that none of the other candidates (except maybe John McCain) have managed to do.

When Rudy speaks, I hear what I hear when Hillary Clinton speaks, which is the right answers for the right people. I do not hear him conveying any core convictions that drive his personal and public life. He is truly a politician.

I have to say that I feel similarly about Mitt Romney. He seems like he wants to be president more than he wants to lead this country. He's giving us a great job interview, but I'm not sure if he really believes in what I believe.

Thompson seems almost unhappy to be running, as if someone else has forced him into it. It seems as though he's in the race just because he doesn't like the other candidates.

Mike Huckabee, John McCain, and Ron Paul all seem to speak firmly in what they believe. They do not have to refer to their notes for what they're supposed to say. They do not have to rehearse conservative talking points. They are who they portray themselves to be.

That being said, I believe Mike Huckabee. I believe him when he speaks. He lives his private life and public life on the same principles. He's a man I can trust, and that's why he won for me.

Posted by Dawn | October 22, 2007 12:18 PM

I liked Mitt best, close second goes to Rudy who didn't take off until about 1/2 way into it.

I don't want to hear that McCain respects Hillary.

The best line I read last night (on another board) was:

They should use a GONG when Ron Paul's time is up instead of a bell.

Posted by courtneyme109 | October 22, 2007 12:38 PM

McCain rocked last night. His matter of fact straight talk, eschewing the red meat and relaxed type pose seemed to crackle with violence - like Pierce Brosnan's 007 in a tux.

Posted by AH·C | October 22, 2007 1:34 PM

Cap'n, I have no doubt that reading the transcript puts a different tone to the debate. However, I think the transcript fails to convey the interaction between the candidates and the audience.

Sort of like saying you missed the Pink Floyd concert, a careful read through the transcript instead, which gives an interesting perspective devoid of soaring vocals, instrumental jams and awesome lighting.

As for the most memorable moment, well, you get my drift. ;) Everyone scored a definitive soundbite or two.

In any case, I hope you get a chance to it on video soon and contrast your impressions.

Posted by Angry Dumbo | October 22, 2007 1:42 PM

None of the candidates has any record of fighting democrats.

All of the candidates have extensive records of breaking with their party.

The biggest case study being MSM media darling, the former "maverick" John McCain. BARF.

All of these great pretenders will say Reagan, rinse and repeat until a winner is declared. I don't believe ANY of them. Then it will be all "uniter not divider" and "reach across the aisle."

I want a fighter not a uniter.

In opposition to Congressional leaders such as Reid, Pelosi, Rodham, Boxer, Schumer, Durbin, Conyers, Murtha, Obey, Kennedy, Leahy, et al, there is no room for compromise.

Posted by NoDonkey | October 22, 2007 1:51 PM

I don't know, I save all my Disdain, Dislike, Disgust and Despising for the Democrats.

No use wasting it on Republicans. Need to save it all for those who Deserve it the most.

Posted by Angry Dumbo | October 22, 2007 2:45 PM

These candidates only talk about "winning" because they stand for nothing else.

What happened to conservative principles? Disagree about them, but for goodness sakes, stand for something other than beating Hillary. Democrats are dying a slow death from BDS, now it seems Republicans are developing HDS.

The ability to successfully communicate a message requires a message to convey. Obviously we are against the Democrats standard bearer, but that does not say what we stand for.

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