Here, briefly, is my impression of the November 28 CNN/Youtube Republican debate.
The questions were better than expected, but not as varied as I’d like. The cutest of the videos (and I use that term in the pejorative) was the brief song at the beginning, which made me smile – I almost even laughed! So it turns out that my dread, although reasonable, wasn’t justified.
- Mike Huckabee – Huckabee is likeable and charming, and he got the biggest laughs of the night. He really hit the ball out of the park when confronted on a religious question regarding Biblical Literalism. I only wish people would give the religious issue a rest and ask him more substantial policy questions. Huckabee drew enthusiastic and sustained applause when he asserted that America is a better country than to punish children of illegal immigrants for their parents’ transgressions, I thought that was his best moment of this debate.
- John McCain – McCain is always good in a debate and made some valid points on immigration and foreign policy. His moral fury with Mitt Romney regarding waterboarding was very compelling and visceral. Because he’s articulate and candid McCain is at his best when he’s angry or sad, and I thought that tonight he was at his best. Well done, Senator.
- Mitt Romney – was dinged early by Giuliani but actually showed some genuine emotion and worked his way out of the early hole. He had a couple of deer-in-the-headlights moments and was seriously zinged at times by both McCain and Huckabee, but he gets points from me for not drowning when he got dunked at the deep end of the pool. Maybe my low expectations turned out to be a bonus for Romney.
- Rudy Giuliani – America’s mayor tried to put Romney away early with a snide remark about illegal aliens working on the landscaping at Romney’s estate, and when Romney fought back (showing indignation) Giuliani ended up looking like a big jerk. Giuliani held his own for the remainder of the debate, and made some good points about his career prior to 9/11, but never really got back what he lost at the beginning. Giuliani’s performance was disappointing, to say the least.
- Duncan Hunter – His only memorable moments were a touching reminiscence of hunting with his father (a plus) and when he addressed host Anderson Cooper as “Cooper” while answering a question (a minus). His failure to make an impression in this debate effectively ends his viability.
- Ron Paul – Predictably, Paul’s positions on several issues drew boos more than once, and his personality and presentation didn’t do him any favors. But the biggest strike against him tonight was when he tried to go toe-to-toe with McCain on the Iraq war and the troop surge. McCain spoke with force and conviction (and credibility) that Paul couldn’t match. Kudos for Dr. Paul for asserting that in 30 years as an O.B. he had never seen a situation in which an abortion was medically necessary.
- Tom Tancredo – Almost completely marginalized, Tancredo’s best line was when he accused other candidates of “trying to out-Tancredo Tancredo.” Say that three times fast. Tancredo remains largely a one-issue candidate, and his issue wasn’t enough to sustain him, no matter how well he knows it.
- Fred Thompson – Thompson has little going for him, aside from his sarcasm and hostility. He showed a good grasp of some issues (but so did they all), but his long and rambling answers undid him. To be honest, I was excited when Thompson entered the race in September, but now I can hardly stand the sight of him because he’s represents so much wasted potential.
Summary: I think the big winners tonight were McCain and Huckabee. If I had to pick one, I’d give the edge to McCain because he was asked better questions and showed some serious emotion.
The biggest stinker of the night, in my humble opinion, was Romney’s answer to the strange question, strangely posed, from a strange young man, about whether the candidates believe “every word” in the Holy Bible. Romney, a Mormon, said that he believes every word in the Bible and he reads it frequently. This was a ridiculous answer for a Mormon to give, because Mormons believe that the Christian Bible has been corrupted and is superceded by the Book of Mormon.