10 Oct 2007

Last Night’s Republican Candidates Debate

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Stephen Green summarizes at PJM:

When asked point-blank if he’d support the Republican nominee next fall, (Ron) Paul answered just as Grosse Pointe-blankly: “No.” Unless the party retreats from Iraq – and Germany and Korea and Japan, too – then Paul wants nothing to do with the Republicans. That said, Paul should stick to his principles and RSVP “thanks but no thanks” to the next debate, and the one after that, and so on. If he’s not even going to pretend to be a Republican, he ought to go back to the Libertarian Party where he and his five million dollars would be more than welcome. In the meantime, he’s just taking up space, time, and a whole lot of hot air.

Thompson’s performance was much more low-key than Paul’s, which is like saying that napping tree sloth is somewhat calmer than a spider monkey hopped up on Mountain Dew and herbal Viagra. Over the course of a two hour debate, I caught Thompson mentioning exactly one hard fact – Israel’s air strike on Iraq’s Osirak nuclear plant, way back in 1981. The rest of the time, Thompson spoke in platitudes, slowly, and yet still stumbled through some of his answers. The good news, if you can call it that, is the expectations game. After a month of dismal campaigning, Fred looked pretty good just showing up fully dressed and speaking in complete sentences. …

Really, today’s debate was the Mitt & Rudy Show. Romney and Giuliani were offered more questions than any other three or four candidates, and neither of them made any major flubs. There was one telling moment, however, just minutes before the end of the debate. CNBC’s Maria Bartiromo asked Giuliani if London would ever replace New York “as the world’s financial capital.” As I wrote on my blog, live during the debate, “Rudy basically gave her the New Yorker Single Finger Salute.” Ain’t nobody bigger ’an New Yawk, lady. When asked the same question a moment later, Romney gave a canned answer, which included mention of some obscure provision of the impenetrable Sarbanes-Oxley Act.

You have to give this debate to Rudy on points and style, and hope that the real Fred Thompson shows up at the next one – if ever.

I watched the first hour. Thompson seemed surprisingly nervous and unprepared to me. He also looked unwell. He kept his head bent forward in a perpetual stoop, as if he had to minimize his height to get into the angle of the camera, and he looked drawn and cadaverous.

The Romney-Giuliani exchange was telling, and left a little blood in the water. Giuliani boasted he cut taxes 23 times as New York mayor, and Romney nailed him by noting that it was hizzoner who sued all the way to the Supreme Court to kill the presidential line-item veto. Giuliani scuttled to hide under the protection of the Constitution, claiming it was only what a strict constructionist like himself had to do. A few moments later, he admitted that retaining NYC’s share of federal pork had also motivated him.

I did not even initially recognize second-tier candidates like Brownback, Tancredo, Huckabee, and Hunter, and I was surprised by how articulate and comparatively substantive all of them were. Brownback and Huckabee distinctly increased my interest and respect. But, unfortunately, the way US politics operates, with our dimbulb celebrity-culture media functioning as the filter between reality and the voting public, however meritorious any second-tier candidate might be, unless he starts dating Paris Hilton, he is just not going to get the attention needed to compete effectively.

Ron Paul was also an effective speaker, but I doubt that his economic prescriptions (which implicitly demanded a return to the Gold Standard) or his foreign policy of isolationist pacifism are going to win him a lot of support.

Thompson survived, but his performance can only have disappointed and alarmed those of us hoping he’d provide a conservative electoral choice. Fortunately, only journalists, bloggers, and the rest of an infinitesimal minority of intensely political Americans were watching. He still has lots of time to get into shape and improve.

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