ON GOP DEBATE #1
I caught the second half of the debate last night so I missed all the Iraq/Iran stuff but I caught enough to form some opinions.
My thought going into these early debates, a full year and a half before the general election, was that we are going to have candidate fatigue before the thing even really gets started. And then with so many states clamoring toward the front end of the primaries, my fear was that we end up with two regrettable candidates who were able to raise the most money. But having watched half a debate and started to hear how the candidates want to position themselves and watched them perform before a live crowd and a camera and a national audience and have to think on their feet and deliver their messages, I wonder whether this prolonged campaign might be a good thing, that the protracted testing period will deliver thoroughly vetted candidates to an informed electorate -- or as informed as it wants to be -- which is the way it should be.
ROMNEY was the big winner in my opinion, helped by the fact that he was relatively unknown and executed his plan well. He followed up his strong perfomance on Leno with a strong performance here. He came across as savvy, confident, comfortable and presidential. He does appear somewhat smug but maybe he can back that up. I would recommend less hair gel because my first visual impression of him was "slick" which is certainly not what he wants to convey. I liked his answers and his demeanor and he came across as a man of substance, style and character. He gets the biggest bump I think.
GIULIANI strikes me as tough but undisciplined. He did not seem to have a plan, other than to remind us at every turn that he lowered crime in New York and pulled America up after 9/11. How he could get tripped up by the abortion question that he knew would be coming is beyond me. I think I know what he was trying to say -- that he would appoint strict constructionist judges and let the chips fall where they may -- and I think that's the right answer -- but if that's what he was trying to say, he didn't say it very well. Debates are about delivering your message regardless of what the question is, and he needed to get that point across clearly, and the fact that he couldn't get it across even in reply to a direct question about it, well, that was confusing to say the least. "I'll appoint judges and justices who will be true to their consitutional role, and maybe they'll overturn a decision like Roe v. Wade and maybe they won't, and I will respect the process either way." I think that's a rational position that would satisfy the base, so just say it that way.
McCAIN strikes me as he always does, as a career politician who conveys that his biggest strength is that he's a career politician. I don't want someone who has a history of bipartisanship, I want someone who takes thoughtful, conscientious positions and stands his ground against career politicians.
HUNTER, BROWNBACK, HUCKABEE, GILMORE and THOMPSON did not distinguish or differentiate themselves and are the longest of long shots.
TANCREDO differentiated himself but on the secondary issue of immigration. His answer to every question was securing the border, which may be important, but isn't important enough to elect a president on that issue alone. Plus he failed to make eye contact with the audience, which his handlers should have taken care of.
PAUL gave some thoughtful and different answers but he too needs to work on his stage presence. He did not make a splash, unless that was the sound of him going in the tank.
The other winners were NEWT and FRED THOMPSON. Newt got the best gig of the night, evaluating everybody else on Fox News immediately following the debate, with the spotlight on him alone and with the benefit of hindsight. And Fred has the benefit of shaping his message in response to the returns on these early debates without saying anything now that he'd have to clean up later. He will continue to enjoy "backup quarterback" popularity whose favorable ratings will look great until he takes the field, fails to score and starts hearing the boos.
Who gets my vote if the election were held today? Giuliani. But what I like about this process is that my vote can change, and probably will, and maybe more than once. I like Romney's platform of "strength" -- strong military, strong economy and strong families -- which is nothing new and precisely why I like it, but I need to see and hear more of him.
I really wish CHENEY were participating in these debates but oh well.