Carol Platt Liebau: The Third Republican Debate

Tuesday, June 05, 2007

The Third Republican Debate

It was Rudy's night, no way around it. From the beginning, he emerged as a leader when he was unapologetic about the reasons for having overthrown Saddam Hussein. His streak continued on immigration when he pointed out that the bill achieves none of the objectives for which it is purportedly designed. But his high points came with a very cogent response to the bishop's criticism of his stand on abortion -- and when he made light in a very witty way of the lightning-induced microphone problems just as he began his answer. His other moment of glory came when he was the first to denounce the Libby case as a whole, not only for its excessive sentence but for the fact that there was no underlying crime. Likewise, he was well spoken in challenging the media to report good news from Iraq if it comes from General Petraeus in September. He also was strong with free market solutions for health care and in discussing Abe Lincoln's definition of what it means to be an American. A wonderful performance, no way about it.

Wish I could say the same for Mitt Romney, whom I'm most disposed to like. But I can't. He simply had an off night, sounding somewhat wishy washy on the first question out of the box about Iraq (knowing what you know now, would you have invaded?). In fact, for the entire debate, he just sounded overly scripted, almost slick. His answer on health care really provided no new information, and he stumbled on the question of communicating with voters in Spanish. But he did handle the question about his faith with good humor and aplomb, and it's clear that he has a depth of knowledge that others (with the exception of the other frontrunners) seem to lack -- it just didn't come across last night.

John McCain now just seems to come across as genuinely grumpy and angry at Republicans, even. He was willing essentially to call Tom Tancredo a "know-nothing" -- really graceless and quite unnecessary (given that everyone knows Tancredo's views and have reached their own conclusions accordingly); it merely made McCain look petty and ill-tempered. In my view, it was also wrong for him to say that some sacrifices of the Iraq war had been "unnecessary" -- for every sacrifice has been given in a worthy cause, and it does nothing but undermine morale and embitter survivors. Finally, one of his answers about illegal immigration seemed, once again, to conflate opposition to his bill with animus against Hispanics -- both unfair and untrue. It's just painful to watch him try to stake a claim to a nomination that so many are so determined that he should not and will not win.

As for the others, what can one say? Mike Huckabee handled insulting MSM questions about evolution very well; Tommy Thompson came across as an angry and over-caffeinated caricature (and made a truly cheap crack about not sending President Bush to the UN after his term ends); Sam Brownback just seemed wacky, insisting that finding the cure for cancer was one thing he'd do differently than the Bush Administration, and asserting that the GOP simply won't support a pro-choice nominee.

The rest were pretty much what we've come to know through the course of the first two debates. But again, in my view, the big news is just how decisively Rudy outshone the rest of the field.


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