Carol Platt Liebau: The Republican Debate

Sunday, October 21, 2007

The Republican Debate

Predictably, Fred Thompson -- who had the most to prove tonight -- failed to live up to expectations. Also predictably, John McCain didn't perform all that well, and Rudy Giuliani and Mitt Romney did just fine.

In fact, both Giuliani and Romney seem to be becoming more and more likable. Romney seems less plastic, more approachable; Giuliani is using his directness to his advantage -- it's easier for social conservatives to trust someone who seems to be telling them like it is, and Giuliani needs to hold social conservatives in the GOP fold to have a chance of winning.

The New York Times blog makes much of the candidates' criticism of Hillary Clinton. But it's hardly surprising; dislike for Clinton and fear of what her presidency would mean is the #1 unifying theme for the GOP -- and, frankly, for much of the country. Every candidate on that stage understands that, first and foremost, primary voters are evaluating him on the basis of how well he can take on the Clinton machine.

Those who gloat at the thought of a dispirited Republican base should likewise perhaps be hoping that Hillary doesn't win the nomination. The Fox News Channel's focus group with Frank Luntz revealed that, uniformly, all the respondents reacted with real antipathy to the prospect of Hillary Clinton in the Oval Office, including one older woman who clearly isn't part of Mark Penn's mythical 25% GOP female crossover vote.

Even if the Republicans end up with a candidate that doesn't set their hearts aflutter, so long as they nominate someone basically unobjectionable and highly competent, party regulars -- and many, many other Americans -- will crawl uphill over broken glass to cast a vote against HRC.


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