Carol Platt Liebau: Republican Debate

Thursday, January 24, 2008

Republican Debate

For the most part, tonight's debate was a face-off between Rudy Giuliani, John McCain, and Mitt Romney -- for whom the stakes are high in Florida. For McCain or Romney, it's a chance to secure momentum heading into Super Tuesday, and with such momentum that the Florida winner may be unstoppable. For Giuliani, it's a must-win.

Maybe it was the squabbling at the Democrat debate, or maybe there's polling showing that voters don't want to see anybody arguing, but the candidates' manners were exquisite tonight. That had the effect of favoring Mitt Romney, who often has been on the receiving end of other candidates' jabs.

If there was a winner tonight, it was Romney. His line about "General Hillary Clinton" was the only crack that elicited universal laughter and applause from the crowd. His answer to the ridiculous Tim Russert question about his self-funding was fine -- although it would have been even better had he pointed out that the strictures of McCain-Feingold makes it easier than ever for wealthy candidates like him (talk about the law of unintended consequences!). His answer to the Brian Williams religion question was handled admirably, concluding with a Reaganesque reminder that "free American people are the source of America's greatness." In a sense, the disproportionate concentration on Romney by the questioners suggests that Russert and Williams see him as the frontrunner -- and/or it seemed less fun to the moderators to hassle John McCain.

Of the three main candidates, John McCain had the toughest night. He was clearly irritated by the question about his economic qualifications, and his passion about the issue of global warming isn't going to do much to help GOP voters forget their areas of disagreement with him. His response to the question about his standing in the GOP base was a missed opportunity; why would he instead catalogue his areas of disagreement with the party (where, of course, with typical sanctimony, he made it clear that Republicans were wrong and McCain was right). (Update: Kate O'Beirne skewers with wit McCain's characterization of Joe Lieberman as one of his "favorite Democrats). The constant invocation of the people and groups that have endorsed him seemed to smack of an inside-the-beltway mentality, although his line about sending his supporter Sly Stallone to deal wtih Huckabee's Chuck Norris was funny. But the most damaging development for McCain wasn't his debate performance -- it was his endorsement by the NY Times.

Rudy's finest moment of the debate, in fact, was in discussing the NY Times' criticisms of him. It's revealing that Russert and Williams didn't seem to realize that condemnation by the Times is, in fact, a badge of honor for any conservative. Helloooo . . . welcome to planet Earth, gentlemen.


Blogger Greg said...

I'm really liking Romney, though I would happily vote for Rudy should he win the nomination. Romney always impresses me with his knowledge of the issues and his demeanor.

But I really think he needs to work on his timing when speaking. I think he needs to slow down a bit to allow each thought to take hold. Taking a queue from Ronald Reagon and Bill Clinton - and Barak Obama - would be well advised here. A well-placed pause here and there would do wonders for his message.

And he needs to recognize when he's delivered a good line and let that line have it's moment in the spotlight before continuing with his next line.

Honestly, I think that slight adjustment is all that's necessary to vault him over the competition in both the primary and the general election.

10:36 AM  

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