The following is this undecided conservative’s thoughts on tonight’s Republican debate in South Carolina.
The winners of tonight’s debate in terms of the big picture were the two conservatives who weren’t even there: Fred Thompson and Newt Gingrich. Of those on stage, Mike Huckabee was the clear winner although Duncan Hunter also delivered a strong performance. The biggest losers were John McCain and Ron Paul.
The on-stage winner of tonight’s debate was Mike Huckabee. His answers were both sophisticated and in line with what Republican voters look for in a President. The three most important issues in a Republican primary are the war on terror, the right to life and taxes. Huckabee addressed all three in an impressive manner. He admitted upfront that he supported a tax increase as Governor of Arkansas, but he also pointed out that he cut taxes 94 times. Moreover, he gave an eloquent defense of the right to life which included a comparison between America’s respect for life and radical Islam’s disrespect for life. Huckabee clearly articulated what we support, why we support it, and the stakes in supporting those values in the overall war on terror. He also delivered the money quote of the evening: “We’ve had a Congress that spent money like John Edwards at a beauty shop.” Nice!
The frontrunners on the other hand were unimpressive, especially John McCain. McCain stumbled several times. First, he delivered the lie of the debate when he exclaimed “I have never supported amnesty.” He then compounded his problem with his response to Brit Hume’s hypothetical regarding a President’s response to a terrorist with knowledge of an impending attack. In that hypothetical which he described as a “one in a million” scenario, McCain seemed more concerned about world opinion than anything else. Wrong answer Senator. These answers coupled with Chris Wallace’s mention of McCain’s positions on the Bush tax cuts, McCain-Feingold, gay marriage and amnesty tells me McCain has a lot of explaining to do.
Rudy Giuliani also had some explaining to do after digging himself into a hole during the MSDNC debate. Early on in tonight’s debate, Rudy kept digging. Confronted with a comparison of abortion and slavery, Giuliani argued that two evils are different. I agree. Both are evil, but abortion gives us more fatalities. Fortune smiled on Giuliani however, when Ron Paul decided to show the world his Rosie O’Donnell impersonation. After Paul asserted that America caused 9-11, Rudy ripped him a new one by lumping Paul’s theory together with some of the other “absurd” theories he heard over the years. In my opinion, Giuliani’s response drew attention away from his pathetic abortion answer and toward his pathetic opponent. By hitting Paul’s softball out of the park, Giuliani turned defeat into breaking even.
With a solid debate performance already under his belt and two conservative rivals on the sidelines, Mitt Romney had a golden opportunity to add to his momentum. He did not succeed. Although Romney didn’t exactly stumble in this debate, his performance was not as strong as the one he delivered on MSDNC. He gave some good answers though. He explained that a civilized society supports life, implied that gay rights and gay marriage are different issues and didn’t wimp out on the terror attack hypothetical. His answers were fine, but less than stellar. Maybe it was because Chrissy Matthews wasn’t there to serve as the perfect foil. Maybe it was because the questions were better. Whatever the reason, Romney didn’t shine. Like Giuliani, he broke even.
Most of the second tier candidates were less than spectacular. Let’s take them one at a time.
Jim Gilmore: Gilmore was inspiring at times, especially on the War on Terror. However, his reluctance to name the opponents he was trying to attack until tomorrow when they wouldn’t be able to respond struck me as cowardly.
Sam Brownback: He was solid on life issues, but his views on illegal immigration are a bit troubling. In addition, his delivery was quite boring.
Tom Tancredo: We agree with the Congressman. We’re looking for a Jack Bauer too.
Duncan Hunter: This veteran turned Congressman came in second place tonight. Tom Tancredo said he was looking for a Jack Bauer. Duncan Hunter actually sounded like Jack Bauer when he explained that his reaction to a hypothetical situation in which a terrorist had information regarding an imminent attack would be “a one minute conversation.” After two strong debate performances, I still see Hunter as a potential Vice President.
Tommy Thompson: He was there. I think. They should give his spot in the next debate to Fred Thompson.
Ron Paul: Paul may be pretty good on domestic issues but this hippie crap is getting a bit old. September 11 was not our fault. How many times does he need to told that he is running in the wrong primary? The GOP should give his spot in the next debate to Newt Gingrich.
On the media front, I must say that Fox News did an excellent job of covering this debate with one exception. Wendell Goler should not have turned down Romney’s proposal which would have given each candidate thirty seconds to rhetorically beat Ron Paul like a pinata. Other than that, the coverage was superb. Omitting stupid questions like the ones Chrissy Matthews asked in the first debate was greatly appreciated. Unlike MSDNC, Fox News realized that the purpose of this debate was to inform Republican voters about the Republican candidates running in the Republican primary.
This Republican was most impressed with Mike Huckabee. His in-depth answers on the most important issues of our time and needling of John Edwards stole the show. Unfortunately for Huckabee, he is currently a member of what many call the “second tier.” Because of this status, he will need to deliver several more performances like tonight if he hopes to climb up into the first tier.
Giuliani, McCain and Romney had a golden opportunity to put the squeeze on their absent rivals but were unable to do so. Because of this, Fred Thompson and Newt Gingrich were also winners tonight. They shouldn’t take much comfort in this victory however. Sitting out may have been an effective strategy for Thompson and Gingrich tonight, but that won’t be the case much longer. Those two need to step up and soon.