Mitt Romney Wins Final New Hampshire Debate
Posted by Mike on January 6, 2008
When offering my thoughts on primary debates, I usually characterize one or two candidates as winners, one or two candidates or losers, identify those who were more so-so, and reminisce about my favorite moments. Tonight, I will actually rank the candidates’ performances because I think it was that clear-cut. For the sake of full disclosure, I am a Fred Thompson supporter.
1. Mitt Romney
Romney was the clear winner tonight and I say this as a Thompson supporter who thought the Governor bombed last night. First, Romney displayed his usual charisma which will be important if the Democrats go with Barack Obama. empty suit. Right out of the box, Romney bested both John McCain and Mike Huckabee on tax arguments. He bested McCain by pointing out his opposition to the Bush tax cuts and bested Mike Huckabee when he pointed out that net taxes increased while he was Governor of Arkansas. He then capped off the tax issue by tackling class warfare head-on, arguing that attacking the wage payer does not lead to prosperity. Mitt was a little weak on fees, but McCain and Huckabee’s tax answers were worse.
On the change theme, which frankly nauseates me, Romney argued that his executive experience and outsider perspective makes him the most qualified candidate to change Washington. It is a substantively strong argument and just as important, will be persuasive in a general election. He the charisma and foremost, the man almost always projects charisma on television.
Romney did well tonight because he stopped whining about personal attacks. Tonight, he blew off criticisms and even managed to bait Huckabee into making the same mistake he did last night.
I believe that Romney is in deep trouble if he loses New Hampshire. This debate alone will not carry him across the finish line, but it should help him. The question is, will it be enough?
2. Rudy Giuliani
Rudy Giuliani comes in second not so much because of what he said, but because of his opponents’ mistakes. Giuliani came across well when he spoke, which thanks to Chris Wallace was not nearly enough. The Mayor reminded voters of his tax-cutting ways as Mayor of New York City. What also impressed me was the simple way he handled the question about “change.” The Mayor made the obvious point that some change is good and some change is bad. A candidate like Barack Obama would have trouble handling Rudy on this point once it is tied to specific ideas. Good night for Rudy, for whom New Hampshire is irrelevant.
3. John McCain
I was tempted to give McCain second because I think he did OK in terms of New Hampshire. There will be enough independent voters in New Hampshire to neutralize the immigration issue on Tuesday, but McCain’s long-term chances decreases every time he tries to convince people that he and Ted Kennedy do not support amnesty. McCain will be in trouble once that argument hits South Carolina if New Hampshire punches his ticket to the south.
McCain was better on Iraq. His support for the war coupled with his criticisms of Bush’s strategy give him credibility with the right and with the center, thereby increasing his chances in the general election against either She Who Must Not Be Named or the Empty Suit.
4. Fred Thompson
This was an off night, no doubt about it. He rambled and was too low key for this type of thing. He scored a few points though. He zinged Romney by bringing up the fact that Ted Kennedy was at his health care bill’s signing ceremony. He took Huckabee to school on the legal consequences of closing Club Gitmo. Thompson’s best moment was his closing argument by falling back on the principles that could make a winning campaign. He is setting himself up for a strong South Carolina showing where he can wipe the floor with all on immigration if Romney is weakened by that time. Tonight wasn’t great, but New Hampshire is irrelevant for Fred.
5. Mike Huckabee
Tonight was hit and miss for Huck. He underscored the fact that he is best suited to tie his proposals to the concerns of everyday people. The media, Democrats, and even many Republicans are foolish to underestimate him.
There were many missteps for Huck however. He made the same mistake Romney made last night when he complained that Chris Wallace was the moderator when Mitt Romney questioned him on the issue of in-state tuition for the children of illegal immigrants. Amnesty opponents wonder why the children of illegal immigrants aren’t punished with out-of-state tuition because of their parents’ decisions when children of American parents from other states are. Fortunately, for Huckabee, New Hampshire isn’t that important for Huckabee. His immigration past will hurt him.
6. Chris Wallace
I initially thought Fred Thompson and Rudy Giuliani were ignored too frequently. I am now certain this was the case because Wallace just admitted it on Fox. Also, his questions were too long. People should hear from the candidates, not the moderator.
Tuesday’s primary is crucial to Romney and McCain. The former will be greatly weakened if he does not win. The latter will be finished if he does not win. Romney was the winner tonight. The issue now is whether it was enough to help him finish off McCain.
Mary Katharine Ham has some interesting thoughts on tonight’s debate.