Douglas MacKinnon

The "inevitable" presidential candidates were, once again, front and center at the latest Republican debate. While such attention is now the norm, this particular debate may be remembered for something a bit more telling.

As Rudy Giuliani and Sen. Hillary Clinton are, momentarily, the national "frontrunners" for their respective parties, they tend to co-star at many of the debates, both Republican and Democratic. Is this good news for their respective campaigns? Not if it brings unwanted scrutiny and they both go down in flames.

Years ago, when I worked on a presidential campaign, one of the senior operatives told me, "We can spin the outside world, but let's not spin ourselves." Each debate helps to demystify some of the Giuliani and Clinton "outside" spin, and in the process, to expose at least a portion of their soft underbellies to their competition, the media and primary voters.

To a large extent, fear is a driving force behind all campaigns. The Clinton campaign has real fears, as does the Giuliani campaign. Most of that fear — like a movie about reptilian space aliens — has to do with anyone from the outside world seeing their unvarnished and unscripted beings.

For the former mayor, Fred Thompson was only too happy to be the one to lift a corner of the Giuliani "big-top" and give the viewers a quick peek underneath. Mr. Thompson whacked Mr. Giuliani for having supported federal funding for abortions, for backing gun control, for voting for Mario Cuomo and for making New York City a sanctuary city. The former senator then bolded and underlined his point by saying, "He sides with Hillary Clinton on each of those issues." Clearly, that is a Rudy-Hillary kinship that will put off most Republican primary voters.

For Mrs. Clinton, her greater risks come in the general election. While she is still far from being the Democratic nominee (see President Dean), she has a clear-cut advantage over her rivals. Toward that end, Mr. Giuliani and the rest of the Republican debate chorus sang off the same boring — but potentially highly effective — song sheet. Aside from the usual mantra of "higher taxes," former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney may have gotten in the best shot at Mrs. Clinton when he said, "She hasn't run a corner store, she hasn't run a state, she hasn't run a city... and the idea that she could learn to be president...as an internship, just doesn't make any sense."


Douglas MacKinnon

Douglas MacKinnon is former White House and Pentagon official who spent three years working in a Joint Command.

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