Mona Charen

Pawlenty was next to be scolded. His 182-word answer about economic growth caused King to admonish: "I don't want to do much of this, but I'm going to have to interrupt if people go a little bit long so we can get more done." More of what, exactly? "Dancing with the Stars" or "American Idol"?

Throughout the debate, King simply could not get the candidates to refrain from speaking. He warned them again and again, "I'm polite so far, but I want to remind everybody about the time." "I'm going to ask one more time politely."

Since they insisted upon expressing their views in full sentences and paragraphs, rather than the monosyllables the moderator was hoping for, he tried later in the evening to dictate their answers. Turning to Ron Paul, King said:

"So, congressman, come into the conversation. As you do, don't make it just about foreclosures. This is -- this is an interesting topic of discussion, especially -- especially when money is scarce and you've got to start cutting. It's a question of priorities. What should the government be doing? And maybe what should the government be doing in a better economy that it can't do now that has to go?

"So talk about foreclosures a bit, but then tell me something, if you were president and you were dealing with it in your first few weeks, and you said, 'I might like to do this, but I can't afford to do this,' be as specific as you can, what goes?"

That question clocked in, by the way, over 100 words.

Everyone remembers Reagan's "I paid for this microphone" moment in 1980. It was a manly moment. In 1988, Dan Rather attempted to ambush then-Vice President George Bush about Iran/Contra. Bush, advised by the savvy Roger Ailes, came loaded for bear. During a live confrontation with Rather, Bush challenged every premise, repeatedly turning the tables on Rather. It was a defining moment of the campaign.

This is not to suggest that candidates promiscuously pick fights with the press. But when the questioner is insufferable, as King was in New Hampshire, the candidate who confronts him will be the hero of the night.

Mona Charen

Mona Charen is a syndicated columnist, political analyst and author of Do-Gooders: How Liberals Hurt Those They Claim to Help .
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