It took all my self-discipline to remain awake for the Republican Question and Answer session held at the Reagan Library in California last week. I had hoped that MSNBC Hardball host Chris Matthews would ask tough questions of the Republican candidates and keep me awake. Alas, self-discipline kept me awake. Was there a clear winner? If so it had to be former Governor Mitt Romney of Massachusetts. He was clear. He was on message. He did not appear nervous. He did look Presidential.
It was the opposite of the Democratic debate in South Carolina one week ago. There the candidates during their initial statements appeared strong. It was during their questions and answers that they looked nervous. During the GOP session most of the candidates except Romney looked scared and nervous during the initial statements but in their questions and answers were poised and Presidential.
The "nation's mayor," Rudolph (Rudy) Giuliani, did himself some good in what he actually said. The problem was every time he spoke he looked so nervous, and one time even frightened, that it distracted from every word he spoke. He had the most to lose during this session and perhaps he did. On the other hand, Senator John S. McCain, III did not look nervous for most of what he said. It is what he said which might cause him problems. He is so tied to the war in Iraq that it has to go well for him to do well. Senator Sam Brownback, with his often stated clear message on life, emerged as the clear winner of the pro-life candidates. Almost all of the candidates appeared to be pro-life. The problem for former Governor James S. Gilmore, III, of Virginia, who looked Presidential, is he came across as the one clear pro-abortion candidate. True, he did modify what he said by articulating pro-life positions he had taken while Governor of Virginia. Still, I think it detracted somewhat from his position that he is the most consistent conservative of the bunch. (For full disclosure, Governor Gilmore is a member of the Free Congress Board of Directors.)
Congressman Duncan Hunter had the one definitive message directed at the middle class. He attacked our United States trade policy, charging that it was not only costing us jobs but was a problem for national security. Governor Mike Huckabee of Arkansas at first appeared weak but later came on strong. He provided one of the few laughs of the evening when he said of all of the candidates he knew Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton the best and could assure the audience that, whatever the question, Hillary was wrong.