The recent Republican presidential debate in Fort Lauderdale, Florida was held just weeks before the Iowa presidential caucus and was decidedly livelier than previous exchanges. In past Republican events the focus has been upon presumptive Democratic nominee Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-NY). Now that Senator Clinton is no longer certain to be the Democratic nominee, there was only one mention of her – former Governor Michael D. (Mike) Huckabee, of Arkansas, suggested that if the United States were to have manned space travel to Mars Senator Clinton may be the first passenger.
At times this debate looked like a two-man affair. From the first question, former Governor Mitt Romney, of Massachusetts, and former New York City Mayor Rudolph (Rudy) Giuliani berated each other on the issue of immigration. Romney accused Giuliani of welcoming illegal immigrants when he was Mayor. Giuliani accused Romney of having had illegal immigrants paint the Governor’s Mansion. Romney denied this and asked if Giuliani, upon hearing an unfamiliar accent, would demand to see the person’s immigration papers. Giuliani did not reply but claimed that Romney had deputized Massachusetts State Police to handle immigration only two weeks before leaving office. Romney said it was seven months, not two weeks. So it went.
Second-tier candidates did unusually well. Representative Tom Tancredo (R-CO), in reply to a questioner who wanted assurances that manned space travel would continue, said that is wrong with federal spending – everyone wants to cut spending while expanding his or her own pet programs. Representative Duncan L. Hunter (R-CA) related how he secured funding for the fence at the border between San Diego and Mexico. The fence, he said, had drastically reduced crime. Representative Ron Paul (R-TX) elaborated upon his policy of bringing American troops home from Iraq. Ordinarily I would be sympathetic to Paul but Senator John S. McCain III (R-AZ) got the best of Paul by telling him the message troops gave him for Paul over the Thanksgiving weekend: “Let us win.” These are extraordinary times. The troops should be heard.
Huckabee and former Senator Fred D. Thompson, of Tennessee, both scored points with their self-deprecating humor. In short, there was no loser but no clear winner. The debate was co-sponsored by CNN and You Tube, which is owned by Google. CNN’s Anderson Cooper did a reasonable job moderating the event. It featured many of the 5,000 You Tube submissions. It was not clear who selected the questions which were asked but many were questions which would not have been asked by the candidates of each other. For example, one question was submitted by retired Brigadier General Keith H. Kerr. Kerr asked about the military’s “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy for homosexuals. CNN even flew him in to be in the studio audience. It turned out that he is part of Senator Clinton’s Committee on Gays and Lesbians. CNN claimed that it did not know his connection with the Clinton campaign before selecting his question and later apologized for featuring him. If CNN had searched the internet for the General’s name it would have learned of his connection with Senator Clinton. So now the question is: did the Clinton camp plant this question?
The Washington Times reported that at least eight of the 34 men and women who posed questions during the debate were suspected of having ties to Democrats “or a vested interest in asking the Republicans to go on record.” The topics of their questions ranged from corn subsidies to Social Security reform to the aforementioned policy on homosexuals in the military. After checking the personal websites of the eight questioners, Internet bloggers found that they had ties to or clearly supported the leading Democratic presidential nominees, labor unions or Democratic Senators and Representatives, according to the TIMES.
The strong showing by everyone in the debate caused First Lady Laura Bush to tell NBC News that she and her husband have no idea who the GOP nominee will be but, whoever he is, he will have her strong support. Not bad since the Iowa caucus is soon.