Mary Katharine Ham

Let's face it. Debates are composed of moments. And, Rudy is momentous.

From his first answer on Iraq, in which he notably outdid Romney who answered the same question right before him, Rudy seemed on point tonight. He's back to speaking straight-up about abortion, and I think, even if that doesn't earn him points, it doesn't lose him that many. I think it's a better tack than pandering, which he did a little of in the first debate.

He effectively demonstrated his mastery of the terrorism issue on both an emotional and a tactical level. He went after Democrats: "This war is not a bumper sticker. This war is a real war."

He demonstrated his sense of humor, which is always a winner for him. The lightning striking/mike popping while he was giving his abortion answer was priceless: "As a guy who went to parochial schools all his life, I want you to know that was a very scary moment." Rudy played it for all it was worth, backing away from his podium and looking up at the sky nervously, and insodoing probably distracted a lot of people from the fact that they disagree with his actual position.

He didn't shine big-time on the immigration question, but he didn't misstep, going pretty neutral by calling it a "Washington mess" that wouldn't make things better. He did take the opportunity to go after McCain's promises about the bill: "This is the thing about Washington. They say things, but they're not in the legislation."

Another fun moment was when Giuliani told Wolf to hush during the Scooter Libby question. A typical liberal gotcha question, Wolf wanted a yes or no from each candidate on whether they'd pardon Libby. Giuliani (and others) went into detail about the Libby case. Giuliani referenced his prosecutor experience in saying that he thought the sentence was sufficiently eccessive to put it halfway down the road to Pardonville. Wolf tried to shush him, but Rudy told him it was a complicated, important issue, and he'd take the time to answer the question, thank you very much.

He went after Wolf another time, in response to Wolf's question about what he would do if Petraeus came back in September and reported no progress in Iraq. Quoth Rudy: "What if he comes back with reports of progress? I wonder, will those be reported as aggressively as the failures?"

And, in case y'all think I'm in the tank for Rudy, please remember I did declare Mitt the winner of the first debate. Rudy doesn't always win, but he shined more than others tonight.

Not that others didn't have good nights. Huckabee, for one, is a hell of a speaker. He's polished, but warm. He speaks in mini-columns. Each answer has a beginning, an end, and some imagery thrown in for flash. It's really rather impressive. I wonder if there's a staff writer to thank for that and some of his one-liners or if it's all him. He comes across sincere, and his evolution answer was artful, politically smart, and moving.

McCain was, of course, great on the war in Iraq, as usual. It's always a pleasure to hear him speak on that, but of course the immigration subject was hard on him tonight. He spoke fairly well in defense of that, as well (his defense of Hispanic contributions to American culture, specifically), but that doesn't mean it won him any points.

Romney was fine, but once again, didn't get me going. He still feels a little canned to me.

I can't wait to get Fred in the mix.

Update: Fred! online!

And, here's Fred! taking advantage of the patented Newt-style post-debate time-hogging afforded only to men who have not yet declared their candidacies, but may.

Update: Podhoretz makes an interesting argument for the early start of the campaign. Frankly, I know I was complaining about the debate when I started blogging tonight, but I always end up enjoying them as the guys get into it. This is why:

These debates are very substantive and very good. There's something tobe said, it turns out, for the early start to the campaign season. It'stoo early for these guys to go at each other in an ugly fashion, and sothey really are staking out positions and finding their comfort leveldiscussing the most difficult issues facing the country. And the highlevel of argumentation really does put the Democratic field in theshade.

There are a lot of guys on stage, and I think Wolf ended up trying to cut them off too often to fit into the time constraints, but a lot of the discussion is pretty good. I thought the health care discussion had far more details and far more promise than anything the Dems said the other night.

Update: I forgot to add that I always enjoy Duncan Hunter. I disagree with him on trade, but he's a good, solid conservative, and I always wish he had gotten a chance to speak a little more. It was particularly poignant to hear him address the audience member who had lost a brother in Iraq by talking about his own son's mission there.

He also showed some of the biggest rhetorical muscle of the night by accusing McCain and others of being overly influenced by Ted Kennedy.

Mary Katharine Ham

Mary Katharine Ham is editor-at-large of, a contributor to Townhall Magazine.

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