Top-tier winner: Rudy
The debate was heavy on foreign policy and security issues, and he spoke better on abortion tonight than in the last debate. Romney and McCain were fighting each other, and Rudy got an absolutely shining moment when he jumped on Ron Paul about saying that the 9/11 terrorists attacked us because of our presence in the Middle East. It's a soundbite, kids, and his campaign headquarters have got to be cheering.
Applause from the audience was probably the biggest of the night.
Rudy also invoked Fort Dix in his first answer, and invoked the Hillary specter and the liberal media within the first hour. Well done.
Second-tier winner: Huckabee
He deserves a couple polling points out of that Edwards comment alone. It strikes me that he's a very gifted speaker in exactly the way a politician should be-- he says very little very beautifully. It sounds like a burn, but I don't mean it that way. He hits the high points, sounds conservative enough, says all he needs to, and is engaging while he does it. He made an impact tonight, I thought, sounding appropriately sensitive on abortion and tough on terror. I thought he was a bit weak when he was defending some of his tax hikes by saying he was governing in a tough state for Republicans. Umm, Hucakbee, you governed in Arkansas. I think the guys who governed in Massachusetts and New York City have taken that argument.
This debate was far more entertaining than the last one, partly because the candidates quit with the "my dear colleague" nonsense and took some shots. I also think Wallace's, Hume's, and Goler's questions were mature and extremely tough compared to the MSNBC/Politico debate. The abortion questions posed to Romney and Brownback, in particular, stood out as very tough (Oh, and the one about having no minorities on stage was tough, though I kinda wish more than one candidate could have addressed it). And, all the front-runners were made to do some serious explaining of what exactly makes them conservative.
The '24' scenario question was classic Fox. It's security-focused, entertaining, provocative, and almost outlandish. It's about as much fun as you can have with a question about security during a GOP primary debate, and will undoubtedly bring Fox some heat about fear-mongering from the Left. Frankly, I thought it spiced things up, and it allowed Tancredo to get off a Jack Bauer line, which, let's face it-- we were all waiting for it.
McCain vs. Romney:
Romney: "McCain-Kennedy would do to immigration what McCain-Feingold did to campaign finance, and that's bad."
MKH: Ooooh, burn!
Audience: Loud applause...
McCain: (Must..cover...anger...toward...Romney...and...audience.) Well, I think it was necessary to deal with the money problem that was causing corruption in the government...And, I have had a consistent position. I have not changed my position in even-numbered years.
Audience: Hesitant applause...
Gonna have to give the win to Romney on that one. Though, I do give McCain the crown over Romney when it came to being genuine and genuinely funny at times.
Rudy vs. Ron:
Ron: 9/11 attackers attacked us because we were bombing Iraq for 10 years, and all up in the Middle East's biznass. (paraphrased).
MKH: Say wha?
Rudy: Oh, no he di-in't! Take it back, punk! (paraphrased)
Ron: No, really, we brought it on ourselves because we were all up in the Mesopotamian Kool-Aid, and didn't even know the flava. It's an A-B conflict, and we should C our way out. (paraphrased)
Rest of the candidates: Hey, hey, we wanna slap Ron around, too! (paraphrased)
Wendell: Settle down. Rudy grabbed his soundbite. Go get your own. (paraphrased)
The rest of the Big Three:
McCain lost the overcaffeinated finger-stabbing, seemed more relaxed, but punched back when necessary. Competent performance with one good line: "As a former drunken sailor, I take offense..." I noticed that several other candidates, on several occasions referred back to things McCain said with, "Sen. McCain is right..." I thought he maneuvered well on the S.C. Confederate flag question. It's tricky. He admitted wrongdoing, took a stand, and managed to get applause out of a crowd that's sensitive about the charged issue.
Romney was competent, but not memorable. His suit-so-blue-it's-black line about how blue Massachusetts is fell a little flat on my official candidate funny-meter. As I said, I think he came out on top of the McCain slapfight, but I think McCain outdid him overall. He didn't speak nearly as much as last debate, which for the guy in the Big Three with the least name recognition, should be key for him. I did like his answer to the question: "Can you cite an example of a policy on which you've changed your mind to a position that's less popular with the Republican debate."
He says he was once for abolishing the Dept. of Education, but changed his mind and went pro-NCLB when he saw that federal money and testing can make an impact. Now, as a small-government conservative, it gave me warm fuzzies that he was ever pro-Education Dept. abolishment, but I recognize that that's not the most practical of positions, so it doesn't hurt him a lot with me to have abandoned it. I'm anti-NCLB, but he got right to talking about the children, so he softened the pro-NCLB blow. Great quote:
"“The civil rights issue of our time is not what’s going on on this stage, but what’s going on in the schools, in the inner-city where kids are not getting the education they need."He actually answered the question with an appropriate example instead of dodging, and managed not to hurt himself too bad with any major constituency, I'd imagine.
He still comes off a little cardboard for me. Guiliani gives me genuine passion. McCain gives me both genuine indignation and good humor. I don't feel anything from Romney.
McCain on federal spending: "As a former drunken sailor, I'm offended..."
Huckabee on spending: "Instead, we’ve had a congress that spent money like John Edwards at a beauty shop."
McCain on Congress' approval rating: "At that point, you're down to paid staff and blood relatives, I think."
Tancredo on flip-flops: "I trust those conversions when they happen on the road to Damascus, not on the road to Des Moines."
Giuliani on immigration: "First, I wanna thank Congressman Tancredo for calling me "soft" on anything. I think that's the first time in 20 years...may be good for my reputation."
Tancredo on '24' scenario: "Four nuclear weapons have gone off on American soil and we're worried about whether waterboarding is appropriate? I'm lookin' for Jack Bauer at that time."