Republican Debate in Reagan Library

Tonight was the first Republican debate of this campaign which in my humble opinion is getting started way too early. Much to my wife’s chagrin, I not only watched all 90 minutes but commandeered the computer in order to take a few notes. I sort of went back and forth on how to relay my comments a) without being up all night, and b) being just thorough enough not to be boring.

So first, I’ll give my general impressions of the format. Second, I’ll give brief summaries of my opinions of the candidates’ performance in the debate. Third, I’ll give my overall conclusions of the implications of the whole debate. Disclaimer: very little of this will reflect any opinions outside of the context of the debate, however discussion after the fact will undoubtedly lead there.

FORMAT:

First of all 10 candidates is simply way too many. It is nearly impossible to really get a good impression of 10 different people in 90 minutes. Since about as much time is spent asking questions and following up as answering, roughly you’re looking at about 45 total minutes of talk time…that’s, on the average, 4 ½ minutes per person.

The moderator, as some of you are aware is one of my least favorite media personalities, so I will not attempt to hide my bias. Chris Matthews is as full of himself as any one human can be, but with two notable exceptions, most of the debate was fairly well-managed.

The first exception was an instance where Chris literally grilled Huckabee on a comment he made about Romney, apparently about his Mormonism (having trouble recalling the details). Chris asked him at least 5 times to justify this previous quote.

The second exception was way more sneaky. Chris went back to Giuliani 4 times with a question about his abortion stance, and did so under the pretense of giving him a chance to “clarify” his position on the subject. Finally Giuliani was forced to state his Pro-Choice stance, his obviously weakest conservative issue, and Chris left him alone. (I wanted to turn it off at one opint because it looked like Chris was simply going to play Hardball with 10 people.)

The questions were varied (coming from Chris himself, from some other guy from Politico.com and apparently from a forum on the Internet), and ranged from the rather obvious, “Who do you think would make the best candidate for President and why?” to the goofy, “What do you think about the idea of Bill Clinton being back in the White House?” to the stupid, “What do you like least about this country?”

CANDIDATES

Fmr Mass. Gov. Mitt Romney
Good Moment: nothing stands out.
Bad Moment: nothing stands out.
Overall: very, very polished.

TX Congressman Ron Paul
Good Moment: The problem with the Government is that they always seem to want to choose between prohibiting and subsidizing.
Bad Moment: I guess in medicine I had to make tough decisions.
Overall: Said “policmen of the world” way too many times. Seemed just offended by the whole role of government, thus not inspiring anyone’s desire to put him there.

CO Congressman Tom Tancredo:
Good moment: very adroitly separated the term, “women’s rights” from “abortion rights”.
Bad moment: Chris literally cut him off mid-syllable and left him looking like a tool.
Overall: very aware of the angle behind most of the questions. Comes across as an intellectual, sort of a nerd.

Fmr. NYC Mayor Rudy Giuliani:
Good moment: successfully answered the (rather from left-field) question on the difference between Sunni and Shiite.
Bad Moment: The twelfth time that Chris came at him (to give him a chance to clarify, of course) with the abortion question.
Overall: Not shy about citing his stats in New York.

Fmr. VA Gov. Jim Gilmore:
Good moment: Karl Rove is not the issue.
Bad moment: nothing stands out.
Overall: struck a very consistent theme of consistent unwavering conservative.

Fmr. WI Gov. Tommy Thompson:
Good moment: 1900 vetoes as governor
Bad Moment: None stick out
Overall: When I was a governor…

KS Sen. Sam Brownback:
Good moment: This is a coalition party, different ideas and different views, but we’ll win on issues.
Bad moment: three state solution in Iraq.
Overall: Christian conservative, family values, culture of life…etc.

AZ Sen. John McCain:
Good moment: Gov’t programs must justify their existence, set goals, and meet those goals or go out of business.
Bad moment: I will follow Bin Ladin to the gates of hell.
Overall: tried way too hard to come across as a war hawk and a domestic moderate…seemed like a caricature.

Fmr. AR Gov. Mike Huckabee:
Good moment: Corporate responsibility from top executives AND a great commentary on the role of faith in policy decision-making.
Bad moment: none come to mind.
Overall: most likely the best balance of true conservatism and poise and confidence.

CA Congressman Duncan Hunter
Good moment: talking about manufacturing/industrial base with better trade laws, and eliminating double taxations on exports, AND saying that Arnold winning as a centrist is not good enough, “we need to win the right way”
Bad moment: None stick out…
Overall: (sincerest apologies for leaving him out; he actually did well in my opinion, but I was trying to get this out in a hurry.) He did of course mention immigration a lot and specifically how effective a fence on the border has been.

IMPRESSIONS

Overall, what I liked most about the debate was the focus on issues. There was a surprising lack of hedging and dodging, and perhaps the short time frame contributed to that. Most of the candidates were die-hard died-in-the-wool conservatives except, oddly enough, the two “front-runners,” Giuliani and McCain, and Ron Paul, the staunch Libertarian. The constant citing of Ronald Reagan got a little old (but Nancy was sitting right there, so what do you do).

The weakest commentary came from the “front-runners” which is common (if you have nothing to lose, you might as well speak your mind—but at the top of the heap, you have market share to worry about), however the “alternative candidates were delightful at times expressing what a whole lot of conservatives have been thinking and acknowledging that the losses of the Republican party have not been due to too little “centrist” government.

SUPERLATIVES

Most comical: John McCain, who just came across as a fist-pounding amateur.

Most surprising: Tancredo, as he has historically had a tendency to get a little too excited, but stayed very even keel and very insightful and witty throughout.

Most boring: Mitt Romney, who just struck me as a Ken doll brought to life by Dr. Frankenstein.

Most disappointing: Ron Paul struck me as simply too aggravated and angry. He has a right to be, but anyone who appears to be saying, “I can’t believe I’m even on the stage with these idiots,” does not garner a lot of love.

Most predictable: Sam Brownback. Can you say Conservative Christian, Family Values Guy?

OTHER HIGHLIGHTS

Romney throws Patrick Fitzgerald under the bus for ignoring the real leak in the Valerie Plame case. Paul said he deserves to go to prison anyway because he helped mislead the US into war in Iraq.

Chris going down the line and asking everybody to vote yea or nay on letting Schwarzenegger run for President…not one yes.

Schiavo?—Romney says Congress should have stayed out. Brownback believes Congress should have. McCain says they probably acted too hastily. A great little back and forth in my opinion because they were all undeniably telling the truth.

OK, who doesn’t believe in Evolution?

CONCLUSIONS

Essentially, though, and unfortunately, I don’t think any of the alternatives had the opportunity to really stand out from the crowd, so I don’t think the “top three” will change as a result of the debate.

I have intentionally avoided reading any online commentary on this, but I’m certain this weekend we’ll have the opportunity to read transcripts and see what the talking heads have to stay. Then again, we could simply just enjoy the weekend.

15 comments on “Republican Debate in Reagan Library

  1. Jim G. Hamster says:

    Since I don’t want to spend lots of time with a huge reply to this, I’m just going to give a few responses, and come back with more. This way I can say I posted *something*…

    On Giuliani, I think a good moment of his was, other than the shiite/sunni answer, his response to what would he do differently from Bush. Everyone went down the line saying how they’d change this or that about the war. But Giuliani was the only one to say (paraphrasing) “hey, we all said we were going to get hit again after 9/11, but thanks to Bush, we haven’t.” It was nice to see one of them give some deserved credit to Bush.

    Overall, I wasn’t that impressed with Giuliani’s performance. His explanations on his views on abortion need to be simplified and delivered more succinctly. He wasn’t getting the message across, whatever it was.

    My overall for Rudy: he “hates abortion”. :-)

    Before I get some shut eye, one quick response about your notes on Ron Paul. Though he did have trouble with a “good” answer, I didn’t think the tough decisions question was a bad moment. Not everyone can have swooped down on a vine to save a baby from hungry lions, and it was refreshing for a political candidate to say (paraphrasing) “I don’t know”.

    This was longer than I thought, and I hardly scratched the surface!

  2. Jim G. Hamster says:

    A couple more comments this fine morning…

    Bad moment, IMO, for Tommy Thompson was when he was dictating how the Iraqi government must set up. Iraq is not a U.S. colony.

    With that in mind, on Brownback’s bad moment of the 3 state idea. I don’t think it’s such a bad idea (he didn’t strike me as saying “this is how I will set up Iraq as president”). Maybe cultural values out in the Middle East make it unfeasible, but I think there is wisdom in the U.S. model – a federation of different governments (states), each with their own like-minded people but held together by a loose centralized federal governemnt in the interest of national issues.

    Finally, for now, on Gilmore, I think his bad moment was what contradicted his “consistent” conservative credentials (and your assertions on his overall) by being the only one – other than Giuliani whose social values are already known to be less than conservative – who was pro-choice up to 8-12 weeks.

  3. JohnnyB says:

    Duncan Hunter wasn’t there? No mention of illegal immigration? Interesting how Dems won’t debate on Fox yet Reps will let Chris Matthews (former gopher for Tip O’Neill) hammer away.

  4. scottie says:

    format was indeed horrible

    how does one gain an appreciation of the differences between the candidates in 30 second responses?

    a moron could have concluded a priori this format would blow chunks

    go ron paul !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

    and, by the way logipundit, paul is right on his policeman of the world bit

  5. Rothell says:

    Am I the only one put off by the church topics that plague political debates and elections?

    Every time I hear shit about prayer in schools, a “man of faith” as a leader, abortion, etc., I wonder if we aren’t electing someone as head of the Southern Baptist Convention rather than as President of the United States. (Then Chris Matthews blurted out “Do you believe in evolution?” I felt like I was listening to a McCarthy hearing.) Let the record show what sort of moral fiber these individuals possess. The information is out there. Read it. For a debate like this, when these guys are put on the spot and asked questions, can we not stick with the relevant issues?

    What is the role of the President of the United States? That would be a good question for these bozos. And of course I suggest you ask yourselves the same question. Considering everything that the job entails, are you going to put “pray every night,” “go to church on Sundays,” “actively protest abortion,” “debunk evolution” in your answer? (I know these men didn’t say exactly that, but the questions they’re asked seem to beg these sorts of answers.)

    The President is a job and not a role. Yet it always seems like elections turn into pagaents. Mr. President is not Mr. America. We are electing a manager, whose job generally speaking is to make sure we turn a decent profit and don’t go bankrupt. After all, what do people care about most? Their wallets and bank accounts. Bush Sr. was ousted from the White House and replaced with a man who a) smoked pot, b) shamelessly tooted his saxophone on tv to get attention, and c) had reportedly had numerous affairs during his years as governor. Clinton got elected on issues of economics. That is above all things what people care about: fiscal policy. In my opinion, that is exceedingly more relevant to the job of the president than abortion* and evolution.

    That said, I missed some parts of the debate. Did they touch at all on the environment, pollution, and (gasp) global warming? What did they say about illegal immigration? Health care?

    *If people don’t like abortion, they should tell it to their kids. The politicans aren’t having abortions themselves. Why then should we make it their job to make sure our kids aren’t sleeping around, getting pregnant, and having abortions?

    I just woke up. I hope this makes sense.

  6. Logipundit says:

    sincerest apologies on leaving Duncan Hunter out…he was there and spoke fairly eloquently in my opinion.

    I’ve updated the list accordingly.

  7. Logipundit says:

    I agree with you on the church topics and the belief in evolution question was just odd.

    Some great points…”turning a profit and not going bankrupt” is an interesting take on the Presidential role. I do, however, believe that there is a role to play as Head of State and that operating in a dignified and moral manner in the White House is important, regardless of religious affiliation, which is way less important.

    There was some talk of global warming and the environment and Duncan Hunter and Gov. Huckabee made the best comments about our responsibility to utilize technology and be good stewards of our natural resources, etc.

  8. JohnnyB says:

    Rothell,

    Getting up at the crack of noon? I don’t know that these men are bozos, but Chris Matthews tried hard (so I hear) to make it look that way. I don’t mind so much the liberal slant of Matthews as the fact that he draws so much attention to himself, and how much he wants to expose the weakness of a candidate (Rudy on abortion). I much prefer some NPR correspondent than this man who obviously loves to hear himself talk.

    I will provide evidence in contrary to your statement about wallets…the American economy by most indicators is as good or better as it was under Clinton in the boom years. If elections were based solely on economic issues then Republicans would be cruising right now.

    BTW, YJ and I saw Hidden Fortress last weekend. Loved it!

  9. JohnnyB says:

    Rothell,

    Just realized you are probably posting from Hollywood…getting up at the crack of “nine” doesn’t have the same ring as the crack of “noon”

  10. Emily says:

    So, where is your review of the Democratic debate?

  11. Rothell says:

    Although Emily didn’t direct her question, I presume it is for me. To answer, I don’t have television; I get my news from the Net or NPR and thus caught the Elephant debate by chance on the radio. The Donkey debate I missed.

    Broussard: indeed, 11:40am Logipundit time means 8:48am L.A. time… Although evolution, prayer in school, abortion, etc. are fun to talk about, they have zero impact on the economy of this country. Hence my emphasis on what (I believe) is relevant to the job of the president and what is more important to discuss when considering candidates. And, incidentally, the war in Iraq is a pretty substantial financial burden on this country. Hopefully people here are considering not only how many lives are being lost every day over there but how long we’re going to be paying back the money we’re spending on this thing…. Anything Kurosawa is great. Let me suggest you watch “Kagemusha” (1980), my favorite. By the way, the two clownish characters in “High & Low” were inspiration for R2D2 and C3PO in “Star Wars.” Also watch “Straw Dogs” and then “Ikuru,” preferrably back to back.

  12. Rothell says:

    Correction, Broussard:

    the two clownish characters in “Hidden Fortress” were inspiration for R2D2 and C3PO in “Star Wars.”

  13. Logipundit says:

    Pretty sure the question about the Dem debate was directed at me. Truth is, she wouldn’t have sat there and watched it, and she knows it.

    I, like you, just completely missed it, but in retrospect should have covered it. From what I’ve heard, it was pretty heavy on Bush-bashing and pretty light on anything else, but that’s just what I heard. Did anyone else catch it?

  14. JohnnyB says:

    Rothell,

    To get back on the tangent, I organized the old posts on movies and was wondering if you still looked us up. Last movie I saw in the theater was Grindhouse and surprisingly liked the Rodriguez part of the film. I get your overall point regarding the economy. I’d have a hard time watching a presidential debate right now, especially the democrats. An interesting exercise might be to write up a set of relevant questions for candidates of either party. Bet any one of us could do a better job than Matthews or the politico.

  15. Emily says:

    Sorry about the confusion…was talking to Logipundit. Would’ve been interesting…after watching the Rep debate, I’m not too sure I would like to watch another. Very dull.

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