Wednesday, May 16, 2007


Rise of the Upstarts

I managed to catch the entirety of the GOP Presidential Debate last night from South Carolina, and, in my view, the candidates who performed best in the event were not the ones who are leading in the polls. (Perhaps that is why FoxNews didn't want to invite the upstarts, as they frequently stole the stage from those considered to be in the "first tier.")

Here are my winners and losers from last night:


1) John McCain - If I were McCain, I would be furious as to how last night turned out. While I guess it should have been expected that he would be in the firing line of the other nine candidates, it seemed to this pundit that McCain was the target of the FoxNews moderators, as well. It got to the point to where I almost felt sorry for John. On top of the attacks, McCain's body language oozed an uncomfortable, rigid posture, his answers were consistently moderate to Left of moderate, he looked weak at times on the national defense issue, and he allowed Romney to bait him on an immigration issue that Romney himself has no business questioning anyone else. All in all, a really bad night for McCain.

2) Jim Gilmore - The former Governor of Virginia failed to distinguish himself from the field, and one has to wonder why he got into this crowded race to begin with. His answers weren't exactly truthful on the issue of taxes, and his failure to answer a question because he wanted his staff to handle it on his website after the debate was unfathomable. Gilmore needs to exit this race soon, and the Ames Straw Poll should be enough to clear him off of the ballot.

3) Mitt Romney - Several of the talking heads after the debate last night were of the opinion that Romney was the big loser last night, and I could see how one could be of that opinion. He looked even slicker than in the first debate, when several fence-sitting political friends of mine all bristled at his style and political aura. His responses to the questions of the panel (and veiled references by McCain, Huckabee, and Tancredo) to his conversion on dozens of issues leave Romney as the flip-flopper of the group. Coming so close in time to the Kerry loss in 2004 in a race where he carried the same label, Romney has issues there. Plus, he referred to his faith when answering a question on abortion. Given recent polling, Romney might be better off leaving his "faith" out of the equation. Finally, Romney probably delivered the worst line of the night: "I support the Second Amendment, but I also support the Assault Weapons Ban." You can't have it both ways, Mitt, and you are as anti-Second Amendment as they come with statements like that. Perhaps you need a hunting photo op with John Kerry to boost your campaign.

4) Rudy Giuliani - Some have praised Giuliani's emotion regarding 9/11 and Ron Paul's position that it was U.S. meddling that brought about those terrorist attacks. I don't see it that way. Giuliani looked irrational, non-presidential, and quite frankly one has to wonder if he lives in a cave if he truly believes that Ron Paul was the first to utter that theory as to why the Middle East hates the U.S. Giuliani also failed to answer nearly every question that was put to him last night, almost to the point to where I thought Al Gore had made his way onto the stage. (Kudos to the FoxNews moderators for reasking several questions after Giuliani failed to answer even the simplest of questions the first time, even if the former NYC Mayor avoided answering the questions again on the second time around.) Giuliani also tried to make this primary about electability through bringing Hillary Clinton into the fray, but after last night, one has to believe that even a poor debater like Clinton could eat Giuliani's lunch in a series of debates. Non-presidential, trying to win on electability, failing to answer the questions put to him - it's almost like we're back in 1999...

5) Tommy Thompson - His answer to the question regarding which three government programs he would cut if elected was baffling. This Thompson looked ill-prepared and, like Gilmore, not ready for the rigors of this campaign. Barring shocking results out of Ames in a few weeks, one has to wonder if Thompson or Gilmore will the first to halt their campaign.

6) Sam Brownback - Brownback's performance wasn't awful by any means, but he failed to distinguish himself. I thought his answer on the alternative fuels question was fairly good, but I certainly would have liked to have heard more about short-term fixes to the high oil prices rather than long-term solutions like biodiesel and ethanol. Sam just needed more - a breakout performance - so that his campaign could gain some traction in a crowded primary field. I don't think that he accomplished that.


1) Mike Huckabee - Much like with the first debate, several pundits feel that Huckabee once again took the victory. Huckabee answered the questions before him, showed enough emotion and fire to satisfy the average viewer (without going all WWE like Giuliani), and - perhaps most importantly - looked the most presidential on a stage of wannabe presidents. His answer to the "gotcha" question regarding his use of his pardon powers as Governor of Arkansas was measured and seemed sincere. On top of everything, Huckabee had some of the best lines of the night, chiding John Edwards' "beauty shop" bill and likening the campaign conversions of his opponents to a Baptist tent revival. If Huckabee can weather the storm financially, he could be a player with each passing debate, because he is outperforming the supposed "Big 3" in this arena.

2) Tom Tancredo - I thought that Tancredo made up the most ground Tuesday night, and he was helped that immigration was one of the big topics of the night. He showed knowledge and competency on other issues, though, and his answer to the question first posed to Tommy Thompson on cutting government programs showed the vast differences between a real candidate and one who is pretending to be a candidate. Because Tancredo showed that he can hang with the big boys on a variety of issues, I would have to rank him even with Huckabee as co-victors tonight.

3) Ron Paul - Ron Paul would have won this debate hands-down if he had better anticipated Rudy Giuliani's bizarre reaction to the 9/11 theory and took out the NYC Mayor with a sound bite for the ages. However, Dr. Paul will have to settle for the attention that being linked with Giuliani through the exchange will bring his campaign. The problem with Dr. Paul's answer was that he didn't link the religious component into the reasoning for 9/11, which just seems obvious (perhaps it was too obvious for Paul to mention it?). On the positive side, Dr. Paul also distinguished himself from the other nine candidates on Iraq, which may well benefit him as war fatigue grows with the electorate. The supposed second-tier candidates need name ID and recognition to maintain viability, and going after Giuliani (who may be Paul's ideological polar opposite in this field) is a great way to do it. Dr. Paul isn't as polished as Huckabee, Romney, or other GOP candidates, but his answers were still impressive, nonetheless.

4) Duncan Hunter - Hunter gave good, concise answers and showed strength on the national security issue. Not a bad night for the California Congressman in a state where he has considerable grassroots support.

All in all, most of the pundits thought that the big winners weren't on the stage last night. Talking head after talking head spoke of the vacuums present in both major parties that none of the current crop of candidates could fill. If that is the case, then the big winners last night may have been a pair of Tennesseans - Fred Thompson and Al Gore.


Ditto on your picks for winners and losers. I particularly liked Huckabee's support of the FairTax. But I'll disagree with you on two points.

I think the whole perception of who appears presidential or not is highly subjective and probably irrelevant given the persona of our current president. In many respects, a lot of people like Bush specifically because his demeanor is often not "presidential" at all; giving nicknames to the press core, etc. I thought everyone last night had an acceptable (or at least not distracting) demeanor except McCain, who always seems nervous to me.

As for Ron Paul, I was just as surprised by his gaff as Giuliani was, and my first reaction was about the same. Obviously, I've heard of blame-America-first conspiracy theorist. I just didn't expect one at a GOP primary debate. Paul's attempt to gain credibility by citing the CIA was disingenuous. I seriously doubt you'll find very many mid-east CIA specialist who would advocate the sort of reflexive policy Paul's suggesting; i.e. allowing threats of reprisal to dictate US policy in the region. That's just ridiculous. But his whole tit-for-tat theory (I believe he used the term "blow back") does have one bit of truthfulness in it. The Bin Ladinists/radical Islamists are seeking revenge on the US and the West for events that happened in the mid-east ... not in the 20th century but in the 12th and 13th. Ultimately, they want to reestablish the global Caliphate regardless of past, present or future US actions in the region.
Daniel -

But Ron Paul didn't blame America first, as you and Giuliani said. He said that America's meddling in Middle Eastern affairs was one factor, and I don't see how anyone could argue that is isn't a factor. Now Ron probably should have listed a few other factors during his rebuttal (and, as I noted, his rebuttal could have been much better), such as religion and economics, but he didn't.


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