The First Debate: Grading The Republicans
Hmmm…well, I wasn’t very satisfied with what I saw tonight. Many candidates put on a face that I think is frankly unappealing to large parts of the country. I hope we put the desire to elevate abortion and immigration into the main issues of the day behind us before the general election, or we shall surely lose.
By contrast, when the Republicans focused on defense, as they did for much of the early part of the debate, it was clear that they are still the grown-ups in the room (especially when compared to the manner in which the Democrats fell over themselves apologizing for Iraq during their initial foray).
On, then, to the candidates:
Jim Gilmore: B. Gilmore had nothing to lose and everything to gain from more exposure, and he acquitted himself well enough to have probably done a bit of good but not so well as to make any major move in the polls.
Duncan Hunter: B-. Another beneficiary of low expectations. Nothing outstandingly good or outstandingly bad.
Tommy Thompson: C+. Thompson did well overall, but he had the night’s biggest gaffe, when he stood up for the right for employers to fire homosexuals merely because of their sexuality. That’s pretty regressive – after all, we’re not talking about altering a centuries-old tradition like marriage here. Some may applaud his stance here – not me.
Sam Brownback: C. Look, there’s no doubt that much of the Democratic Party has an outright hostility toward religion in general and conservative Christians in particular, but Brownback came across to this viewer as sanctimonious and on the wrong side of the boundary between church and state. (However, maybe Brownback should get a B-, because I did like his answer that he would support a Republican nominee who was pro-choice because he agreed with the Reagan position that the person who agrees with me 80% of the time is my friend – one of the only of the many thousands of references to the man that actually resonated).
Mike Huckabee: B-. Huckabee suffered from perhaps too great of expectations; as a candidate who a lot of people feel is at the top of the second tier, he had the most to gain from a home run tonight, but he hit a double instead. Much too much time on the pro-life and religion stuff, here, too. It’s great to be a person of faith – but you don’t have to beat us over the head with it. Huckabee should have spent more time on his signature issue of health, an issue that has resonance with all voters, regardless of party identification.
Ron Paul: C+. Paul was allowed to essentially play his one note over and over, but it’s an appealing one to a lot of Republicans who have a great deal of sympathy with the libertarian position on many issues – but for a politician not to be able to name a single moment when he responded well to a crisis? Unforgivable…why are you even in public office, then?
Tom Tancredo: B+. Tancredo is not my cup of tea, but he acquitted himself well tonight, and was able to articulate his positions clearly in a difficult forum. I think he gained ground, but he’s so far back it will probably matter very little.
And the big three (at least in the absence of Fred Thompson):
Mitt Romney: C+. Romney is telegenic, but in that creepy professional politician way. I wouldn’t buy a used car from this guy, and I certainly wouldn’t want him as my president. A little Romney goes a long way, and I will flat out predict right now that Mitt Romney WILL NOT be the Republican nominee for president.
John McCain: B+. McCain’s presentation skills were off – he stumbled over words and sentences a lot, and that won’t comfort those who feel he is too old. But he knows he’s going to live and die on Iraq, and he stuck to his guns quite admirably. He was also very clear on Iran and strong on pork spending, and that will help him with conservatives.
Rudy Giuliani: B-. Rudy had the highest expectations and he just didn’t deliver. He mentioned Ronald Reagan too many times, and 9/11 not often enough. He bungled the question regarding whether he had any regrets about his relationship with the black community, by (insultingly, in my view) using the question to instead talk about his strides against crime and welfare, and thereby drawing an equivalence that will certainly do nothing to repair the ill will left in the wake of such incidents as the Amadou Diallo shooting. Good for Rudy for standing up for his abortion views in a crowd where that stance was clearly not popular, though…
The winner, I guess, is McCain by default, but we’re going to have to do much, much better than this at articulating a vision that will get us elected in 2008. Dogmatic references to a pro-life culture and endless evocations of Ronald Reagan are not going to get the job done in the current climate. I think the Republican Party itself came out a pretty big loser on the night…