Two Debates on ABC

by Mike on January 6, 2008

in Election 2008,Politics

ABC hosted two Presidential debates last night in New Hampshire, one for each party. Since I was never going to watch all three hours, the following is my take on how it went for the Republicans.

Each candidate was playing to a different audience. Although the debate was held in New Hampshire, Fred Thompson was more concerned with how his performance would play in South Carolina, Rudy Giuliani was more concerned with how his performance would play in Florida, and Ron Paul was more concerned with how his performance would play in South Park’s Imagination Land. All candidates, whether focused on New Hampshire and elsewhere, had an interest in undermining Mitt Romney and it showed.

Despite conventional internet wisdom to the contrary, I thought Romney lost last night’s debate. There were no major stumbles on his part, but he was forced to play the role of human pin cushion. Early on, he faced off with Mike Huckabee over the latter’s condemnation of President Bush’s foreign policy as arrogant. I thought Romney won this exchange but it was downhill from there. At one point Romney engaged McCain in an amnesty debate. Both candidates came off the worse for this exchange. In Romney’s case, he was criticized for having changed positions on the issue. This would be a common theme.

Fred Thompson challenged Romney for having said that separation from President Bush’s immigration policy would be a mistake for the GOP. Romney claims to have been misquoted. John McCain then proclaimed: “when you change your positions all the time, you’re bound to get misquoted.” Earlier in the evening, Romney asked Mike Huckabee not to attack his positions, and Huckabee asked, “which one?” When Romney attempted to seize Barack Obama’s language regarding change, McCain jokingly agreed with Romney when he said “you are the candidate of change.”

Romney’s response to these attacks was weak, and even seemed whiny when he asked that the others refrain from personal attacks. It was reminiscent a debate in which She Who Must Not Be Named accused her rivals of playing gotcha. Fighting back without whining would have been more effective. It is often said that the candidate who levels criticisms in a debate risks a backlash. Given the effectiveness of negative attacks, I don’t buy this assertion but even assuming it to be sure, I don’t think Romney will benefit because it wasn’t one person criticizing him, it was the whole lot, and then he whined about it.

On a positive note, Romney was one of only two candidates to stand up for conservatism on economic, social and foreign policy issues. This is one of his strengths in this race. For this reason, other than when he admitted that he “likes mandates,” he was effective when discussing issues. In addition, most people in New Hampshire were probably watching football. However, Romney didn’t handle the attacks too well. His performance leads me to the conclusion that everyone else won.

John McCain had no major missteps in terms of wooing New Hampshire and so I declare him the short-term winner. Unfortunately for him, he delivered the lie of the debate when he declared that “I’ve never supported amnesty.” I don’t think that will hurt him in New Hampshire where so many indies will invade our primary, but that lie won’t help him down the road in the other primaries.

Mike Huckabee was another winner. I thought he stumbled early on with his awkward backpedalling on his accusation that Bush’s foreign policy has been arrogant. He delivered a funny one-liner against Romney though when he asked about Romney’s multiple positions. It wasn’t Huckabee’s best performance, but since he doesn’t need New Hampshire, this didn’t matter.

Giuliani did quite well. On points, he probably won the national security portion of the debate. His is answers on national security issues showed a deep understanding of the problems we face. He especially shined when he gave Ron Paul a history lesson on the history of Islamic terrorism.

Fred Thompson was the adult in the room and reminded me why I support him. Although he was authoritative, he was a little dry. He was playing to South Carolina though. Staying out of the McCain-Romney catfight on immigration, Thompson challenged Rudy Giuliani over the amnesty issue when he boiled the issue down to first principles. Thompson explained that amnesty is when one is “rewarded for your illegal behavior in any way.” This will play well in later states, especially if Romney is weakened and the opponents are McCain, Huckabee, and Giuliani. Like Romney, Thompson also defended the three prongs of conservatism, though he cited the Constitution when doing so.

Ron Paul may be physically on our planet, but he’s really just a tourist. I did appreciate his answer on ID cards though.

Charlie Gibson was the moderator and with the exception of taxes and health care, wasn’t too bad. At the end of the debate, he invited all candidates from both parties to share the stage. Corny.

I thought Romney lost this one, but it won’t matter. Many people were watching football and there’s another debate tonight on Fox News. More people will remember that one. As was the case yesterday, everyone in this race will try to weaken Romney because it is in their interests to do so. McCain needs to beat him in New Hampshire. The others want him weakened for some other state. If Romney can fight back rather than whine tonight, he’ll be OK.

Screencap of ABC News debate via Hot Air

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