As always I watched tonight’s presidential debates with great interest. Here is my high-level review of the event.
It was great to see Ron Paul on stage with the other heavy-hitter Republican candidates. There’s no question that he deserves to be there based on his support among voters. This even as Fox News is foolishly sticking to its censorship of Paul even though the N.H. GOP renounced its sponsorship of that debate because of Fox’s stubborn stance.
That said, Paul did not particularly impress me tonight. At times he made his points concisely but was too often passive and his responses were short on specifics and incomplete. He did not take the opportunity to shine in this debate, unfortunately, perhaps because his speaking skills were insufficient to compete with the other candidates.
John McCain did well, I thought, appearing relaxed, confident, and healthy (his age is an important consideration). He more than held his own on all points and was, at first, cuttingly humorous in jabbing Mitt Romney over his position changes. McCain didn’t know when to quit, however, and make himself look childish by continuing to push that button.
Romney did by far the most talking, something that all of the candidates seemed to simply let happen. In fact, he talked himself out of any remaining possibility of getting my vote in the primary with his constant preening to the camera. Worse, he went on and on with his naive insistence that the 12 million (other sources say 15-20M) illegal aliens residing in the U.S. must be deported as part of fixing the immigration system. Correct in principle, but it’s a fantasy and not a position that can be taken seriously. Points to Romney for trying to keep the debate positive, however.
Fred Thompson’s answers to the questions he was asked were good. When he got on a roll Thompson showed solid conservative credentials and made me wish he was a more vigorous candidate. Unfortunately, he did little to assert himself tonight something he needs rather desperately to do.
Similarly, Mike Huckabee, fresh from his win in Iowa, seemed to hang back from the fray. I did think that he came off well (he knew that picking at Romney’s flip-flop wounds was a one-timer, for instance) and made some good points. But Huckabee was too-often vague in regard to specific policies as compared to the other candidates. Perhaps it was a conscious decision not to take unnecessary risks after the big win on Thursday. Since he’s my candidate, I hope that’s the case.
Arguably Rudy Guiliani gave the best performance. His answers were clear, concise, and delivered with confidence and he appeared to be the most natural leader of the group.
In the post-debate wrap-up ABC showed a poll indicating that a vast majority of voters were most interested in hearing more about the economy. Little time was spent on that issue during the Republican debate and the only Republican candidate to score points on that issue was Ron Paul. However, I think his message was unclear tonight and, frankly, would not have been understood by Joe Sixpack, even had he been watching the debates instead of the NFL.
On the Democratic side, all of the candidates were relaxed and poised and the discussion, even at its most vigorous, was quite civil, Bill Richardson’s comments not withstanding.
John Edwards impressed me more than I thought he would. More than just a high-dollar haircut, Edwards was passionate, precise, and gracious. I disagree with virtually everything that comes out of his mouth with regard to fiscal and social policy but I thought he performed well even so.
Barack Obama was better and has more to offer the country than Edwards’ “soak-the-rich with gasoline and set them on fire” approach to rabble-rousing. I still think he’s the wrong man at the wrong time for this country but I understand his appeal. If he was a fiscal conservative I could see myself falling under his spell. But alas…
Bill Richardson was evidently there to campaign for vice-president and did a nice job of cozying up to Hillary.
Speaking of Ms. Clinton, I think she won the debate on the Democratic side. Soft in the beginning, she responded brilliantly when Edwards and Obama tried to gang up on her by hammering her 1-2 on the issue of being too much the establishment candidate. Unlike previous outings Hillary responded forcefully and for thirty seconds showed the toughness she would need to be president. While not as an eloquent a speaker as Obama, she certainly held her own and made her case as the candidate with the most experience seem strong.
Indeed, she succeeded in looking more experienced than she actually is and established herself as the senior statesman among the 3 Democrats.
Interestingly, the point that experts believe that there is a 30% chance that there will be a nuclear attack carried out by terrorists on American soil within 10 years was impressed upon the Democrats who, to a (wo)man, still insist on pulling American troops out of Iraq.
This significant probability isn’t a secret. But even so I imagine that quite a few Americans heard it for the first time tonight.
This can only play in the Republicans’ favor as they are the party of the military and defense. Democrats call this a culture of fear and paranoia. I disagree. A 30% chance of New York going up in flames is something to concerned about. Just because Rudy and crew are paranoid doesn’t mean that someone’s not out to get us.