Elephants in the Room: The Second Republican Debate

I just saw the second debate between the Republican presidential candidates in Columbia. It's amazing knowing that all those powerful people actually came HERE. It's so nice to be spoiled by living in one of the so-called "early" states. That doesn't change the fact that I still think it's not particularly equitable, but it is what it is and that's what we have to work with.

Anyway, I thought of the three debates I've seen so far between both parties, this one was the most substantiative. The questions were pointed and the moderators didn't let the candidates spin, thus allowing for real, actual debate to take place.

I think this debate was important because it confirms who the real players are and who should just go home. There are 11 candidates running, including one who wasn't allowed to participate in the debate. I think that several of these candidates would be well advised to go the way of Tom Vilsack and Evan Bayh.

Buh-bye. Thank you for playing. We have some nice parting gifts for you. These candidates should just drop out now:

Jim Gilmore. This guy has a habit of criticizing the other candidates, but he shied away from doing so when he had the chance tonight. All he could do was tell us to check out his campaign site tomorrow when he will name names?! Look, if you're not going to say something to someone's face, then don't say it at all. This single moment made Gilmore look like a C-grade candidate. If he can't stand up to "Rudy McRomney," how can he be expected to stand up to Ahmadinejad or Kim Jong Il or Al Qaeda? He couldn't even express regret that no minority candidates were running for the GOP nomination. What a gimme question! And he bombed it! Go home.

Tommy Thompson. When asked which government program he would cut to save money, he talked about "many" programs that were wasteful. However, the best he could come up with was "the stockpile." Huh? Is he going to blame this lame response on another hearing aid malfunction? Another swollen bladder? Fatigue? The moderator smugly dismissed Thompson when he asked Ron Paul the same question and said "Can you do better than that?" It doesn't seem like Thompson is quite ready for prime time. How can he continue his campaign? He has no gravitas whatsoever.

Tom Tancredo. He did better tonight than at the first debate and even had a few memorable one-liners. However, I just don't think voters take him seriously. He is an issue candidate, and that issue is illegal immigration. But even when he had a chance to hit a grand slam with a question about this when it was posed to him, he did not throw out a lot of red meat, and it seemed to take him a long time to rev up in his response.

Time is running out. These candidates have very little margin for error:

Duncan Hunter. Duncan Hunter was saying all the right things for Republicans, but he seemed like Chris Dodd in the Democrats' debate. In other words, he did not distinguish himself and kinda got lost in the shuffle. He did well in the first debate, but he had a bit of a letdown this time around. For someone who's only pulling 1% in the polls, a letdown is the very last thing he needs. Hunter's problem is that he occupies the same turf as McCain and Giuliani regarding defense and the same turf as Tancredo regarding illegal immigration. Hunter better find a way to differentiate himself soon, or else...

Sam Brownback. Brownback's immediate enemy is Mike Huckabee. They are both running as staunch pro-lifers, but here's Brownback's problem. While his anti-abortion credentials are impeccable, he doesn't seem to be offering much else in terms of reasons why people should support his candidacy. Huckabee, on the other hand, is also able to successfully articulate his anti-abortion and pro-family positions in addition to being able to convey his competence regarding executive experience. Brownback needs to find a way to get from behind Huckabee's shadow, and quick.

Moving up! These candidates left the debate in a better position than before it:

Mike Huckabee. Could this be the most formidable GOP candidate out there? He is definitely a charismatic and talented speaker. His biography is compelling and his positions on the issues conservatives hold dear raise few red flags. He also did an excellent job of acquitting himself regarding the tax increase that took place under his watch in Arkansas, which should calm fiscal conservatives down just a bit. He also had the best one-liner of the night in regards to John Edwards. That'll certainly be replayed on YouTube and in blogs everywhere. He comes from the right part of the country for Republicans (the South), has executive experience, has solid pro-life credentials, and simply looks presidential. Mike Huckabee is Public Enemy #1 for Mitt Romney because Huckabee seems much more authentic and doesn't have to worry about allegations of flip flopping on issues important to conservatives.

Rudy Giuliani. Giuliani's for real. He spoke much more convincingly this time around and had the most poignant exchange of the night with Ron Paul, although I think he misrepresented Paul's position. His decision to speak more openly about being pro-choice has clearly liberated him, although it may be political suicide in Iowa and South Carolina. However, he defended the merits of his position--particularly the point that conservatives don't like government intervention in their private lives, so why should abortion be any different? He also effectively parried Mike Huckabee's comparison of opposing abortion and opposing slavery. He also did a solid job of evoking images of his leadership on September 11, which is his trump card. All in all, he had a solid performance. And for the first time, I really think Giuliani can win this nomination. He's got it together.

John McCain. John McCain stopped the bleeding tonight. He got into a testy exchange with Mitt Romney and drew blood when he reminded the audience of Romney's "conversions" on some issues that are critical to conservatives. He might not be a flashy or sexy candidate, but John McCain is clearly a competent, consistent conservative with strong national security credentials. He's running as the establishment candidate similar to Hillary Clinton. Although he veered into dangerous territory with the Confederate flag question, he made no major mistakes and did well enough to satisfy a few doubts about his campaign.

Oops! These candidates are moving dooooowwwwwn:

Mitt Romney. After winning the first debate, Romney was underwhelming tonight. He was outshone by Mike Huckabee, wounded by John McCain, and sandbagged by so many difficult questions about his conversions on issues important to conservatives. This debate could be a fatal blow to his candidacy because Mike Huckabee is clearly a force to be reckoned with, scabs were ripped off of the old stories about his flip-flopping, he was tarred as a political opportunist, and voters were reminded of the fact that he was a lot more liberal when he served in Massachusetts. Ouch.

I have no idea what to make of Ron Paul. His arguments were compelling and well thought out, but I don't think America is quite yet ready for Paul's ideas. I worry that Republicans and dittoheads will mischaracterize his exchange with Rudy Giuliani about why 9-11 happened. Sean Hannity accused Ron Paul of blaming America for 9-11, which he did not do at all. Paul offers a new way of looking at America's role in the world, but it is a complex view that requires people to avoid knee jerk thinking. But he spoke in a way average people could understand though. ("If China started building permanent bases in America, how would you feel?") A lot of Democrats are looking at Ron Paul as a Republican they can live with. Many Republicans are probably wondering if Paul is even running for the right party's nomination. I think Paul can more effectively get out his libertarian message as a Republican candidate than as a Libertarian or Democratic candidate, however. How well this message will be received, however, is a whole different kettle of fish.

In a nutshell...

McCain stopped the bleeding. He is the Hillary Clinton of the Republican field.

Giuliani strengthened his hand. Can he really pull out the nomination?

Romney has to be sweating bullets. His momentum was stopped cold in its tracks.

Huckabee is knocking on the door of the top tier candidates. With a little bit of funding, he could be very dangerous to "Rudy McRomney."

Thompson is a joke.

Gilmore is an even bigger joke.

Tancredo is a gadfly candidate with a message the size of a 747.

Brownback is playing second fiddle to Huckabee. There's not enough room for both of them.

Paul is in a league by himself. He's holding a hockey stick on a baseball field. Maybe he'll catch on. Maybe he won't. But at least he'll get people talking.

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Copyright 2007-2008 by Anthony Palmer. This material may not be republished or redistributed in any manner without the expressed written permission of the author, nor may this material be cited elsewhere without proper attribution. All rights reserved. The 7-10 is syndicated by Newstex.