If I Had to Vote Republican

Random thoughts on tonight’s Republican Debate (live-blogging):

The format of the debate, with Brian Williams and Tim Russert asking specific questions with little follow-up or interaction from the other candidates makes things a little stilted. [ETA: This got better as the night wore on.] I was surprised and glad to see Ron Paul on the stage as I’m pretty sure his picture wasn’t in the opening graphic. He’s the Republican’s Dennis Kucinich and his voice is needed in these forums if only for his strident anti-war stance.

9:30pm: 30 minutes in and based purely on their performances so far, I kind of like Ron Paul and Mike Huckabee. There’s a clarity to their answers that’s noticeably missing from the others’, except arguably, for McCain, who I’d like a bit more if he weren’t so damn hawkish. Giuliani and Romney’s sourpusses are almost as off-putting as their tone and while Paul and Huckabee have some batshit-crazy stances on several issues, I don’t get the same images of “itchy trigger finger on the nuclear button” that I get from those two.

9:34pm: Russert asks, “Do you think the War in Iraq was worth it?” McCain basically says, “Hell, yeah!” though he equivocates quite a bit. Giuliani attacks Hillary Clinton’s flip-flopping on the war (rightly so) in giving his answer but ultimately says it was worth it. Paul says very straightfowardly, “It was a very bad idea and it wasn’t worth it.” Huckabee says that he supported the President, as did the Democrats, and that, effectively, it was worth it. Romney says yes, but says that it was mis-managed but the surge is working.

9:43pm: It’s the section of the debate where the candidates get to ask each other a question. Romney leads off and references one of the interesting points he says Huckabee made earlier (I thought it was Paul) about China, with the US likely borrowing the $150B for the proposed economic stimilus package only to see it spent on products that were made in China. “Whose economy is being stimulated?” said Huckabee/Paul.

–Giuliani tried to make a joke before he answered Romney’s question and it was a perfect demonstration of what a humorless prick he is. —

McCain asks Huckabee about his “fair tax” proposal — which I think is a terrible example of a regressive tax that hits lower-income people the hardest — and Huckabee does a good job of making it sound appealing. I’ll have to look into a little further so I’d say he handled the question quite well. Russert comes with a good follow-up question that Huckabee again handles pretty well.

Paul asks McCain an economic question that seems very insider baseball and goes completely over my head. He does get McCain to effectively acknowledge economics isn’t his specialty, something he claimed wasn’t true earlier when Russert read him back a quote that said as much. Lot of name-dropping, but long story short, he passes the buck to advisors.

Huckabee asks Romney a 2nd amendment question, focusing on the dichotomy of his support of the Brady bill and the ban of “so-called assault weapons” and his support of the 2nd amendment. The whole guns/2nd amendment/assault weapons argument is so foreign to a city boy like me but it seems like Romney juggled his answer well enough.

Giuliani asks Romney a property insurance question that is pretty much his pandering to Florida moment with his proposed National Catastrophic Insurance Fund that most pundits agree would never pass on the federal level, and takes a swipe at McCain in the process.  Romney gives what seems like a solid answer that suggests a compromise and references his record on health insurance in Massachussets which Giuliani then tries to slip in a dig on but Romney sidesteps it. Brian Williams nicely gives McCain an opportunity to respond and he does with an answer that seems similar to Romney’s take on it. Russert jumps in with an interesting follow-up for Giuliani and McCain about energy policy and greenhouse gases and both seem to be big on nuclear power. Giuliani’s answer seemed a bit indirect, while I like that McCain acknowledges that climate change is real, saying worst case, “If we’re wrong, we hand over to our children a cleaner world.”

10:06: Home stretch, Williams starts off with Giuliani, noting his fall in the polls in Florida and his lackluster performances in the past four primaries/caucuses and Giuliani gives a ridiculous answer invoking the Giants’ improbable roll into the Super Bowl.  Dude is delusional!

It’s humor time, I guess, as Williams refers to McCain’s mother’s statement about Republicans having to “hold their nose” to vote for her son because he’ll be their nominee. It’s a fair question as it’s about McCain’s ability to unite the party behind him in light of his past breaks with them on notable issues. He gives a solid answer that focuses on the areas of agreement while defending his independent streak. “I’ll always put my country above my party.” Notably, there’s no mention of immigration. 

Russert asks Romney about running against Hillary AND Bill Clinton and he gives a smart, confident answer that should give all Democrats who assume it’s going to be a cakewalk in November cause for concern. Russert follows up with a question about how much of his own money Romney’s spent in Florida and he declines giving a specific number before the required January 31st deadline. He notes that he’s “by far the biggest contributor to [his] campaign” and as a result is the only one of his competitors who doesn’t owe anyone anything. Williams follows up with a poll that says 44% of people don’t think a Mormon can unite the country. If anyone wonders who the perceived front-runner is right now, it’s just become clear, I think. Considering the three consecutive questions he’s had to field, he handles it well. Credit where due.

Russert asks Paul about his desire to “abolish” Social Security in light of 3.5 million senior citizens living in Florida and he does a pretty good job of tackling the question by explaining what he’s actually for instead of the usual equivocation and flip-flopping. Russert then turns to Huckabee with some hard numbers about the fate of Social Security and he wastes time with a “humorous” shot at Romney that falls flat. He then comes back to his “fair tax” proposal and Russert tries to interrupt him saying that’s unlikely to pass and Huckabee nails the “people are always saying what we can’t do.” Russert turns to Romney and invokes his idol Ronald Reagan’s approach to social security to which he says he will not raise taxes like Reagan did, but will have to work out a compromise with Democrats that doesn’t sound very likely.

Giuliani fields a viewer’s question about his stance on immigration and the requirement that immigrants learn English and how it jibes with his Florida commercials in Spanish.  He basically states his policy without really answering the question. Russert follows up with a question about “wet-foot, dry-foot” and its fairness, and he basically says, with a straight face, that it’s because Castro is the worst dictator in modern history.

Huckabee gets a question about Chuck Norris’ comment about McCain’s age and says he didn’t disagree with him at the time because Norris could kick his ass. McCain giggles like a schoolgirl throughout the answer and gets 15 seconds to rebut, with which he refers to Sylvester Stallone’s endorsement, saying he’s going to send him after Norris.

Giuliani gets slammed with a reading of the New York Times‘ endorsement of Clinton and McCain (out tomorrow) that calls him every name in the book. It’s a softball question, though, as the Times is the ultimate Republican boogeyman and he handles it reasonably well. (On a side note, I’m disappointed but not at all surprised that the Times endorsed Clinton over Obama or Edwards.)

Interestingly, McCain wraps up with a left-field respectful nod to Giuliani that leads me to wonder if the post-Florida fallout might not be a McCain/Thompson ticket but a McCain/Giuliani ticket. Either that, or he simply sees Giuliani as the anti-Romney and is trying to line up a quick pre-Feb. 5th endorsement when Giuliani most likely drops out.

Paul makes an interesting point about the direction of the Republican Party straying from its ideals and gets some impassioned applause.

Overall, considering what’s at stake tonight with the winner-take-all Florida primary looming — and the likelihood that it’s the first time a lot of people are really tuning in — it was a rather tame evening with no one landing (or even attempting) any serious body blows and no clear winner. I’d say Romney, if he’s truly the front-runner, didn’t hurt himself at all and probably won over the most undecideds, while McCain came off as a solid alternative.

Even in light of my total disdain for Hillary Clinton and the repugnant campaign she’s been running lately, I’d have trouble pulling the lever for any of these guys in protest in November, though McCain would be tempting for a number of reasons, not the least of which is the increased likelihood of Obama ’12 and a country truly ready for a fundamental change. Which sucks, and is exactly the kind of choice between the lesser of two evils that keeps so many people away from the voting booths in November.

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2 thoughts on “If I Had to Vote Republican

  1. “9:30pm: 30 minutes in and based purely on their performances so far, I kind of like Ron Paul and Mike Huckabee.”

    Yes, but that’s exactly what’s terribly, terribly pernicious about Huckabee. He IS likable– extremely (have you seen him on the Colbert Report), but he’s also more apeshit crazy than any of them– he just hides it better than some.

  2. Oh, no doubt. He’s actually the potential nominee that scares me the most, especially head-to-head against Clinton because I think the Dems will grossly underestimate him the way they did Dubya both times. Pair him up with a strong VP and he could take the whole thing.

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