alien & sedition.
Friday, May 04, 2007
  GOP Debate: Surveying the Damage

Having been smart enough to avoid drinking at every mention of Reagan's name last night, I'm sober and alert this morning (er, early afternoon) and ready to report on the right's reaction to last night's festivities.

Points of rough consensus among our conservative friends:The big story seems to be Giuliani's blunders -- especially on abortion (though his mishandling of the Shia/Sunni question didn't help him, either). At NRO, Kathleen Parker says "he seemed nervous and disorganized." John Pitney warns that "his abortion comments — 'nuanced' if you like them, 'hairsplitting' if you don’t — are already making the YouTube rounds." Byron York says Giuliani "botched a question on abortion so badly that it’s unclear whether he will ever learn how to discuss the issue in the context of Republican presidential politics — a significant handicap for someone running for the Republican presidential nomination." And Mark Levin tries to give the mayor some friendly advice:
Look, Rudy, you're not pro-life. But you're trying not to offend the Republican base. The best approach is to be honest. This is not an issue for obfuscation. And if you continue down this road, it will only get worse. [...]

Make the case for federalism and make the case for strictly limiting abortion. Mitt Romney, whose position has changed in the last two years (and good for him), and John McCain, who has done nothing in over 20 years in Washington to advance the pro-life cause (indeed, it wasn't that long ago when he was at war with Evangelicals) aren't standing on the firmest ground either. However, they've staked out their positions with clarity and can articulate them whenever called upon to do so.
At Human Events, Nathanael Blake is feeling significantly less charitable:
[H]e's offering pro-lifers almost nothing. "Vote for me and I'll appoint judges who might rule that abortion isn't a constitutional right." Not an attractive proposition for pro-lifers who believe that abortion is murder and therefore the most important moral issue in our nation.

Of course, Rudy might do quite well among those who aren't pro-life, but he's alienating those of us who are, and we're a majority in the GOP base.
Byron York reports on the "Crazy John McCain" angle:
“McCain looked like something out of The Shining, that part where Jack Nicholson goes GGGRRRRRR!” confided one adviser from a rival campaign.

“McCain looked like that guy down the street who yells at you to get off his lawn,” said one reporter.

Sen. Lindsey Graham, one of Sen. John McCain’s surrogates in the Spin Room, preferred the word “passionate.” But the fact is, McCain did look a little overeager, or maybe overcaffeinated, at the beginning of the debate. But he was overeager and overcaffeinated in favor of tracking down Osama bin Laden, a position which, given that bin Laden is still at large more than five years after 9/11, seems unlikely to meet with much disapproval.

“He’s responsible for the deaths of thousands of innocent Americans,” McCain said of bin Laden. “He’s now orchestrating other attacks on the United States of America. We will do whatever is necessary. We will track him down. We will capture him. We will bring him to justice, and I will follow him to the gates of hell.”

Reading the transcript of the debate, the answer seems both solid and catchy. But the transcript does not show the strange little smile McCain made after he said “gates of hell.” Maybe he was relishing the prospect of getting bin Laden. Maybe he just liked saying “gates of hell” in a nationally televised political debate. In any event, like much of McCain’s performance Thursday night, it looked better in print than on TV.
Kathleen Parker is a little more direct:
McCain made me want to spirit valium to Simi Valley before he followed Osama bin Laden to the Gates of Hell. His answers and delivery seemed canned and cartoonish.
Some people think he won, though.

Many commentators seem to share Ross Douthat's opinion that "Mitt Romney was the winner by default." Ryan Sager puts it well:
If anyone stood out from the other candidates, in terms of looking polished and poised, it was clearly Mr. Romney. He got off some of the best lines of the night, partially because Chris Matthews gave him some oddball questions (I particularly liked: "I don't say anything to Roman Catholic bishops. They can do whatever the heck they want." [see: 8:38]). He, more than any of the others, managed to sound reasonable and assured no matter what he was saying. He's still got a major flip-flopping problem, and basically lied about it during his answers on abortion. But any casual observer of the debate (were there any non-junkies watching?) would probably have to view him as head-and-shoulders above the others.
All this analysis probably overestimates the importance of a May 2007 debate, which was watched by a pretty small slice of the American electorate. Kevin Drum points to a Survey USA poll of California voters who think Rudy won -- he notes that the results appear to "mostly just track how popular the candidates were before the debate even took place."

Still, the debate will matter to opinion leaders, which is why I've just spent all that time cataloguing their reactions. Look for their support for Giuliani to slide, particularly if he doesn't get a handle on the abortion issue by the next debate -- though at this point the damage is probably repairable if he does figure it out. Romney did a good job of maintaining his support among conservative elites, even if ordinary voters don't know who the hell he is. I'd say he's on track. McCain didn't self-destruct but he didn't do a lot to regain momentum, either. Fred Thompson, meanwhile, continues to lurk menacingly over the entire field.

Overall, the right seems underwhelmed by the performance. Happily for them, though, they can take it out on their favorite target: the MSM.

It's left to the Weekly Standard's Fred Barnes to point out last night's real winner:
The most praised person was, of course, Ronald Reagan. The candidates put as little distance as possible between themselves and Reagan. The debate may have been forgettable. Reagan wasn't.
For better, as they say, or for worse.

Labels: , , ,

Thanks as always for donning pith helmet and tracking conservatives' reactions.

Those about McCain are odd to me. That Eddie Haskell smile after promising to track OBL to the "gates of hell" was very strange. But I thought his weird elbow-out-sideways pointing jabs would get really old. Plus the fact that he has some sort of permanent rictus that prevents him from smiling.

And slick is one word to describe Romney. Insincere is another. Someone should do an ad aimed at peeling off women: Would you date this guy? He strikes me as the kind of guy who just lies, lies, lies. Always has a good story, but while you can't put your finger on precisely why, you just don't trust him. Has multiple wives in different states. Oh wait.

Hope you're having fun at the Dem confab. California's was a couple of weeks ago; I'd planned to go, but it *sold out* to spectators.
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