alien & sedition.
Thursday, September 06, 2007
  Last Night's Debate: The View from the Right

Cross-posted at The Right's Field.

For all the fun we in the netroots can have watching the Republican sideshow, we forget that they aren't doing it for our own amusement. They're trying to win support from the right. And with that in mind, here's a sample of conservative reaction to last night's Donnybrook in Durham.

Hoping to wrap things up on a positive note, the National Review's Kate O'Beirne instead sets herself up for a delightful little pratfall. "All three frontrunners have had a good night," O'Beirne says:
The frontrunners are confident, likeable, articulate - conservative enough on issues. Will be interesting to see reactions from Frank Luntz's focus group - more representative than most of us.
More representative than a National Review editor? Imagine that! So what did the focus group think of our "likeable, articulate" GOP candidates? David Freddoso fills us in:
Not only did the individual candidates do poorly, but the field performed badly as a whole. After the debate, not one of pollster Frank Luntz’s 29 focus-group members expressed satisfaction with the men on the stage.
The people have spoken, the bastards.

Freddoso, as the excerpt above suggests, takes a grim view of the entire exercise. The winner -- "by attrition" -- was John McCain, a man with virtually no prospect of climbing his way back into the lead. Huckabee was "unimpressive," Duncan Hunter "bored the crowd," and Sam Brownback "said nothing that anyone will remember tomorrow." Romney blew a question on taxes, was forced to squirm when confronted by a servicemember's father, and worst of all, "even [his] normally perfect hair was a bit askew." And Rudy?
Rudy Giuliani’s performance was probably his worst since the first debate. He not only urged voters to ignore his private life, but also said that his private life has not been “terribly different than at least some people in this country.” (“Whoever hasn’t called a press conference to dump his wife and introduce his mistress, let him cast the first stone…”)
It wasn't all doom and gloom. Mona Charen liked the exchange between Huckabee and Ron Paul over Iraq, and thought that McCain "managed to make [Romney] look like an overly tentative technocrat." John Pitney, though (same article), seems to think that Rudy could use some more practice weaseling out of questions about his personal life. NRO's Jim Geraghty gives the gold to an "unflappable" Rudy, while pouring scorn on the highly-flappable Tom Tancredo, whom he describes as "an eyeball-popping, jumpy, loud, jittery 1970s sitcom character." Geraghty has praise for Huckabee's "charisma" and McCain's "solid"-ity, but thinks Romney had "an off-night," especially on Iraq. NR Editor Rich Lowry, meanwhile, calls it for McCain, agrees that Romney was "wobbly" on Iraq, and says he dug Rudy, but he wishes the man would shut up about New York already.

The Weekly Standard's Fred Barnes is likewise crowding onto the McCain Wagon, praising "his muscular position in favor of the 'surge' in Iraq." And, like Lowry, Barnes is tired of all this New York talk from Giuliani:
And while Rudy Giuliani was no slouch, he became tedious by droning on about his accomplishments as mayor of New York
Whaddya gonna do, Rudy? People are tired of hearing you bang on about 9/11 all the time. Now they're tired of hearing you bang on about being mayor of NYC all the time. What do you have left to talk about? The ferret menace?
Redstate's Dan McLaughlin thinks that "most of the candidates played fairly well to their pre-existing images," and gives some credit to Romney for his attacks on the "sanctuary cities" issue. McLaughlin, a Giuliani supporter, thinks his man had "a very good night... despite the ugly eruption of his personal life" (that happens to him a lot, doesn't it?). And agrees with a very common point in all of these reactions: the night's big loser was Hollywood Fred Thompson, who wasn't up to debating and who chose instead to spend the night on Jay Leno's couch.

But Mac Johnson of Human Events suggests that the real loser might be America -- which, judging by the evidence on stage last night, is "almost certainly doomed":
I saw gifted candidates. I saw correct-thinking candidates. But I never saw both these traits in the same person. Granted, I was just called up from AAA ball to cover this major league event, but I’m telling you our bench is just not that deep. Somewhere, somehow, conservatism has gone astray at the highest levels of the movement. Where are our leaders?
Johnson, speaking for the base, was encouraged by all the talk of immigration, and particularly by Mitt Romney's "channeling Tom Tancredo" -- though he doesn't trust Multiple Choice Mitt ("an ambitious man") to stick by Tancredo-ist positions for a moment longer than he deems it politically expedient. On Iraq, meanwhile, Johnson is annoyed by the perception that "most of the candidates talked more about how soon we could withdraw than of how important it is to win."

If Johnson really does speak for the base, his analysis casts the right's field in an interesting light. On stage in Durham last night, they tried as best they could to toe the movement conservative line, offering the platitudes and positions Republican candidates are expected by the conservative establishment to express. Yet there may have seemed to be a lack of conviction in it all -- maybe the candidates are demoralized to find themselves caught between the intensity of the conservative base's demands on the one hand, and the widespread disapproval of the American public on the other.

Whatever the cause, it left Johnson feeling depressed:
All told, by the end of the evening I was left depressed, unable to see conviction, correctness and charisma emerge in a single candidate. This depression was made worse since all night long, the candidates had invoked Ronald Reagan -- the exemplar of conviction, correctness and charisma for the conservative movement. They invoked him in an attempt to inherent some of his power -- to associate themselves with a dead hero of old. But the comparisons had the opposite effect. All eight on the stage seemed smaller in the shadow of the great man.
The same shadow they were struggling to escape three months ago -- and no progress. Maybe they should try a surge.
Tom Tancredo is Ted Knight?

Now it all makes sense!
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