Thursday, May 03, 2007

Snap Judgement: Republicans in California

As if to outdo the eight-pack their donkey rivals presented last week, the Republicans trotted out a ten-spot of candidates for their first primary debate. Chris Matthews moderated and early on the participants came to the wise decision that they would turn the tables on the talk show host and basically do to him what he's been doing to his guests on Hardball for eleven years: They ignored what he said, and said what they wanted.

Matthews proved a good sport, and went along with the unorthodox arrangement. It made for a slightly more lively debate than we had last week. Although it was still not particularly informative, with so many mouths needing to be feed.

The other elephants in the room were the flailing Iraq war and the unpopularity of George W. Bush. On those issues the candidates came to an easy consensus that there were serious flaws in the execution of the war, but its heart was in the right place, and there was no Bush bashing by name.

Here is how I thought each candidate performed:

Rudy Giuliani: Started out very strong and on point, but got stuck in the abortion muck towards the middle. After trying the federalism angle, he finally came out with a surprisingly strong defense of a woman's right to choose. As if to shut up everyone up about the issue, it seemed. After this admission, Rudy lost his spirit and focus leading to a lackluster second half. Although, for the man who has been accused of running for the "president of 9/11," 9/11 talk was conspicuously absent from tonight's pitch.

John McCain: Over the last couple months McCain has been shifting between crazy McCain and grumpy McCain. Crazy McCain is superior to grumpy McCain, and crazy McCain was what we got tonight. But he wasn't that crazy. In fact, his level of sanity was such that it threatened to encroach upon crazy's more palatable cousin -- maverick. And if maverick McCain resurfaces all bets are off. It was a good night for McCain.

Mitt Romney: Most analyst will say Romney, who comes off as articulate, competent, thoughtful, focused, polite, patriotic, humorous and humble, won this debate. I wasn't convinced. Here is the thing about Romney: One day, many years ago, Mitt Romney read a book titled "How To Be The Perfect Man." Romney followed this book, to the letter, and became more perfect than almost everyone else, and certainly more perfect than anyone currently running for president in either party. The only problem is this perfection is clearly rote learned. In a way, that should be a positive trait for a presidential candidate -- if he can learn how to be perfect, he might be able to learn to be a great president. But in another way it's creepy. Learning perfect from a book. And people don't like creepy.

Tommy Thompson: As governor of Wisconsin, Thompson vetoed 1900 spending bills. During his first televised debate for national office he mentioned these 1900 vetoes three times. So it's almost like he vetoed 5700 spending bills during his time as Wisconsin Governor.

Mike Huckabee: Chris Matthews's shocking attempt to lather him into an anti-Mormon rage and smack Romney with the real Jesus failed. Huckabee's highlight was when he claimed his Arkansas residency allowed him a leg up on the others when it came to knowing what awful people Bill and Hillary are.

Jim Gilmore: Overall, very solid. Vice presidential material. Although he did became way too angry when Matthews implied he was Karl Rove's boy. (And didn't deny it)

Sam Brownback: More interested in promoting the "culture of life" than winning the nomination. A good communicator.

Duncan Hunter: In this day and age it's nice to know someone is in it for big business and is not afraid to admit it.

Tom Tancredo: Kept getting stupid question about Israel and organ thieves when he just wanted to talk shooting Mexicans.

Ron Paul: He showed every slightly unhinged crackling voiced anti-war candidate that, during a televised debate, you can still be classy and not make yourself a nuisance. Mix that with his unabashed libertarianism and a dogmatic view of the constitution, and I can't see a national election scenario where Paul gets less than .25 percent of the vote. (But hey, Ron Paul did let the world know he loves the Internet, and this stop on the Internet sort of loves him back.)

No one outside of the Republican big three jumped up because of tonight. Of the big three, Romney and McCain were sharper than the front-running Giuliani. Will this matter? Probably not. But Giuliani does need to get to a more comfortable place with his abortion position next time out.

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