Tuesday, June 05, 2007

Republican debate in New Hampshire

Due to a forward shift in the electoral calender, the New Hampshire primary isn't as important as it once was. At tonight's Republican debate the skies over the Granite State responded to this demotion by erupting in bolts of lighting, which interfered with the auditorium's PA system and resulted in breaks in the sound and random buzzing noises.

The angry sky led to the evening's best moment, when a particularly jarring bolt cut off Rudy Giuliani's mic just as he began to respond to a question involving a Catholic leader who had declared Rudy a traitor to his religion for his pro-choice stance.

The former New York mayor handled the situation with the easy humor required, and handled all of the other questions he received with quick thinking, attention to detail and superior preparation. (The latter a quality he shares with Democratic front runner Hillary Clinton.)

This wasn't always the case, as Giuliani made an absolute mess out of the obligatory abortion question in the first debate -- and didn't even have the excuse of a spookily timed lightning strike. But now that he has, like it or not, established his position on abortion, Giuliani is free to focus on the two main themes of his campaign -- freedom and security.

Spinning, but always in an open and logical way, every question back to these two pillars, Giuliani was able to make a plausible argument that, on the strength of his biography and his ideas, he is in a unique position to lead the nation and the world towards a safer and more free future.

Giuliani was also successful in making sure everyone knew he was the front runner by attacking the positions of the Democrats he would face in the general election, and mostly ignoring the Republican primary wannabees stuck staring at his back.

John McCain too was sharp tonight, and scored points during an emotional exchange with a woman whose brother had been killed Iraq. Rising from his seat, McCain looked the woman in the eyes and admitted mistakes had been made in the execution of the war that took her brother's life. This candor was in keeping with one of the major themes of the evening: The failures of the Bush administration are now fair game.

McCain is at his best when he is swimming against the tide, and the dominant current on the stage was that his immigration bill was a washout. McCain responded with a passionate and effective defense of his views on immigration, if not the exact details of the heavily compromised bill he put his name to.

Mitt Romney, on the other hand, was not at all sharp. He has developed a really unfortunate habit of going off on esoteric tangents when he gets a question he doesn't like. In an earlier debate he evoked some sort of weird nuclear technique when confronted with his ever-evolving views on stem cells, and tonight he bizarrely dismissed a question about whether he would have supported the war in Iraq if he "knew then what he knew today" as a null set and an empty set.

While I could see the point Romney was trying to make -- the question was invalid because little things such as time and space always prevent you from knowing then what you know now -- evoking an obscure mathematical theory to bully out of an otherwise fair question does not a president make.

As for the rest, I found ordained minister Mike Huckabee's explanation of his religious views articulate and interesting -- although not particularly convincing, and I thought Duncan Hunter probably does possess the presence and gravitas that would compel a relatively unknown congressmen to run for president. Other than that, there wasn't much coming from the one percenters besides Ron Paul's cheering section.

After the first two debates, there was talk that the undeclared Fred Thompson was the big winner. Tonight, with Thompson all but in, the strong performances of John McCain and Rudy Giuliani -- the two favorites since day one -- take much of the wind out of that argument's sails.

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