Thursday, May 03, 2007

Republican Debate Reactions

My first impression of tonight's debate from the Reagan Library was what a contrast to last week's Democratic debate. The two parties, in many ways, occupy different thought worlds. That may best be seen in the marginal candidates in the two different parties, Kucinich and Gravel representing the kookie fringe of their party and Paul and Tancredo in theirs. The parties remain essentially left and right, respectively.

But there were analogies between the candidates in the two debates as well...
  • The John Edwards of tonight's debate was Mitt Romney. Like Edwards, many of Romney's answers seemed overly-calculated, focus-group vetted, and too clever by half.
  • The Joe Biden was Mike Huckabee, who managed to show some wit and probably beat people's expectations coming into the evening.
The debate also showed that there is a real fight over the definition of conservative. That's the clear result of the Bush Administration decision, rightly or wrongly, to depart from the traditional conservative principles by initiating war with Iraq.

I was struck by virtually the entire field's willingness to disagree with some aspects of the current administration's policies. That no doubt has something to do with the President's current low-approval ratings. But I also think that these candidates were signaling their comfort with being their own persons. The only one unwilling to distance himself from George Bush was Mitt Romney.

Iraq was the 800-pound gorilla and there were some nuanced views expressed on the topic. Thompson trotted out his interesting idea of asking the Iraqi people whether the US military should remain in their country. Brownback seemed to endorse the Joe Biden partition-share-the-oil-revenue-within-a-federation approach to Iraq. Huckabee and Brownback particularly emphasized the need to engage in diplomacy in Iraq.

The only candidate to administer what could be a fatal blow to his slim chances of gaining the nomination--apart from Duncan Hunter, Ron Paul, and Tom Tancredo, who have no chance of winning anyway--was Tommy Thompson, when he said that employers should be free to discriminate against homosexuals.

Rudy Giuliani was almost invisible and probably hurt among conservatives when some of his more liberal views were aired.

John McCain spoke directly into the camera with greater consistency than any of the other candidates. For a candidate who, until recently, has been perceived as being in drift, McCain was forceful and focused.

Grades for each of the candidates' performances (not based on their ideas, but their performances...and this is totally subjective):
Mitt Romney: C-
Sam Brownback: C-
Rudy Giuliani: B-
John McCain: B+
Mike Huckabee: A-
Tom Tancredo: C-
Ron Paul: B
Duncan Hunter: B-
Tommy Thompson: D+
Jim Gilmore: B-

[UPDATE: By the way, I didn't do a similar post on the Democrats last week because I didn't get to see the entire debate. But based on what I saw, this is how I would grade them:
Hillary Clinton: B-
Barack Obama: A-
John Edwards: D-
Joe Biden: A
Chris Dodd: C
Dennis Kucinich: D-
Mike Gravel: F
Bill Richardson: B

Again, these grades have nothing to do with whether I agree or disagree with the candidates, but with their honesty and their presentations.]

[ANOTHER UPDATE: Chris Cilizza has some initial reactions.]

[YET ANOTHER UPDATE: Dean Barnett has his self-admittedly biased comments. I think that his reaction to Romney's performance last night is wishful thinking. The guy came across as a phony to me. I think that some of the positive assessments of him today result from the fact that he was regarded as a complete stiff going into the thing and so, he beat the expectations game. When your reputation is that of a stump corpse, any sign of life makes you look lustrous.]

[STILL MORE REACTIONS from Kevin Stilley.]

[THANKS TO: Instapundit for linking to this post.]

[THANKS TO: Brian of for linking to this post. is my favorite new blog. Great work, Brian!]


Kevin Stilley said...

I agree that Huckabee gave the strongest performance, but that really isn't saying much considering how poorly most of the others did.

Deborah said...

I agree with a comment made by David Gergen last night: He was saddened by the debate because the candidates spent their time either quibbling over unsolvable "values" issues or rehashing the past (Libby, Schiavo).

There was virtually no talk about the future, having a vision or plan for the future, helping Americans, or having a plan to solve our nation's vast problems. Nothing.

And that means more of the same.

Deborah said...

By the way, I generally agree with the grades you've given to both Democrats and Republicans.

The only two I would grade significantly differently:

I thought John McCain came off as a bit creepy and angry last night. (And the live voting at the Drudge Report bears that out, with McCain scoring very poorly with viewers.)

Joe Biden should have a C. And he has no chance with the Democratic base, either.

I'm getting ready to write an in-depth analysis of the 30-minute speeches given by 6 Democrats at the recent CA Convention. While Clinton and Obama gave good speeches, Richardson offered the most in the way of a viable candidate with experience and a fleshed-out plan.