The GOP debate in Iowa Posted by: Bryan Pick
on Wednesday, December 12, 2007
The early consensus:
This was Romney's element, and he delivered. Though he sounded about as scripted as he usually is (especially in his first several answers), there was much less back-and-forth between candidates, so this was the ideal format in which to get away with that. The "reaction" audience at Fox overwhelmingly thought he won, although half immediately admitted that they thought his answers sounded canned. He was probably helped by the fact that he didn't get the opportunity to attack or be attacked — excepting some light-hearted ribbing between him and Fred. Speaking of whom...
Fred hit his stride, no doubt about it. Over at The Corner, the emails asking why the National Review hadn't endorsed Thompson started to pick up, and as if in answer, NRO's Jim Geraghty asked, "Where the hell has this Fred been for the past few weeks? This guy looks like he could eat most of the rest of the field for lunch" — and later called Fred the winner. The "straight shooter" came out today and won bonus points by stuffing the universally-despised moderator.
Huckabee had an opportunity to keep the surge going, but that would have required that he really shine, and he didn't do himself any favors today. His performance didn't stand out at all, except insofar as his answers were a slightly muddled embarrassment. Some are saying that, since the opportunity to attack him up and down the stage passed quietly, he came out all right. I disagree. There wasn't much room in the debate format for piling on, but it became unnecessary. It was a lackluster performance stuffed with platitudes at a time when he's running on little more than momentum.
One could be forgiven for wondering whether Giuliani and McCain showed up this afternoon. For Rudy, the only answer that received any real response was his, er, ambitious plans for his first year in office.
Des Moines Register / Iowa Public Television, and especially Carolyn Washburn. If there's anyone out there who wasn't irritated by the handling and format of this debate, I haven't seen him. When people get nostalgic for the screw-ups of the YouTube debate, you know it's a fiasco. Actually, this deserves more than a bullet point...
If I hadn't been so pleased with who had good and poor showings, respectively, I would have considered the debate an unmitigated disaster. Bringing in an ninth candidate in Alan Keyes, at a point in the race when we should have fewer candidates on stage, was absurd, and Keyes rewarded them by being unbelievably obnoxious. Tancredo and Hunter, if they were going to be contenders, would have made more of an impression by this point, and should have been kept off the stage to allow the candidates more than a string of 30-second remarks and a hand-raising session. At this late date in the campaign, we need to hear longer, thoughtful answers, and you can only split 90 minutes so many ways. As it is, we heard nothing new from the also-rans, which is strange considering that this debate was explicitly not supposed to be about illegal immigration.
And while nobody expects the Register's production values to match CNN's, the quality of the candidate videos was third-rate. Which is especially tragic, given that they were entirely unnecessary. I don't know how many people felt compelled to point out that the candidates were on stage, on live TV.
Finally, running the debate in the late morning/early afternoon was a surefire way to make the event less "seismic," even if it is the last debate before the first primaries. They did it to make it easier on the Register's reporters to make deadline, but they also made it a debate that most employed people would have to go out of their way to watch.