Thoughts on the debate last night Posted by: McQ
on Sunday, January 06, 2008
As I mentioned below, I liked the format. I'd like to see it continued in future debates. For those that didn't see it, 45 of the 90 minutes was devoted to 3 broad topics and discussion of those topics among the candidates. The last 45 minutes was the more traditional question and answer format. We got to see much more lively exchanges, a few fireworks (relatively speaking) and issues talked about in more depth.
The Republicans - I talked my wife, who isn't a political junkie at all, into watching the debates with me. I was most interested in her reaction to the candidates - how they came across. Now she knew who each of them were, I'm not claiming she didn't, but she hadn't really followed the race at all to this point. But, for whatever reason, she didn't particularly care for Giuliani or so she said when she first saw him.
After watching the Republican portion, I simply asked her, who did you like best, or better yet, who do you think did the best? She said Romney, followed by Giuliani. She said that Giuliani had surprised her. Thompson was her third pick, McCain, as she said "a distant 4th" and as for Paul, she said "they ought to just put him to bed".
Now her assessment/impression was important to me a) because she's smart, b) because she hasn't been involved or following the race closely and c) I think she might represent a good portion of the people out there who are just now beginning to pay attention to the race.
Her laugh out loud moment came when ABC did what it called it's "Spin Room" where ABC correspondents reported on what each of the campaigns was saying after the debate. The McCain campaign claimed that he came off as the only "adult in the room". My wife was flabbergasted saying the continued cheap shots he took at Romney hardly framed him as an "adult". That's counter to the spin I'm seeing from the pundits out there.
Thompson was good, especially when he pinned Mitt on "mandates". He was funny, quick, well-spoken and on message. And he was the most relaxed on the stage. Being an actor, I'd expect that. But is that an advantage or disadvantage considering the conventional wisdom which claims he's really not that interested in campaigning?
Romney was on the defensive, but he was also a bit feisty. Frankly that helped him show a little the fire necessary to melt the "plastic man" characterization from which he suffers. He definitely stumbled around on health care, but he helped John McCain look just as bad on immigration.
I have to agree with my wife that John McCain was hardly the only "adult" in the room. He did well on foreign policy and Iraq. He did terribly on immigration. While it was clear that he was on his best behavior, you could see the testiness just under the surface and his attempt to filibuster the questions on immigration didn't go over well. And his cheesy shot at Romney, "Senator I agree, you are the candidate of change" was unnecessary and bad form.
Huckabee, was, weirdly, almost forgettable. A couple of good points, but not really a big player in this debate. And he seemed almost happy not to be on the spot or, more importantly, in Mitt Romney's shoes. I remember him doing his new "I'm the vertical candidate" (his version of I'm the agent of change) schtick, but I don't think that's going to work for him.
Ron Paul? Eh. He came off as the crazy uncle who lives in the basement and you have at the Thanksgiving day table because you have too. Again, that's not to say I don't agree with some of his points, but its to say he's the Bill Richardson of the Republicans.
You can find the transcript for the Republicans here.
As for the Democrats, well, having heard their stump speeches a number of times and recognizing that for the most part, their answers were variations on those themes, I watched the by-play more than worrying about what they were saying.
John Edwards, very early on, made it clear that he was, at least temporarily, allied with Barack Obama. He characterized Hillary Clinton as the "status quo" and said that while he and Obama had policy differences, it was they who would bring change.
Hillary Clinton didn't take it quietly and after a pretty sharp exchange, Bill Richardson came up with the funniest line of the night:
"I've been in hostage negotiations which were more civil than what I just witnessed".
Hillary Clinton was feisty at times and displayed some surprising charm at others. But she was there to duke it out and I remember her calling for a "reality check" after a particularly friendly and supportive exchange between Obama and Edwards. She emphasized experience over inexperience and pushed the point that she'd been an agent of change for over "35 years". I'm not so sure that sold well. What did seem to sell well was when she pointed out that she represented the biggest change one could imagine - a woman as president. A solid performance.
Barack Obama was poised, well-spoken and well-modulated, and, frankly charming. But some of his answers weren't the most understandable or, as I've pointed out concerning Iraq and the surge, simply off the track. At least that's how he impressed me. That's not to say he did poorly. On the contrary, he held his own. And that's really all he needed to do in this debate.
John Edwards came off as combative and passionate but also, at times, strident. However, and this may impress Democrats, he has decided corporate America are the bad guys, even when he put out his disclaimer that there are some good corporations too (he cited Costco and AT&T because AT&T was "trying to unionize" in some places). That is not a platform - especially with Democrats trying to claim economic problems are on the horizon and the jobs picture is not looking good - which is going to get him the nomination.
Bill Richardson came off as a lovable oaf. Sorry, he's entertaining and I enjoyed some of his lines (look up the one about Justice White during the last question) and even appreciated some of his points, but he simply didn't belong up there with the others.
In terms of winning and losing, hard to say. Obama and Clinton did well and since they're tied in the NH polls, I'd say it pretty much stayed that way - heh, of course Edwards would call that the status quo.
Again I asked my wife's impression and she said, "my goodness, all that doom and gloom, it became boring after a while". I liked that, frankly. I think that's a chance the Dems take if they continue telling us how bad Bush is and how bad off we are. I think many voters will call for a Hillary Clinton "reality check" and that may not be a good thing for the Dems.
If you're interested, the transcript for the Democratic debate you can find it here.
For the Republicans: Ron Paul needs to be put to SLEEP, not to bed. The man is a certifiable loon.
For the Democrats: After watching this crowd, I miss Joe Biden. Sure, he is a dipstick like the rest of his party, but at least he is not an empty suit. To me, Obama and Edwards are the two most emptiest suits I have ever seen. Obama brings "hope" and "change" - but what the hell is "hope" and "change"? He rambles on about every subject, but when you listen to what he has to say he really says nothing - only platitudes and bumper sticker ideas. That is not a presidential candidate; it is an ad agency. I think his four years in the Senate in which he has done less than nothing is showing in a big way.
Obama will get the nomination - I see that now. I can only hope the Republicans nominate someone who will take Obama and throw him to the wolves where he belongs.
Huckabee, was, weirdly, almost forgettable. A couple of good points, but not really a big player in this debate. And he seemed almost happy not to be on the spot or, more importantly, in Mitt Romney’s shoes.
I had the impression he was just trying to keep out of Romney’s sights after he tried a snarky potshot and Romney b*tchslapped him into next Tuesday. He also spent way too much time talking god when he should have been talking Constitution.
Of the others, Guiliani was mostly just antsy. Paul was a surly little gnome obsessed with OIF and the gold standard — didn’t matter what the question was about, it would trigger a rant on one of those two topics.
McCain did pretty well, except when Romney just plain skinned him on immigration. (For some weird reason, McCain’s starting to remind me of Zell Miller ... and not in a good way — I was half expecting him to snap and challenge Romney to a duel).
Thompson struck me as solid, sensible, and unflappable. His ’well ... no’ response to the question whether he’d gouge hit oil companies with a windfall profits tax was one of the high points of the night for me. His downside (as far as getting elected, anyway) is he doesn’t have much flash — not sure how much people will notice him.