Saturday, January 5, 2008

From National Review

Wrapping Up the Last Debate Before the New Hampshire Primary

"I applaud ABC for the style of this debate.

But just as we get a great format, many of the candidates seemed off their game. Maybe they had gotten so used to Nurse Ratchet newspaper editors demanding shows of hands and 15 second answers, or talking snowmen and Bible-waving David Koresh-lookalikes. No huge winners tonight, just a spectrum from ‘good’ to ‘pretty good’ to ‘okay’ to ‘not enough’ to ‘I think he’s in trouble.’

John McCain: He played it safe. Under the usual rules, if you go in as frontrunner and nobody lays a glove on you, you won. Still, I kind of miss the old, “I will hunt Osama bin Laden to the gates of hell” King Leonidas-style gleeful battleaxe that started this campaign. He actually had one moment of that, when he stuck Romney with his, “when you have so many positions, it’s easy to get misquoted” and “you can spend your whole fortune on those attack ads, but that doesn’t make it true.” Will New Hampshire-ites mind? I don’t think so, and I can understand how much he may want to pound away at Romney for running those negative ads. But he shouldn’t do it, and I think the one way he may drop the ball between now and Tuesday is if he goes too negative, considering how he’ll need to unify Republicans quickly if he’s the nominee.

Mike Huckabee: I think there will be a familiar split in reaction to his performance. Pundits, and folks who know these issues backwards and forwards, will find his answers glib, lightweight, paper-thin. Voters will like it. I don’t know how much of a splash he’ll make in New Hampshire, as he’s an odd fit for the state, but everybody else in this field ought to be going to Red Alert, because this guy is going to play the Pied Piper, and a lot of folks are going to line up behind him.

Rudy Giuliani: A solid night, but not a lot of moments to shine. By now, we’re getting more or less what we have gotten from Giuliani from the beginning, and either it does it for you, or it doesn’t. I like his combativeness, he seems very well prepared, he can show a bit of humor, and he pretty much always hits the points he wants to make. But he’s sliding in New Hampshire, and he’s not in anybody’s cross hairs right now.

Fred Thompson: I don’t think it was enough tonight, even though he’s expected to be in asterisk territory in New Hampshire on Tuesday. Few of his answers were bad, and I like the indifferent dismissal of the question from the local TV guy on oil companies’ profits.

During his moment of “If you are rewarded for your illegal behavior, by being allowed to stay in the country, then it’s amnesty” – I jokingly called him Arthur Branch. Still, it summed up what is likeable about Thompson – direct, clear, and logical. He occasionally rotated his chair, and when he did speak – almost only when directly asked – he seemed like a trusted adviser. Is he running for president? Or consigliere?

Ron Paul: As usual, Ron Paul is playing his own game. He’ll get his share of the vote, but I don’t think he’s dislodging any other candidate’s supporters and bringing them into his own cause.

Mitt Romney: At first I was going to say, ‘hit and miss,’ but I think his answers were hit and miss. (I thought his answers on health care were the most understandable of the evening.) I think he came out of tonight a little wounded; everybody else in the race smells blood.

I think the dynamics of the evening were tough for him. He must have felt like a piƱata – one moment he’s getting whacked by Huckabee, then McCain, then Thompson. Romney never quite got completely thrown off, but I think the assessment in the Corner is accurate, he doesn’t defend himself well enough. He whines about personal attacks, or says candidates shouldn’t talk about others’ views, which is pretty nonsensical.

If you went into tonight hearing he was a flip-flopper, you heard several other candidates say it tonight, and you saw Romney say it was a personal attack… and then move on to policy points. Whoever’s left undecided might conclude, based on the lack of effective refutation, that the charge is accurate.

01/05 09:01 PM"

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