This afternoon, the Republican candidates for President, including the quixotic and slightly odd Alan Keyes, met in Des Moines Iowa for their final debate before the January 3rd Iowa Caucuses.
To say that this debate was anti-climactic is an understatement. The moderator, Carolyn Washburn, is the editor of the Des Moines Register and, quite honestly, it’s quite easy to see why she’s made her career in the print media rather than on television; I don’t think I’ve seen a person with less passion in quite some time. That, combined with a set of rules that made it virtually impossible for any of the candidates to give a substantive answer to any question made for an incredibly boring affair that doesn’t seem likely to have any substantive impact on the race.
And, to make it worse, I actually watched this thing without the aid of a fine glass of wine. I’ve got to remember that politics and sobriety are a really bad mix.
Anyway, here we go:
Mike Huckabee: At least as far as Iowa is concerned, Huckabee came into this debate as the clear frontrunner. In the two short weeks since the CNN/YouTube debate, he has risen steadily and suprisingly in the polls both in the Hawkeye State and in other parts of the country to the point where he and Giuliani can both equally claim frontrunner status — and Huckabee would have the better argument.
As the frontrunner, all Huckabee had to do in this debate is not make any major mistakes and not let any of the other frontrunners touch him. For the most part, he succeeded in that task. The only time that I can really say I thought he went off the reservation was during the education discussion when he started talking about unbalanced brains and music and arts education. Apparently, the new Republican frontrunner has abandoned the idea of eliminating the Department of Education in favor of the idea of making all our children play the violin.
What’s worse, none of the Republican candidates really went after Huckabee. Partly, this was because of the restrictive nature of the debate and the inanity of the moderator, but the best that anyone was able to do was when Tancredo challenged him about national curriculum standards and Romney argued with him over which one had the better education record as Governor.
Not good enough guys.
Rudy Giuliani: Giuliani did okay today, but if he wanted to stop his slide in the polls, he needed to do better than okay; he needed to hit one out of the park and at least lay a glove on Huckabee. He didn’t do either of these things (to be fair, none of the candidates did all that well).
Giuliani has never been competitive in Iowa, so perhaps his campaign wrote this debate off but given the shortened campaign schedule, and the speed with which Huckabee has caught up to Giuliani in the polls, waiting is not a smart strategy. If Huckabee wins in Iowa and Rudy comes in third in New Hamsphire and South Carolina, his insistence that we “wait until Florida,” as he said Sunday on Meet the Press, will make less and less sense.
Mitt Romney: Like Giuliani, Romney needed to poke some holes in Huckabee today and he really didn’t do it. He argued with Huckabee over who had the better education record, but other than that he really didn’t go after the man who has taken away from him what once looked like an insurmountable lead in Iowa. Other than that, though, I can’t say that Romney did anything to reverse the decline.
John McCain: McCain seemed to have more life in him than he did in the last debate, perhaps because he senses an opportunity to overtake Giuliani in New Hampshire. McCain’s problem is that he’s still running as the War on Terror President when the polls are showing that both Iraq and the War on Terror are not as prominent in voters minds as they were earlier in the year. Some pundits seem to think that the Senator will pull it out and actually get the nomination, but I think it would take a miracle of biblical proportions for that to happen.
Fred Thompson: For a guy who has said that Iowa is an all-or-nothing run, Thompson didn’t seem all that energetic or eager to send the kind of message that could actually put him back in contention. The Iowa Caucuses are January 3rd. Fred Thompson campaign will end January 4th. I will give Thompson credit for being the only person honest enough to tell the viewing public that, yes, there would be sacrifices that would have to be made to reduce the deficit and the size of government; and specifically mentioned entitlement programs in connection with that response.
Thompson provided one of the best moments of comic relief in the debate when he refused to participate in the moderator’s absurd “raise your hand if you think global warming is a problem” question. Thompson said he doesn’t do the hand-raising thing, and, at least for a moment, all the Republicans went along with him. When he asked the moderator if he could actually answer the question rather than just raising his hand, she said no and moved on to the next question.
What a moron.
Ron Paul: For the most part, Paul did a passable job but there was at least one occasion where he gave an answer that, if it had actually been challenged, would have made him look foolish. In his response to the sacrifice question I noted above, Paul basically said that there would be no need for the American public to sacrifice anything — he would bring the troops home from abroad and that would save enough money to solve our problems. The truth is quite different; if the budget is going to be brought under control and the size of government shrunk, then we will all have to sacrifice our reliance upon the state in one way or another. That’s not going to be an easy sacrifice for some people to make.
Tom Tancredo: Is there any question to which the Congressman’s answer doesn’t involve immigration ?
Duncan Hunter: If I closed my eyes when Congressman Hunter was speaking, I would have thought that I was listening to one of the Democratic candidates talk, or maybe an anti-trade union official. What is an economic Neanderthal like this doing in the Republican Party ?
Alan Keyes: What can you say about Alan Keyes ? He responded to a question about global warming by going off for two minutes about the fact that he’s been excluded from every previous debate. He responded to a question about education by giving a bible-thumping response that makes even Reverend Huckabee look like an atheist. There was a time when Keyes seemed like a reasonable person, but that was a long, long time ago; I’m not even sure that he believes what he says and I’m not sure that it matters.
After everything was over, the debate ended as strangely as it started with Washburn asking each of the candidates to make a New Year’s Resolution for one of their opponents. Most of the candidates didn’t really answer the question, but that’s just as well it was, without a doubt, the stupidest debate question ever.
In the end, I don’t think this debate will have any substantial impact on either the Iowa Caucuses or the race on a national level. As things stand, Huckabee’s rise will continue unless and until Republicans start realizing what a big mistake it would be to nominate him.
Cross-Posted at The Liberty Papers.