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Looking back on the GOP debate

Posted by Stephen on May 18, 2007

The field of presidential hopefuls gathered in South Carolina earlier this week for a second debate and showed improvement over their first tangle that took place in California. As is the case in any debate there were winners and losers, though all the GOP candidates should be pleased with their overall performance including the only candidate that is recognized as a loser in this recap.

The debate was sponsored in part by Fox News and was moderated by Fox’s Brit Hume. The questions were fair, relevant, and probing. There were moments when the candidates were asked to answer a question a second time having avoided a direct response during the original time allowed.

For example, Fox News anchor and correspondent Chris Wallace asked former NY City Mayor Rudy Giuliani if many of the positions he took while mayor, which included supporting Mario Cuomo (D-NY) for Governor over a Republican, allowed him to consider himself a conservative. Giuliani dodged the question, choosing to list his more acceptable positions on security and taxes. Wallace, unsatisfied with response, offered the mayor a chance to “actually answer the question.” Wallace’s offer was met with a rousing applause. Giuliani went on to comment that conservative writer and commentator George Will claimed that America’s Mayor “ran the most conservative government seen in NY City in thirty of forty years.”

The exchange let the candidates know that they needed to bury answers to questions in the midst of the fluff that is standard affair during these proceedings.

For the second consecutive debate, former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney provided a solid performance. He looked presidential. He maintained command of his performance, was calm cool and collected, and often times provided plans to support his answers.

For example, on immigration Romney called for tamper proof worker visas for immigrant workers but stated firmly that he did not agree with “rewarding those that have been here illegally with a fast track to citizenship. That’s amnesty and that’s wrong for America.” He added that he would require that any person applying for permanent residence must return home before their application would be approved. He also called for aggressive boarder security. He directly criticized McCain’s immigration plan saying “it’s as bad for immigration as McCain/Feingold was for campaign finance, and that’s bad.”

The comment was indicative of a feisty debate that offered a little more banter between candidates than was seen in the earlier debate held in California.

McCain, for his part, looked more comfortable than he did in Ca. He was not as angry as he seemed on the west coast. He can’t seem to get off the snide, as they say in the sports world. His campaign continues to struggle to find legs and the debate provided no indication that the Senator’s camp has found a solution. He did a fine job, but did find himself having to defend his position on immigration and taxes. On the tax issue there were references to the fact that he called the Bush tax cuts “a bad idea,” then changed that position later. He defended the statements by reminding listeners that his concern has been on the spending side of the ledger where he said the current administration “has spent money like a drunken sailor, but even a drunken sailor couldn’t be as creative in finding ways to spend money as this administration has been.”

Giuliani continued to defend his position on abortion, tried to keep the conversation on security, but was hampered by comments that referred to him as soft on immigration. He was known to be quite welcoming to illegal immigrants in NY City. During the debate Giuliani said America had to be “reasonable in our approach to immigration.” He went on to add that if America continues on the wrong path to reform it could make the country “more insecure and unsafe.”

The Winners

With due respect to the big three, who are clearly ahead of the field and did nothing to hurt their standing during the debate, there were others that shined, at least at moments.

California Congressman Duncan Hunter continued to provide solid answers to questions of security, trade and immigration. On trade, Hunter continues to advocate the elimination of federal taxes for industry and manufacturers that keep jobs in America. He went on to suggest that the “White House has the ‘slows’ when it comes to immigration.” Hunter pointed to the fact that a bill was signed into effect that called for 897 miles of boarder fence. “When I called to find out how far they had gotten I was told they’ve completed two miles…two miles of 897. When we completed the wall in San Diego crime dropped by 80%.”

Former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee continued to present himself well using his record as an accomplished Republican Governor in a highly Democrat run state. “I cut taxes 94 times as Governor. I’m proud of that.” He also pointed to improvements in roadways and education, and continued to point to his conservative positions on social issues such as abortion.

Former Virginia Governor Jim Gilmore was perhaps the most aggressive of the candidates.  Seeking ways to separate himself from others, Gilmore has maintained that he is the only true conservative in the race. When pushed by Wallace to name names, Gilmore stated that Giuliani’s position on abortion, Huckabee’s inconsistency on taxes, and Romney’s position on socialized medicine call into question their claims of being conservative.

Former Governor Tommy Thompson continues to lay out a very impressive resume as a conservative Governor. What is curious is that Thompson simply can’t seem to get any traction during the campaign. His numbers continue to stay in the low single digits despite a successful governorship, a conservative resume, and solid and consistent answers to questions during both early debates.

Texas Congressman Ron Paul also continued to represent himself well. The former Libertarian presidential candidate brings back memories of Barry Goldwater who set the stage for the successful presidency of Ronald Reagan. Paul reminded onlookers that Reagan believed more in the Theodore Roosevelt style of “walk softly and carry a big stick.” Paul added that America has maintained a policy of minimal foreign intervention, while maintaining strict adherence to the Constitution.

Others that participated were Senators Brownback and Tancredo. Both should be commended for, well, participating. Brownback did have the opportunity to advocate his strong prolife stance stating that even in cases of rape and incest “we are still talking about a life and all life has value.” It was an uneventful night for Tancredo but he did distance himself from Paul’s position on the 9/11 attacks saying “if we don’t fight Al Qaeda over there they will come here.”

The Loser

Tancredo’s statement leaves us with the only loser for the evening; Ron Paul.

Leave it to the Libertarian to shake things up. While answering a question about national security Paul stated that America must review its foreign policy positions that he believes leads to continued conflict and even threatens America’s security at home. When asked if he suggested that it was America’s policy’s that lead to 9/11, Paul didn’t waiver. “Well, I believe that if we continue to intervene in foreign countries than we invite those types of attacks. They don’t come here because we are rich and free. They come here to attack us because we are over there.” Paul asked what we would do if China built military installations in North America.

Giuliani, who presided as mayor of NY City when the 9/11 attacks took place, condemned Paul’s statements and asked that the Congressman withdraw the statement. Paul did not. Instead, the congressman continued to call on America to rethink interventionist policies that he feels encourages fanatics to attack the U.S. His solution, though consistent with the Reagan philosophy, is one of isolation. Furthermore, he has not articulated what he would have done on 9/12 to defend this country after the attack.

Paul’s position would have merit if its delivery was not in the form of an accusatory proclamation finding fault here at home. Regardless of whether someone doesn’t like where we park a military installation, there is no rational argument that can be made to excuse or validate in any way shape or form the attacks we endured on September 11, 2001. If Paul doesn’t get that, than most American’s won’t get any point he makes about any issue.

All in all, the night provided little in the way of breakthrough positions that would separate any of the candidates. However, the conversation was a little more lively, the candidates a little more confrontational, and as a result, the answers a little more focused than the debate in California. At this point these debates are an exercise in avoidance. The goal is to avoid direct answers as much as possible while filling the 2 minutes allotted with as much fluff as you can.

No one can blame the candidates. As golfer Tiger Woods often says, you can’t win the championship in the early rounds so your job is to be sure not to lose it. With that in mind, the only way to judge the debate is to say they were all winners…with the exception, perhaps, of Ron Paul.

Stephen Winslow is the executive editor of Conservative Viewpoints.

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