- Tommy Thompson wins the Golden Aikido Award for being the least willing to directly answer the questions put to him. When asked how the US could require Iraq to do anything, he went on and on instead about why his plan for Iraq would work; when asked to identify federal programs to be eliminated, he hedged and in the end, when pressed, hemmed, hawed, and mentioned only one: the CDC's stockpile program (and if he could have made a dumber choice, I can't think of it). I think the moderators picked up on this, because after those two early dodges, he received fewer questions than just about anyone else onstage.
- Ron Paul's comments on the US having invited 9/11 got a lot of attention, but what caught my ear was his blaming the Iran Hostage Crisis on our installing the Shah in power--more than 20 years before. It's not exactly an open secret that Islamofascists have a list of grievances going back to the Crusades and earlier to justify their desire to kill us today, but it was stunning to hear a Republican presidential candidate endorsing their grotesque fantasies.
- Did anyone else catch Mitt Romney including Iraq's Kurds--the most stable, peaceful, America-friendly group in that country, by far--in his list of jihadists who threaten to destabilize neighboring Islamic countries if America fails in Iraq? Any credibility he had with me on foreign policy went straight out the window after that.
- Rudy Giuliani got hammered on abortion, as expected. Mike Huckabee had compared his "personally opposed" stance to that of those who hated slavery but would allow others to own slaves, to which Giuliani offered the lame response that, unlike abortion, he couldn't imagine anyone choosing slavery. News flash, Rudy: plenty of people did choose slavery--so many that it took a civil war that almost tore this country apart to put an end to it.
- Giuliani also trotted out the traditional pro-choice "leave abortion legal, just reduce it" trap. Sam Brownback put the lie to that bit of chicanery a very short time later, with his response to a question on his opposition to a rape exception--"This is a life we're talking about."
- More than anyone else onstage, John McCain seems to be trying to present himself as a leader. He repeatedly invoked bipartisanship and getting things done in defending his record, and he was the most ready and willing of any of the candidates to invoke President Bush. You could almost hear "uniter, not divider" on the tip of his tongue.
I went into the debate favoring McCain, and came out pretty much the same way. I was never going to vote for Giuliani, and Romney's Kurd-bashing blunder permanently took him out of the equation. My choices for the GOP nomination are now down, I think, to McCain and Fred Thompson (I don't know enough about Thompson yet to really form an opinion on him).
The most telling moment of the debate was when Giuliani's conservative credentials were challenged. His first response was not to defend them, but to go after Hillary Clinton, and urge the GOP to unite to defeat her. You could easily hear his unspoken message: "Forget my positions--nominate me because I'm the most electable candidate."
I don't know about anyone else, but when I think of presidential candidates nominated for their electability, two words immediately spring to mind: