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Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Post-second GOP debate notes

If "winning" means "making more progress than anyone else on stage toward becoming the GOP presidential nominee in 2008," then anyone who doubts that Rudy Guiliani won last night's debate is badly out of touch with reality.

One of the highlights of the debate came when Paul said the United States has been bombing Iraq for 10 years and doesn't understand how the Middle East operates.

"Right now, we're building an embassy in Iraq that is bigger than the Vatican. We're building 14 permanent bases. What would we say here if China was doing this in our country or in the Gulf of Mexico? We would be objecting," Paul said in explaining his opposition to going to war in Iraq.

"They are delighted that we're over there because Usama bin Laden has said, 'I'm glad you're over on our sand because we can target you so much easier.' They have already now since that time they've killed 3,400 of our men and I don't think it was necessary," he continued.

"That's really an extraordinary statement," Giuliani said, interrupting FOX News panelist Wendell Goler. "That's really an extraordinary statement, as someone who lived through the attack of Sept. 11, that we invited the attack because we were attacking Iraq. I don't think I have ever heard that before and I have heard some pretty absurd explanations for Sept. 11. I would ask the congressman withdraw that comment and tell us that he didn't really mean that."

Paul did not, eliciting a flurry of candidates seeking to get their 30 seconds to rebut him.

Ron Paul's lunacy (video here) was offensive and insulting, but eight other guys who'd like to be president stood there silently wondering whether they'd get a chance to respond, and if so, exactly how they'd phrase it. Giuliani didn't quite interrupt Paul's nutcase rant, but the very instant Paul finished — within milliseconds — Giuliani seized the floor to administer a well-deserved verbal spanking. It wasn't his turn. And his request to "make a comment about that" wasn't really a request, but just a brief half-apology for the fact that he was about to deliberately flout the normal debate format, pretty much regardless of what the moderators or anyone else had to say about who spoke next.

If you had eyes to see and ears to hear, you could tell that Rudy Giuliani simply could no longer stand silent on the same stage with a barking moonbat who blamed America for 9/11 — not even for another ten seconds, and certainly not until it was his next turn to talk. You don't see many "looks that could kill" on the stage of a presidential debate, but Giuliani's eyes — in contravention of Rosie O'Donnell physics — could absolutely have melted steel.

Mitt Romney's performance was otherwise pretty good last night, but the single moment I liked him the least was when he was pleading, "Let us all have 30 seconds to respond to that!" just before Wendell Goler abruptly changed the subject. Romney's plea came across as political calculation, a recognition that Giuliani had just scored a huge point — and of course, from a fairness analysis, Romney was absolutely right. What Giuliani did — grabbing the stage, making his point in a voice that would have caused even Chris Matthews to soil his pants rather than interrupt — was completely unfair, in terms of political niceties and good sportsmanship. And if it had come across as being a calculated political maneuver by Giuliani ("Hmm, wonder if I'll lose more votes by breaking the debate rules than I'll gain by flexing my anti-terrorism muscles? Gee, I wish we had focus-grouped this ...."), then Giuliani's rudeness might have ended up hurting him.

But it didn't come across as calculated. Giuliani's outburst came across as barely controlled outrage, combined with absolute and on-the-spot decisiveness. It came across as "I'm not going to even pretend to listen politely to that sort of crap, Congressman — not after having to breathe in smoky particles from the untimely corpses of 2752 of my constituents on that day." And just as the stunned, then suddenly gratified studio audience roared its approval, some few millions of Republican viewers watching this silly debate pumped their fists in the air and said, "Damned right, Rudy, damned right!"

I'm certainly not saying Giuliani wrapped up the nomination, nor even that this was a defining moment in the overall campaign. Fer pete's sake, we still don't even know for sure who all of the serious Republican candidates will be — although we certainly now know seven of them who were on that stage tonight who are not serious candidates. But nothing else that was said or done in this particular debate was remotely as important, or as revealing, as that one uncalculated outburst.

Can you remember how, in the fall of 2004, we were all holding our breath wondering if there would be another major domestic terror attack before the election? A near-miss, like the recent arrests at Fort Dix, grabs attention from those of us who are still sensitized, but that's an ever-decreasing number. In watching all this early campaigning for the 2008 election, though, I continually remind myself that a successful domestic terrorist attack — even if on the scale of the London or Madrid attacks instead of on the scale of 9/11 — could change everything for both political parties, and for every electoral race (not just the presidency), in a heartbeat. My continuing dread of such a wrenching change, plus the number of people across the political spectrum who seem to have returned to a pre-9/11 mentality, gives all of these proceedings an air of unreality to me — an air that is rarely pierced. What made Giuliani's outburst last night so significant, so electric, was that it reached out and yanked hard on those us who still "get" 9/11.

Secondary observations:

  • Major props to Fox News, whose handling of this debate was as professional, in the very best journalistic sense of that word, as MSNBC's handling of the previous one was amateurish.
  • Mitt Romney's second-worse moment was the "blue suit/black suit" analogy. It was weak to begin with, but Mitt already looks like he may have indeed spent too much time agonizing over blue suit/black suit decisions. He has to avoid obviously phony ploys like claiming to be a life-long hunter, and Mitt will never be Bubba, but he needs to avoid coming across as a metrosexual.
  • Romney's most effective moment — in terms of landing a solid blow on an opponent — was this line: "My fear is that McCain-Kennedy would do to immigration what McCain-Feingold has done to campaign finance and money in politics, and that’s bad." McCain snarled back with comments to the effect that Romney is a flip-flopper, but in defending himself on the substance of those issues, and in his idealistic but pre-9/11esque answers on the "enhanced interrogation" questions, I'm convinced that McCain hurt himself. Earth to Sen. McCain: Al-Qaeda is considerably less restrained by American self-restraint than even the North Vietnamese who tortured you were; if we're ever in a war against Belgium, we can reconsider those concerns. I'm now convinced that the chances of McCain winning the nomination are slim and none.
  • One function of these debates is identifying potential vice presidential nominees. If Arkansas had more electoral votes and if it were less likely that Hillary Clinton would be the Democratic nominee than it is, Mike Huckabee might be making progress in that regard. But it doesn't, and she still is, so he isn't a likely Veep choice for anyone. Nevertheless, the "beauty shop" line — in particular, the calculated choice of the term "beauty shop" instead of "barber" or "hair salon" or whatever — was just deliciously wicked. (I hope he asked forgiveness in his prayers last night, though, for his obvious lie after the debate when he denied that that was a pre-planned line.)
  • This video of non-debate participant Fred Thompson — especially the cigar — is equally as wicked, if you haven't seen it already. And check the time-stamp on this bit of online punditry published under the Thompson moniker. By contrast: What buzz did Newt get yesterday? If there was any, I missed it.

Big picture: I'm still leaning toward a remake repeat of the 1980 campaign, but with the Big-Papa Movie Star role going to Fred Thompson and the button-down Establishment CEO/Administrator role going to Romney (replacing, respectively, Reagan and G.H.W. Bush). And I want them to pre-announce some cabinet spots, to get the full benefit of bringing a "fresh team" while (selectively) reassuring voters of some continuity: Giuliani at Homeland Security, for example, and Ted Olson at Justice, but Rice (again) at State. Find a spot for Michael Steele, maybe Huckabee, and maybe Jeb Bush somewhere. Double-down by re-appointing Gates at Defense. Who else?

Posted by Beldar at 06:54 AM in 2008 Election | Permalink


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» Who Won the Debate? from damnum absque injuria

Tracked on May 17, 2007 1:28:48 PM


(1) Patrick R. Sullivan made the following comment | May 16, 2007 3:18:38 PM | Permalink

Bernard Lewis has the historical response to Ron Paul's stupidity, in the WSJ today:

During the Cold War, two things came to be known and generally recognized in the Middle East concerning the two rival superpowers. If you did anything to annoy the Russians, punishment would be swift and dire. If you said or did anything against the Americans, not only would there be no punishment; there might even be some possibility of reward, as the usual anxious procession of diplomats and politicians, journalists and scholars and miscellaneous others came with their usual pleading inquiries: "What have we done to offend you? What can we do to put it right?"

(2) Mark L made the following comment | May 16, 2007 5:07:22 PM | Permalink

Fred Thompson won my heart with that video of his. Giuliani was good -- but Fred was G-ggreat!

(3) Carol Herman made the following comment | May 16, 2007 7:14:21 PM | Permalink

Most people didn't watch the debates.

What Rudy Guiliani did win was the "sound byte" that's traveling around the net. And, replayed. Where Ron Paul gave the "we should think we deserved it" response. To 9/11.

That, I saw on the Net. And, I've seen polls, too, at sites like Little Green Footballs.

The other thing this clip does, is it turns Fred Thompson's very quick retort to Michael Moore into yesterday's news.

We're 615 days away from January 20, 2009. It seems to me there are problems out there, now, for the GOP, in that Bush can't explain what went wrong in Iraq.

And, what went wrong includes the Iraqis, and their reactions to the House of Saud, Chalabi, and Allawi.

While the terror continues.

It sure looks as if "someone" is looking to start a fire fight down in gaza. But Olmert's not biting. (He didn't use the IDF to take Assad's head off, either.)

And, Bush never said 9/11 is A DAY THAT SHALL LIVE IN INFAMY. FDR said that, the very next day December 7, 1941 happened.

Since we're not in a court of law, there's no way to contain information with a gavel. And, I have no idea how the information that will come out, will play.

As to the GOP debates, Brit Hume WON. And, people will watch them. Maybe, like American Idol, they should be connected to phone lines? Or some such "extra" nonsense, that won't happen at the GOP Convention, itself. Where survival might turn into a hot topic? No more John Dewey's!

(4) Kent Probst made the following comment | May 17, 2007 12:47:41 AM | Permalink

Beldar has it wrong. Ron Paul's statement is backed up by the 9-11 Commission Report and the CIA. Beldar's use of name calling is the sign of an exhausted mind. It's interesting that Ron Paul came in second in the post debate poll, beating out Giuliani. Enough said.

(5) nk made the following comment | May 17, 2007 9:57:00 AM | Permalink

The Republican Party is not the right party for someone like Ron Paul.

(6) DRJ made the following comment | May 17, 2007 1:37:56 PM | Permalink

Fortunately Cong. Paul will have competition in his next election and I would bet he will lose. His constituents admire people of principle, not kooks.

(7) Mark L made the following comment | May 17, 2007 5:14:11 PM | Permalink

The 9-11 Commission Report is good for toilet paper if you cut it into 4x4 squares.

Several members of the commission (eg: Gorelick) had issues they wished to bury. As a source of accurate information, it makes good fiction. Or should I say an almost truthy account of what happened.

If that is Ron Paul's source for his absurd claims he is a bigger loon than I thought he was.

(8) Beldar made the following comment | May 19, 2007 1:38:40 PM | Permalink

Mr. Probst, Rep. Paul's ridiculously small group of supporters "stuffed" the text-message "poll" after the debate.

The only bombing we did of Iraq after the Gulf War cease-fire was of Iraqi anti-aircraft positions that were firing at coalition (mostly American) aircraft who were enforcing the lawful no-fly zones to which Saddam had agreed to get that cease-fire. Every one of the incidents in which Saddam fired on coalition aircraft was not only a violation of the cease-fire, but — under traditional international law — an act of war by Iraq against us, and as such listed among the grounds for the invasion and overthrow of the Ba'athist government in 2003. Rep. Paul's suggestion that we were "bombing Iraq," and your repetition of that suggestion here, is absolute crap — not just wrong, but disingenuous and offensive; not just misleading, but a lie told for the purpose of misleading.

The 9/11 Commission, and many others, have noted that bin Laden and al Qaida expressed outrage against the West (especially the U.S.) and against the Saudis for the fact that non-Muslim troops were stationed near Muslim sacred lands in Saudi Arabia as part of the liberation of Kuwait (and thereafter). But it's one thing to acknowledge the fact that that was among the radical Islamic terrorists' purported "casus belli" and completely another thing to sympathize with that point of view — which is what Rep. Paul did, and what you're doing here. I'll no more stand for that on my blog than Giuliani did for it during the debate.

You and Rep. Paul are demagogues, sir — but fortunately, not much more effective than the Iraqi anti-aircraft fire was — and although I don't question your patriotism, I do question your sanity. Please peddle your crap elsewhere than in my blog comments. You're not welcome here.

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