Live-Blogging the Debate

I’m at a blogger party hosted by David Strom of the Taxpayers’ League. It’s a fairly rowdy event, with not only the entire Northern Alliance (less the Trunk), but a number of other bloggers as well. We have a nice wireless connection and plenty of outlets–also plenty of beer–so we’re ready to go.
The GOP is putting out an instantaneous, real-time critique of factual assertions by John Kerry. If you look at the very bottom of our page, right down by the hit counters, you’ll see it. I’ll check it out from time to time, too.
I got a bit of a late start getting logged in, as I did Hugh Hewitt’s show a few minutes ago, talking about the CBS News draft story.
7:53 — By the way, does anyone understand what Kerry was thinking when he got a manicure this afternoon? After the orange spray-on tan fiasco, after the “Windsurfing” commercial, how exactly did he come to the decision that what he needed to do on the afternoon of the debate was to get a manicure? I don’t know, maybe he gets a manicure every afternoon. But Kerry gives tin ears a bad name.
7:55 — Contrary to popular perception, bloggers are a pretty wild group. I can foresee that the biggest challenge tonight will be to hear what the candidates are saying over the uproar of the blogger crowd.
7:57 — The lights stayed on the podiums. The idea here is that Democrats tend not to be rule-followers, and Kerry, like Al Gore, will run overtime with his speeches. If he does, I take it the red light will go on so the viewers can see it.
8:00 — OK, it’s starting. Jim Lehrer is on. Did I mention that I don’t trust Lehrer as far as I can throw him?
8:02 — Bush and Kerry take the stage. The audience is going to be silent for 90 minutes? I doubt it.
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8:05 — Kerry starts very strong with a good answer to the first question. He says he can prevent another 9/11 better than Bush. Excellent start in response to a softball question. Kerry looks a little orange, but not too bad.
8:09 — Bush’s rebuttal. Not bad. If I’m scoring this like a boxing match, it’s 10-9 Kerry.
8:12 — Question to Bush — he’s giving the answer he wants to give, paying scant attention to the question–is there a greater risk of terrorist attack if Kerry is elected? It’s a good answer. As the evening goes on, we’ll presumably get somewhat away from the prepared speeches. Good discussion of Iraq.
8:13 — Kerry is now attacking the rationale for the Iraq war — a colossal error of judgment. He’s citing endorsements from generals; not a bad idea. Bin Laden’s escape — Bush “outsourced that job too.” Kerry, 10-9.
8:14 — Kerry itemizes Bush’s misjudgments. We had Saddam “trapped,” we could have continued those inspections. “As somebody who’s been in combat”– he hasn’t given up on Vietnam yet. We “pushed our allies aside.” I don’t think the allies he’s talking about took much pushing.
8:15 — Bush: Kerry said Saddam was a great threat. Kerry nods and gets out his pen. They’re showing a split screen on Fox, and Kerry is nodding along with Bush, which looks pretty stupid. Bush talks about the UN–this is good stuff. Bush, 10-9.
8:17 — We’ll succeed because the Iraqis want to be free–now Bush is talking about Prime Minister Allawi. Treacherous ground for Kerry, but Bush doesn’t drive the point home. Kerry — the Iraq war was a diversion. Most people, however, don’t believe this. Kerry says nothing that will persuade people. “Body armor for birthday presents”? Get the Yale Diva on the line.
It’s getting worse by the day. Casualties rising every month. Not enough troops there, WMDs crossing the border every day.
Bush — Kerry voted to authorize the use of force. If you say “wrong war, wrong time, wrong place,” how can you lead? What message to terrorists, allies, etc?
This round a tie — 10-10.
8:21 — Homeland security; Kerry leads off and does well. Tax cut vs. homeland security. Kerry hits it, if not out of the park, certainly for extra bases.
8:23 — Bush’s response: not bad, but this is a weakness and everyone knows it, I think. Now he’s sounding the right theme — the only defense in this war is offense. Still, Kerry wins this round, 10-9.
Check out the real-time rebuttal at the bottom of the page.
8:26 — When do the troops come home? When the Iraqis have taken over and the troops say it’s OK. Artificial deadlines a bad idea. Bush needs to hit the flip-flop message harder. He did it once, but hasn’t come back to it.
Kerry: “Help is on the way.” An unwelcome reminder of the Democratic convention. Good use of the elder Pres. Bush’s rationale for not going into Baghdad after the first Gulf War. He’s coming back to Vietnam and holding summits, bringing credibility with allies.
This round a draw, 10-10. No, Bush’s 30-second rebuttal hits home. Now we get the “voted before it before he voted against it.” Kerry’s rejoinder is pretty lame. Kerry comes back to Vietnam. Bush, 10-9.
8:31 — Kerry is tied up in knots over whether Iraq is like Vietnam, asking someone to be the last man to die for a mistake. Now he’s recovering, doing quite well. Kerry is more coherent tonight than he often is on the stump. Kerry’s calls for more “summits” won’t get him a lot of votes, however.
Halliburton! Everyone take a shot.
8:35 — Now Bush hits home. That’s completely absurd. Kerry is denigrating our allies. Please join us for the wrong war at the wrong war at the wrong time. Bush is doing very well here.
Bush strikes again after Kerry’s rebuttal — attacks the “coerced and the bribed.”
Bush, 10-9.
8:37 — Bush: we can be optimistic and realistic at the same time, but we can’t succeed if we send mixed signals. Again, back to our allies and how much they’re doing. Some people don’t know this. Progress in Iraq, but it’s hard work. Kerry’s rebuttal: even knowing there were no WMDs, no al Qaeda connection, Bush would do things the same way. I would not. Good policy is based on truth. Kerry expresses respect for the British, but the allies aren’t sending enough troops–not a “genuine coalition.”
Bush doesn’t look very good when Kerry is talking, kind of like Al Gore.
Another tied round, 10-10.
8:41 — Kerry tries to explain why Bush is a liar. He misled the American people. Kerry will try to follow in Ronald Reagan’s footsteps.
Bush: Iraq wasn’t a mistake. Kerry said Iraq was a grave threat, not misleading. Bush quotes Kerry supporting the war, Kerry wasn’t misleading. But what is misleading is to think you can lead by changing your positions. Kerry saw the same intelligence, and Kerry supported authorization of force.
Kerry: I’ve had one consistent position–Saddam Hussein was a threat, but there was a right way and a wrong way to deal with him. Bush isn’t as effective in response as he could have been.
Tie, 10-10.
8:46 — Have the casualties in Iraq been “worth it”? Bush really hits his stride for the first time, getting a little emotional. And finishing with an endorsement of liberty. Bush hits a home run. A free Afghanistan and Iraq will help change the world.
Kerry goes back to Vietnam. He’s dangerously close to suggesting that Iraq is Vietnam. Kerry makes an incoherent comment about how you can’t have an election in Iraq because there’s only 25% of the people. Huh?
Bush’s 30-second rebuttal–how can the troops follow a guy who says it’s the wrong war? Can’t lead if you keep changing your mind.
Kerry invokes Colin Powell, if you break it you fix it. There’s no inconsistency; I’m going to get it right. He mentions Israel.
Bush had the round won, but it slipped away in the rebuttal. Tie, 10-10.
8:50 — Kerry criticizes backing off in Falluja! I agree with that, but can you imagine what Kerry would have said if we’d gone in decisively and things had gone imperfectly?
Bush comes back to Kerry’s criticism of Allawi. “Like a puppet,” no way to treat someone who is brave, trying to lead his country forward. Kerry’s “right way” mantra is getting old.
Bush, 10-9.
8:57 — Will Bush use force again? Good answer, good reference to Libya. By acting firmly and decisively, less likely to have to use force.
Kerry: Saddam didn’t attack us, al Qaeda did. We let Osama get away at Tora Bora. Does this kind of second-guessing (“outsourcing,” give me a break) convince anyone? Hard to say. Now he’s arguing against the war, containment was fine, inspections were fine–so why did he vote for the war?
Bush: Another round of resolutions wouldn’t have caused Saddam to disarm–”ludicrous.”
Bush, 10-9.
9:00 — Visually, Kerry is dominating. I’m surprised at Bush’s expression when Kerry is talking. He seems irritated, flustered, not in command.
Kerry continue to attack the Iraq war effectively. Was the Bush campaign mistaken in thinking that they wanted the first debate to be on foreign policy?
Kerry talks too much about other countries. That’s a fundamental problem. Why bring up the global warming treaty? Bush jumps on “passing the global test.” This is the first real mistake so far. You act to make the American people safer. The International Criminal Court–trying to be popular makes no sense if it’s not in our interest.
Bush, 10-9.
9:05 — The inevitable Iran and North Korea discussion. Few people can follow the details, but Kerry clearly makes a more impressive presentation.
Kerry wants it both ways–multilateral talks but bilateral talks too. Bush: if we have bilateral talks, the six-party talks will unwind. Bush acts like he knows what he’s talking about, makes a comeback.
Bush pulls it out at the end, tie: 10-10.
9:19 — Darfur. Sadly, I supppose, there are no votes in play here. Again, Kerry is clearly more commanding. “Back door draft”?? He argues for expanding the Army. Double special forces, too. His base will love that.
Bush: We’re doing a lot to help Darfur. But neither candidate will send troops.
Another tie: 10-10.
9:17 — Kerry says nuclear proliferation is the biggest security threat. Kerry wrote a book about it! Kerry’s hectoring tone is getting a little annoying. He’s going to shut down the nuclear bunker-busting program so the world will like us.
Bush: Challenges Kerry on the facts, funding for nuclear proliferation has increased. Bush mentions breaking up the Khan network, does a decent but not great job of defending his achievements on proliferation. Missile defense — always a good issue for Republicans.
Bush is getting tired, Kerry still seems to be going strong.
9:23 — Bush is talking about Russia; he doesn’t pontificate the way Kerry does, which is good. A person could get tired of Kerry pretty quickly. Maybe they need to make the next debate longer.
Tie: 10-10.
Bush scores, Kerry said Saddam was a threat; Bush isn’t calling him a liar. Kerry’s “last resort” theory doesn’t cut much ice.
The ref changes his scoring: 10-9 Bush.
9:30 — Closing statements. Kerry defended this country as a young man…but we’re strongest when we build strong alliances. I have a plan for Iraq. Not talking about leaving, talking about winning. The “I have a plan” theme doesn’t strike me as strong. An odd transition to a rather lame ending. Kerry lost his way for a moment there.
Bush: No draft. Fight terrorists around the world, don’t have to do it here. Don’t turn our security over to others; we believe in the “transformational power of liberty.” Free Afghanistan and Iraq, an example for the Middle East. We’ve climbed the mountain, the valley below is the valley of peace. He pulled it off pretty well.
He asks for our votes. Good idea.
SCORING THE FIGHT: I have Bush by 107-103, with no knockdowns. But, candidly, I don’t think it went that well for the President. I think Kerry helped himself tonight. He came across as a credible candidate, and he was usually on the offensive. Bush’s demeanor while Kerry was talking wasn’t good; anything but commanding. Kerry’s was better, in an odd reversal of what happened four years ago. I think Kerry made headway, and there is plenty of material there for the mainstream media to proclaim the beginning of Kerry’s comeback. An unknown is how Kerry’s pompous style will strike people who haven’t had to listen to him for more than a few seconds at a time, until now.
On the whole, though, I think Kerry helped himself tonight.
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A FOLLOW-UP THOUGHT: As noted above, there were no knockdowns tonight. But Bush clearly didn’t make any mistakes. (A lot of people misunderstand his speaking style. He is exceptionally careful in what he says, like a cautious chess player. Except that substantively, he is consistently audacious.) If there was a land mine planted that might come back to haunt either candidate, it was Kerry’s reference to “passing the global test.” We may hear more about that in the days to come.
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