I’d like to score this discussion like a prize fight, by round. Here we go. First round:
Taxes: Romney hits a triple, attacks McCain too early. Good overall response. McCain revisits history with his support of Reagan tax cuts and his concern about ballooning federal budget under Bush. Vows to get spending under control. Romney defends Bush tax cuts in wake of 9/11. McCain invokes Jack Abramoff. Says there is a reason he wasn’t elected Miss Congeniality of the Senate, but I think he’s leaving out a few details. When the camera cuts to the entire panel, I wonder: Who seated Romney next to McCain?
Huckabee defends his record on taxes. Romney opens his response with a question to Huckabee; Huckabee avoids answering directly. Romney nails him. Huckabee is whining. Huckabee pleads compulsion on taxes. Apparently he doesn’t want to claim credit for his record after all.
Giuliani defends his record on taxes. He communicates brilliantly on this subject. Proposes reducing corporate taxes to raise revenue. I’m beginning to think about a Giuliani-Romney or Romney-Giuliani ticket.
I score this round on taxes as a tie between Giuliani and Romney. Next round: Moderator Chris Wallace turns the subject to Social Security:
Fred Thompson addresses Social Security. He is an impressive and responsible candidate.
Romney and McCain weigh in. McCain credits Bush for trying to make headway on this subject and proposes — aargh! — a national commission.
Chris Wallace asks Huckabee about the subject of “change” and whether he is referring to Romney as reminding him of the man who laid him off:
Huckabee says he gets called a lot of things, wants a system that tries to make poor people rich. We’re losing jobs overseas; pleads guilty to “populism” on this score. Huckabee takes advantage of Lou Dobbs-ish ignorance on this subject.
Romney says we won’t help wage earner by attacking wage payer. Built a small business. Some companies he invested in created jobs — has been there in the real world.
Huckabee responds by advocating repeal of corporate taxes. Thompson cuts up and gives Huckabee a chance to appeal to those in favor of eternal life.
Giuliani reviews his record on welfare reform as an anti-poverty program. Again, he is a great communicator on this subject.
Thompson critiques Huckabee’s Fair Tax plan, prudently begs off. Urges “flatter tax, something that can actually get passed.” Tax reform is necessary.
Wallace asks the candidates again to address the subject of change:
McCain proud of record of change — such as change in our strategy in Iraq. He fought for change in strategy. However much credit McCain deserves for steadfastness and courage on the suge, this is a dodge. He acknowledges he helped change campaign finance law. I didn’t need a reminder on McCain-Feingold.
Romney says Washington is fundamentally broken and needs fundamental top to bottom change. Have to change spending and taxing habits. Need health care for all citizens — free market health care. Someone from outside with executive leadership — refers to Giuliani. There’s a difference in executive experience. The pitch for executive leadership is legitimate, but the response is platitudinous.
McCain invokes his military leadership — “not management.” Had foresight on Iraq. Has spent life making nation secure. We’re in two wars with Islamist extremism. Knows how to get OBL and will get him. Tell us now!
Thompson takes the edge off the subject, returns to the subject of leadership. The war is going to be a long-term problem. I’m beginning to think he’d make a good senior cabinet secretary, maybe Secretary of the Treasury. Which one of these guys can beat Barack Obama? I don’t think any of ’em can.
I score round four (I think) for McCain. After a break, Chris Wallace turns to national security:
Romney talks again about executive leadership. McCain invokes his long experience of passing judgment on national security issues. Never heard Romney criticize Rumsfeld war strategy.
McCain has modulated his tone tonight and this question is in his wheelhouse. Romney offers a poised response that takes some of the edge off McCain’s criticism of Romney, but McCain clearly has the edge on this subject.
Wallace asks Huckabee about his criticism of the Bush administration and various foreign policy gaffes. He’s been to 41 countries, no mention of Holiday Inn Express. Claims seniority of executive government experience. No pattern of getting things wrong; just verbal slips. We all bring skills to this subject.
Giuliani recounts his experience as crisis manager up to and including 9/11. While in Justice Department worked on related issues. Kept Arafat out of UN 50 celebration (God bless him!)
Thompson says Romney thinks experience is important in every area except national security (ouch!). Not sure what Thompson’s national security experience is; says he was on Intelligence Committtee and met with CIA officers in secure rooms outside the coutnry. I don’t think that’s what we have in mind. Makes a strong case against Huckabee’s views on Guantanamo and other foreign policiy issues. Lobs one last grenade at Romney regarding Ted Kennedy’s attendance at Romney’s health care siging ceremony.
Huckabee says he wants Gitmo closed because it’s too nice. Thompson refers to extension of habeas rights to Gitmo detainees if brought to United States.
Chris Wallace asks McCain how to get OBL. McCain responds he’d make it a priority, etc., like John Kerry, I guess. McCain refers to experience in military and as prisoner of war.
McCain wins the round on national security. Chris Wallace homes in on immigration with McCain:
McCain says his plan did not call for amnesty. He’s talking, but the answer is that it was an amnesty in substance. He’s “never, ever supported amnesty,” because he says so. Thanks again for reminding me why I have been unable to support you despite my admiration of your service.
Romney responds by speaking up for application of rule of law in this area. Recalls McCain’s past support for “amnesty” and notes that amnesty doesn’t work. McCain’s response is tired, evasive, irritable. We need a “real solution.”
Huckabee is asked about the children of illegals “living in the shadows.” He’s talking faster on this subject. Romney interjects a question about “the children in school.” Parents will take them back.
Giuliani says he had to deal with illegal immigrants as mayor of New York City, and did so humanely. Even Reagan made mistakes in this area.
Thompson criticizes his opponents as latecomers to the issue.
Romney wins this round hands down. The referee instucts the judges to deduct points from Huckabee and McCain for disingenousness on this subject. Chris Wallace asks about negative advertising.
McCain commends his own positive campaign. He must not be privy to his campaign emails.
Romney defends comparative advertising, The more Huckabee talks, the more he has to defend. Romney does a great job coming back on the issue of Huckabee’s pardons
I score this round for Romney and am calling the event for Romney. I thought that Giuliani and McCain came in tied for second, a few points behind Romney. For an extraordinarily attentive account to check against mine, I recommend Michelle Malkin’s here.