First, the sooner the party can get to a format with fewer participants, the better. We won’t have enough clash among, and insight into, the top contenders as long as more than half of the speaking is being done by no-hopers.
Second, the big three — Giuliani, McCain, and Romney — all spoke well in favor of their positions. As time goes on, they likely will perform even better in this relatively easy kind of setting. That’s another reason why we need a winnowing of the field.
Third, of the remaining candidates, I thought that Huckabee was again the most impressive. He would probably make a good vice presidential candidate.
Fourth, although the “big three” all spoke well, I strongly disliked the substance of several of McCain’s answers, and suspect that many other conservatives did too. On immigration, McCain touted his desire to “reach across the aisle,” which he equated with leadership. He also said he “won’t block things” and that he’s actively involved in negotiations, presumably with Democrats, to work out immigration reform legislation. To me, this sounds less like leadership and more like capitulation. If McCain wants to enable illegal aliens who are in the U.S. to become citizens, I’d rather see him defend this position on the merits than defend it on theory that Americans want to see the two parties work together.
McCain also seemed to say he would not support the use of enhanced interrogation techniques even in the “ticking time bomb” scenario. In the past, as I understand it, he has been willing to make an exception in that kind of case, which Brit Hume turned into a hypothetical scenario. Tonight, he wouldn’t even go that far (so much for “the gates of hell,” I guess). McCain’s stale, “it’s not about them, it’s about us” mantra and his reference to his experiences in Vietnam, where he was subjected to techniques bearing virtually no relation to things like water-boarding, don’t cut it as far as I’m concerned.
Finally, a bad night for McCain (if that’s what occurred) is likely to be a good night for Giuliani and Romney, and I think this was a good night for both of them. Romney put in another assured performance. Giuliani certainly didn’t help himself with social conservatives, but unlike last time any harm was the result of his positions not the way he expressed himself. And Rudy had the best moment of any candidate when he took Ron Paul to task for blaming 9/11 on our presence in the Middle East.
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