I didn’t watch last night’s GOP presidential debate for a couple of reasons. One is that I was too busy. After my son’s soccer game I attended the monthly adult Scout leader training, and then it was off to manage my parents’ finances and try to help with my Dad’s physical and psychological needs. Over that five-hour span, I was nowhere near a TV. Another reason is that our family's evening pattern rarely includes TV viewing.
But I doubt I’d have watched the debate anyway. 10 guys? Come on, that’s not a debate. That’s a meet the candidates night. I figured it would generate very little light. Besides, plenty of post mortems of the event would be written, many of which would undoubtedly prove more enlightening and more entertaining that the ‘debate’ itself.
The consensus of the pundits seems to be that Romney won the night, despite a gaffe on the war. McCain did OK. Giuliani did not. Ron Paul distinguished himself from the rest of the pack, but not necessarily in a good way. The rest came across as not very distinguishable from each other. James Robbins says here that it was a debate without a difference. To which I respond, "Well, duh! That should have been obvious going into it." Why bother to tune in at all?
The format of the ‘debate’ necessarily led to the conclusion that 9/10ths of the GOP candidates are joined at the hip on policy issues. This will probably earn angry remarks from died in the wool libertarians, but the remaining 1/10th apparently came across more like comedy relief. T.J. Walker says here that Ron Paul was consistently "wacky and impish." The natural thing to do in the face of so many policy carbon copies is for the pundits to analyze charisma, delivery, stage makeup, hairstyle, and other meaningless drivel.
Walker particularly makes a number of sometimes funny but useless comparisons, such as Tommy Thompson looking "like Sam the butcher from the old Brady Bunch series." Byron York in this article quotes someone as saying that McCain came across like Jack Nicholson in The Shining. On more substantive issues, York echoes most other conservative pundits when he says that Giuliani totally blew the question about abortion. York says Giuliani obviously "is not comfortable talking about the topic before Republican audiences."
Several pundits have noted that the 10-candidate format ill suited Giuliani, but was very good for Romney. Peggy Noonan says here that Giuliani’s "problem is the same as Hillary Clinton's. Both of them do well by themselves. Both seem diminished when standing and vying with others. They are solo acts." T.J. Walker, on the other hand, says, "Romney was George Clooney/George Hamilton cool (complete with the tan) surrounded by a dorm-room full of average dudes." Still, Noonan calls Romney, "statuesque."
For those of you that can’t get enough of Romney, political writer Mark Hemingway, who was raised Mormon but converted to Lutheranism, bristled here at the harebrained question posed to Romney about whether the government should intervene when Catholic clergy refuse communion to a person. Hemingway then lashes out at Bob Novak’s ridiculous assertion that Romney’s unwillingness to comment on the film September Dawn (about the Mountain Meadows Massacre) will hurt his election chances.
Noting that Brigham Young is played in the movie by an actor who has "made a career out of playing villains and criminals," Hemingway draws an analogy to help clarify this matter. "What if in 1959 a film about Galileo had come out starring Peter Lorre as Pope Urban VIII and Walter Winchell had written a column suggesting that Catholic presidential hopeful John F. Kennedy had better comment on the film and clarify his views on heliocentricity?" The absurdity of this seems obvious.
Like other pundits, Fred Barnes points out here that all 10 of the candidates wanted to come across as Reagan-like as possible. The venue, the Reagan Library in Simi Valley, California, certainly lent to that tendency. Peggy Noonan doesn’t like this tendency at all. She suggests that incessant Reagan comparisons are a trap set by the nasty left-wing MSM, and that gullible Republicans are playing along. Liberals certainly could benefit from showing how conservative candidates can’t possibly live up to the aura of St. Ronald, but the vast left-wing plot theory goes a bit too far.
Noonan says, "Reagan was Reagan, a particular man at a particular point in history. What is to be desired now is a new greatness." Her suggestion for GOP candidates being compared to Reagan is for them to respond, "You know I don't think I'm Reagan, but I do think John Edwards may be Jimmy Carter, and I'm fairly certain Hillary is Walter Mondale." That’s funny, but it’s not nice. Besides, GOP candidates are actively chasing the Reagan persona of their own volition.
Noonan dismisses most of the non-first-tier candidates collectively as "The Guy You Don't Know and Don't Think You Have To." While openly pining for Fred Thompson to get into the race, she sizes up the challenges faced by each of the three front runners. (Incidentally, John Fund suggests here that Thompson has much to gain by waiting and playing coy, despite the impending super-duper-mega primary I wrote about here.)
I think Noonan’s observations are fairly astute when she writes, "John McCain has to make himself new again, not just an old warrior working out old dreams but a fresh and meaningful choice. Rudy Giuliani has to make himself serious. America's mayor needs ballast. What does he know? Is there wisdom there or only instinct? Mitt Romney has to show he is not just an intelligent and articulate operator who is chasing the next and logical résumé point for no particular reason beyond that it's next, and logical."
There you have the debate wrap up third hand from a guy that didn’t bother to watch the debate. I’m not sure that watching it would have proved any more enlightening than my aggregation of sometimes trite analyses. So what does this mean for Americans? Well, I’m not sure it means much other than to say that our political process is moving forward apace.
So, what can we expect to happen? Giuliani has been riding a pretty good wave during this early part of the campaign, but I would be very surprised to see that wave continue to build over the next nine months. It is far more likely to flatten out either a little or a lot. Republican politicos have looked over the field of ten, and a lot of GOP and conservative voters are still wondering what other choices are available. The number of undecided Republicans is extremely high, as is appropriate at this point of the campaign.
This far out the crystal ball is still too cloudy to develop any firm sense of what the future holds.