Ten Republican presidential hopefuls stepped up to bat Thursday night during the first of several scheduled pre-convention debates, but with Chris Matthews on the mound Republicans wasted their swings on spit balls.
The agenda of MSNBC — personified by Chris Matthews — tainted the debate by working hard to demean the candidates. Republican contenders were on the defensive with Matthews telling them to “look into my eyes” while answering questions. The role of moderator is to keep order in a debate and maintain a friendly discourse. Matthews (a political commentator who has previously worked for four Democratic politicians) was no impartial ump.
Core issues like immigration, education, Israel, the Palestinians, and social security were not addressed. This debate’s sponsors presented questions that were designed to reflect negatively on conservatives and the current administration.
Even questions from online users at Politico.com seemed irrelevant and at times unfair. Lined up execution style Republican candidates took these shots from Matthews and the others:
“What do you dislike the most about America?”
“Should Bill Clinton be back in the White House?”
“Do you believe in evolution?”
“Has the increased influence of Christian Conservatives in your party been good for it?”
“Jack Abramoff, Mark Foley, Duke Cunningham in prison for bribes, just last month FBI raids of two Republican members of congress – what’s with your party and all this corruption?”
“Using a letter grade, how would you rate the Bush Administrations handling of the Iraq War A-F?”
“Did you watch Al Gore’s environmental documentary An Inconvenient Truth?”
“Would you hire Karl Rove?”
Despite the media’s efforts to damage Republicans, the candidate’s stats remain mostly unchanged. Mitt Romney and John McCain will stay star players, although Rudy Giuliani may have to backtrack a-bit. Giuliani failed to appease anti-abortion voters when Matthews asked each runner this question:
“Would the day that Roe vs. Wade is appealed be a good day for Americans?”
Nine candidates chimed in with responses like “a great day,” “a glorious day of human liberty,” and “most certainly.”
Giuliani said “It would be OK.” “It would be OK also if a strict constructionist viewed it as precedent.” This answer distinguished his performance as problematic for staunch social conservatives.
Giuliani’s response makes it easy to see why Romney has become so adamantly pro-life. Romney used this opportunity to set straight some of the criticism of his flip flops on abortion rights.
“I’ve always been personally pro-life, but for me there was a great question about whether or not government should intrude on that decision…”
Romney said that two years ago when he was studying cloning in Massachusetts he changed his mind “I took the same course that Ronald Reagan and George Herbert Walker Bush and Henry Hyde took and I said I was wrong, and changed my mind and said I am pro-life, and I am proud of that and I don’t want to apologize to anyone for becoming pro-life.”
The War in Iraq — predictably — was another dominating issue, one that fired up Sen. John McCain more than other candidates. McCain from start to finish spoke with conviction, but did he go overboard?
McCain at times seemed over prepared — as if several of his lines had been planned. He delivered these lines whether or not they pertained to the questions being asked.
McCain lectured about recent statements made by Sen. Harry Reid; “when the Majority Leader of the United States Senate says we have lost the war — the men and women serving in Iraq reject that notion… when on the floor of the House of Representatives they cheer when they pass a withdraw motion for a certain date for surrender — what were they cheering for, surrender, defeat?” While discussing Osama bin Laden McCain told Americans that he will “track him [bin Laden] down and follow him to the gates of hell!”
Although former Gov. Tommy Thompson’s answers were calculated and presented a plan, his lack of personality and stage presence left him without star status. With candidates as passionate as John McCain, or as suave as Romney and Giuliani — Thompson needs a make over.
Sam Brownback scored points with his sense of humor. When asked if he would support changing the Constitution to allow Austrian-born California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger to be president Brownback said “I love the Governator, but no.”
Anti-war candidate Ron Paul didn’t get very much face time, all though Pat Buchanan named Paul the most conservative candidate during Keith Olbermann’s pre-debate coverage.
Ronald Reagan’s “trademarks,” “principals” and “visions” were frequently tacked on to each response, while the current administration’s principals and techniques were carefully sidelined.
Long-shot candidate, former Gov. of Arknasas Mike Huckabee was in tune, and articulate. “Clearly there was a real error in judgment, and that primarily had to do with listening to a lot of folks who were civilians in suits and silk ties and not listening enough to the generals with mud and blood on their boots” said Huckabee when asked about the current administrations handling of the War in Iraq. This response had the “heart” other lower tier candidates like Tommy Thompson lacked. Huckabee came out on top of the lesser known candidates.
Who is the winner? There are no winners in a glorified press conference — especially when you’re a Republican candidate at a liberal themed debate. But if anyone had the most opportunity to backtrack and re-issue their platform it was Romney by getting the chance to address his faith and his flip flop.