Previous debates have been defined and referenced by one impassioned or even comical moment and last night’s Republican presidential primary debate had the best one yet.
At the University of New Hampshire Whittmore Center an actual debate took place for about 30 seconds, championing the 90 minutes of press conference rhetoric. This spirited exchange began when Fox News moderator Chris Wallace challenged Congressman Ron Paul’s stance on an immediate troop withdraw from Iraq, and ended with former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee and Paul actively arguing the issue.
“I would leave completely — why leave the troops in the region,” said Paul “They don’t want us on the Arabian peninsula.” Chris Wallace shot back “You’re basically saying that we should take our marching orders from al-Qaeda?”
The auditorium was alive with the crowd’s reaction. They enthusiastically cheered for both Wallace’s counter question and then Paul’s response that we should “take our marching orders from the constitution.”
This topic certainly elevated the adrenalin level of the audience and amidst the buzz Huckabee addressed Paul directly.
“Congressman, whether or not we should have gone to Iraq is a discussion the historians can have, but we’re there. We bought it because we broke it. We’ve got a responsibility to the honor of this country and to the honor of every man and woman who has served in Iraq and ever served in our military to not leave them with anything less than the honor that they deserve,” Huckabee said.
Paul then responded: “The American people didn’t go in. A few people advising this administration, a small number of people called the neoconservatives hijacked our foreign policy. They’re responsible, not the American people.”
Huckabee rejoined that the United States is one nation. “We can’t be divided. We have to be one nation, under God. That means if we make a mistake, we make it as a single country — the United States of America — not the divided states of America,” he said.
“No, when we make a mistake, it is the obligation of the people, through their representatives, to correct the mistake, not to continue the mistake,” Paul replied.
Paul quipped back that Republicans have "dug a hole for their party" and "are going down next year if we don’t change it."
“Even if we lose elections we should not lose our honor, and that is more important than the Republican party,” said Huckabee.
It’s too soon to say if Huckabee can finish this cycle as anything more than a good vice presidential candidate, but I think it’s safe to say he isn’t going anywhere anytime presently. Other lower tier contenders Tancredo, Hunter, and Brownback — at this point in the race — are merely taking away face-time from candidates who have the “it” factor and should jump ship now.
Although Huckebee’s engagement with Paul championed the debate, Sen. John McCain also did well. The dark pro-amnesty cloud that hung over John McCain’s campaign since this summer’s immigration debacle seems to have passed and McCain may begin to make some headway. GOP pollster, Frank Luntz on the “Hannity and Colmes” post debate special asked New Hampshire voters who they thought won the debate and a large majority of hands shot up for McCain.
“My biggest problem with McCain was his immigration stand and I think he indicated at least that he may have heard the clamor in the country over his position on that and may have mollified it.”
Top tier contenders Rudy Giuliani and Mitt Romney faced tough questions from voters in a diner in New Hampshire. Rudy was forced to address a difficult question about his family quarrels and Romney was scolded for his previous gaffe concerning his sons non-military status.
All in all, last nights debate was a preview of the changes that will take place in the GOP presidential primary debates over the next couple of months. Primary debates are proven to be most effective in the very last moments of the election and as we enter September we are looking at whole new race. The Iowa straw poll hype has passed, Fred’s in, and there is a new dynamic among the candidates, but importantly last nights debate exhibited America’s hunger for a real debate and not a glorified press conference.