The defining moment of the debate was the Romney vs. Rudy exchange on immigration, and I thought Romney came off better once Giuliani went with the "Sanctuary Mansion" line. Not only did the argument lack substance, but it came off as a cheap shot. Giuliani's answer on guns, which triggered boos, will also not help. Once he said he supported "reasonable" restrictions on gun ownership, especially given his past record, I'm sure a lot of conservatives thought "liberal gun-grabber." His answers on most other questions were solid, and he forced Romney to retreat on his crime record, but I think in the moments that were most memorable, the ones that are likely to be rebroadcast, he came off poorly. He was off his game tonight.
For part of the debate, I thought Romney came off quite well, both in his initial exchange with Rudy and doing a better job of deflecting the flip-flopper charge on abortion. But I thought he got crushed by McCain on the torture question, though as I stated, he may benefit from the fact that the Republican base agrees with him. On the bible and South Carolina flag questions, I thought he stumbled, and reinforced the impression that he can't take a firm position on anything.
McCain had a strong showing, and when it comes to defending the war in Iraq, there's nobody who can do it better. Even if you disagree with him on his position on torture, it's hard not to respect where he's coming from. He also came accross as a real grown up on the stage. Personally, I go back and forth regarding my position on waterboarding of terrorist suspects, but when I hear McCain make his case, it's hard to disagree with him. The trouble is, McCain still seems to rub a lot of conservative voters the wrong way. At the Values Voters Summit, I thought he gave a masterful speech, during which he made an emotional case against torture, but the audience members I spoke to after had a different view.
Mike Huackabee had another solid performance, and he continues to win the likability primary. His exchange with Romney on education, I think, represented the kind of Main St. vs. Wall St. campaign he's going for, and I thought he got the better of it.
I'm not sure if it was a great move for Fred Thompson to go negative in his candidate video, but his "I just wanna give my buddies here a little more airtime" line was nice. His answers on entitlements were also solid. But I thought he was overshadowed by all of the other action on the stage.
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