After a lackluster performance in the previous debate, Rudy Giuliani emerged the clear winner last night in South Carolina. Partially, that was because he came prepared with a strategy to address the issue that had tripped him up, his division with the Republican base over abortion. Instead of sounding uncomfortable and indifferent, as he did last week, Giuliani stated his pro-choice views plainly, touted the fact that abortions went down and adoptions went up in New York City during his tenure as mayor, and invoked some of Hillary Clinton’s more big government-friendly quotations as evidence that there are more important issues. He even got an assist of sorts on the abortion issue from the unimpeachably pro-life Mike Huckabee, who praised Giuliani for being “honest” about his views (perhaps a veiled dig at Mitt Romney, who is distrusted by many pro-lifers).
But where Giuliani moved from repairing the damage done in the last debate to seizing victory in this one was when Ron Paul stated his version of the “blowback” view of 9/11.
“They attack us because we’ve been over there,” said Paul. “We’ve been bombing Iraq for 10 years… Right now, we’re building an embassy in Iraq that is bigger than the Vatican. We’re building 14 permanent bases. What would we say here if China was doing this in our country or in the Gulf of Mexico? We would be objecting. They are delighted that we’re over there because — Osama bin Laden has said ‘I’m glad you’re over on our sand because we can target you so much easier.’ They have already now, since that time they’ve killed 3,400 of our men and I don’t think it was necessary,”
Breaking with the format, Giuliani interrupted moderator Wendell Goler and jumped in. “That’s really an extraordinary statement,” said Giuliani. “As someone who lived through the attack of September 11 — that we invited the attack because we were attacking Iraq? I don’t think I have ever heard that before and I have heard some pretty absurd explanations for September 11. I would ask the congressman withdraw that comment and tell us that he didn’t really mean that.”
Paul declined to withdraw anything, and the stage nearly broke into pandemonium as Giuliani and other candidates clamored to jump down his throat before the moderators restored order.
Giuliani’s interruption didn’t lay out a real rebuttal to Paul’s argument, of course, but it didn’t need to. The rebuttal (a short version can be found here) is encoded into the DNA of the GOP primary electorate, and by jumping on it Giuliani reinforced what should be the narrative of his candidacy, which is that he will be a tough president in a tough world.
Giuliani looked like he wanted to punch Paul during the exchange. Afterwards, he probably wanted to kiss him.
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