Much of the post-debate talk has been about how Rudy Giuliani blew it, and I think it’s fair to say he had a bad night. As John Tabin pointed out, it demonstrated once again how difficult the abortion issue is for him–it’s an issue that everybody knew would be his toughest to overcome, and he’s proving why. The bottom line is that when you have a long record of taking a stance that is out of step with a constituency of voters who you are trying to court, you’re going to cause problems for yourself no matter what–either flip-flopping, alienating the base, or speaking in a muddle. Giuliani has thus far taken the latter course. Given his past statements, there are certain questions that are going to be impossible for him to answer satisfactorily. Such was the case with the question as to whether it would be a good day for America if Roe v. Wade were overturned–with his past support for the decision, even a political wizard couldn’t have conjured up an acceptable answer. I’ve been thinking about it since the question was initially asked, and I have no idea how he could have answered it. John Podhoretz wrote, “All Rudy had to say was that he would believe a constitutional travesty had been overturned and therefore that it would be good day for America. This was a no-brainer.” Yeah, that would have been a great answer–if it were consistent with his record, but because it isn’t, he would have been blasted for such a response.Â
Beyond his problems with abortion, Rudy just didn’t seem like himself–he wasn’t comfortable up there. I can tell this because he was stumbling on questions that I’ve seen him answer very well before. For instance, when discussing the absurd temporary expiration of the death tax in 2010 last month with Sean Hannity, Giuliani said, “I do not suggest being on a respirator in 2010.” That was a great line. But last night, he said: “We have to get rid of the death tax, which is going to go to zero in 2010, which is going to create an incentive. I canâ€™t imagine what kind of an incentive itâ€™s going to create.” This was much more muddled, and he paused in the middle as if were thinking of something better to say, but second-guessed himself.
With all of that said, I think that some of the criticisms of Rudy’s performance have gone overboard in declaring his candidacy dead or on life support. It’s far too early for anything like that. While he had a bad performance, other than abortion–which was going to be a major problem for him anyway–he didn’t commit any major gaffes that will come back to haunt him in the primaries and beyond. For instance, while he answered the Sunni/Shiite question slowly, he ultimately answered correctly. Had he blown that one, it could have been used to undermine his credibility on national security. So, he still has plenty of time to recover, but he definitely needs to step up his game. If he doesn’t get his act together and continues to turn in more performances like this, he’s toast. I just know better than to count him out.
As for the other top candidates, I thought Romney and McCain both did what they needed to do–Romney came off as articulate and intelligent, and McCain came across as experienced and energetic, although at times I thought he was a little over-the-top.