Rudy: Though he didn’t have as defining a moment as his smack down of Ron Paul in the last debate, he still turned in the best performance of the evening. He was forceful, had a commanding presence, and a mastery of the issues. His abortion answer, again, won’t win him any fans among social conservatives, but he got it out of the way quickly, and the fact that lightning struck during the answer allowed for a moment of levity. His unequivocal defense of the Iraq war by putting it in the context of the broader war on terror will anger liberals, but can only help him in a Republican primary. The direct answer also stood in stark contrast to Romney’s use of the “null set” dodge. Rudy continued to attack Democrats, which seems to work well for him, and will be even more effective if the Democrats begin to take the bait. It was also a great moment when he turned the tables on Wolf Blitzer, and asked whether the media would report the good news if the surge were a success. Not only because it gets him brownie points for going after the liberal media, but also because it demonstrated strength. (Same on his Libby answer). Rudy also showed a grasp of the details in his criticism of the immigration bill by conveying the sense that he may have actually read it, and not allowing McCain to imply that the bill addressed all of his criticisms. All in all, Giuliani has seemed much more prepared in the last two debates, and is displaying the qualities that made him such an effective mayor, but that were missing in the early stages of his campaign. As I’ve been arguing since he gave it, that Houston speech on abortion changed everything about Giuliani’s demeanor, and he’s simply been a much more confident, effective, candidate ever since.
McCain: He had some wonderful moments in the debate. When he stood up and addressed the woman who lost her brother in Iraq with a heartfelt, passionate, and substantive answer it reinforced why, though I may disagree with McCain on many issues, I’ll always have a lot of respect for him. His defense of his immigration policy, though I take a different view, was one of the better defenses I’ve heard. I think with his answers on immigration and in opposition to English as the official language, he regained some of his Maverick label. The problem is, he’s taking a stand on a piece of legislation that is hated by much of the conservative base. Granted, some of McCain’s boosters may point to polls showing that public opposition to the bill isn’t as great as on the blogs and talk radio, but in my view the difficulty that McCain faces is that the people who oppose the bill oppose it with more passion than the people who support it. Some Republicans may support the bill, but they don’t say, “That’s a great bill, I want to volunteer for McCain!” But many of those who oppose it are saying, “Anybody but McCain!”
Romney: Pretty lackluster performance, I thought. Granted, I’ve been quite critical of Romney on this blog and find him far too plastic for my taste, but I thought he was particularly off his game tonight. He seemed especially unprepared for the audience question about how he could support English as the official language and still take out ads in Spanish. With that said, I thought he did answer the Mormon question well, and to the disappointment of journalists everywhere, passed up an opportunity to escalate his war of words with McCain, instead taking the high road by calling McCain a friend with whom he disagreed.
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