Friday, May 04, 2007

Romney, McCain and Giuliani: Win, place and show.

As might have been expected, this appeared to be what it was: a debate of Republican Presidential Candidates organized by Dems and for Dems—MSNBC and its largely liberal base of viewers. Chris Matthews, the moderator from “Hardball,” may have grown up in a Republican household but his pre-media days were spent as a staffer for big time Democrats-- Speaker Tip O’Neill and Senator Ed Muskie. More recently, Matthews was against the Iraq War from the get go, seeing it thru the prism of his anti-Vietnam War youth.

Matthews set the tone for the rest of the questioners, as well as the commentators on MSNBC, including Far Left Kieth Oblermann and MSNBC's token Republican- Joe Scarborough. Scarborough was never much of a Republican as a congressman, and he is a pretty “soft” R on MSNBC. Apparently, if you want to get along on that way left of center TV station, you go along.

Matthews started it off with left of center questions on Iraq, and Romney, McCain and Giuliani stayed tough on the issue, supporters of the War, all. McCain was perhaps the toughest on Bush—putting it bluntly that the War had been greatly mismanaged, but that the United States has the right approach now and the right General going at it-- and the War is winnable. The others were all with McCain, in one form or another, except Cong. Paul, who is a libertarian with little stomach for this or any other war—unless someone has a bazooka in his mouth.

As you might expect, the candidates were all pretty strong on the Bush tax cuts. They were mixed on illegal immigration-- with McCain and Tancredo growling at each other. They were united that Hillary and Bill returning to the White House would be a disaster. No surprise there. That would be a softball. The questioner left Obama and the other Dems out of the equation on that one.

There was lots of concern and discussion of the burgeoning Iran nuclear threat and potential action to take care of it. After the debate, Chris Matthews, Howard Fineman and Jill Zuckman [Chicago Tribune] did lots of hand wringing about how strongly the candidates were on taking action against Iran. Perhaps the funniest [albeit unintentionally] was Zuckman: “Are there people out there who are wondering if the Republicans are just making it up again,” about Iran, she asked? Was Zuckman serious? Is she really in doubt whether Iran is getting close on the nuclear capability? As I said, a debate organized by and for Democrats—and that was especially true on the post-game commentary by the MSNBC crew.

Most of the candidates were pretty strong on the “Life,” issue, except of course for Giuliani. The surprise there was that Rudy seemed unsure of what his position is. He didn’t seem to know how glad he would be “for Roe to be overturned,” or what his position was on the Hyde Amendment [his confusion on the public funding of abortions mirrored similar confusion of his in the last month]. Indeed, Rudy’s confusion on that issue and a lack of assurance on some other issues made him a third place finisher in the debate, but still in the top tier. Timidity is very unbecoming for Rudy.

Romney had the strongest “presence,” displayed a good over all command of the issues and handled questions about his been a flip-flopper pretty well. Give Romney a win on this debate, with McCain a close second. McCain did a good job of projecting energy, enthusiasm and deep experience, all of which are important for him in light of the “age,” issue.

Of the remaining seven candidates, Cong. Duncan Hunter perhaps came off best, but not by enough to put him anywhere near the top tier. Indeed, it is probably time for Brownback, Tommy Thompson [who missed the number of injured in Iraq by about 20,000], Hunter, Gilmore, Huckabee, Tancredo and Paul to exit the national stage. None of those folks has enough money, charisma, message, organization, experience or sizzle to make a go of it.

It is time for Fred Thompson and maybe Newt to enter the race, making this a manageable field of four or five for so called “debates.” And, let’s see if Fox can show people how to do a Republican debate. .
Jeff Berkowitz, Show Host/Producer of "Public Affairs," and Executive Legal Recruiter doing legal search can be reached at