Monday, January 07, 2008

Romney wins last night’s Fox Republican Presidential debate

Fox knows what Republican Primary voters want to know:

If the Dem presidential candidates would give them a chance, the Fox News Channel would do well as a host of the Democratic Presidential debates. But, Fox really excels with the Republicans. Chris Wallace, the host last night [and the regular host of FNC’s Fox News Sunday], and the people who helped prepare him, have a very good understanding of what Republican Primary voters want to know.

Last night’s debate focused on taxes, illegal immigration, leadership and what it takes to be President of the United States. These questions also elicited some fairly good statements from some, but not all, of the candidates on the War, the surge, change, social security reform, foreign policy, what needs to be fixed in the U. S., and the impact of changing technology.

The McCain-Romney match-up

Moreover, the chosen topics provided a good opportunity to judge McCain, Romney and, to a lesser extent, Huckabee relative to each other. Of course, if the New Hampshire polls are right in predicting McCain is leading Romney by two to six points, with Huckabee a distant third, and Thompson and Giuliani essentially out of the New Hampshire race, this was the emphasis voters and viewers wanted.

Mirror, Mirror on the Wall, who is the fairest on tax cuts?

Wallace started the debate with a key point for Republicans: How do McCain, Romney and Huckabee stack up as tax cutters. Romney hit a home run, explaining away his fee increases in Massachusetts as reflecting a long term needed adjustment for specific services rendered that was not a hidden tax increase. Romney then hit McCain hard on his opposition to the Bush tax cuts and Huckabee for his net increase in taxes as Governor. McCain tried to argue implicitly that Bush did not have sufficient spending cuts to justify his tax cuts. Huckabee first tried to evade the question and then tried to argue that Arkansas’ preference for enhanced services and court orders were responsible for his tax increase. Neither McCain nor Huckabee was persuasive, giving Romney an early advantage, which is very important for viewers and Romney kept his debate lead throughout the evening.

Thompson and Giuliani:

Thompson made some good arguments, especially on Social Security reform (suggesting a switch to a goods and services inflation adjustment, as opposed to a labor rate escalator). However, Thompson’s poor communication skills, as we have discussed previously, are a major barrier to attracting voters.

Giuliani also scored some points on tax cuts in New York City, his role in dealing with bi-lateral and multi-country agreements while at DOJ and his experience in focusing on security issues for NYC.

However, since both Giuliani and Thompson have taken themselves out of the New Hampshire race, it seemed like Wallace had little interest in them, as would the New Hampshire voters. So, essentially they were non-entities in the debate.

McCain and Romney on change:

McCain scored some points with his argument that what he did to help bring about the change in strategy in Iraq, i.e., the surge which represents a focus on counter-terrorism and has been so successful, is a pretty damn good example of how he can and has produced change.

On the other hand, McCain argued his efforts on behalf of campaign finance reform are another illustration of how he has produced “change.’ Although that might work with New Hampshire independents, it will not attract New Hampshire Republicans.

Romney’s argument on change is to point to his business turn arounds in the private sector, his fix of the 2002 Olympics and revitalization of the economy in Massachusetts when he was Governor through lower taxes and less regulation, etc.

Huckabee and Romney on jobs:

Huckabee seemed defensive about his ads in Iowa that seemed to go after corporations and Mitt defended corporations, arguing we need a President who knows how jobs come and go.

Illegal Immigration:

On illegal immigration, although they all want border control, there seemed to be more of a general tone among the candidates last night to look for a “softer and gentler,” solution than has seemed to be the case in other debates. On the other hand, Romney was not backing off from saying “amnesty just would not work,” and McCain was still trying to argue his plan is not amnesty, but an “earned path to citizenship.’

What makes a good President?

On the issue of what it takes to be a good President, Romney emphasized judgment, wisdom and experience in bringing about change. McCain emphasized his diverse life experiences in the military and in Congress, including leading one of the largest squadron’s in the Navy and being involved in major national security issues. McCain argued for foreign policy-- you need to know the players and the issues—you can’t just be a good executive who can surround yourself with knowledgeable advisors.

For the reasons stated above, Thompson and Giuliani had no chance to be a major player in this debate, unless they came out swinging and neither did. Huckabee was more involved, in part because of his Iowa win, but he did not seem on the same level as McCain and Romney. Huck could no longer pitch his faith every other minute and his argument that “I feel your pain,” just was not playing as well as it did in Iowa. There were a number of questions from Wallace, e.g., Huck’s foreign policy misstatements or from Romney, e.g. the net increase in taxes during Huck’s Governor tenure for which he had no responsive answer.

Who won? Will it matter?

Between Romney and McCain, Romney did more to help himself with New Hampshire viewers and voters and thus he was the winner. McCain, with the poll lead, seemed to be in more of a prevent defense. Romney, in contrast, was more aggressive and confident. He seemed to feel he had the advantage on taxes, immigration and change and took the argument to McCain early and often, and mostly with success. Romney looked more Presidential. Even McCain conceded, at 70, he is “older than dirt.” Was the Romney success last night enough to overcome McCain’s apparent lead? That’s the $64,000 question.
Jeff Berkowitz, Show Host/Producer of "Public Affairs," and Executive Legal Recruiter doing legal search can be reached at You may watch "Public Affairs," shows with Presidential Candidates Richardson, Obama, McCain, Giuliani and Cox and many other pols at
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