"Political experts say that the ten Republican candidates represented all races, creeds, and colors of rich white men." Conan O'Brien
The Republicans held their first presidential debate Thursday night at the Ronald Reagan Library in California. I was curious to know how it went and who conservatives thought had won, so I toured a few right-wing blogs and some other sites. The Democrats are feeling pretty cocky right now and think they might be able to take the White House in 2008, but given their history of running pathetic presidential campaigns (see Gore 2000, Kerry 2004, Dukakis 1988, etc.), voters may want to familiarize themselves with the Republican candidates in case Ron Paul winds up as our next president.
Unlike the Democrats' first debate in South Carolina last week, where no one really stood out or completely blew it, the Republican debate seems to have had some clear winners and losers. It will be interesting to see polling numbers for Republicans in the next couple of weeks. A few surprises may be in store.
The consensus winner of the night was Mitt Romney. He pretty much made a clean sweep of all the blog polls and analytical pieces I read. As one National Review pundit said, he "looked and sounded like a serious presidential candidate." Many others agreed.
The consesus loser on Thursday was "America's Mayor," Rudy Giuliani. If you believe the pundits, his campaign is about to tank over this debate debacle.
Red State: "Rudy Giuliani imploded. . . . Rudy totally and utterly self-destructed tonight. He had many chances to get in good with the core base of Republican voters and ignored every moment."When the New York Post rips its favorite mayor, you know things were bad.
National Review pundit 1: "[Rudy] lost the debate, beginning with the first question when he seemed nervous and disorganized. At no time did he manage to convey the strength and confidence of America’s mayor."
National Review pundit 2: "Rudy seemed so half-hearted — so unwilling to make an effort, to demonstrate that he actually wants to become president — that I found myself wondering if he’s having second thoughts about running. I can’t tell you who won, but Rudy for darned sure lost."
New York Post: [Rudy] may not be the front-runner much longer. . . . [H]is debate performance was lousy. . . . Rudy did himself harm last night."
Though perhaps not all is lost for Rudy. A Survey USA poll of 317 debate watchers in California thought he did best, giving him 30% of their vote, more than twice as much as the next candidate, Romney, at 12%. The poll doesn't say, however, whether these debate watchers were Republican voters or not, or if they were even registered voters, or if they were even awake during the debate. But it wouldn't be unlikely to see him score well among a poll of the general public.
Ron Paul. Your next President of the United States.
The big surpise of the night: Ron Paul, Libertarian Congressman from the Galveston, Texas district. Paul came in second in all of the blog polls and even forced the pundits to acknowledge his existence, though most did so grudingly. He was supposed to be the crazy old fringe guy, kind of like Mike Gravel is for the Democrats, except that viewers actually responded well to Dr. Paul, who is an M.D. and - according to Wikipedia - has delivered over 4,000 babies. The Wall Street Journal said, "Paul distinguished himself both by presenting a strong antiwar, anti-interventionist platform and by appearing nervous at times." [He distinguished himself by "appearing nervous"?] Now what do the pundits do? Dr. Paul also did very well in the "YouTube Primary," with 11,000 views of his debate performance, 2nd only to Romney's 16,000 views.
Another winner: Mike Huckabee, former Governor of Arkansas. While Ron Paul will [sadly?] never be taken seriously as a candidate, Huckabee might have a chance to start swimming with the big boys if Rudy and McCain start to tumble. Yet another National Review pundit (they had a whole damn panel of them), said of Huckabee: "Smart, pleasant, knowledgeable, and straightforward." Mark Halperin at Time gave him a B+, behind only Romney. If nothing else, Huckabee might be getting a look as a possible VP. Rudy, for example, could use some real help in the south and among the social conservatives. Huckabee is a Baptist minister from Arkansas.
Another loser: John McCain. I thought it was interesting that McCain got okay reviews from the pundits, whereas most conservative blog polls had him 4th or 5th, with about 5% of the vote, and comments on some of the blogs were downright vicious towards him. He really is something of a media darling, it seems. If you're a supposed front-runner, and your potential base doesn't seem to like you and thinks you looked like a doddering old fool in the debate, I don't see how that plays out as an "okay" performance.
So, what are the Republicans going to do? Their main front-runner "implodes" in the debate. The second one gets a lukewarm-to-vicious response. The Mormon flip-flopper from the East Coast does really well. The Libertarian from Texas (via Pittsburgh - another Yankee carpetbagger!) scores big. The Baptist minister - Huckabee - might cause some waves. But I don't get the sense that the Repubicans actually have much of a candidate they can support right now. Which is why so many conservatives want Fred Thompson to run, I guess.
Here are some of the numbers and comments I collected:
Drudge - 85,000 votes
Ron Paul 18%
Little Green Footballs - 4,440 votes
Ron Paul 20.7%
Hot Air (Michelle Malkin) - 2,000 votes
Ron Paul 10%
McCain / Tancredo 4%
Red State -1,300 votes
Who LOST the debate?
"John McCain won. . . . Mitt Romney shined, he stood out, he did well. Rudy Giuliani imploded. Rudy totally and utterly self-destructed tonight. He had many chances to get in good with the core base of Republican voters and ignored every moment."
National Review Panel
1) Winners: Romney, McCain, and Huckabee
"It was hard to see why Giuliani is a frontrunner. . . . [He] was tired and off balance."
2) Mitt Romney had the best night. Calm, warm, thoughtful, and engaging, he looked and sounded like a serious presidential candidate. John McCain and Giuliani didn’t do themselves any favors.
3)And the winner is: Mitt the Good, the Perfect, the Gosh-Darned Smartest of Them All. He was substantive, concise, and humorous, if somewhat over-educated.
Runner-up goes to Mike Huckabee. Smart, pleasant, knowledgeable, and straightforward, he was the surprise in the Cracker Jack box.
[Rudy] lost the debate, beginning with the first question when he seemed nervous and disorganized. At no time did he manage to convey the strength and confidence of America’s mayor.
4)Among the big three, Giuliani turned in the most problematic performance.
5)Huckabee and Romney did well.
"Rudy seemed so half-hearted — so unwilling to make an effort, to demonstrate that he actually wants to become president — that I found myself wondering if he’s having second thoughts about running. I can’t tell you who won, but Rudy for darned sure lost."
Mitt Romney won
Rudy Giuliani lost
John McCain is still in
And there's "the obscure but intellectually serious Ron Paul."
NY POST (Podhoretz)
Rudy "may not be the front-runner much longer. . . . [H]is debate performance was lousy. . . . Rudy did himself harm last night.
Huckabee "did himself the most good" and was "quietly sensational."
MSNBC - 48-51,000 votes
Who stood out from the pack?
Ron Paul 31%
Who showed the most leadership qualities?
Same order as above
Who was the most convincing candidate?
Same order as above
Who had the most rehearsed answers?
Ron Paul 5.4%
Who avoided the questions?
T. Thompson 6.3%
Who had the best one-liner?
Ron Paul 26%
Survey USA Poll - 317 debate watchers in California
Not sure 16%
Time Magazine (Mark Halperin)
Ron Paul B
Daily Kos - 9,200 voters
Zombie Reagan 40%
Ron Paul 24%
Huckabee 4% (440)
Rudy 4% (377)