Jay Reding.com

Quick GOP Debate Reactions

Romney just mentioned Sayyid Qutb, which made me think quite highly of him. There’s a real clash of ideas here, which is heartening. For all the divisions in the GOP, this group of candidates seems to be much more informed about the world than on the other side. Even Huckabee was fairly on the ball and knew who Quth was. Of course, with all if them piling on Ron Paul, its not hard to make them look smart in comparison.

McCain’s answer to the question about his principles was solid. He looks Presidential, which counts for a lot. Romney’s answer was also well spoken and has a lot of resonance with the attitude of the electorate today. I’m not sure what New Hampshire will mean, Romney could keep a lead or McCain could take it. Charlie Gibson’s questioning here is tough, but quite probative in getting substantive answers from the candidates.

Ron Paul is still a nutball. He’s acting as the punching bag for the debate.

Ugh, the question about healthcare was horrendously biased. We’re the only industrialized nation without a government-run healthcare system because we’re the largest developed nation with the most diverse population. The argument that people can’t select their own health insurance at a good price and a good level of quality is ridiculous. People make all kinds of choices, retirement funds, auto insurance, schools. People can and do make critical life choices, and healthcare is one of them. The market works in other fields, and there’s no solid reason why people can’t get individual rates just as they do with other insurance products. The reason why individual insurance is so expensive is because it’s rare, and it’s subject to differing tax treatment that makes it prohibitively expensive.

McCain’s answer about cutting inflation seemed iffy to me—it’s hard to cut costs. Medical care will always be expensive unless you want to spend less money training doctors and developing equipment.

I actually like Romney’s “connector” idea which helps develop the right economy of scale. It’s not a perfect system, but it has done fairly well in Massachusetts.

Oh, and would someone give Ron Paul some medication? Thompson’s bemused reaction to Paul was priceless.

Thompson’s answer on healthcare helped clarify the issue, and he had a good clash over the issue of mandates with Romney. In principle, Romney’s position is fine, but the reality is that he’s positioning himself against the side of mandates rather than for them. Yes, they should be responsible for paying for their own care, but he’s creating a false dichotomy that proves Thompson’s point. There’s no disagreement on the basic point, which muddied the debate.

Huckabee’s idea of preventative care is nice in theory, but it doesn’t work in practice. You can’t force people to make those kind of lifestyle choices, and unless you can do that, you don’t get much savings. The problem I have with Huckabee is that if you’re going to enact policies that mandate preventative healthcare you can’t do that with significantly reducing individual freedom. Preferential tax treatment for preventative care? Good idea. Will it it actually reduce costs significantly? Probably not. People don’t get checkups when they should, myself included. That’s human nature—we tend not to think about medical care unless we’re actually sick.

McCain wasn’t phased by the immigration question. However, his semi-amnesty amnesty plan rubs the GOP electorate the wrong way. I’m not sure what the real effect of illegal immigration is on the economy, but a flood of low-wage workers could easily increase domestic unemployment and reduce wages. Not only that, but it reflects a fundamental disrespect for the rule of law. Immigration is fine, but illegal immigration is not. Immigration is a security problem, an economic problem and a social problem. (Victor Davis Hansen’s wonderful Mexifornia: A State of Becoming is a good book on the subject.) We need a policy that recognizes these challenges.

Giuliani’s plan is also an amnesty-like plan. Getting rid of the lack of documentation fixes the security problem. It doesn’t fix the economic and the social impacts. A good plan should address all those issues, but coming up with such a plan that could actually pass is extremely difficult.

McCain’s position that his position is not amnesty is semantically correct. Realistically, if McCain’s position is amnesty, then amnesty is the only policy that works. We can’t start deporting all illegal immigrants, at least not without spending a great deal of money and effort. We can raise the opportunity costs of illegal immigration. We can mainstream illegal immigrants into American society and our economy. Romney’s plan is amnesty too, if he’s not deporting everyone. The question is not amnesty or not amnesty, the question is how to deal with the effects of immigration.

Giuliani’s response was perfect—and I think he’s got the right position on this issue.

Thompson’s “enforcement by attrition” idea is more workable. We can’t find a “fix” for immigration because there’s no easy fix. Enforcing the border, employment verification, and enforcing immigration laws are all workable solutions. Complaining about who supports amnesty and who had a “sanctuary city” is a largely pointless debate. Everyone agrees on the three basic points: secure the border, enforce the laws, and get employment verification.

Huckabee’s answer here was quite good. The problem is that we shouldn’t “seal” the borders—which is the wrong term to use. What’s annoying here is that there’s little real clash, everyone agrees on the basics, but people are trying to naggle over largely meaningless distinctions. Huckabee did himself a favor here, even if his record on this subject is spotty.

How does Ron Paul hide his tinfoil hat? He has to be wearing one, right? He wouldn’t let the CIA satellites communicate with the RFID chip in his brain, would he?

The question about Obama as the nominee was an interesting tack—it’s looking like Obama could very well be the nominee, and his positions are doctrinaire liberal. He may have a great personality, but when it gets down to substance he’s far, far to the left of the American electorate. Giuliani is also right that Obama has never led anything much larger than a classroom. There’s something to be said about executive experience. I also like the idea that “change” for nothing more than the sake of change is bad. What the GOP so desperately need to do is get out what their first principles are and distinguish a truly conservative government from what we have now.

Huckabee’s response to the Obama question is quite right. The problem with Huckabee is that his first principles are not conservative. He’s a good man and he has the right intentions, and he’s quite right that the GOP has to stand for something. It’s just that if we stand for what he has stood for we’ll be sticking with the failed policies of the present Administration rather than a compelling vision of the future.

Thompson’s performance tonight has been very low-key, which is good. However, he needs to show more energy at times. There have been times that he’s stepped in between two bickering candidates to try to distill the issues. That’s a great thing to do as a moderator, but Thompson isn’t setting the world on fire. It’s the story of his campaign: strong on substance, low on flash. Then again, he’s basically out of the running in New Hampshire, so the more McCain and Romney slam each other, the better.

McCain was far too harsh with Romney. It doesn’t look statesmanlike. That might hurt McCain if the race is close. Then again, who is actually watching this thing? (Other than nerds like myself, that is…)

A few parting shots: the only movement that could come out of here is a slight downtick for McCain. He seemed too combative with Romney. The other candidates just placed rather than changed the dynamics. Giuliani was good, which might help him, but he’s got to get some traction soon to remain viable. Thompson did a good job, but didn’t stand out enough. (Although I have a feeling that Fred’s rapidly ascending to the VP shortlist for whomever gets the nomination.) Huckabee was solid, but didn’t get any big lines. If there is such a thing as a winner, I’d have to say that Romney looked good. This debate might help him, provided anyone’s paying attention. Romney’s candidacy has been declared alll but dead after Iowa, but a New Hampshire win could help him immensely.

The format of this debate was good. I like having more back-and-forth between the candidates. It was more relaxed and seemed to show more of the different policy positions.

I’m off for the Democratic debate—I’ll only spend so much time watching politics on a Saturday night…

UPDATE: Marc Ambinder of The Atlantic thinks that Thompson won the debate on substance. That’s true, but if substance were the arbiter of this race, Fred would be leading the polls by leaps and bounds. He was good, but he missed some opportunities to really distinguish himself from the field. Fellow Fredhead Jonathan Adler said the same thing. Fortunately, this debate doesn’t mean much for Fred Thompson. Few were watching, and he’s not competing in New Hampshire. His critical state is South Carolina, which is where he needs to truly perform to stay viable.

3 responses to “Quick GOP Debate Reactions”

  1. Mark says:

    So far, Thompson and Giuliani are in a close competition for “asshat of the evening”, with Thompson (standing at 2% in the NH polls) mocking everybody else yet failing to keep the crowd awake with his uninspired answers. Willard, agree with him or not, was raising valid points regarding the plan imposed in his state, came out way ahead of the deriding Thompson who offered nothing but cynicism. Giuliani managed to invoke Reagan’s name four times in one answer and remind us yet us again that he was in New York City during the 9/11 attacks.

    Huckabee has done well tonight except for the science fiction of “preventative care”, which basically boils down to a health-and-wellness police state that will impose tyrannical mandates on public behavior under the guise that it will cut health care costs when it will in fact increase them substantially. More “preventative care” means longer life expectancies, which by proxy means massive more health care costs due to an ever-more geriatric population.

    Now McCain’s being as much of an interrupting pig on immigration as Thompson was in the health care segment.

  2. Mark says:

    McCain….good second half, but way too much of a prick to Willard in the second half.

    Thompson….a snoozer all-around. The only time he got my attention was when he was being a cynical interrupting slimeball to Willard or Paul. Any candidate who has watched Thompson in INACTION for the past three months would put him behind Duncan Hunter on the list of Vice-Presidential prospects. What would he possibly bring to the table except a burning desire not to campaign?

    Paul….was an eloquent spokesperson for a message with limited appeal to a primary full of chickenhawks.

    Willard….as good of a performance as one can expect for a guy targeted by everyone throughout the evening. He looked best in the health care argument, dodging cynical knives from Thompson and others who have no plan at all for health care. I don’t necessarily believe that being constantly on the defensive will help Willard any, but he did stay above the fray against McCain and Thompson’s repeated digs and obnoxious interruptions.

    Huckabee….the most eloquent speaker of the night who managed to keep himself clean and positive, and the only guy to understand the appeal of Obama which none of these other clowns can figure out. Huckabee probably won the night, but he mostly had softballs to dodge in comparison to Willard.

    Giuliani….after a horrendous opening half, he rebounded in the second half and seemed more sensible on immigration than he has in the past. It’s unlikely Rudy will redeem himself with tonight’s performance, but he may have at least avoided further erosion.

  3. adb67 says:

    Thompson was as usual grumpy and completely uninteresting. I think Huckabee and Guliania came off as the winners in this debate. As for the healthcare issue. Jay, healthcare is an issue. Even though I have healthcare insurance, my out of pocket costs are tripling going into 2008 alone. I work for a company with a $260 Billion dollar value, soaring profits and Executive bonuses in the millions and salaries increasing millions per year. What have employees been seeing (and as an engineer in the telecom industry, this is going on across the industry, so its not isolated)? I know have a nearly $200 a month out of pocket cost or a family plan. A $2200 deductible which includes everything but a physical. This year alone I will pay over $5000 on out of pocket costs alone, while my salary is only going to increase a mere 3%. The company triled our costs and has done nothing to improve our salaries. We saw huge increases last year. Something has to be done to make healthcare affordable and for those who dont have it in making it affordable, accessible. We need malpractice reform, devotion to healthcare IT, emphasis on preventative care and access to healthcare for children.

    Sorry but the GOP belief that tax deductions or credits is going to make it affordable and accessible is nonsense….