The GOP Candidates Debate

I only caught bits and pieces of last night’s GOP debate at the Reagan Library, but as always Glenn Reynolds has a host of links from across the blogosphere.

From what I saw, I was quite impressed with Romney’s performance. He’s the only one who seemed to be poised throughout the whole thing. McCain made the mistake of alluding to his age more than once, and went on the attack too soon. Giuliani didn’t quite seem to have the sort of clear answers he needed. Mike Huckabee did a good job, even though he has almost zero chance of actually getting the nomination. Nobody hit it out of the park, but when so few people are paying attention, it ultimately doesn’t matter.

I do agree that there was a winner in last night’s debate — Fred Thompson. Why bother fighting for attention among 10 candidates when you can wait until the field winnows down? The more we get from the candidates in the field, the more it’s clear that none of them have everything they need to win. There’s still more than enough room for Thompson to make an entry into the field and have a strong chance at success.

This debate didn’t do anything to change the race. We know who John McCain is. We know who Rudy Giuliani is. Mitt Romney made some headway, but not enough to change the dynamics of the race. The rest of the field is, well, the rest of the field. This race is in its infancy (even though it seems to have been going on forever) and anything can and will change over the course of the next year or so.

UPDATE: Ryan Sagar says that the Giuliani campaign is starting to melt down. Kathryn Jean Lopez says that someone needs to get Giuliani to church, stat. I’m inclined to agree. Giuliani looked uncomfortable talking about faith, and that’s not a tenable position to be in for a member of either party in America. Giuliani is certainly walking a tightrope on issues that matter to social conservatives, and he was perilously close to falling off the line last night.

UPDATE: The more I think about it, the more I think Giuliani torpedoed himself. I don’t care what your opinion of abortion is, Roe v. Wade is bad law. (And Casey v. Planned Parenthood is even worse.) There’s nothing inconsistent with being pro-choice and saying that Roe should be overturned. Giuliani had that opportunity tonight, and he blew it. He could have said that he’s a federalist, and Roe v. Wade was an unconstitutional redistribution of power from the state governments to the federal government, but he still believes that the states should ultimately make the call to ban abortion or not. He said something like that, but such a scheme is fundamentally incompatible with Roe‘s holding. It was a major tactical mistake for Giuliani to have made, and it will hurt him with the conservative base of the Republican Party.

UPDATE: Glenn Reynolds argues that Giuliani is the candidate best poised to win in the general election. That may well be true, but if he’s not more polished than he is now, that won’t stay the case. What was so alarming is that Giuliani just looked like another pol, which negates his chief advantages. McCain went for the cojones, Romney went for the brains, and Giuliani didn’t really show all that much of either.

If you’re going to screw up, this is the time to do — there’s plenty of time to get on message and fix the problems in your campaign. Not a lot of people were paying attention last night. However, Giuliani stumbled out of the gate, which means he’s going to have to do a lot of work to play on his strengths as he’d say rather than looking unpresidential when confronted with difficult questions. It’s not fatal to him by any means, but he’s going to have to do better if he wants to keep in the game over the long haul.