ABC’s Republican debate may have not received the massive advertising and promotion of the YouTube debate, but it worked surprisingly well, with a mix of some video and email questions from average people with statements and videos of the candidates themselves as well as traditional journalistic questions. Moderator George Stephanopoulos did a superb job of including all the candidates into the debate, and generating some debate between candidates and keeping them on track. The only major criticism I have is that the debate did not cover immigration at all, but at least there were no questions from a snowman. With that said, I’ll give my top three performers: first Mitt Romney, then Rudy Giuliani and Ron Paul
Romney displayed a stellar performance in this debate. Not only did he show a strong understanding of the issues, citing a variety of sources from Tony Blair to the Brookings Institution, seamlessly explaining the nuances of complicated issues, but he also maintained an incredible level of decorum and civility in the debate, both speaking and acting like the next President. Romney traditionally has excelled in debates, but this time he additionally expanded on many of his views from prior debates.
From the start, Romney, who did not always hold the staunch pro-life view he has now, faced a rocky challenge against Brownback, who accused him of supporting abortion as late as 2005. After bringing in many examples disproving this accusation, including a 2004 op-ed piece and an award he recently received for his pro-life views, Romney proceeded to expose Brownback’s ruthlessly negative strategy. Romney firmly declared his pro-life stance, calling out Brownback for misrepresenting his views rather than letting him explain his own views. He then blasted Brownback for acting “holier-than-thou” because he has been pro-life longer. And then to cap it off, given a chance to rip into Giuliani for being supposedly pro-gay and pro-choice, he stuck by his word and said he would let Giuliani explain himself rather than attacking Giuliani like Brownback attacked him. Romney also positively portrayed his conversion to the pro-life side. Although he previously supported the law of the land, which took a pro-choice stance, Romney explained he realized his mistake the first time a substantial bill on life issues came to his desk as governor, not the first time it seemed politically viable to make a switch.
Furthermore, he constructed a great philosophy on foreign policy. After first taking out Obama for pledging to meet with enemies like Chavez and Ahmadinejad while threatening to unilaterally bomb a U.S. ally like Musharraf in Pakistan, Romney then developed a much more coherent view. While he pledged to keep the military strong and keep all options on the table with Pakistan (while not advertising the more extreme ones like Obama does), Romney also focused on spreading positive values around the world, reaching out to moderate Muslims and moderate governments such as Pakistan and Lebanon, empowering them to defeat the terrorists. This provided a good contrast not only to Obama’s version of foreign policy but also to Tancredo’s ludicrous suggestion that we threaten to bomb Mecca to deter future terrorist attacks.
Romney also displayed some intriguing philosophies. On the issue of taxes, he explained how a strong economy motivated by low taxes can provide more revenue than high taxes on a stagnant economy. On healthcare, he used his universal healthcare plan passed in Massachusetts to demonstrate how the free market and personal responsibility can work instead of more taxes and big government. And of course, he ended the debate with his famous three-legged stool (I hear he actually has one now which he uses as a prop in stump speeches) of a strong military, strong economy, and a strong family. In addition to displaying depth and knowledge on narrow, specific issues, Romney also promotes broad and abstract philosophies, which fit all of his specific views together into the big picture.
Coming in at a close second, Giuliani performed strongly on terrorism but also dealt well with issues that did not relate to 9/11. Starting with terrorism and Iraq, he had a good jab at Democrats for not saying the words “Islamic terrorists” in 4 debates and furthermore pointed to an op-ed piece in the New York Times saying that we might win in Iraq (followed by a clever joke on how he double-checked to make sure it was the New York Times). This really amplified his already strong position as the 9/11 candidate.
Giuliani has always run into some trouble on the issue of abortion, but this was the first time he did a good job of explaining his sometimes-confusing views of abortion. Giuliani ultimately stated that he personally opposed abortion and would work to reduce abortions and increase adoptions. At the same time, he portrayed his refusal to stop abortion not as a flip-flop, but as part of a broader critique of the government overstepping its bounds whether it was on taxes, socialized healthcare, or abortion.
Also, Giuliani gave a phenomenal answer on a question of higher taxes. Faced with the prospect of a higher gasoline tax to fund infrastructure improvements on items like bridges, Giuliani turned the question on its head, arguing against the liberal premise of generating money with more taxes. He explained how lowering taxes as the mayor of New York City actually brought in more revenue, and then he furthermore cited how the last increase in the capital gains tax actually cost America $45 billion. He also had a good criticism of how the Democrats’ proposed extension of children’s health insurance would go beyond insuring the uninsured, forcing people off of private healthcare into a big government system. In addition to his natural strength on terrorism, Giuliani has started to develop a strong philosophy against taxes and big government while mitigating his disadvantage on social issues, making him a formidable candidate.
Alright, so John McCain’s campaign has taken a nosedive recently, and his debate performance reflects that, allowing Ron Paul to take the third spot. Ron Paul’s speaking time focused mostly on foreign policy, an area where he displays a much stronger performance. He did an excellent job of putting Iraq in perspective compared to other wars such as Vietnam. He made an excellent comparison of McCain’s warning against the consequences of failure in Iraq to the now-disproven Domino Theory on how the fall of Vietnam would have spread communism around the globe. Building on this with another good analogy, Paul wondered how we avoided war with Russia with their nuclear arsenal but could not do the same with Iraq. Even if people disagree with the non-interventionism advocated by Paul, Paul does the best job of just about anybody explaining it.
Furthermore, he had some good principles he stood by. He had a good quote about how we should spread American values without force. He supplemented this with a promise for a more open and transparent government that forcefully advocates liberty and the Constitution. Even if Ron Paul won and became the worst President in the history of the United States, he still would leave the Oval Office with the high level of honor and dignity that he has always displayed.
Mike Wacker is a blogger and an Assistant Web Editor at The Sun. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.