The Second Date
Will you bother with a third?


FOX News hosted the second Republican debate of the 2008 presidential-primary season on Tuesday night in South Carolina. National Review Online asked a group of commentators to analyze how it went.

Mona Charen

The most humorous moment of the evening had to be former Gov. Jim Gilmore — the Wonder Bread of candidates, saying “I know I shook things up.”

I think Giuliani won. McCain got in a few good one liners, one at Romney’s expense when he mentioned not changing his views due to even-numbered years or the office he was seeking — but he did himself harm by the torture position. His argument fell flat in many ways. He urges that people under torture will tell interrogators what they want to hear. Yes. But that includes the truth. He argued that our people will be subject to torture if we use it against terrorists. But in what conflict over the past 50 years have our enemies refrained from torture?

McCain was fine on spending of course. But he did not do himself any favors in the discussion of campaign finance, nor in his invocation of bipartisanship on immigration. This is the Republican primary. Republicans do not want to hear about how well you work with Democrats. The point is to defeat them.

Romney was smart and smooth as usual but not quite on point. His long riff about Washington being broken and how he would make it more streamlined, less wasteful blah, blah, blah, sounded hackneyed. And I didn’t get the joke about black and blue — and neither, apparently, did the audience.

Giuliani had an “I’m paying for this microphone” moment: By responding with fury to Ron Paul’s basically blame-America explanation for 9/11, he seized the moment. What he said wasn’t especially insightful or original, but the emotional content was pitch perfect.

  Mona Charen, a nationally syndicated columnist, is author, most recently, of Do-Gooders: How Liberals Hurt Those They Claim to Help (And the Rest of Us).

Yuval Levin
In an effort to put up with such a very long campaign season, many of us have been telling ourselves that starting so early will at least give the candidates a chance to hone their skills and give voters a chance to really get a sense of what’s on offer in 2008. Tuesday night was the first time that notion actually seemed plausible. Thanks in no small part to the format and the moderators, this was a serious and interesting debate, the first one of the campaign, in either party.

The basic lesson I took away was that the three top-tier candidates are in the top tier for a reason. McCain, Romney, and Giuliani all carry themselves with a presidential gravity, and are all fairly lucid and well-honed on most issues. The only second-tier candidate who seemed to belong with them was Mike Huckabee, who may well have come in second in this debate.

But if so he was a distant second. This was Giuliani’s night. Romney and McCain made almost no errors, and said what they needed to say, but Giuliani did more than that. He took command on several occasions, and whenever he was called on he had something sharp to say. His abortion answer (while surely still expressing a view I disagree with) finally sounded like he had actually given it thought, and on a whole range of issues he was able to project the image that made him popular in the first place. Giuliani still confronts a monumental task: persuading the base of the party to overlook his disagreement with them on an enormous range of domestic issues. But he certainly helped himself in this debate.

– Yuval Levin is a fellow at the Ethics and Public Policy Center.

Kathryn Jean Lopez
Rudy Giuliani did so much better Tuesday night than he did last time — for one thing, this time I had the sense he actually is in it to win it. After watching the Reagan-library debate, I thought: “Well, we have two really plausible presidents here.” After the South Carolina debate, a third jumped on my list. The GOP frontrunners look like serious guys — when it comes to presidential-level gravitas, there seems to be some there there. There are kinks here and there — and some pretty fundamental ones at that in one case or another — but I think Republican-primary voters can feel confident they are going to have some competency and leadership to choose from next year. And if Fred Thompson gets into this mix, it is not going to be because the GOP is desperate.

A few sidebars:

To cite the other big contest of the night, Romney might be the Melinda Doolittle of the Republican primary field. He set the bar high for himself that first time out, at the Reagan library, and he won. So if he’s anything less than he was that first night, he’ll be a tad disappointing, even if he was relatively fine. Bet, hey, welcome to prime-time presidential politics, Guv. Melinda’s sticking with it to the end; Romney 2008 certainly goes on.

I found Tom Tancredo’s Damascus-Des Moines conversion joke insulting. We want converts.

I love that Mike Huckabee, Baptist-minister social conservative, emanates “normal” and “likable.”

Though I was previously disappointed with him on the surge, I thought Brownback condemning Harry Reid’s “lost” remark and admonishing against having a party that is for the war and a party that is against the war — what the Democrats created when they ditched Joe Lieberman in my humble opinion — was important.

Can FOX please moderate all the debates?

– Kathryn Jean Lopez is the editor of National Review Online.


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