Politics & Policy

Pre-Gaming

A quick rundown of what to look for at tonight's debate.

Last week, I intended to give you, dear readers, liveblogging coverage of the Democrats’ debate, featuring the highlights and standout moments … and I ended up nearly transcribing the whole thing. Tonight I’m going to try again, and this time I’ll try not to give you the sentence-by-sentence description (if you’re that interested, I figure you’re the watching the debate). Instead, I aim to limit myself to giving you what would interest the politically-interested-but-I-have-a-life-on-Thursday-night demographic. 

There are ten candidates. On paper, we’ll be getting nine minutes of each candidate. But if you take out time for questions, we’ll be lucky to get five minutes of the lesser-knowns. So here are some pre-game thoughts on what each candidate has to do tonight — besides the obligatory references to Reagan (especially seeing as Nancy will be in the audience).

John McCain: Obviously, he’s been here before, and he usually turns in a good performance in forums like this one. The question is, what makes him the go-to guy for the country in 2008? How does he get a Republican, still grating his teeth over McCain-Feingold or the Gang of 14 or any one of McCain’s other deviations from conservative orthodoxy, to say, “Okay, I can get past all that, he’s my man”?

Rudy Giuliani: As the frontrunner with a lot of soft spots, I’m sure he’ll be facing barbs early and often. Besides being able to shrug them off with humor, Rudy’s got to shine — he’s got to demonstrate he’s more than just the default frontrunner simply on the basis of name recognition and positive vibes about his 9/11 leadership. If he can find a way to completely backtrack from his baffling comment on public funding for abortion, he ought to do so at the earliest opportunity. Perhaps he can blame mind control by the aliens of Battlefield Earth, or something like that. You can be sure that Republican primary voters will forgive alien mind-control long before they forgive taxpayer dollars for abortions.

Mitt Romney: He’ll get hit for flip-flopping, so he had better have quick, compelling, I-changed-my-mind-when-I-learned-this stories. And while there’s a lot to like about the guy, one has to wonder if one term as governor of Massachusetts is enough seasoning. Does he come across as a statesman who can handle whatever gets thrown his way?

Oh, and avoid mentioning Battlefield Earth.

Sam Brownback: This non-traditional, religious conservative (he’s motivated and passionate about Sudan and global trafficking, for instance) might have been a really compelling candidate in an era of peace and prosperity. But this isn’t an era of peace and prosperity.  Brownback needs to come across as a guy who can handle an era that includes a global war on terror, rapid globalization, economic apprehensiveness among Americans, a federal bureaucracy that is failing at many of its basic duties, concerns about our long-term energy needs, and so on.  Can he do this?

Mike Huckabee: I was underwhelmed by his appearance on Meet the Press a little while back. He seemed like a perfectly fine governor, but I didn’t see whatever it is that has made some people see him as a good choice for our next president. The whole talking-about-weight-loss-on-Oprah stuff will play great with soccer moms, but can we see this guy playing hardball across a table from Vladimir Putin?

Am I out of line for suggesting that Jim Gilmore, Ron Paul, Duncan Hunter, and Tommy Thompson have to show us some reason why they’re even in this race? The republic is not clamoring for you, nor quivering at the mention of their names, to say the least.

It will be amusing to see, if Tom Tancredo is asked a question completely unrelated to illegal immigration, if he manages to steer the topic back to his pet issue. “Chris, I’m glad you asked about enhanced rescission authority, because I’d like the authority to send these illegals back where they come from.”

That’s it for the preview.  Check in to The Hillary Spot once the debate has begun for updates.

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