The Corner

Listening to the ‘Undercard’ Debate

I listened to the “undercard” debate on the car radio, so it will be interesting if there’s a visual/auditory effect like in the Kennedy/Nixon debate. For starters, the format remains terrible; half the debate seemed to be “Thank you, senator!” or “Thank you, governor!” interruptions from the moderators. Come on, there are four guys on stage. Give them those extra 15 seconds to finish their sentences.

The analysts seem to be concluding that Lindsey Graham won the debate. To my ears, he was mostly the same guy he always has been, maybe a little unleashed now that he’s using the word “crap” on national television. Graham knows national-security policy backward and forward and has some good lines — e.g. “Their number-two guy went to the Soviet Union on his honeymoon, and I don’t think he ever came back.” Still, it’s hard to see Graham’s national numbers suddenly surging from even a great performance at 6 p.m. on CNBC.

Rick Santorum had a good night. While the CNBC anchors cited the Toll Brothers construction company to contend that the country is facing a labor shortage, Santorum pointed out the country’s low (and still dropping) workforce-participation rate. Tonight seemed like the first night that Santorum’s blue collar/religious-conservative style seemed to gel.

I remain a Bobby Jindal fan; I think tonight was the first night he lapsed back into his 200-words-a-minute rapid-fire speaking style. Here’s where the 90-second format works against these guys; it’s hard to make a complete argument in a minute and a half or give much more than a one-liner response with 30 seconds for rebuttal. It will be baffling if Jindal never gets a chance at the big stage, but this is an election cycle where successful multi-term governors are getting dismissed for figures from outside the political realm.

George Pataki’s purpose in this debate continues to elude me, but I’ll give him credit for one good moment near the end: He concluded that as a long-suffering New York Jets fan, he does not think the Monday after the Super Bowl should be a federal holiday. The rest of the group did. Unofficially, productivity always slows on that Monday morning; does our national lethargy really need government recognition and a day off for federal workers?

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