First thought: Who the hell thought Chris Matthews would make a good moderator? I thought he interrupted the candidates too much, got into this bizarre tussle with Huckabee over a comment he gave to George Stephanopolous, basically brought his whole hyper, over-caffeinated Hardball persona, and it just wasn’t the right tone for the debate that introduces so many of the candidates to the public for the first time. The questions from the Politico were a joke, including asking Thompson to name the exact number of casualties in Iraq. Absolute sandbagging; if the Democrats won’t go on Fox, the GOP should tell MSNBC and the Politico to go to hell.
I’ve got big gripes with McCain on some issues, but I think he gave a grade-A performance. Fired up, some good lines, and in command.
Romney had some strong answers, good humor. I’d be surprised if he didn’t help himself tonight. Maybe the audience will see what attracted his fans. Clearly, this was a format he seemed at home in.
Giuliani is going to get whacked around a lot for his performance tonight. Clearly the format didn’t help him. I said watching him try to explain the difference between Shia and Sunni was as painful as watching Joe Theismann have his leg broken by Lawrence Taylor back in the 1980s. Rudy’s better than this performance; the question will be whether this really hurt him.
Although honest to God, if Hillary Clinton or Barack Obama had been given the same question on differences between Shia and Sunni, I’d bet either of them would have/could have fumbled as badly. Really unfair that he got hit with that one.
(UPDATE: Some wise guy observes how Obama would answer that question: “Let me tell you what they taught me at madrassa…” )
Huckabee impressed me, he might be the guy jumping up to the middle tier. Polished, professional – something reassuring about him. I guess he didn’t seem to be straining to appeal to the audience. Like a rookie who doesn’t spike the football when he scores a touchdown, he acts like he’s done it before. (I’m full of football metaphors tonight, must be a draft-day hangover.)
Brownback didn’t impress me. There’s something artificial and hucksterish about him, something that I don’t quite trust. He certainly didn’t seem to overwhelm the audience with details tonight.
Gilmore? Well, he didn’t hurt himself with any of his answers, but I wouldn’t say he shined. I’d put him on the practice squad, to use yet another football analogy. Duncan Hunter is in a similar category. It’s hard to point to any one problem or mistake, but he didn’t really do enough to stand out on a crowded stage.
I had heard before the event that Tommy Thompson might be the breakout candidate, but he seemed rather bland. Not a bad performance, you can see the guy is smart and he made a good governor and cabinet member, but he didn’t really stand out as the leader in the room. As someone once said about Lieberman, he’s a guy you want at the table, but not at the head of the table.
Ron Paul… sigh, yes, thank you for telling us how a libertarian idealist would do it.
Tancredo didn’t froth at the mouth about immigration as much as I expected, but he didn’t do much to demonstrate that he’s more than a single-issue candidate. He couldn’t even be bothered with the organ donation question, and if he thought the question was wasting his time, he should have said so.
UPDATE: I’m getting a few questions and comments from folks who didn’t think Rudy’s answer on the Shia/Sunni question was that bad.
I’d like to find the transcript, but MSNBC and Politico don’t have it on their sites yet. Way to go, guys.
Rudy had two options – he could give a history/textbook answer, or he could try to put it in very plain terms that would make sense to the average American. He ended up with neither, kind of a jumble. It looked like a brain freeze, one it’s easy to imagine when you’re suddenly given thirty seconds to explain a major theological rift in a foreign faith. I’m sure if someone asked him in an interview, he would give a fine answer.
I would have liked some example of a country or group that is mostly Sunni and one of Shia, since the really shameful answers that came from lawmakers a few months back were the ones that mixed up which one al-Qaeda is.
I figure the ideal answer – and I realize I’m not trying to come up with this off the cuff with a million eyes looking at me – would be something like, “Sunni Islam is about 80 percent of the Muslim world, including Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Jordan, Syria and Pakistan. Osama bin Laden and al-Qaeda are Sunni. The Shia are a breakaway sect going back to a dispute over who was the leader after Muhammed, and they are primarily in Iran and southern Iraq.”
By no means does this answer ruin Giuliani, and I’m told that MSNBC folks said after the debate that Rudy answered it correctly. But it was one of the moments he didn’t seem in command.
ANOTHER UPDATE: NR contributor Jennifer Rubin sends me a transcript of Rudy’s answer. It reads better than it looked; I haven’t seen it on YouTube yet.
MR. VANDEHEI: Mayor Giuliani, this question comes from Eric Taylor (sp) from California. He wants to know, what is the difference between a Sunni and a Shi’a Muslim?
MR. GIULIANI: The difference is the descendant of Mohammed. The Sunnis believe that Mohammed’s — the caliphate should be selected, and the Shi’ites believe that it should be by descent. And then, of course, there was a slaughter of Shi’ites in the early part of the history of Islam, and it has infected a lot of the history of Islam, which is really very unfortunate.