there was a debate today?

Yes…if you want to call that a debate. Again I ask, what are these presidential candidates trying to hide by having these afternoon debates?


Top three: Romney, Fred, Giuliani. Romney is strong as a policy wonk. Talking about economic issues rather than social issues allows Romney to play to that strength. I linked to National Review’s endorsement editorial yesterday. It looks like Romney read it thoroughly and tried to make the same argument for his nomination as they did in that editorial. Wise move. Fred looked great in this debate, but he needs to look more awake during the candidate introductions. Little things like this matter because of the narrative that’s already been written about Fred. It’s easy to like Fred when he is on the attack. Conservatives like criticism of the NEA’s role in our educational system. Another Fred highlight was when he refused to play along with the climate change question. We need to see more of Fred the fighter. Unfortunately, it may have come too late for Fred to have a realistic shot at the nomination. Giuliani didn’t do anything to hurt himself, and had some good answers. I just don’t remember what they were.

Shouldn’t have shown up – Alan Keyes. The Des Moines Register did him a huge favor (or maybe they were just obligated to include him under their own criteria). In either case, he didn’t take advantage of the opportunity, instead blaming the moderator for shutting him out of the discussion on several occasions. When she did allow him to speak, he filibustered during his time and didn’t give straight answers to any question that he was asked. There’s a good reason he’s only polling around 2% in Iowa.

Made CNN’s debate look good — the debate moderator and the Des Moines Register. She didn’t give the candidates enough time to answer questions. She didn’t ask follow-up questions when necessary. She also lost control of the debate several times.

In there somewhere — Huck, Hunter, Tancredo, Ron Paul. The good thing for the new Iowa leader is that the moderator didn’t allow enough time for direct shots at him. Huckabee continues to coast along without getting very specific on policy issues, and breaking out more new catchphrases and one-liners won’t make him look any more serious as a potential President. It’s hard to see how Huck can maintain his lead with all of the increased media scrutiny he has been getting lately.

I’m not sure if those who took the time to watch this debate changed their minds about their preferred candidate, but those supporting Fred had to like what they saw from him today.

More fun with Iowa debates tomorrow when it’s the Democrats’ turn to answer questions.

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a big endorsement for romney

Mitt gets the support of National Review.

This shouldn’t surprise anyone, especially based on the discussion on The Corner over the past year or so. It’s no secret that editor Kathryn Lopez is a big fan, but it must have been hard to reach a consensus on this, since there are others at NRO who are openly supporting other candidates.

An excerpt:

Uniting the conservative coalition is not enough to win a presidential election, but it is a prerequisite for building on that coalition. Rudolph Giuliani did extraordinary work as mayor of New York and was inspirational on 9/11. But he and Mike Huckabee would pull apart the coalition from opposite ends: Giuliani alienating the social conservatives, and Huckabee the economic (and foreign-policy) conservatives. A Republican party that abandoned either limited government or moral standards would be much diminished in the service it could give the country.

That’s one question I’ve always had about Rudy Giuliani.  Can he win enough blue states to make up for the loss of some red states usually solid for Republican nominees? I don’t know the answer to that question. He might be able to do it, but there are no guarantees.  On the other hand, I have more doubts about a Huckabee candidacy than I do about Giuliani’s bid. Right now the fiscal and foreign-policy conservatives see Huckabee as a serious threat to their worldview if elected. With all of the foreign policy challenges we have, we can’t afford to have a rookie making those decisions. He has the same naive belief in the power of diplomacy as many of the Democrats.  The most optimistic view of Huckabee’s record on spending is that it is a mixed bag of tax cuts and tax increases.  We don’t know which Huckabee we will get as President — the tax cutter or the tax hiker.  But his faith in government is disturbing, and it’s enough to keep the fiscal cons off of the Huckabee bandwagon.

There is no question that a Giuliani or a Huckabee nomination would split the conservative base in the way the National Review editorial describes.  Republicans need a united base in order to have a fighting chance against the Democratic nominee. Of course, the threat of a Hillary presidency is scary enough that Giuliani could overcome the loss of some social conservatives. But we should acknowledge the possibility of such a split in the base when deciding on our nominee.

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romney’s speech

Read it all here.

Watch it here.

I’m going to pull some excerpts from his remarks and make a few comments on the parts of the speech that stuck out when I read them.

Given our grand tradition of religious tolerance and liberty, some wonder whether there are any questions regarding an aspiring candidate’s religion that are appropriate. I believe there are. And I will answer them today. Almost 50 years ago another candidate from Massachusetts explained that he was an American running for President, not a Catholic running for President. Like him, I am an American running for President. I do not define my candidacy by my religion. A person should not be elected because of his faith nor should he be rejected because of his faith. “Let me assure you that no authorities of my church, or of any other church for that matter, will ever exert influence on presidential decisions. Their authority is theirs, within the province of church affairs, and it ends where the affairs of the nation begin.

This may be an unpopular view to some religious conservatives, but Romney is absolutely right. Being a Christian, or a Mormon, or a person of any other faith should not be a qualification or disqualification for public office. It certainly doesn’t speak to a person’s ability to govern the country, as Jimmy Carter has shown us. Mike Huckabee is a a great guy. We all agree on that. He is someone who agrees 100% with all of the social conservative issues. He’s not the guy I want as President, because he has the same kind of faith in diplomacy as the Democrats. Huck should be working on getting some serious foreign advisors, and he should have someone on his staff read and brief him on the latest NIE, so he is prepared when reporters ask questions about it.

But back to Romney…he’s the guy I see as someone who will surround himself with experts who can give him the best advice, from domestic/economic policy to foreign policy. He did this as a CEO, and that’s been his pattern throughout his business career and his political career. That’s the kind of approach to government I want to see in a President. While it’s important to have a nominee who shares our values, it’s just as important to have one who can handle the job of being President. That’s why given the choice between Romney and Huckabee, I’m still going with Romney.

Here’s more of his speech:

As a young man, Lincoln described what he called America’s ‘political religion’ – the commitment to defend the rule of law and the Constitution. When I place my hand on the Bible and take the oath of office, that oath becomes my highest promise to God. If I am fortunate to become your President, I will serve no one religion, no one group, no one cause, and no one interest. A President must serve only the common cause of the people of the United States.There are some for whom these commitments are not enough. They would prefer it if I would simply distance myself from my religion, say that it is more a tradition than my personal conviction, or disavow one or another of its precepts. That I will not do. I believe in my Mormon faith and I endeavor to live by it. My faith is the faith of my fathers – I will be true to them and to my beliefs.

Some believe that such a confession of my faith will sink my candidacy. If they are right, so be it. But I think they underestimate the American people. Americans do not respect believers of convenience. Americans tire of those who would jettison their beliefs, even to gain the world.

Romney should be given credit for saying that he would not change his religious beliefs to win an election. He says that Americans do not respect “believers of convenience”. He’s right. They don’t. Neither do social conservatives. The problem many conservatives have with Romney has more to do with conveniently-timed conversion on other issues than it does about his Mormonism. They don’t trust him because they don’t believe that he has deeply-held principles about anything, and that he would say anything to get elected. They think that Romney is one of those who would “jettison their beliefs” for political advantage. I’m not sure that making promises not to change on his Mormon faith addresses those concerns.

There is one fundamental question about which I often am asked. What do I believe about Jesus Christ? I believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God and the Savior of mankind. My church’s beliefs about Christ may not all be the same as those of other faiths. Each religion has its own unique doctrines and history. These are not bases for criticism but rather a test of our tolerance. Religious tolerance would be a shallow principle indeed if it were reserved only for faiths with which we agree.There are some who would have a presidential candidate describe and explain his church’s distinctive doctrines. To do so would enable the very religious test the founders prohibited in the Constitution. No candidate should become the spokesman for his faith. For if he becomes President he will need the prayers of the people of all faiths.

This is what Romney should have said at the debate, or a shorter version of what he said here. He appeared to be blindsided by the question about the Bible, and he kept repeating “The Bible is the Word of God”, hesitating on whether he should add anything else to that answer. It is a strength of our nation, not a weakness, that we have such diversity in our religious beliefs. That’s something our country has always had from its inception. He goes on to give examples of that diversity, and to explain what people of all religious faiths have in common.

I love this part in particular. (If Romney wrote this himself, the man is gifted with words…)

I believe that every faith I have encountered draws its adherents closer to God. And in every faith I have come to know, there are features I wish were in my own: I love the profound ceremony of the Catholic Mass, the approachability of God in the prayers of the Evangelicals, the tenderness of spirit among the Pentecostals, the confident independence of the Lutherans, the ancient traditions of the Jews, unchanged through the ages, and the commitment to frequent prayer of the Muslims. As I travel across the country and see our towns and cities, I am always moved by the many houses of worship with their steeples, all pointing to heaven, reminding us of the source of life’s blessings.

It is important to recognize that while differences in theology exist between the churches in America, we share a common creed of moral convictions. And where the affairs of our nation are concerned, it’s usually a sound rule to focus on the latter – on the great moral principles that urge us all on a common course. Whether it was the cause of abolition, or civil rights, or the right to life itself, no movement of conscience can succeed in America that cannot speak to the convictions of religious people.

We separate church and state affairs in this country, and for good reason. No religion should dictate to the state nor should the state interfere with the free practice of religion. But in recent years, the notion of the separation of church and state has been taken by some well beyond its original meaning. They seek to remove from the public domain any acknowledgment of God. Religion is seen as merely a private affair with no place in public life. It is as if they are intent on establishing a new religion in America – the religion of secularism. They are wrong.

This speech hit many hot buttons for a conservative audience. The idea that separation of church and state also means that the state can’t interfere with the free exercise of religion — that’s an article of faith for most social conservatives. He even indirectly mentioned the “war on Christmas”. There is much to like about this Romney speech, but I’m not sure if he wins any converts from Huckabee by it. Maybe he doesn’t have to. If the goal was to make Romney look less scary to everyone else, then mission accomplished.

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romney’s problem

Patrick Ruffini:

Romney should resign himself to the fact that he won’t be able to out-conservative Thompson or Huckabee on issues.

But he does have unique qualities that make him a more appealing choice than the other conservatives in the field on other grounds. In short, his path to the nomination is to out-conservative Rudy Giuliani (and only Giuliani) and out-executive and out-bio Thompson or Huckabee.

In all the ads we’ve seen so far, where is Romney the incredibly successful businessman — the most successful one in North America according to Jim Cramer? Romney the father of five? (this one’s only made the occasional cameo before social conservative audiences). The guy who was home with his wife doing his HBS homework while George Bush was out partying? (Okay, go light on the last part in the primaries.) Or the guy who saved the Olympics?

These were all the inspiring reasons why a one-term Massachusetts governor could run for President to begin with, and instead we get awkward metaphors about three-legged stools and blue vs. black suits.

He’s right.  We are not hearing much about Romney the businessman, Romney the family man, or the guy who saved the Olympics.  All we hear are assurances about Romney’s new conservatism.  He can pass himself off as more conservative than Giuliani.  But Giuliani will always be more authentic than Romney, because he is honest about his differences with social conservatives on gay marriage and abortion. Even though Romney has conservative views now, that is not his strongest argument for the Republican nomination. His strongest argument is his resume, and he is not using that to his advantage in this race.

Romney isn’t the most conservative guy in the race, whether he came by those views in a genuine conversion or a politically convenient one, and he does himself no favors trying to sell that concept.  Sell the resume, not the conservatism.  That’s the only way he can get past all the other candidates.

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second look

Let me be clear about this: I don’t see John McCain rebounding enough in the presidential race to knock off Romney or Giuliani. He has burned quite enough bridges to make more than a few enemies along the political road. His dogged stubbornness to defend stupid policy like campaign-finance reform and that misguided illegal immigration bill is the main objection conservatives have with him. He is also seen by some as arrogant because of this. Not exactly the perfect Republican messenger.

That’s the case against him.  Let me attempt to make the case for him.

McCain is a bona fide fiscal conservative.  If we want someone who has always been committed to reducing government spending, John McCain fits that description. When he calls for spending cuts, he has credibility because he’s done it many times and he has fought pork projects every time they pop up in a bill. I think McCain is being overlooked as a small-government guy because of our focus on the more outspoken Ron Paul and Rudy incessantly talking about his NY tax cuts.

McCain is a bona fide social conservative, if by that you mean pro-life.  He’s always been pro-life, no conversions, no fudging it, nothing like that.  Sure he’s not totally with us on gay marriage, but his overall record in the Senate shows that, as he says, he is a reliable conservative vote on the family issues that count to the social conservatives.

McCain has solid military experience.  He served in Vietnam.  So did John Kerry (if you hadn’t heard).  If that qualification was good enough for Senator Kerry, why wouldn’t it be for John McCain?  He can speak with authority on the military and on national security matters, because he knows what needs to be done to keep our military strong and to respond to future threats against our country.  If national security and the war on terrorism is the main concern of the base, why would you consider this a strength of Giuliani and leave McCain out of that conversation?

Giuliani isn’t the only one who can claim that he has taken unpopular positions, and never wavered from them.  McCain can also make this claim.  We may not like some of McCain’s policies and proposals (campaign finance and illegal immigration), but I believe that he’s closer to everything we want in a candidate than Rudy Giuliani is. If we are trying to elevate Huckabee or Thompson, or to a lesser degree Romney, on the basis that they are currently pro-life (and Rudy is not), then we should take a second look at John McCain.  He brings the pro-life record, fiscal conservatism, and a solid military background as just a few pieces of his presidential resume, and it’s a resume that we should take a closer look at before rejecting him as a Republican nominee.

As I said, I think the die has already been cast against McCain, but we should give him another look before we settle for Rudy Giuliani.

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where has this guy been?

In a New Hampshire speech,  John McCain, shall we say, seriously questions Mitt Romney’s authenticity.

Courtesy of the Corner:

I don’t usually do this but I’m going to depart for a moment from the issues I want to talk to you about today.  One of the other Republican candidates made an extraordinary statement yesterday.  Former Governor Romney yesterday proclaimed himself the only real Republican in this race.  As we all know, when he ran for office in Massachusetts being a Republican wasn’t much of a priority for him.  In fact, when he ran against Ted Kennedy, he said he didn’t want to return to the days of Reagan-Bush.  I always thought Ronald Reagan was a real Republican.

When Governor Romney donated money to a Democratic candidate in New Hampshire, I don’t think he was speaking for Republicans.  When he voted for a Democratic candidate for President, Paul Tsongas, I don’t think he was speaking for Republicans.  When he refused to endorse the Contract with America, I don’t think he was speaking for Republicans.  And when he was embracing the Democratic position on many major issues of the day, I don’t think he was speaking for Republicans.

So you’ll understand why I’m a little perplexed when Mitt Romney now suggests that he’s a better Republican than me, or that he speaks for the Republican wing of the Republican Party.

I think I’ve gotten to know the people of New Hampshire pretty well.  I know that before I can win your vote, I have to win your respect.  And to do that, you expect me to be honest with you about what I believe.  You might not always agree with me on every issue, but I hope you know I’m not going to con you.  The most important thing we have in this life is our self-respect.  And I’m not going to trade mine for anyone’s vote or for any office.  I’m going to tell you what I believe and let the chips fall where they will.  I’m confident New Hampshire Republicans feel the same way about your self-respect as I feel about mine.

Ouch. That’s the kind of message that can resonate with people.  That’s McCain’s strength as a candidate.  He is authentic.  You know where he stands.  Unfortunately, he stands opposed to conservatives on issues like illegal immigration and campaign-finance reform. He has burned a lot of bridges with us, and this is what is keeping him from being a factor in this presidential race.

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