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GOP Presidential Debate - October 9, 2007 in Dearborn, Michigan.

The Republicans, The Economy, and You-

Earlier this afternoon, with Dearborn, Michigan as the backdrop, the Republican candidates for the White House, including-- for the first time-- Fred Thompson, met for a debate focused on the economy.

According to the latest Gallup data, Mayor Giuliani is the front-runner and candidate with the most to lose, while several other candidates still have plenty to gain:


So how'd they do (in Gallup poll order)?

Rudy Giuliani-

Mayor Giuliani is good at being the front-runner. He tries his best not to attack his fellow Republicans; instead, Rudy takes shots at Hillary Clinton whenever possible. This debate was no exception, as Rudy noted that Hillary believes the "unfettered free market has been the most radically disruptive force in American life in the last generation."

Rudy is great on economic issues. He even managed to get Steve Forbes on his team. That might be why he was able to succinctly articulate what we need to do to keep our economy strong: Keep taxes low, keep regulations moderate, keep spending under control, and do something about legal reform.

Rudy has a decent record as a tax cutter, and at one point he noted that he cut taxes 23 times while Mayor of NYC. On this point, Mitt Romney took issue, and the two got into a mild verbal scuffle on who had a better tax-cutting record. How great is that? People actually arguing over who cut taxes more. That's just awesome.

Finally, Rudy quipped, "I led. He lagged."

The two also got into a disagreement over the line item veto. Rudy, knowing that most Republicans generally favor the line item veto, boasted that he was the only candidate who had beaten President Clinton, and that he did it in the Supreme Court. A good point, but Rudy lost a few points with me by essentially abdicating the issue to the Supreme Court. "They ruled, so it's over," was his attitude. I think most Republicans want someone who will stand up to legislating from the bench.

On national security, Rudy was his usual self: strong, lucid, and post-9/11. Of all the candidates on stage, Rudy was the one to pounce on the opportunity to put Ron Paul in his place for saying America had never been attacked.

Rudy had a few really good one-liners, but the best one might have been when he noted that if we go to Hillarycare, Canadians will have nowhere to go for their health care.

Rudy didn't hurt himself at all in this debate. He didn't pull any weird cell phone answering stunt. He didn't stick his foot in his mouth. He did pretty well. Not spectacular, but well.

Grade: B

Fred Thompson-

In the first question of the debate, Fred Thompson was asked about whether he thought we were headed for a recession and why 2/3 of Americans believe we're headed for a recession.

Senator Thompson's voice quivered a bit, and he seemed tentative in his answer. A relatively easy question, Thompson did not hit it out of the park. His answers were a bit technical, as if he were trying to prove he was well-read and up-to-date on the issues. Everything he said was great, he just lacked a zippy delivery you might expect from an actor. Fred kind of rambled and seemed unfocused and unsure of himself in the beginning of the debate.

But then he warmed up a bit.

Fred responded later in the debate to Duncan Hunter's protectionism and rather effectively made the case for free trade. At one point during the Giuliani/Romney verbal spat, Fred made a quip that was apparently funny, but his microphone was turned off. The sound, in general, was not very good at this debate.

On AMT, Fred said we should index it for inflation for now and eventually phase it out. On Iraq, Fred said it was the right policy, that we need to come to terms with the nature of the threat our country faces, and that we can't leave Iraq with our tail between our legs. Better answer than his economic questions. He seems comfortable speaking on foreign policy issues.

Chris Matthews attacked Fred on something he had said on the subject of WMD, thinking he could trap him in some sort of gaffe, but Fred had a good answer, citing the known WMD that Saddam Hussein had over the years.

Over the long term in any conflict, you need the support of the American people.

Probably because it was his first debate, Fred seemed to get a lot of policy-heavy questions. He had some good answers, but it was almost like the series premiere of a television show, where the writers struggle to introduce characters and locations and such. Only a few episodes in do most TV shows hit their stride.

For example, Fred was one of the few candidates to say anything on Social Security, in the way of specifics. Fred noted that his position is that we need to index benefits to inflation and go from there.

Fred did well for his first debate, but he couldn't have wowed anyone. He got better by the end of the debate, as he was able to relax a bit and develop a rapport with the others on stage.

Grade: B-

John McCain-

Senator McCain is not my favorite candidate. A lot of things about McCain really bother me. In this debate, though, he was the winner. He looked the most presidential. He gave the most well-articulated answers. And, for the most part, I actually agreed with his answers.

Early on, McCain recommended that Ron Paul read Adam Smith's Wealth of Nations. Talked about getting health care costs under control. Talked about Social Security and Medicare going broke. Scolded Republicans for changing between 1994 and now. Had all the right answers, basically.

McCain concurred that the tax code is completely broken.

Senator McCain looked and sounded vigorous, in-charge, and presidential, except the times when he made the moderators repeat their questions. I am sure it was just the poor sound system, but it made him seem a bit old. Kind of a "I don't have my hearing aid in" moment.

McCain wants an up-or-down vote on a freer, fairer, simpler tax code. Not tweaks, not adjustments. Just a major overhaul, all at once, on the record.

Asked about whether we could ever go back to a single-income household system. He gave a good response on the modern economy. He also had some good one-liners, including his standard quip about government funding for research into DNA of bears in Montana: is it a paternity issue or criminal issue.

On the issue of free trade, John McCain was the only candidate who cited Smoot-Hawley, and of all the candidates, he most passionately articulated his support for free trade. Said we ought to resist the siren song of China bashing.

Gave a great answer on Iraq; was able to triangulate by claiming he is responsible for the current success of the "surge" and yet that he was saying we needed to change from the Rumsfeld course four years ago.

Senator McCain also gave a nice answer on the Iran hypothetical; John McCain is a serious candidate with a serious and mature foreign policy.

One part of the debate was slightly strange for Senator McCain, however. When asked about whether the big energy companies ought to pay more in taxes, he somehow got onto climate change and noted that finding alternatives is important for national security and for the environment. On the other hand, McCain also joked that while he drinks a glass of ethanol each morning for breakfast, he does not support the subsidies. In this bizarre political climate, where ethanol is wonderful and pure and holy, admitting that takes guts.

John McCain did a fantastic job in this debate. I wouldn't count him out just yet, especially if the panel of candidates gets pared down some in the next few weeks (more on this below).

Grade: A-

Mitt Romney-

As always, Governor Romney had some of the best pithy quips of the debate. Early on, he said he was nervous about coming to Michigan because he thought Democrat Governor Jennifer Granholm was going to put a tax on the debate. Romney is always good for these kinds of one-liners. He also "looks" presidential, and sounds presidential. Almost too much. Some have noted that people liked Bill Clinton because he was "handsome" (I don't really see it myself, but people say it) yet flawed. His flaws actually made him real. They made him personable. Mitt Romney hardly has any flaws. He almost seems like an actor playing a politician, which is something he might want to work on a bit.

Romney, substantially back in the polls, contrasted his record with front-runner Giuliani's record. It was a friendly contrast, yet a bit testy. Romney also argued rather well on behalf of a line-item veto.

But make no mistake, Romney is not all image. He knows his stuff, too. For example, he noted that the average family is 9000 dollars better today off due to free trade. Romney almost never gives a stumbling answer to a question, although sometimes he does give "politician" answers that stress things like, "we need more technology." Oh, okay. Great.

In classic Romney fashion, he had a great line to end, explaining that he felt like he was on an episode of Law & Order: huge cast, the series goes on forever, and Fred Thompson shows up at the end.

Romney is certainly a top-tier candidate. This debate did not do a whole lot to hurt or help Romney. He did quite well. But he didn't knock it out of the park.

Grade: B+

Mike Huckabee-

Chris Matthews opened an exchange with Governor Huckabee early in the debate with a question about the Fair Tax, and gave Huckabee an opportunity to articulate why the Fair Tax is good. Huckabee explained the Fair Tax for about four and a half seconds before going into a strange populist tangent about service workers and those at the bottom of the economic spectrum and how their lives are terrible and how the economy is actually not that great and how he felt their pain. A little weird, really.

Following Ron Paul on a foreign policy issue, Huckabee correctly said the President has to do whatever it takes to protect the American people.

Said we need to advance biofuels and other alternatives with the frantic pace of a NASCAR pit stop, and get it done by the end of the decade. Showed his folksy appeal by contrasting the NASCAR pitstop with Goober and Gomer working on the family station wagon under the shade tree.

On SCHIP, Huckabee waffled on whether he would have-- like Bush-- vetoed its expansion. He said it shouldn't ever get to that point (where a flawed bill gets to him in the first place), but he also kept up the "working people have it so rough" routine. Strangely, right as his time was expiring, he recovered and began to give a fantastic answer. He really started down a fantastic path on health care, and I wish he would have had more time to expand on how government shouldn't be in charge of health care, insurance companies shouldn't be in charge of health care, individuals ought to be in charge of health care.

This was not Mike Huckabee's best debate. Part of that might be that he is a bit of a populist, and the debate was focused on the economy.

Grade: C+

Ron Paul-

Boy. Representative Ron Paul. Sometimes more of a populist than a libertarian, Ron Paul gets into all sorts of angry rants about the Federal Reserve and/or neocolonialism, and typically, people are left scratching their heads about the whole thing.

Ron Paul has figured out his one-liner. Two or three times, he mentioned that living beneath our means is a consequence of living beyond our means.

Dr. Paul got extremely agitated when the issue of Iran came up, saying the entire line of comments was nothing but war propaganda. Ranted. Raved. "Road to disaster." "Read the Constitution." Really got worked up about the whole thing.

Said he would not commit to supporting the GOP candidate in 2008. Ron Paul is not a serious candidate. In these debates, he comes off as a lunatic. He gives libertarianism a bad name. He scares people. He is only on stage at all because he is so vehemently opposed to the Iraq war.

Grade: D

Sam Brownback-

Asked if he could pledge not to raise taxes, Senator Brownback gave a simple, "YES" answer.

Brownback has proposed an optional flat tax. You can choose to pay under the current code, or you can just pay the low flat rate and be done with it. He is very convincing and passionate on this issue, which is a big plus.

Asked about one government program he would cut, he quickly named some technology program he classified as corporate welfare.

Brownback seems to get it, when it comes to profligate spending. We can't just replace the people in Congress, we need to change the entire system, since it is hard to cut spending.

At one point, Brownback spoke on his three-state solution for Iraq, and how he was appearing soon with Joe Biden to talk about it. Maybe that's a decent idea, and maybe we should have done it long ago, but it doesn't seem especially feasible at this point.

Brownback mentioned the name of Phil Gramm as someone he'd want to be one of his economic advisors.

I like Sam Brownback a lot. Although he is known best as a social conservative (something he actively cultivates), he is actually one of the better candidates on fiscal matters as well. Brownback never strays into economic or other populism. He has all the right answers on taxes, entitlement reform, and just about everything else.

He also did pretty well in this debate, but time is running out on the Brownback campaign, so he needed to do more than pretty well. He essentially needed a win to keep his campaign alive. Soon, there will be a move to pare down the debates to the top 5 candidates or so, and Brownback will not be one of those candidates.

Grade: C

Tom Tancredo-

Representative Tancredo makes a lot of sense on a lot of issues. He's also obsessed with immigration to the point of losing a lot of credibility.

For example, he noted-- correctly-- that we shouldn't think that we could dump earmarks and balance the budget. You could cut the entire discretionary budget and it would hardly make a difference. Tancredo is one of the few candidates willing to make this claim. Bashing pork barrel spending is a lot easier than substantively addressing entitlements. Tancredo correctly pointed out that if you want to control federal spending, you must look at Social Security and Medicare. He also talked about private accounts in Social Security.

In general, he gave some decent answers but sort of stumbled over his words. He just wasn't sharp in this debate.

Representative Tancredo's solution to everything is to stop illegal immigration. Got health care problems? Fix illegal immigration. Got crime? Stop illegal immigration. A bad education system? Build a wall. If those things were true, life would be so much easier. Unfortunately for Tancredo, though, solving the immigration issue would not be a panacea for all of our nation's problems. Indeed, even if we kicked out every illegal immigrant and prevented any others from entering our country, we'd still have crime, we'd still have a broken entitlement system, we'd still have an education system in need of reform. Etcetera. Etcetera.

Like Ron Paul, Tancredo wouldn't commit to supporting the eventual nominee. Hmm. Not good.

Tom Tancredo is a single-issue candidate. His issue is immigration. He's not entirely wrong on the issue, but the way he harps on it has become reflexive parody at this point.

Grade: C-

Duncan Hunter-

Representative Hunter noted in his first answer that 1.8 million American jobs had moved to China in recent years. Free trade with China had fractured the industrial base in this country, he claimed.

Duncan Hunter sounded a lot like Lou Dobbs in this debate. Angry. Protectionist.

Hunter said Dubai ought not to have the ability to own part of NASDAQ because of its past nuclear proliferation. Possibly a principled stand, but possibly just part of his pattern of anti-foreign protectionism.

Duncan Hunter is a decent candidate, in general, especially on national defense, but his grumpy anti-trade outlook on the world wears thin pretty quickly. He also fails to really capture the imagination or gain any traction in these debates.

Grade: D+

If I had to pick a winner of this debate, it would be: John McCain. Rudy didn't lose, however, and Fred did better and better as the debate went on. Mitt Romney also did very well, but it was not his best debate thus far.

Here's a quick report card on the candidates:


In the coming weeks, Republican voters would be well-served if the field narrowed by about four candidates. It's officially time to get serious, here. Having some of these candidates on stage distracts from the fundamental purpose of these debates: finding a nominee.

Again, these ratings are not an endorsement of any candidate(s). This is just a debate performance report card. Nothing more, nothing less.

On a related note, two months ago, I rated how the Republicans candidates performed in another debate; to see how the GOP hopefuls stacked up in Iowa last August, you can click on that post here. Again, these are ratings of debate performance, exclusively, not generalized candidate ratings.

Posted by Will Franklin · 9 October 2007 11:28 PM


McCain?!?! Ha! ha! ha! ha!

You surely are delusional...Ha! ha! ha! ha!

Posted by: juandos at October 9, 2007 11:51 PM

Hmm, Looks like Ron Paul won the CNBC poll AGAIN, at 70+ percent.

Looks like Pauls "populist" or "libertarian constitutionalist" view does appeal to many people who dont want another Washington insider to continue marching America down the road that eliminates the middle class American dream. GO RON PAUL!!

Posted by: reality check at October 10, 2007 09:58 AM

All that internet poll proves is that there are a small number of really, really devoted Ron Paul people. Every single Ron Paul supporter is fanatical about him. He probably has the highest ratio of volunteers to actual supporters of any candidate in history. His actual support is shallow, plain and simple, but the passions of those few people run deep.

Winning an online poll is meaningless. Ron Paul is not a serious candidate.

Posted by: Will Franklin at October 10, 2007 10:06 AM

Why is it that Ron Paul has won the majority off the debate polls and all you Neocons still can't get it?

Posted by: Jake at October 10, 2007 10:18 AM

Because, little Jake, Paul can't win the real polls. And when his candidacy is dead and gone you can go around touting Paul's supporters' ability to spam online polls all you want.

He doesn't look Presidential, he doesn't act presidential, he doesn't speak presidential and his ideas are isolationist, dangerous and stupid.

Posted by: Hoodlumman at October 10, 2007 10:53 AM

Fred Thompson B-?!?!?! Are you kidding? He was reading off of cards. He is an actor, he should at least have two up on these guys. He has to memorize lines and be in front of a camera all the time. But he has to have cards to read from during the debate? He looked nervous in front of the camera.

And by the way, no matter how much we don't like Ron Paul supporters, many of those polls only allow you to vote once. Same as the post debate texting. The fact of the matter is Paul has many many supporters (look at his donations) including the most military donations.

If we want a different candidate to win the polls, I guess some of the other candidates ought to get in touch with people where the people are at (On the internet) You have to figure that a phone poll although scientific to a degree, doesn't represent the general population. Many people don't even have land lines now.
Paul may seem crazy sometimes, but many people are jumping on his wagon while other candidates are jumping on the bomb Iran wagon.

Posted by: Renee at October 10, 2007 11:53 AM

Ron Paul does not claim that he invented the any of his campaign ideas. The FOUNDING FATHERS of the nation did, and he happily and proudly stands up to what they believed. If you don't think he looks/speaks/act presidential, then maybe you are confused as to what a president should look/speak and act like. A syndrome from supporting GW for too long I suppose.

Posted by: Jim at October 10, 2007 08:30 PM

On Rudy Giuliani, from Lucianne.com, via View From the Right:

Reply 61--Posted by: ketchuplover, 10/1/2007 10:33:31 AM

Let's see...

He's pro-partial-birth abortion: Ah, c'mon! Cut him some slack!

He's pro gay marriage: Ah, c'mon! Cut him some slack!

He's pro gun control: Ah, c'mon! Cut him some slack!

He's had two ugly divorces, is on his third wife, has problems with his children: Ah, c'mon! Cut him some slack!

He interrupts events 40 times to take a call from his wife: Ah, c'mon! Cut him some slack!

From John Fund at Opinion Journal:

Mr. Giuliani took a call from his wife and then noting the strained faces of his supporters, he sheepishly tried a joke. "I've been married three times," he explained. "I can't afford to lose another one. I'm sure you understand."

Say what? Rudy didn't "lose" Donna Hanover; he publicly humiliated her by having an affair and trying to kick her out of the mayor's mansion. His treatment of the mother of his children is so atrocious that his children won't speak to him, much less campaign for him.

Finally, from News Hounds, comes this quote from James Dobson's analysis of a Giuliani presidency:

If Rudy Giuliani wins, I’m telling you the pro-life and pro-family movement is gone. If it’s Hillary, as bad as she is, there will be a mobilization to fight what she’s trying to do. If he is put in office by conservatives and those who are pro-life and pro-marriage and pro-family, I’m afraid that we will not recover from it.

Fortunately, no decisions have been made yet. We still have time to select a dullard like Fred over a hyper-liberal like Rudy. If we're lucky, we'll choose someone better than either one--and that doesn't include the RINO liberal McCain.

Posted by: Nathan Hale at October 10, 2007 09:54 PM

Your opinion of Ron Paul is ridiculous, and you obviously do not see what is at stake now and in the very near future for Americans. Many other Americans understand that we must return to the constitution and our heritage, that we must return habeas corpus and begin acting like a democracy once again, which is the central issue at stake-- yet folks like you ignore it in your ignorance, and will get what you deserve for a government.

Lunatic? Your opinions are for more in the direction of lunacy, fool.

Posted by: Dave Ellis at October 12, 2007 10:03 AM

Last time around, I agreed almost entirely with your scorecard. This time, I would have picked Giuliani as the winner. I also would have given higher marks to Brownback and Hunter and lower marks to Huckabee, Tancredo and Paul. For me, this was the first time Brownback came across well.

Posted by: Mick Wright at October 12, 2007 11:40 AM

You're a complete moron if you think Ron Paul is lunatic. It means that you live in a world painted by the television and mind programmers, and you are not a very well educated person, historian, and certainly never delievered 4,000 babies... yeah moron, lots of OB/Gyn's that were Vietnam Vet fligh surgeons, and served 20+ years in Congress are just plain lunatic.... the real brains are with people who post their commentaries on blogs whose SAT's and ASVAB scores wouldn't allow them into college or the military.
Yup, you're spot on.

Vote for Ron Paul. The only candidate for America !! 2008 President of the United States of America.

Posted by: ski007mw at October 12, 2007 01:12 PM

You're a complete moron if you think Ron Paul is lunatic. It means that you live in a world painted by the television and mind programmers, and you are not a very well educated person, historian, and certainly never delievered 4,000 babies... yeah moron, lots of OB/Gyn's that were Vietnam Vet fligh surgeons, and served 20+ years in Congress are just plain lunatic.... the real brains are with people who post their commentaries on blogs whose SAT's and ASVAB scores wouldn't allow them into college or the military.
Yup, you're spot on.

Vote for Ron Paul. The only candidate for America !! 2008 President of the United States of America.

Posted by: ski007mw at October 12, 2007 01:14 PM