Republican candidates for President held another debate last night in South Carolina, site of the next primary on the 19th of this month, hosted by Fox News and the SC GOP. These things are getting better all the time, although I still prefer the format of the ABC New Hampshire debates.
Not much new ground was covered, so I’ll just give my impressions of how each candidate did, in order of finish by my reckoning. Feel free to disagree in the comment section.
Fred Thompson clearly won this debate. I can’t imagine anyone who watched it thinking otherwise. His supporters were no doubt pleased, although left wondering “Where have you been?” The last two debates, and the stretch run in Iowa, saw a different Fred Thompson than we have seen since he entered the race.
Rudy Giuliani tied for second place, coming back from a couple of lackluster performances. He needed it, but it also comes as he pulls his staff and advertising from SC to concentrate on Florida – a poor signal to send to those who might support him in nine days.
Mitt Romney also did very well, and I rated him equal second place. Nothing spectacular, though. McCain was close behind in fourth place (with a tie for 2nd, the next guy is 4th). Neither did anything to hurt their chances in SC or elsewhere, but neither did they change the contests in their favor.
Huckabee didn’t perform badly, but he did take some damage on his foreign policy views. This may have an effect in South Carolina, a state with a strong military tradition and large veteran population. However, his overall showing wasn’t bad at all.
Paul lost, but even he defended himself about as well as he could have. I presume the questioners wanted to minimize the time wasted on him, else they could have destroyed him with follow-ups on his newsletters.
In conclusion, Thompson won clearly, but not going away, and the 2nd-5th place contenders didn’t lose much last night. Neither did Paul, of course, since his support is far more “faith-based” than Huckabee’s (just in a different “faith”).
Watching these “debates” in both parties throughout the campaign, I feel confident in predicting the Democratic nominee, no matter who it is, will try to keep debates to a minimum, perhaps only two, and insist on a “townhall” style being one of them. This will tend to keep substance to the side. The Republican (whoever it is among the top five) will and should offer to debate anytime, anywhere, every week for the duration of the campaign. A cadre of people in chicken suits should be recruited to follow the Democrat around.
Debating frequently is the Republicans’ best hope of victory in November. Well, maybe “second best” after the defective nominee the Democrats will present.
UPDATED to equalize bold emphasis.