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Mitt Romney needs a home run tonight. Not just a home run--a bases jacked, bottom of the ninth off of the closer kind of home run.
Because let's face it, for all intents and purposes, it IS the bottom of the ninth.
Romney can't be Mr. Nice Guy tonight. He has to find some way to come off as more than smart and genial--he has to show that he has that certain solidity of character and force of personality that would make him a formidable opponent for Hillary and a meaningful person in the Oval Office.
But more than that, he has to find some way to goad St. John into revealing the personality a lot of us think is there but which he has kept carefully, tightly under wraps this campaign.
In short, nothing short of a Tom Cruise-Jack Nicholson-A Few Good Men moment will do tonight.
I'm not holding my breath for that, either.
By the way, if that moment goes wanting, A Few Good Men is actually on TBS at the same time as the debate.
I'll live blog as much of this debate as I can put up with, though the post may not actually make it up until much later tonight.
6:14 Romney has just ticked off the litany of Republican disputes with McCain over the last eight years, and McCain's response is "I'm proud of my record, but here's what Romney did . . ." He can't pivot away from his own record fast enough. And, for what it's worth, Romney the first person I've heard make the case that not only is McCain-Feingold bad law, but it has hurt Republicans. He said it too much in passing, but it was good that he put it out there, at least.
Oh, this is a mistake. Romney's trying to defend his record, instead of pivoting back to the original question and hammering on McCain's record. Bad tactical move--too "nice"
6:22 McCain's standard line on the environment "Suppose I'm wrong/suppose I'm right" He never answers--NOR DOES ANYBODY BOTHER TO ASK--how does he justify the extraordinary expense to Americans and to American business. I also note that he seems to be accepting ALGore's line that the science is over. I think somebody must have told him to try to be funny--its a bit of a stretch.
Romney's answer on the environment starts with national security, and that's good; then he attacks the economics of McCain's plan--excellent!
I have to say, if Mike Huckabee had any foreign policy credentials at all, I'd probably be pretty happy to work for him for President. He speaks exceedingly well, he connects with people better than any Republican since Reagan, and he understands the domestic side of the debate as well as anybody up there.
Well, okay . . . except for the I-95 goofiness, which sounds a lot like the New Deal to me.
6:31 There's a telling moment--Huckabee gets off a good laugh line, and Romney turns to McCain to share an aside, and McCain leans away from him and snubs him. Far from gracious.
6:33 Gosh, get the curmudgeon off the stage. Oh, and this time I'm talking about Ron Paul.
And don't even bother, Snaggletooth--I had enough of translating "hillbilly" when I read Huckleberry Finn
6:35 did McCain just suggest that Wall Street should be punished for the lending problem? That's a brilliant formulation. Somebody gave him very specific talking points on the economy (sub-prime, uh, . . .situation).
Oh, go Janet Hook! Put McCain right on the hook about the tax cuts and his rhetoric. His answer: claim a role in the Reagan revolution, mention that he had a plan that we didn't use, and then project to now. He works so hard to avoid talking about the last eight years, and never bothers to actually answer the question.
And now, as Romney brings that up, he looks downright irritated. And now Romney goes after the entitlements--good. But on this one, at least McCain was side-by-side with the President three years ago as he tried to push forward Social Security reform.
6:46 That's three dodges--McCain just refuses to answer about his immigration bill. I don't know if that helps him or hurts him.
6:57 I actually think a hard shot across the bow of W on the party would have been warranted, but at least he understands that the bigger issue of the GWOT hijacked a lot of his agenda, and also found a way to swing at the Dems.
6:58 Even though the moderators are being polite to Ron Paul and Mike Huckabee, it is obvious that they are confining the bigger points of the debate to Mitt-McCain: good. Also, he's showing a good little bit of anger about McCain's lies regarding his record on Iraq, while McCain sits next to him sort of smugly smiling--almost condescending in his manner. It's unseemly. Though, speaking of unseemly, complaining about the timing of McCain's attack is beneath him, though I like how he pivoted it into a Reagan argument.
McCain's answer about taking a tough stance is right on for him, but it's not good for him to be working this hard to distort Romney's position.
Romney just won this exchange--"How is it that you're the expert on my position?" is a very nearly "I paid for this microphone" moment. Good for Anderson Cooper to actually put the quote into the record and try to pin McCain down, and McCain keeps falling back on that one stupid little "laying in the weeds" quote. It diminishes him.
Get off the timing thing, Mitt.
I'm not sure how that smug smile of McCain's plays. Me, being somewhat ill-disposed towards McCain, find it grating; I wonder if his supporters find it amusing or reassuring.
7:07 Romney pivots into attacking McCain as typically Washington; nicely done, with even some humor. McCain's response pivoting onto the campaign and the attack ads is weak. "Timetables were the buzzword." Bad, and incomplete, and insufficient answer.
It seems like this point of the debate is over. I was looking for Romney to show some grit tonight, and I think he just did. He got the better of the debate, and McCain looked bad having to keep falling back on the same 10 words to defend a position that--as Romney wisely entered into the record--EVERYBODY has said was deliberately false.
7:14 WHOAAA A question about Russia and Putin . . . AMAZING! Now, why it was addressed to Huck is another thing, but . . .
7:17 Romney's taking the question about Russia and turning it into a seminar, but doing it in a way that is hopeful, places America in the center of the maelstrom, and shows a pretty good grasp of where all the pieces are on the chessboard
7:19 You don't answer a question about the economy by touting your experience in the military, Senator. I love and respect the military, but I'm not sure that's ever been the model for good economic governance. Tell me, how big a budget did you oversee? how many materials-acquisition decisions did you make? how did you recruit and retain your staff? what policies did you have to enact to increase fiscal efficiency? Senator McCain, I applaud your leadership and your heroism--but that was 35 years ago. Tell me, what have you done lately? You can't answer a question on the economy with "radical Islamic extremism." At least, not credibly.
Nice pivot, Mr. Romney--"you shouldn't demean the people who start and lead small businesses". Very nice. And an excellent answer deflecting the "manager" charge and turning it into a REAL leadership answer.
7:23 THIS IS AN EXCELLENT ANSWER! "Can't look at the foreign policy challenges we face like a checkerboard, with a red side and a black side; you have to look at it like three-dimensional chess, with all its complexities . . . and you need people of exceptional capacity."
McCain's, on the other hand, is a little . . . churlish.
Well, I think that was a very good debate for Mitt Romney. He did several of the things I think he needed to do, and did it while sitting tall next to a slouching, curmudgeonly St. John. Whether or not it was enough remains to be seen. That will all depend on what the "earned media" decides to play in the morning.
I would give Mike Huckabee a strong second in this debate. If he does something to earn some foreign policy bona fides in the next four years, he will be a formidable candidate.