The EFM Feature

I attended a debate party in Nashville (more on that–including pictures–from Nancy later), and it was interesting watching the debate with a large group. Most were Mitt supporters, but we had more than a few curious onlookers wandered by. A few thoughts:
McCain: What an odd decision to go after Governor Romney personally after the Governor attacked McCain’s policies. McCain just seems so uncomfortable, stuck between the maverick image he’s spent the last decade of his career building and a truly earnest desire to become president (mavericks don’t exactly roll to the Republican nomination). So he comes across as frustrated and more than a little angry–not exactly campaign-winnning traits. His best moment came on the answer about the Confederate flag. He stumbled at first but stuck to his principles then delivered the “let’s move on” answer that the crowd longed to hear.
Rudy: In my opinion, he did just about as well as he could do given his obvious and undeniable social liberalism. The night focused on terrorism/security issues, and that’s where he’s at his best. If Republicans are going to like a New Yorker, they’re going to like crime-fighting Rudy, not cross-dressing Rudy. He came across as strong, confident, and angry at the right things (his attack on Ron Paul was, frankly, a brilliant bit of political theater–and his anger seemed sincere). While his answers on abortion and social issues were unacceptable, they weren’t both confusing and unacceptable like they were last debate. When the race focuses on the war, Rudy is tough to beat.
Huckabee: He pulls off the tough combination of being smooth and glib while also coming across as quite “real” and genuine. But he comes off well in part because he’s not a factor. Even his “tough questions” aren’t that tough. The guy is a big government conservative, and he has no chance in this race with those credentials.
Gilmore: What a thoroughly unpleasant candidate. Was there anything appealing about him? He’s so unpleasant that he actually helps the frontrunners. By contrast, each of the “Big Three” feels like an adult after one of Gilmore’s, “Look at me, I’m a REAL conservative” temper tantrums.
Ron Paul: Honestly, if I want strange anti-war rants, I’d rather read the Huffington Post or Daily Kos.
Brownback: There’s a lot about him that I like, but I wish that all those evangelicals who say to me, “How can you support Mitt when Sam Brownback’s in the race?” would watch these debates. You tell me: does he come across as presidential? Does he look like he could rally a nation in a time of war? He’s a good man with some good positions on the issues, but he’s not a future president. I’m sorry.
Governor Romney: I think he was the clear winner of the first debate and was very strong tonight. I think he’s accomplishing exactly what he needs to accomplish: He’s introducing himself as a strong, articulate (very articulate) leader who belongs in the “Big Three.” Tonight he lacked the truly memorable line (though I did like the comment about doubling Gitmo), but there were no missteps, and each answer was clear and convincing. Right now, voters that are just tuning in want to know if this guy they’re reading so much about is ready for prime time, and the answer is a resounding “yes.” As a side note, I think the Governor got the hardest questions of the night (I’m biased, but that’s the sense I got). I’m not necessarily complaining (a president has to survive and thrive in response to those questions), but I do think it is a clear indication that he is being treated by all concerned as a leader in the race.
Overall: I have to think that Rudy’s people feel the best after last night. He survived and thrived in socially conservative South Carolina and did much better than the first debate. Governor Romney comes out strong, and the angry, frustrated John McCain is a bit diminished. After two debates, it is more clear to me than ever that this race is moving towards a Rudy/Romney showdown.

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