Not Mitt's Finest Hour (and a half)

I thought tonight's GOP Presidential debate was a good one, a lively affair with plenty of hashing out of genuine differences among the candidates. Interesting crowd, too, up at UNH in Durham. The biggest applause line, by my ears, was for the suggestion that the Virginia Tech massacre would have been less deadly had the students on campus been armed. Yet the suggestion, from a "regular voter," that the government should stay out of the way of gay couples marrying received considerable applause, while a strenuous defense of banning same-sex marriage (from Sam Brownback) met with considerable boos along with the expected applause. That's libertarian New Hampshire for you. Libertarian Ron Paul got his best showing of the debates I've seen, in large part because a good chunk of the audience was with him when he spoke of getting out of Iraq rather than keep spending lives "to save face."

I daresay we might also have seen the start of a McCain resurgence tonight. He was right there on the key Republican points, particularly lowering spending; he was the only one who spoke about Iraq with any intelligence; he pretty much said that the candidates without military experience -- all the other frontrunners -- can't be trusted with the job; and to my mind he regained his footing on immigration and taxes.

Meanwhile, Giuliani started to really show the cracks in his appeal to conservatives, and answered almost everything by saying that he cleaned up the crime in NYC. He pretty much conceded on gun issues, his messy personal life (not much different than most? Hardly), and particularly immigration. He also sounded vague and almost willfully uninformed about Iraq, particularly when he conceded that he still had yet to go there, and hoped to do so if it could be arranged without too much bother.

But it was Romney, I thought, who fared the worst. He took direct hits on a series of issues, and had to ignore them and try to slide into more comfortable territory again and again. On immigration, he got hit by a question about the illegals working on his lawn. On Iraq, he got hit by an emotional soldier's father chastising him for equating his sons' work on his campaign with military service. On abortion, he got hit with a question about his desire to allow states to decide, which would allow abortions to continue in much of the country. On taxes, he got hit with a question about the massive fee increases he imposed on everything from the blind to gun licenses(!). On Iraq again, he got hit with a question suggesting that moving troops to support positions in neighboring countries is further than even Hillary Clinton would go. And on and on. And in each case, he seemed to only dig himself deeper.

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