Rudy turned in his usual solid performance during last night’s Republican presidential debate in Orlando, FL, but Sen. John McCain (AZ) won hands down. All that testosterone on stage, and McCain was, without a doubt, The Man. At one point in the debate, asked about President Bush’s naivete in dealing with the Russians, McCain said, “When I looked into Putin’s eyes, I saw three letters: K … G … B.”

FOX News’ Chris Wallace had the first round of questioning, and led off by asking Rudy whether he was more conservative than Fmr. Sen. Fred Thompson (TN), Rudy declined to throw the first punch, and spoke of his mayoral record governing as a conservative in one of the most liberal cities in the country. When Fmr. Gov. Mitt Romney (MA) was asked whether he was more conservative than Thompson, he, too, pulled his punches, speaking of rebuilding the Reagan coalition.

Asked by Wallace to respond to the other two candidates, Thompson ignored Romney and hit Rudy with a series of jabs: “Mayor Giuliani believes in federal funding for abortion. He believes in sanctuary cities. He’s for gun control. He supported Mario Cuomo, a liberal Democrat, against a Republican who was running for governor, then opposed the governor’s tax cuts when he was there. So I simply disagree with him those issues. And he sides with Hillary Clinton on each of those issues.”

Rudy – famous for his pugnaciousness – didn’t take the slur lying down and gave Thompson a right hook: “Fred has problems, too,” adding that Thompson was “the single biggest obstacle to tort reform in the United States Senate. … Fred Thompson … blocked tort reform over and over and over again.”Wallace segued back and forth between Rudy and Thompson so they could finish duking it out.

Wallace then pitted McCain and Fmr. Gov. Mitt Romney (MA) against each other. McCain took Romney to task for his answer in the last debate about seeking legal advice before initiating a military action: “Those are the last people I would call in. I’d call in my wisdom, my knowledge, my background, my experience and my ability to lead this nation.” He then called Romney out on fooling people about his record and said, “I don’ t want you to start fooling them about mine. I stand on my record … as a conservative. … I don’t think you can fool the American people.”

Romney had to spend precious time explaining his “lawyer” comment in the previous debate, and was unable to address McCain’s charge that he is trying to pull a fast one on voters.

When it was his turn to answer a question Fmr. Gov. Mike Huckabee (AR) turned to Rudy, Romney, Thompson and McCain and said that he was “more than content to let you let them fight all they want tonight, shed each other’s blood.”

But the candidates also stopped beating up on each other long enough to smack Sen. Hillary Clinton (D-NY) around a bit. This time, Romney outdid Rudy in taking on Hillary: “I don’t want her as commander in chief. … She hasn’t run a corner store. She hasn’t run a state. She hasn’t run a city. She has never run anything.” Romney then used a loaded term when downplaying her experience: “The idea that she could learn to be president as an doesn’t make any sense.” Ouch!

Rep. Ron Paul (TX) managed to work his opposition to the Iraq War into a question on healthcare – and in question after question he implicitly or explicitly blamed the war for just about every domestic and foreign policy problem this country faces. Paul reminded the audience that President Bush ran and won in 2000 on a pledge that America would have a more “humble” foreign policy and not to get involved in nation-building or the internal affairs of other nations – but that was then, and this is post-9/11. As a tone-deaf Paul kept pressing the same irrelevant point over and over, the audience started to boo him.

The highlight of the debate was McCain getting a Standing O when he singled out a $1 million earmark for a Woodstock Concert Museum in New York being pushed by Clinton as an example of wasteful government spending, recalling: “I wasn’t there. I’m sure it was a cultural and pharmaceutical event. I was tied up at the time,” referring to his imprisonment in the Hanoi Hilton while the flower children were frolicking.

And Huckabee, who was in top form last night, came out with a line that brought down the house. Talking about healthcare reform, he noted that 10,000 Baby Boomers are signing up for Medicare every day and said: “When all the all those aging hippies find out they can get free drugs, just wait to see what that’s going to cost.”

Note: The Stiletto writes about politics and other stuff at The Stiletto Blog.

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