I think the first Republican debate on the road to the 2008 election can be summed up very quickly. Iraq war handled badly, but the U.S. must stay, taxes, stem cell research, and abortion bad, but tax cuts and lower federal spending good, Osama bad, Reagan good. None of the ten candidates were very impressive, but some were better than others. Unlike last week’s Democratic debate where three candidates stood out, no one really looked the part of the frontrunner at the Reagan Presidential Library on Thursday night.

The first question of the debate highlighted the big problem that these candidates are going to face in 2008, and that is how to handle the Iraq war. Sen. John McCain stuck by the president, and said that if he were elected he would continue the Bush strategy because he thinks that it will work. McCain did acknowledge that the war was managed terribly in the beginning, but he said, “We have a new general, and we have a new strategy. That strategy can succeed.” McCain did sort of redeem himself when he talked about Osama Bin Laden and promised, “We will bring him to justice, and I will follow him to the gates of hell.” I believe John McCain, and I think that was his best moment of the debate.

Mitt Romney’s explanation of why he changed his positions on gay marriage and abortion was less than convincing. “I’ve always been personally pro-life” but that when he ran for governor, “I said I would enforce the law, which was effectively a pro-choice position.” Romney said that he changed his position when Massachusetts considered approving embryonic stem cell research.  “I changed my mind. I decided I was wrong.”

Giuliani also didn’t make any new friends in social conservative circles when he stood by his position on abortion. “In my case, I hate abortion,” he said, “… but ultimately, because it is an issue of conscience, I would respect a woman’s right to make a different choice.” On overturning Roe v. Wade Giuliani said, “It would be OK to repeal it. It would be OK also if a strict constructionist viewed it as precedent.”

Tommy Thompson, Jim Gilmore, and Mitt Romney all tried to out do each other as to who had vetoed more legislation as governor in their respective states. Duncan Hunter kept talking about illegal immigration and building a bigger fence. Except for McCain, these candidates avoided mentioning Bush or the administration by name like the plague. All in all if this is best the GOP has to offer, then they are in real serious trouble next year.

If I had to pick winners and losers these are my choices:


Ron Paul – When he talked about government respecting citizens’ privacy, warrantless wiretapping, and not violating habeas corpus. I thought well at least there is one real conservative at the debate tonight. Paul also talked about a return to traditional Republican foreign policy, and he felt the same way as the rest of the crowd about taxes etc. The sad thing is that Paul might not be invited to any future debates unless he starts gaining more support in the polls. I am not a Republican, but it was nice to see a real Republican at a GOP debate.

Tom Tancredo– A solid conservative performance, but his not believing in evolution just makes him look silly.


Sam Brownback – Another candidate who doesn’t believe in evolution, we might as well just call Brownback The 700 Club candidate. He is just out to play to the social conservatives, and he mostly looked foolish and out of touch with the events of today. In short his candidacy will have its plug pulled like Teri Schiavo.

Duncan Hunter – Except to whip anti-immigrant hatred, Duncan Hunter’s candidacy serves no purpose.

Jim Gilmore – A candidate who is dueling with Brownback for the hearts of the social conservatives, but he has nothing to offer and no real reason to be in this race.

Mike Huckabee– Yet another candidate with no chance to win, he doesn’t believe in evolution, therefore most Americans won’t believe in him.

Tommy Thompson – Too scripted, too plain, too unoriginal, and too weird to win, this is another campaign that won’t last a year.

Mitt Rommey – Mitt said nothing to reassure GOP voters that he is conservative enough to deserve their vote. Loses points for mentioning Teddy Kennedy and not attaching the either the words Satan or murderer to his name during a Republican debate.

John McCain – McCain might have set a record for self destruction tonight. His first answers were his worst, and his mouthing of Bush talking points doesn’t help. He also is in favor of federal funding for embryonic stem cell research, and unfortunately for him, most Republicans aren’t. McCain could still win the nomination if Rudy keeps floundering.

Rudy Giuliani– Being called the winner of this debate is a lot like being voted prom king at the leper colony. Remember the old kids’ song, “One of these things is not like the others?” The thing that wasn’t like the others in this debate was Rudy. He is just not a conservative Republican. He also didn’t seem to know very much about anything except being mayor of NYC. This man may win the nomination by default, but he really is more of a Democrat than a Republican, but while the Democrats have candidates who look presidential, this GOP crowd looks like cannon fodder.

If you missed the debate, you can watch it on MSNBC.com

Jason Easley is the editor of the politics zone at 411mania.com.  His news column The Political Universe appears on Tuesdays and Fridays at www.411mania.com/politics

Jason can also be heard every Sunday afternoon at 1:30 pm (ET) as the host of The Political Universe Radio Show at http://www.blogtalkradio.com/thepoliticaluniverse
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