While we wait for Loud Dobbs to shut up and go away (and wait and wait), let’s take a look at who’s here tonight and why.
We’ll start with John McCain. War hero. Maverick senator. Keeps winning, although not by huge amounts, and never by better than a plurality. Got endorsed by Rudy Giuliani today. Can raise money, attract independents, and trample the First Amendment in a single bound. Media darling. George Will calls him “Clintonian,” and he doesn’t mean that as a compliment.
We’ve got Mitt Romney, because he has a fair amount of money and delegates, won Michigan, and came in a very close second place last night in Florida. He also is the favorite of self-described conservative Republicans, even if they aren’t exactly enthused by Mitt. Romney is in an uphill battle after losing a close one in Florida.
Way on down the line is Mike Huckabee. Huck hasn’t won anything since Iowa, and Iowa picks almost nothing but losers. Or at best, candidates who you wish had lost. Huckabee is also broke. He was last seen campaigning in Missouri and Kentucky, asking fellow evangelicals for gas money.
Finally we get to Ron Paul, bringing up the rear, refusing to quit despite his 0-8 campaign record. Why does he stay in? Because he can. As the only anti-war Republican (and also the only libertarian) in the race, Paul has a national constituency eager to keep him going. And unlike most libertarians, who thrive in ever-smaller splinter groups, Paul is inclusive. Racists, neo-Nazis, conspiracy nuts, 9/11 “truthers” — they’re all welcome at Camp Paul. (Y’all come back now, y’hear?)
And what did the candidates need to do? McCain needed to keep Romney at bay, while still looking like a frontrunner — and like a future commander-in-cheif. Romney’s job was a bit tougher. He had to expand his appeal beyond his conservative base, without coming off like a McCain Lite. Huckabee needed to suck up to the eventual winner, win enough delegates to make his presence felt at the convention, and keep his supporters from abandoning all hope. He’s only allowed to pick two. Ron Paul’s job was simple: Keep his voice down in the range of non-castrated male human persons, and keep the spittle from flying past the first three rows.
So how’d they do?
Before I answer that, let’s talk about CNN’s performance. Moderator Anderson Cooper seemed to be working under the impression that he was co-host of The Mitt & Anderson Show. I haven’t seen one candidate get that much face time since Bill Clinton debated both sides of the “Definition of Is Is” issue ten years ago.
To be fair, Cooper kept the debate focused on such timely issues as Sandra Day O’Connor, who the candidates imagined Reagan might endorse today (the one willing to dig him up?), and for the 20th time, why McCain voted against some six-year-old tax cuts. CNN — yesterday’s news tomorrow!
Anyway, so how did the candidates do?
McCain looked small. He was hunched over his microphone, making him seem half the size of Romney. And despite a couple zingers, he spent most of the night on the defensive. I said it during the drunkblog and I’ll say it again here: This was not the McCain who won Florida on Tuesday.
If Romney looked good — and I think he did — part of that was due to Cooper stacking the deck in his favor. Then again, I got this comment from Nathan, who wrote:
Romney is just disturbing sometimes. I think there’s a little computer in the back of his mind that triangulates the most politically savvy response to every stimuli, and when he misfires you get to see how fake the rest of his shtick is.
That said — and I agree with every word of it — I think Romney looked and sounded the most presidential of a very weak lot.
Huckabee? Paul? Who cares? Neither one of them had any business at tonight’s debate — or at any future event, either. I think they get invitations so that the MSM can make the Republicans look bad. Kind of like if they kept bringing on Dennis Kucinich long after he ceased to be a factor. (OK, so Dennis was never a factor. But still, at some point a while back CNN said to him, “you’ll have to wait outside, funny small person.”)
So who won? Probably nobody. But if somehow Romney is able to win the nomination, he can probably point to tonight’s debate as the event that pulled him out of the ashes of Florida.