Posted by Jack @ 8:11 pm on November 29th 2007

Post Debate Thoughts on the Post Debate Analysis

In the frenzy of post debate reportage we have seen, read, or heard a great deal of analysis as to which candidates helped themselves and who attacked whom. I don’t have anything particularly new or insightful regarding those two areas, but here are some thoughts on the coverage of the debate, specifically right-leaning online journalistic (vice blog) articles:

Jonathan Martin at Politico brings up the quite valid point that this debate marks a significant turning point in the Republican primary:

After seven debates where the Republicans mostly took shots at Hillary Clinton and the Democrats, the presidential hopefuls gathered here Wednesday finally trained their fire on one another.

True enough, Jonathan. So I suppose you will now give us a balanced assessment of how all the candidates attacked and countered one another, no? No. Instead, there follows
37 paragraphs overwhelmingly devoted to a Giuliani-Romney blow by blow account. NO other candidate is mentioned until 2/3 through the article, when we get rather glowing praise for Mike Huckabee’s disarming debate performance:

While the two most-watched candidates had their tough moments, former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee turned in another quip-filled performance that kept the audience laughing and, at times, even drew chuckles among the cynical reporters in the press filing center.

Asked a smart-alecky “What would Jesus do” question regarding the death penalty, Huckabee was ready with a deft dodge. “Jesus was too smart to ever run for public office,” he said.
Later, a dour young man held up the Bible and demanded to know: “Do you believe every word of this book?”

Giuliani was to answer the question, but the former head of Arkansas’ Southern Baptist Convention spoke up, “Do I need to help you out, mayor, on this one?”

Even when Huckabee was faced with a difficult question about whether he had offered the children of illegal immigrants tuition breaks as governor, he smoothly showed an ability to win over a skeptical audience.

“With all due respect, we are a better country than to punish children for what their parents did,” Huckabee said to applause. “We’re a better country than that.”
John McCain is not mentioned until nearly ¾ through the article, when we get two sentences, and no more, regarding his minor joust with Ron Paul. Then it’s right back to the Romney –Giuliani battle of the titans coverage.

And Fred Thompson? The sole mention in this 38 paragraph article: in a Giuliani spokesperson’s quote he is listed among the candidates Mitt Romney has been attacking.

Fred Barnes, noted fellator in chief, shares his dissatisfaction with the debate questions, format and, of course, Ron Paul’s continued presence.

My impression was that Ron Paul, the libertarian, got considerably more attention than he usually does in debates and far more than he deserves as a marginal candidate. At least Paul’s harping on the need to keep American troops at home prompted one good exchange. John McCain’s response to Paul was that he’d been with the troops on Thanksgiving and their message was, “Let us win. Let us win. Let us win.”

One senses that Fred would not be satisfied unless the current Whitehouse occupant was allowed to participate. Despite his misgivings, Fred provides a rather interesting left-handed compliment to Congressman Paul:

Nonetheless, it was a good night for Paul if only because he was treated as a major political figure rather than as the Republican version of Dennis Kucinich. The other candidates, with the exception of Mike Huckabee, were losers. They came off as a bunch of squabbling cousins.

Despite my objections to Fred’s objectivity, he does provide a concise, though dismissive, hypothesis as to why Huckabee won this event:

He seems to understand that a CNN-You Tube debate is not a serious forum at which serious people discuss serious issues. So he doesn’t get worked up, and this posture works.

Contrast Fred Barnes dour reaction to RCP’s Jay Cost, who provides an enthusiastic endorsement of the event:

I have to say that I enjoyed this debate. It must have been because journalists were not asking the questions. And so – the discussion was geared toward giving voters information about the candidates’ policy positions.

The thrust of Jay’s debate review is that it is pointless to judge who “won” on each debate point, but it is useful to observe who and how candidates go after each other. From this we can see where each candidate perceives himself to be relative to the field, and sense where the race will focus in the coming weeks. Some excerpts from his analysis:

1) There was a total of seventeen “hits” on one candidate against another. All of them were policy based, i.e. designed to highlight issue contrasts between candidates. In particular, all of the hits were designed to indicate that a given candidate deviates from the GOP’s median position, i.e. where the average Republican stands.

(2) More than half of these hits – nine of seventeen – were on immigration. Few of these were actually prompted by CNN. This is a sign that these candidates recognize the salience of the issue to the Republican electorate. Again – all of these attacks were designed to indicate that the candidate deviated from the median Republican position on the issue.

(3) Giuliani seemed like the frontrunner, at least in terms of attacks. He was attacked more than any candidate – six times. And he attacked only attacked Romney twice (as many times as he attacked Hillary Clinton). Both hits regarded immigration.

(4) Romney acted like more of a challenger tonight. He made five hits – against Rudy (twice) and Huckabee (thrice). Thus, we saw pretty clearly here that Romney perceives both Huckabee and Romney to be threats to his candidacy. What is more, all of Romney’s hits occurred during the immigration exchanges at the beginning of the debate.

(7) No candidate attacked Thompson.

(9) No candidate attacked McCain.

His final analysis, hardly revolutionary, reinforces the growing consensus: It’s a Romney Giuliani Huckabee race now, no one else matters, and Huckabee hurts Romney more than anyone else.

And finally, one comment on the NY Times coverage: RP mentioned once, in paragraph 16 (of 23). After Duncan Hunter. Surprise surprise.


  1. Fred Barnes is like a weatherman in that he is wrong about 80% of the time but people keep consulting him just in case.

    Comment by James — 11/29/2007 @ 8:36 pm

  2. Regarding the debate format, I still think that it adds a clown car aspect to a process that is already a circus and really detracts from the seriousness of an otherwise important decision the electorate faces every four years. Rojas visited this concern here after another of these YouTube advertisements.

    With Google shares trading at just under $700/share, it seems to me that they could easily afford two pay the travel expenses of the winners of their contest to appear in person, thus adding a real face to the question and dignity to the debate.

    Comment by James — 11/29/2007 @ 9:28 pm

  3. Huckabee’s ‘Jesus was too smart’ smarm was not a fucking deft dodge. Why would you merely repeat that bullshit without critique unless you subscribe to it?

    It was a cheap and insulting reply to the person who asked the question. Just because some asshole with a degree in journalism isn’t asking the question doesn’t prima facie preclude a serious answer. Huckabee wants to wear his religion on his sleeve. Wonderful. Answer to it then.

    Comment by tessellated — 11/29/2007 @ 9:29 pm

  4. tessellated, Are you asking me or are you posing a rhetorical question to Jonathan Martin at Politico? If you are asking me, I would say: I was quoting a freaking article for gods sake! If you are asking JM at Politico, I would say: dead on, a smarmy nonsense answer, almost Clintonesque.

    Comment by Jack — 11/29/2007 @ 11:43 pm

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