That is my initial take after watching the Republican presidential debate at the Reagan Presidential Library last night.
McCain came out with guns blazing, effectively countering the growing perception that he is too old and tired to be president:
MR. MATTHEWS: Senator McCain, most of the public pessimism today has to do with Iraq. How -- what would you need, as commander in chief, to win the war in Iraq?The transcript fails to convey the energy and emotion that McCain conveyed in this exchange. I'm sure the YouTube video of that exchange will be a plus for McCain.
SEN. MCCAIN: I would need the support of the American people. I would need to be able to show them some success in Iraq, both on the battlefield as well as with the Maliki government.
We have a new general, we have a new strategy. That strategy can succeed. The young men and women who are serving are the best of America. I believe that if we could bring around -- about stability in the neighborhoods in Iraq and have the Maliki government govern, you are going to succeed.
My friends, when the majority leader of the United States Senate says we’ve lost the war, the men and women that are serving in Iraq reject that notion. And if we lost, then who won? Did al Qaeda win? When on the floor of House of Representatives -- they cheer. They cheer when they passed a withdrawal motion -- that is, a certain date for surrender, what were they cheering? Surrender? Defeat?
We must win in Iraq. If we withdraw, there will be chaos, there will be genocide, and they will follow us home.
MR. MATTHEWS: Do you need anything beyond what the president has now to win the war?
SEN. MCCAIN: Now I think it’s on the right track. The war was terribly mismanaged. The war was terribly mismanaged, and we now have to fix a lot of the mistakes that were made. Books have been written. But we have a new strategy and a new general, and these young men and women are committed to winning.
Romney came across as smooth and polished, maybe so smooth some will find him slick. He should mess his hair or something. Romney's best shot was when Mathews asked him if the Roman Catholic Church should deny communion to pro-abortion politicians:
MR. MATTHEWS: Governor Romney, what do you say to Roman Catholic bishops who would deny communion to elected officials who support abortion rights?The main stream media is excoriating Giuliani for not appearing presidential, and even more so for his waffling on abortion. Giuliani had three shots at the abortion question last night. First, Matthews asked all the candidates, except Paul whether it would be good if Roe v. Wade is repealed:
MR. ROMNEY: I don’t say anything to Roman Catholic bishops. They can do whatever the heck they want. (Laughter.) Roman Catholic bishops are in a private institution, a religion, and they can do whatever they want in a religion. America --
MR. MATTHEWS: Do you see that as interference in public life?
MR. ROMNEY: Well, I can’t imagine a government telling a church who can have communion in their church. I can’t -- we have a separation of church and state; it’s served us well in this country.
MR. MATTHEWS: Okay.
MR. ROMNEY: This is a nation, after all, that wants a leader that’s a person of faith, but we don’t choose our leader based on which church they go to. This is a nation which also comes together. We unite over faith and over the right of people to worship as they choose. The people we’re fighting, they’re the ones who divide over faith and decide matters of this nature in the public forum. This is a place where we celebrate different religions and different faiths.
MR. MATTHEWS: Time.Next, Matthews asked Rudy why he supports public funding of abortions:
We now go to the next segment. We’re going to talk about values. Let’s go down the line on this, just like they did with the Democrats last week on some of these trickier calls, but they do have clear answers.
Starting with you, Governor. Would the day that Roe v. Wade is repealed be a good day for Americans?
[. . .]
MR. MATTHEWS: Mayor.
MR. GIULIANI: It would be okay.
MR. MATTHEWS: Okay to repeal?
MR. GIULIANI: It would be okay to repeal. Or it would be okay also if a strict constructionist judge viewed it as precedent, and I think a judge has to make that decision.
MR. MATTHEWS: Would it be okay if they didn’t repeal it?
MR. GIULIANI: I think that -- I think the court has to make that decision, and then the country can deal with it. We’re a federalist system of government, and states could make their own decisions.
MR. MATTHEWS: Let me get back to Governor -- Mayor Giuliani because I want to give you a chance on this. You became very well known for standing up against the use of public funds for what many people considered indecent exhibits at the Brooklyn Museum and places like that.A bit later, Giuliani had a third opportunity:
Why do you support the use of public funds for abortion?
MR. GIULIANI: I don’t. I support the Hyde amendment. I hate abortion. I wish people didn’t have abortions.
MR. MATTHEWS: So you’re not for funding at all?
MR. GIULIANI: I believe that the Hyde amendment should remain the law. States should make their decision. Some states decide to do it, most states decide not to do it. And I think that’s the appropriate way to have this decided.
MR. MATTHEWS: Should New York -- when you were mayor of New York, should they have been paying for -- the state should have been paying for --
MR. GIULIANI: That’s a decision New York made a long time ago, and New York --
MR. MATTHEWS: And where were you on that?
MR. GIULIANI: I supported it in New York. But I think in other places, people can come to a different decision.
MR. MATTHEWS: That’s time, Governor.I don't think Rudy's abortion answers hurt him as much as the pundits believe. Giuliani's position is closer to that held by most of the electorate, especially young voters. If Rudy is able to win the nomination espousing such views, he will be a more appealing candidate in the general election.
Let me ask Mayor Giuliani, do you want to respond to this? Because it seems like across the room here there’s strong, unrelenting -- with the exception of Governor Gilmore -- an unrelenting pro-life position. You seem to have a nuanced position on this. Many people think you’re pro-choice. Could you define it in a couple of seconds?
MR. GIULIANI: Sure. This is a very, very difficult issue of conscience for many, many people. In my case, I hate abortion. I would encourage someone to not take that option. When I was mayor of New York city, I encouraged adoptions; adoptions went up 65-70 percent, abortions went down 16 percent.
But ultimately, since it is an issue of conscience, I would respect a woman’s right to make a different choice. I support the ban on partial-birth abortion, I support the Hyde amendment, but ultimately I think when you come down to that choice, you have to respect a woman’s right to make that choice differently than my conscience.
And I’d like to respond on spending if you (give me a little time later ?) --
MR. MATTHEWS: Okay, later. We’ll have to kill you now because it’s a red light.
I thought Brownback and Huckabee distinguished themselves from the other "second-tier" candidates. However, I was completely taken aback when Matthews asked for a show of hands as to who did not believe in evolution and the two of them joined Tancredo raised their hands:
MR. VANDEHEI: I’m curious, is there anybody on the stage that does not agree -- believe in evolution?The remaining four candidates, Gilmore, Hunter, Paul, Tommy Thompson, along with Tancredo failed to distinguish themselves and remain also rans.
(Senator Brownback, Mr. Huckabee, Representative Tancredo raise their hands.)