Before getting into the McCain Romney battle in the Republican Debate in the Reagan library need to level some criticism at a person and network for which I have a huge amount of respect for. The CNN Republican Debate night was poorly moderated and produced by Anderson Cooper and CNN. I think Anderson Cooper is a very good newsman and an incredible reporter. His work in Africa for 60 Minutes has been incredible (something mentioned on this blog before) and his coverage of Hurricane Katrina was phenomenal.
In this debate however he was unfair to half the candidates. By not including Ron Paul hardly at all, and treating Mike Huckabee as though he was hardly in the race was poor on CNN's part. I expect more out of Anderson Cooper and CNN. Noone expects equal time, but the balance was so off that it reflected poorly on Cooper and CNN. They had 90 minutes to play with and if 20% of the debate was spent on Huckabee and Paul I would be surprised. This is how races become two horse races, when networks decided to only cover the campaigns of the day. It was only a couple weeks ago that Huckabee barely lost in South Carolina to McCain well ahead of Romney. That was two primaries ago.
Now to the debate.
The pundits are saying McCain won the debate by using the word 'timetable' and with his quick wit. As I watched the debate I thought Romney looked pretty good and McCain came off arrogant. Looking forward to the fall whether he is debating either Clinton or Obama I think that McCain will not be able to get away with the way he handled the Republican debate.
While Romneys campaign has run many negative ads, he is clearly uncomfortable when on the attack personally. It is awkward to watch Romney try and go on the offensive. When he is attacked as he was tonight he always seems to laugh at it. Hear is his biggest problem to me,,, he looks Presidential, but he doesn't sound Presidential. The problem for Mitt is that he had to sound Presidential tonight and did not pull it off. He was good but not good enough.
For an example, when Romney hit on 'dirty campaign tricks' it was a good line, delivered with a certain level of calm. I don't think people connect with Romney because he is too mechanical. He showed that again tonight. Al Gore and John Kerry were made fun of for being tight, Romney is the most tight candidate in recent memory.
McCain had some good moments, in particular he destroyed Romney on the paper endorsements. Romney opened up an attack and when counterpunched he had nothing. McCain however was still very arrogant and his foreign policy language sounded a lot like George W. Bush. He was snide against the French and his Putin line came into play again. This arrogant foreign policy talk will most likely help him in the primaries but it will hurt him with moderates in the General Election. There is red meat there for Barack or Hillary.
If I were advising Romney I would have said to blast away at McCain on his immigration bill answer. The usual 'straight talk' of John McCain was noticeably lacking on this answer. For two debates he has said when asked, 'if President, would you sign your bill, McCain-Kennedy, if it came to your desk?" His answer is a very political sounding, 'it will never come to my desk.' Here Mr Straight Talk is dodging the question and abandoning a position he had in order to gather support for his candidacy.
One other thing that really irked me on this debate was the utter lack of vision layed out by any of the candidates. Where was the talk of stimulus plans, healthcare, education, spending cuts? The debate last night was a vanity show and I heard little to nothing about what these guys would do if they ran the country.
Overall, McCain did exactly what he had to do, not screw up. Romney did not accomplish what he needed to do, make an impression. There won't be a buzz around Romney tomorrow and with the momentum McCain has, he needed to do something.
Again, the debate was more entertaining than last weeks, but the difference in charisma and gravitas of the Democrats compared to the Republicans is night and day. The JV went tonite and the NBA goes tomorrow with Hillary versus Barack one on one.