They are the class of the field, far beyond the rest in terms of presence and appeal. It is an open question on whether Fred Thompson will join them in the hunt, but it is at most a three-way race. Mayor Giuliani and Governor Romney are light years ahead in electability and seriousness than the other eight. Each are superbly prepared and competent to talk at length and persuasively about the key issues ahead and not the old feuds and failed policies of the past.
When Romney criticized McCain on policy grounds –McCain-Feingold and McCain-Kennedy– McCain did not answer the specific critiques but attacked Romney on personal grounds, also arguing that his own consistency mattered more than the quality of his ideas and then asserting that Romney changed his positions on even numbered years. Thus did McCain miss an opportunity to confront squarely two of the four reasons GOP voters won’t rally to him, and not only did he miss that opportunity, he took the moment to remind the audience why his reputation as a touchy and temperamentally chancy candidate is deserved.
The questions from Hume, Wallace, and Goller were generally good, but again as with last week the problem was the rigidity of the format. and the number of candidates The most important moment of the debate was the discussion begun by Ron Paul –now clearly revealed as a fringe candidate who ought not to be on the stage– who argued that America invited the 9/11 attacks and was rightly and strongly rebuked by Giuliani. A wide screen shot showed many of the candidates ready to join in a discussion of what motivates our enemy, a conversation that would have gone a long way towards making the debate significant. But at just this moment Wendall Goller decided he had to ask his prepared questions instead of allowing an authentic debate to break out. The moment passed, and the candidates went back to the staggered (and usually dull) one minute riffs on this or that. The hardest thing for an interviewer to do is listen and be willing to abandon the script when such a moment arrives. Goller missed such a moment.
Rudy Giuliani and Mitt Romney ought to consider a few appearances together, asking each other questions and taking questions from audiences. They should of course show up for all the cattle calls, but the interesting conversation is between these two, and I’d like to hear it –at length, and with Fred Thompson if an when he joins the race.