Mitt Romney should send a thank you card to Tim Russert and Brian Williams. They threw hard balls at the former Massachusetts governor and he hit them all, many out of the park. Romney’s allocation of time had to be disproportionate, but that was the Williams/Russert choice, and Romney made the most of it. Democrats watching tonight have to be very worried that Mitt Romney will be the GOP nominee.
Strong performances tonight as well from Giuliani (getting attacked by the New York Times is a bonus of great value) and Huckabee, but a troubling one on the issues from John McCain. Senator McCain’s defensiveness on his ability to run the economy and his denial of a widely attributed quote about his lack off understanding of the economy was a wobbly start for him, and his invoking of Europe’s approach to global warming as well as his assertion that “violent weather patterns” are linked to global warming are huge red flags for center-right voters. Questions repeatedly also underscored McCain’s distance from the GOP base, reminding the huge audience of the senator’s estrangement from his own party on many occasions. The discussion of his age was also an unwelcome moment for the senator, and it was from Huckabee’s friend, Chuck Norris.
But it was the series of questions directed at Romney 70 minutes into the debate –on his personal spending and on the Mormon issue– that allowed Romney to dominated a long stretch without a stumble and to display his passion and convictions, as well as to again confront the Mormon issue in a very persuasive fashion.
Romney’s slam of “General Hillary Clinton” and subsequent attacks on Hillary’s “old Europe” beliefs was a memorable and effective display of the sort of energy and tactics the GOP candidate must make every day for the next eight months. Romney and Giuliani both displayed the ability to take on both Clintons as well as a command of every issue that came their way.Romney’s question to Rudy about China was a superb use of the moment to underscore the complexity of the issue and to display a graciousness and seriousness that was attractive, one that was also effectively noted by Rudy. I was less impressed with McCain’s softball about the fair tax to Huck, and Huck’s Second Amendment “gotcha” attempt to Romney. Rudy’s question on the National Cat Fund was another excellent question and helped both Romney and Rudy with Florida voters.
The debate demonstrated that with November in mind, the GOP would be extraordinarily well served by either Romney or Giuliani at the top of the ticket, and made Huck a very tempting choice for Veep given his abilities to communicate.
But Romney won the night, and perhaps the nomination as well.