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Tonight’s Debate

Thursday, January 10, 2008  |  posted by Hugh Hewitt

UPDATE: John McCain with Sean Hannity immediately after the debate compounds his error on immigration by giving the impression that the only change needed in McCain-Kennedy is border-security first. Wow. He just doesn’t get it.

Romney followed McCain and by contrast shined, and spent time talking about the Reagn example and inspiration and the Reagan-Bush legacy. Romney also got the opportunity to talk to Michigan voters. “I continue to feel that you cannot write off jobs,” he replied to Sean’s question about McCain’s “straight-talk” about Michigan’s economic woes, and spoke specifically to the auto industry’s renewal in Michigan. Assuming that conservatives watching the debate stuck around for 20 minutes, Romney did himself a great deal of good in the after-game.


Fred had a great night,Mitt a good one and Rudy did fine as well.

Senator McCain struggled, especially on the question of what to do if recession arrives, when he channeled Herbert Hoover and spoke only about cutting spending. His talk of global warming was a bright red flag to conservatives, and his repeating of his “change” answer from Sunday night –that he helped change the policy in Iraq– underscored the impression that he was running through some talking points he understands to be safe. “Not for profit, but for patriotism” was another example of a recycled rhetoric from Sunday.His answer on deferring to captains-at-sea was a strong point, but that was the only one. His halting and often rambling answers and occasional grimaces and winks just don’t work on television, and his immigration answers just don’t fly. He has had three sub-par debate performances in a row.

The huge loser tonight was Mike Huckabee, thanks largely to Fred and Chris Wallace who peeled the bark off of Huck’s ideology. Huck bristled at Wallace at one point, and when pushed on why he raised taxes and spending, barked back, “I raised expectations.” That might work with Democrats –though it probably doesn’t in this day and age– but it sure doesn’t work with Republican voters.Huck’s whining about the religion question was also off-putting coming from a candidate who has so often injected religion into this campaign.

Romney had less screen time tonight, but each time he answered he was poised and eloquent. The opening response on the economy, aimed specifically at Michigan voters was very strong, and his “Nope” answer to Wallace’s question about whether the voters in New Hampshire might be saying that they do not want change in D.C. was perfect pitch, and his grasp of the foreign affairs questions impressive. The fact that the debate ended on immigration helped him as well as it again underscores that John McCain still doesn’t grasp or won’t admit that the McCain-Kennedy bill was the problem throughout 2005 and 2006, not the fact that “Americans need to restore their trust in the government.” The specifics of the McCain bill is what soured the debate, and McCain’s absolute refusal to concede this renders his conversion on border security completely suspect.

Mitt, Fred and Rudy have generally done well in these settings since they began at the Reagan Library last year, McCain wasn’t a factor until recently and he has struggled to get through them, and while Huckabee used the early debates to charm folks, his performance has plummeted as focus on his record has increased. There’s a huge message in the last three debates about the issue differences between the candidates on taxes and immigration, with Giuliani, Romney and Thompson on one side and Huckabee and McCain on the other side. And there’s a message about who can win these contests in the fall, and it isn’t Senator McCain or Governor Huckabee.

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