Editore"s Note
Tilting at Windmills

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January 25, 2008
By: Kevin Drum

THE VIEW FROM CHINA....James Fallows emerges from the media hinterlands of China to report his impression of last night's Republican debate:

This is the first debate among the Republicans that I've seen at full length and in real time. So...how did it look?

Romney by a mile. More precisely, the only candidate you could imagine putting up a plausible general-election fight. Again, I'm not handicapping the GOP race, which I know nothing about. I'm not saying how each candidate did relative to previous appearances. I am telling you how this one debate looked if you had never seen these guys on the same stage before.

I missed the start of the debate, but it seemed to me that John McCain had a few strong moments during the last half hour ("the reason why I've had such strong support amongst independents is because they know that I'll put my country above my party every single time"). Huckabee was smarmy. Giuliani didn't really have anything to say. Ron Paul was Ron Paul.

But Romney? I dunno. Unlike Fallows, I've seen him so many times that I can't react to him in ordinary human terms anymore. He's just a windup doll, and everything he says gets filtered through that lens. I just have no idea what kind of impression he makes on the kind of person who might be inclined to vote for him in the first place.

Kevin Drum 2:18 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (38)

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My very apolitical, registered independent-but-liberal wife came home last night to find me watching the debate and asked me who "that guy" was. "That guy" was Romney. She really liked him, thought he looked and sounded great.

She and I both are Obama backers, although she only in spirit while I'm a financial donor and voter. She'll vote for Obama over any Rethug. Would she vote for Hillary over Romney? Probably, but I'd have to lobby her a little.

I'll say this: last night confirmed for me why I'm a Democrat, and also that our biggest advantage in November comes from the issues of the day which ultimately I think will trump personal qualities. I've been angry at Hillary and Bill recently for their gutter tactics, but seeing the stark contrast with the Rethugs clarified how important it is to rally behind our eventual nominee no matter who it is. That same stark contrast favors us because most people prefer Democrats on Iraq, the economy, and health care by wide margins and on other issues by narrower margins, while Rethugs have NO clear advantage on ANY issue, not even national security. It's going to be hard for Rethugs to sell their message on various issues, especially Iraq. And yes, Iraq still will matter a LOT, and most Americans still want OUT.

Posted by: DCCyclone on January 25, 2008 at 2:29 PM | PERMALINK

Kitty time !

Meow

"Let everyone sweep in front of his own door, and the whole world will be clean." - Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

Posted by: daCascadian on January 25, 2008 at 2:29 PM | PERMALINK

I agree that MCain had good moments later in the debate. But earlier, when talking about economics, Romney seemed dominating to me. You really get the impression that the other candidates don't have much to say on economic issues, other than Huck's fair tax nuttiness.

On the other hand, My wife, who's not a political junkie, thought Romney was completely loathsome.

Posted by: Jim W on January 25, 2008 at 2:29 PM | PERMALINK

Not a great track record:

James Fallows: I was wrong to suggest that Paul Wolfowitz was like Robert McNamara. That is disrespectful to McNamara. The better comparison is to Jimmy Swaggart.

Then he says:

Romney by a mile. More precisely, the only candidate you could imagine putting up a plausible general-election fight. Again, I'm not handicapping the GOP race, which I know nothing about. I'm not saying how each candidate did relative to previous appearances. I am telling you how this one debate looked if you had never seen these guys on the same stage before.

If one debate performance were enough, President Kerry would be coasting to his re-election right now.

Posted by: Pale Rider on January 25, 2008 at 2:38 PM | PERMALINK

I only saw the first 20 minutes of the debate, which was focused exclusively on the economy. Romney was the only one able to demonstrate even mild competence on the subject. By contrast, the others may as well have been faking their way through a question about tribal sovereignty.

Posted by: jacob on January 25, 2008 at 2:41 PM | PERMALINK

I can't react to him in ordinary human terms anymore.

Does not compute! Norman co-ordinate!

Posted by: Grumpy on January 25, 2008 at 2:47 PM | PERMALINK

Based on which candidate I'd rather have a beer with... (or a cup of strong tea...)

Posted by: absent 6bserver on January 25, 2008 at 2:55 PM | PERMALINK

He's just a windup doll, and everything he says gets filtered through that lens. I just have no idea what kind of impression he makes on the kind of person who might be inclined to vote for him in the first place.

Because we all know that Republicans are finicky eaters and wouldn't go anywhere near a steaming plate of shit -- unless, of course, it were served alongside tax cuts, gay-bashing, & baby carrots. Were you on vacation during the last two election cycles?

Posted by: junebug on January 25, 2008 at 2:58 PM | PERMALINK

I don't think Fallows' reaction is out of line at all, and its relevance is that if Romney is able to make it across the finish line first in Florida his money and organization in the Super Tuesday states are both well beyond what McCain can call on. Add to that the fact that most Super Tuesday states' primaries are closed to non-Republicans and McCain would be behind the 8-ball.

McCain is running for Commander-in-Chief. If that's not what voters are looking for, he's a weaker candidate in the general election than Romney would be. Romney is over his head in foreign policy and national security affairs, and has pumped out some awfully unpersuasive rhetoric to cover up his boredom with the social issues that many GOP voters care about. But he didn't make his money by winning a lottery. He genuinely knows a lot about the economy. McCain doesn't. If that's the issue Florida voters base their decision on, McCain is toast there -- and that could easily mean he's toast, period.

Posted by: Zathras on January 25, 2008 at 3:13 PM | PERMALINK

As I have said before, Willard the Mormon does have a strong resemblance to Bryan Ferry, the handsome, matinee idol lead singer of Roxy Music. Too bad he is only about as smart as Bryan Ferry’s shoe. However, some really shallow voters may vote for Romney just because he is, far and away, the best-looking Republican candidate. The rest look like refugees from a Green Acres audition.

Someone upthread mentioned this, but any of the top three Democratic candidates (Obama, Clinton or Edwards) make the Repuglican candidates look like inarticulate goons. There is simply no comparison in terms of depth and breadth of knowledge, polish and smoothness of delivery. The contrast is stark. The first debate between the eventual Democratic and Republican is going to be a one-sided ass-kickin’. These rubes really should have no chance at all of winning, if we can prevent the massive election fraud we know they will try to get away with….

Posted by: The Conservative Deflator on January 25, 2008 at 3:21 PM | PERMALINK

Pray he's not alone in his summation. When I hear that the Republican establishment may coalesce around the Mittster, I want to jump for joy. The way this year is shaping up, I think the biggest threat to the Dems is the media love for McCain. The aura of St. John presents a real challenge to either Obama or Hillary. Both can beat him, but he's got a real talent of making a right wing career look independent. Romney's probably a better candidate than McCain, but he's a straight-up Republican -- and a flip-flopper to boot. Against either Dem, he's toast.

Posted by: NHCt on January 25, 2008 at 3:23 PM | PERMALINK

Romney has money and has a knack for economese.

His Olympic stint "gives" him a plus when it comes to security.

McCain is a quirky dude and I'm not sure voters really know how'd he do with "the establishment."

Huckabee, Ron, and Rudy are basically all loonies and really aren't "presidential."

Romney may be catching up to McCain, but neither of them truly inspire me (do they inspire ANYONE???).

Meanwhile the Demoncrats continue to squabble their way forward as they hope to overthrow the repugnacans for the executive branch.

I'm beginning to think that both parties could've fielded far better folks to slug it out. We are all going to be weary of the endless "debates."

Posted by: Tom Nicholson on January 25, 2008 at 3:31 PM | PERMALINK

Conservative Deflator wrote: "... any of the top three Democratic candidates (Obama, Clinton or Edwards) make the Repuglican candidates look like inarticulate goons. There is simply no comparison in terms of depth and breadth of knowledge, polish and smoothness of delivery. The contrast is stark. The first debate between the eventual Democratic and Republican is going to be a one-sided ass-kickin' ..."

Just like the debates between Jimmy Carter and Ronald Reagan, and between Al Gore and George W. Bush, and between John Kerry and George W. Bush.

In each case, a Democratic candidate whose depth and breadth of knowledge, polish and smoothness of delivery made the Republican candidate look like an inarticulate goon administered a one-sided ass-kicking to the Republican.

After which the Republican went on to be sworn in as President.

Posted by: SecularAnimist on January 25, 2008 at 3:34 PM | PERMALINK

Well, there is a silver lining:

Ford, Bush Senior and Dole were all made to look out of touch and out of their element when bested in debates, and all three followed up their terrible performances with a defeat.

Posted by: Pale Rider on January 25, 2008 at 3:37 PM | PERMALINK

Ford, Bush Senior and Dole were all made to look out of touch and out of their element when bested in debates, and all three followed up their terrible performances with a defeat.

Not really a silver lining. The reason these guys looked out of touch is because they were trying to beat their debate opponents on policy grounds and failing. They also failed to personally connect as well as their opponents.

Reagan and GW, on the other hand, did not appeal with their words. They appealed with their demeanor. They exuded an aura of "I'm right and I know it." Bill Clinton connects on that level as well. Edwards, Obama and Hillary all seem pretty confident, but the Republican candidate, whomever that is, will be coached to go directly for empathy and not really give a shit about who won on the content of the actual arguments.

Personally, I'm hoping for Obama to pull a Cleavon Little from "Blazing Saddles." He just needs to find his version of Mongo to defeat and befriend so the rubes will warm up to him.

Posted by: lobbygow on January 25, 2008 at 3:49 PM | PERMALINK

go directly for empathy

Just in case you were wondering what that means to the average American, I think it means appealing to the following notion:

"this country would be fine if only the damned [fill in favorite target of derision here] would stop sponging off the rest of us and quit telling us what to do. I've worked hard and deserve instant gratification of my every desire with no sacrifice or commitment to the long term. It is everyone else who is the problem."

Unfortunately, that appeal is very easy to make.

Posted by: lobbygow on January 25, 2008 at 3:54 PM | PERMALINK

From the little bit I saw, Gov. Huckabee was talking about baggage carriers and waitresses and how their economic pain trickles up in our economy as an indicator of its health, contrasting that scenario to the trickle down theory of supply side economics. Last night my cable was messed up and the picture was very fuzzy on MSNBC, so I had to make sure it was not Edwards speaking.

Posted by: Brojo on January 25, 2008 at 3:58 PM | PERMALINK


At my family's 2006 Thanksgiving dinner I made my first (and last, now I think about it) "prediction" about the 2008 presidential election: Obama over Romney. It might come true yet!

I figured the GOP would settle on Romney for this reason: "faith" is "faith", to Republicans. If fundamentalist Baptists can talk about America's "Judeo-Christian heritage" with a straight face, Mormonism is not going to throw them. It ain't godless secular humanism, after all.

On the war-mongering which the GOP laughably calls its "foreign policy", Romney is as right as he needs to be. Republicans are satisfied with jingoistic rhetoric, and Romney can spew that as well as anybody else.

Thar leaves what some consider to be the third leg of the stool which is the modern GOP: tax cutting. While it may seem that Bible-thumping, war-mongering, and tax-cutting are about equally important to the GOP, the first two are merely electoral props, while the third is the GOP's everlasting mission. Tax-cutting is about money, not about the flag or the cross. It is ultimately about management, not "leadership". It is wonk's work. Other candidates may offer outlandish, attention-grabbing proposals, but Republicans are not romantics or idealists when it comes to money. Romney does the best job of playing a wonk on TV.

Naturally, I expect either Obama or Clinton to trounce him, in November. But that's a topic for another time.

-- TP

Posted by: Tony P. on January 25, 2008 at 3:59 PM | PERMALINK

The reason these guys looked out of touch is because they were trying to beat their debate opponents on policy grounds and failing. They also failed to personally connect as well as their opponents.

The silver lining is that they went down in defeat; despite poor debate performance, they still lost. Occasionally, the American people can see a

1. President prone to gaffes (Ford)
2. President looking at his watch because he would rather be somewhere else, raising money (Bush I)
3. President who looks too old (Dole)

So there you have Huckabee, Romney, and McCain.

Posted by: Pale Rider on January 25, 2008 at 4:05 PM | PERMALINK

I've been angry at Hillary and Bill recently for their gutter tactics, but seeing the stark contrast with the Rethugs

Funny... I can't see any daylight between the current Hill and Bill show and a typical Rovian campaign.

Posted by: Disputo on January 25, 2008 at 4:09 PM | PERMALINK

I pray for Mitt to be the GOP candidate. John Harwood was talking about how Mitt does not wear well with voters over time (and the media hates him). I think it would be easy for Hillary or Obama to beat him in the fall. The media will insure McCain wins if he goes up against Hillary, but I think they loathe the Mittens as much as Hillary so we might get a fair fight.

Posted by: Teresa on January 25, 2008 at 4:41 PM | PERMALINK

the best thing about Romney is that he really does not believe the crazy things that the rest of the field does. So if he became president there is a chance he might enact sensible policies. But the rest of them really believe much of the crazy things in the republican platform.

Posted by: spencer on January 25, 2008 at 5:34 PM | PERMALINK

Disputo >"...a typical Rovian campaign."

Why should we care if that is what it takes them to win ?

I, for one, am long past caring about being seen as "making nice" w/thugs. What I want is to see the ReThuglican scum in chains working in the hot sun worrying about their next water break.

Waste them completely, no quarter.

"A nation of sheep will beget a government of wolves." – Edward R. Murrow

Posted by: daCascadian on January 25, 2008 at 5:52 PM | PERMALINK

Just a side note here:Most of the dust ups have been started by the media NOT by Obama or Clinton.These two have to stop falling for this MSM tactic to make themseleves relivant.

Posted by: john john on January 25, 2008 at 6:14 PM | PERMALINK

"I'll put my country above my party every single time..."

Didn't I tell you the man was dangerous? He'll destroy the GOP! He must be stopped.

Posted by: Rush Limbaugh on January 25, 2008 at 6:33 PM | PERMALINK

Well, I'll enjoy returning to this post in a few months time and seeing how wrong I was - but this will come down to Clinton vs. Romney, and it's going to break to the GOP.
Anyone harboring the hope that Romney being the candidate is a good thing is missing the point. Coalescing Clinton hatred will burn with a hotter flame than any dislike of Romney.

Posted by: SteinL on January 25, 2008 at 6:38 PM | PERMALINK

Zathas! No one ever listens to poor Zathras!
Even when he has intelligent things to say. It must be his caveman hairstyle.

Posted by: bigTom on January 25, 2008 at 6:46 PM | PERMALINK

Facing off in last night's debate just days before Florida's make-or-break primary, the assembled Republican White House hopefuls were, so to speak, untrue to form. While Mitt Romney performed new backflips to extricate himself from the flip-flops that define so him, John McCain tried to evade his past confessions of his ignorance of economics. And once again, Mike Huckabee pretended to disavow the theocratic agenda obviously central to his campaign.

For the run down on last night's GOP debate lies, see:
"Fibbing in Florida: GOP Candidates Stay Untrue to Form."

Posted by: Furious on January 25, 2008 at 7:23 PM | PERMALINK

I still think McCain would be a more dangerous opponent in the fall, but I can't see why Kevin doesn't think Mitt had the best night of his career last night. I felt like Apollo Creed's manager watching Rocky pound the side of beef during that debate - Obama/Hillary, you better come take a look at this. If his campaign persona jells into the person we saw last night he could be trouble.

Posted by: buky on January 25, 2008 at 9:57 PM | PERMALINK

"John Harwood was talking about how Mitt does not wear well with voters over time (and the media hates him)"

Be careful with this. A lot of people are finally beginning to warm up to the idea that the "liberal media" isn't very liberal at all and a good chunk of the big news corporations are actually in bed with the Republicans.

Having a bunch of TV personalities kneecap a Republican candidate out of personal dislike may actually benefit Romney by making people go back to thinking the "media" is just a bunch of liberals. Especially if the "beneficiary" of their attacks on Romney is a Democratic candidate who isn't particularly well-liked.

Posted by: Splitting Image on January 26, 2008 at 4:01 AM | PERMALINK

Hey, Conservative Deflator - you're free to dislike Romney, but he's very smart indeed. You know about his business success, earning hundreds of millions of dollars, saving the Olympics, etc. His education is

1971 Received highest honors and was Valedictorian as an undergraduate
Completed Undergraduate studies at Stanford and Brigham Young University with Highest Honors and Valedictorian
1975 Earned an M.B.A. and J.D. from Harvard with honors
Awarded an M.B.A. from Harvard Business School and was named a Baker Scholar and also received his J.D. cum laude from Harvard Law School.

Hillary and Obama are very smart people. Based on his achievements, Romney may be even smarter.

Posted by: ex-liberal on January 26, 2008 at 4:22 AM | PERMALINK

ex-liberal:

Degrees and honors mean little any more, unfortunately. George W. Bush has an MBA from Harvard, but he has failed time and time again in every business he has dabbled in, most notably the presidency of the United States. Besides, there are a lot of smart people in the world - Bush might even be smart in some ways. There just isn't too many WISE people.

Romney is definitely not very wise.

TCD

Posted by: The Conservative Deflator on January 26, 2008 at 4:41 AM | PERMALINK

Ask Romney's dog.

Posted by: The Conservative Deflator on January 26, 2008 at 4:44 AM | PERMALINK

I'm curious as to which voters are going to be wise enough to parse their preferences between the available candidates in a way that is even borderline sensible?
Romney fits the bill for many - as the punditocracy "front runners" fall by the wayside. Giuliani next, most likely. McCain would have picked it off if he'd been a touch younger -- Romney will do. Bloomberg is a footnote.

And on the Dem side it's going to be Clinton -- Obama's strategy of shunting the power-couple aside in the early contests didn't work out, and Obama can't stand sustained spotlights -- sorry to say so, but it's the truth. Give the man a pulpit and he's off -- ask him a question, and he's gone. Electability will drive the Dem hopefuls into the Clinton camp, as they will reminisce not so fondly about what the GOP smear machine will do to Obama.

So there you have it - Clinton vs. Romney. The Re-run vs. the Economyu Wizard (not my opinion, but the one gelling).

Posted by: SteinL on January 26, 2008 at 5:04 AM | PERMALINK

You can't win the GOP nomination without the South, and I still say Southerners won't vote for a Mormon.

(Florida really isn't the South anymore, BTW.)

Posted by: dr sardonicus on January 26, 2008 at 5:12 AM | PERMALINK

Perhaps ex-liberal and Mitt Romney got together during the Vietnam War and worked out how they were going to get their deferments sorted out so that they could stay out of the war and let others die in their place.

As the Vietnam War raged in the 1960s, Mitt Romney received a deferment from the draft as a Mormon "minister of religion" for the duration of his missionary work in France, which lasted two and a half years.

Wow! France! Did you flee to France, ex-lib, and quiver like a child with the fear of having to report to Marine boot camp so you could do your part?

Somewhere, a wingnut just crapped himself and cried aloud in the wilderness.

Posted by: Pale Rider on January 26, 2008 at 7:27 AM | PERMALINK

"What's your excuse for choosing not to serve?"

Dear heart, it's not a matter of "choosing not to serve." It's a matter of insisting that others fight wars on your behalf that you are too cowardly to fight yourself. Since that doesn't apply to us, I'm afraid that, as usual, you don't have a point.

Posted by: PaulB on January 26, 2008 at 11:26 AM | PERMALINK

"He's just a windup doll"

That's stupid talk.

Posted by: david on January 26, 2008 at 12:56 PM | PERMALINK




 

 

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