Final thoughts on GOP debate in DSM

1.  Romney was "on" today.  He had the best line of the day — the dig at Obama using "Jane Fonda" and "Dr. Strangelove".  It’s a cultural reference political types and Baby Boomers get.  I’m not so sure it’ll make The Greatest Week Ever on VH1, but then young people don’t turn out in droves at the Caucuses either, so he’s speaking to the "audience" he needs to mobilize.

2.  All the ground on abortion that opened the debate had been covered before.  Romney’s answers during the Brownback versus Romney verbal tussle were answers he’s given before, although the closing answer about his "pro-choice" days as a politician is a new nuance.

3.  All but Ron Paul (and perhaps John McCain, who often brings up his criticism of the way the war was waged for its first four years) fail to go on the offensive against their president.  While Romney said he’d be a different president than W, Romney didn’t spell out in what ways he’d be different and later in the debate he defended the president from detractors.   

4.  Romney didn’t bring up the ethical lapses in DC that he’d been harping about during the past few days on the campaign trail.  (Also of deep-background note:  Romney’s new criticism of the ethical culture in Washington is at odds with something he said in Davenport in 2005 when Romney described the then-recent indictment of Scooter Libby as a "bug bite" — a comment he made during a banquet speech to a group of Scott County Republicans.  Romney told reporters afterwards that the "bug bite" line was just a joke.)

5.  McCain had a strong appearance at a town hall meeting in Ankeny on Saturday morning where he talked passionately ("I’m angry," he told the audience) about the I35 bridge collapse in Minneapolis and the responsibility congress bears for diverting transportation funds to "pork barrel" projects.  I was also struck by how none of the candidates seemed to relate as well to the topic as one would expect this many days from the event.  Most Americans know what it’s like to drive or ride across a bridge, but most don’t know much about the intracacies of the alternate minimum tax. 

6.  As the DMR’s David Yepsen said during the debate, the candidates’ differences on tax policy seem to be among the most striking.  The so-called "bottom tier" candidates like Huckabee and Tancredo are the most passionate about the dramatic change sought by the "fair tax" folks (that 23 percent national sales tax to replace the IRS code) while the front-runners like Romney and Giuliani give the "don’t rock the boat" answer, arguing a seismic shift in the nation’s tax policy would send major tremors through the nation’s economy. 

7.  Much has been written about Giuliani’s cutting-it-close arrival to Des Moines this morning.  Giuliani was giving a solid but non-eventful debate performance when he pulled a little humor out of the hat at the end in answer to the question about the candidates’ "defining" mistake.  It reminded me of George W. Bush answering a similar question in Le Mars, Iowa, back during the 2000 campaign.  His answer was that he once drank too much with some buddies in college and tried to steal a wreath from a bank.  Bush told the student assembly in Le Mars his problem had been drinking too much and thinking he was "invisible."  We all thought he meant "invincible."

8.  I was asked by several different people whether I thought the debate had provided any new daylight for any of the candidates leading up to the Straw Poll on Saturday.  I can’t say I saw anything there that led to a breakthrough, and there were no major gaffes, so I think we can call it a wash.   


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About O.Kay Henderson

O. Kay Henderson is the news director of Radio Iowa.