I'm trying to find a full transcript of the last night's debate and haven't found one yet. Didn't want to spend too much time looking. I watched the second airing of it last night and I don't think I got the full debate. Commercials started in the middle of candidates' sentences. I read Fox News's summary of it but it has those subtle spins on how exchanges went and I'd rather just read the words as they were uttered.
That said, I did watch it, and this is what I saw.
Until now, Mitt Romney is the only one who's been running contrast ads with John McCain and Mike Huckabee, who've called truce to gang up on Romney. Last night, Fred Thompson realized he is one of two Southerners in the race, and the candidate he needs to take out most is Huck. Said Fred about Huck:
"He would be a Christian leader, but he would also bring about liberal economic policies, liberal foreign policies. He believes we have an arrogant foreign policy … he believes that Guantanamo should be closed down … he believed in taxpayer-funded programs for illegals, as he did in Arkansas. He has the endorsement of the National Education Association, and the NEA said it was because of his opposition to vouchers."
This morning on MSNBC, when asked about it, Huck said Fred needed to take his Metamucil. Ouch. So will he start calling McCain "Grandpa" when their truce comes to its inevitable end?
Now Rudy Giuliani's natural competition is John McCain, but he seems afraid to take him on. I think Rudy's just hoping Florida comes through for him and he can get some life breathed into his campaign. Fred saw how insignificant New Hampshire felt he was, and he came out ready to draw some lines in the sand. It certainly woke up Frank Luntz's focus group.
As usual, Ron Paul was the odd man out. The other five are very comfortable pointing out their differences with him, finding his foreign policy ideas crazy. You could hear that one section of Paul loyalists who cheered loudly when he made a point and booed if someone tried to get a zinger off on him.
Overall I thought Fred Thompson won the debate, if for any other reason, this was his coming out party. Fred has awakened. I think John McCain came in second. I know he's taken stands that a lot of conservative Republicans don't like (campaign finance, immigration reform, etc.) but no one can touch his war hero status, and he sounds very convincing when he discusses foreign policy or spending issues. Third and fourth was close between Mitt Romney and Rudy Giuliani. I can picture Mitt as president making these decisions and coming up with solutions (he says "change" a lot now, but he actually says what he'll change too). I just think his campaign advisors haven't been good for him. The lessons for future candidates is you can't run contrast ads in Iowa and New Hampshire. (In fact, if he doesn't get the nomination, he should probably move back to Michigan and run for governor there; their economy's one of the worst in the nation.) Rudy still hasn't done what he needs to do to demonstrate why he's a better option than McCain.
Ron Paul is so different than the other five, it's amazing how constitutionally based most of his ideas and how different he is from the rest of the field.
Huckabee looked flustered a few times. He's used to playing the victim when Romney swipes at him, but he didn't look prepared for what Fred unloaded on him. There was also a point where he was asked a snarky question about taxes and he said, "You know what I did? I governed." Well, Bill Clinton "governed" Arkansas too. Jimmy Carter "governed" the USA, too.