I think Ron Paul should talk more about cutting taxes — he deservedly got good applause for talking about abolishing the Departments of Energy, Education, and Homeland Security, but he was almost upstaged by Huckabee — Tax-Hike Mike — who proposed abolishing something Americans despise much more, the IRS. Huckabee is a big government, tax and spend liberal. Ron Paul, and for that matter even the other candidates, should not be conceding any applause lines for cutting taxes to him.
I still like Thompson’s jokes, and what I like even better is that Thompson looks like he might die in office if elected. So I think Thompson would be my second choice, a distant second after Paul.
Romney continues to be the sleaziest and weaselliest candidate. His response when confronted about his abortion flip-flopping almost sounded sincere — he said he had been mistaken to favor abortion rights and that if the public wants someone who has never made a mistake, he’d be the wrong candidate. But in light of his later responses about gays in the military and waterboarding, it’s pretty clear that Romney is only able to answer the abortion question adequately because he’s focus-grouped it and come down on which position is most advantageous for himself. Anderson Cooper did good work by keeping the pressure on Romney to give a straight answer about his past remark that he looks forward to the day when gays and lesbians can serve openly in the armed forces. Cooper asked Romney whether he still looked forward to that day, and all the slimy ex-governor could do was hem and haw and say that the day hasn’t arrived and that he’d defer to whatever the generals told him. (Which is not a good answer from the point of view of civilian-military relations. Gays or no gays in the military, that’s not a call for the generals to be making.) Romney’s answer on waterboarding was similarly equivocal and disingenuous: he said he was firmly against torture, but he doesn’t know what tactics, including waterboarding, may or may not be torture. McCain, who actually does have some gravity on this issue (even if he can’t be trusted), made it clear to Romney that the practice violates the Geneva Conventions and is unconscionable. I just wish McCain or Cooper had confronted Romney with the question of how he can say he’s against torture if he doesn’t know what torture is.
Romney did at least come down on one side on the Confederate battle flag question toward the end: he’s against it, and he made it seems as if he was offended even to be asked about it, claiming that we there can’t be two Americas. Here Romney didn’t give even the slightest impression of seeing the other side to the question, that many Southerners don’t want their history thrown down the memory hole.
McCain tried mixing it up with Paul over Iraq, but the audience seemed to be at least as much in Paul’s corner as in McCain’s. Paul received quite a lot of applause tonight, as well as a smattering of boos.
Hunter, Tancredo, and Huckabee did their usual routines. Huckabee seemed to get more than his fair share of attention at this debate, but maybe that impression is just a product of his ability to seem livelier than the rest of the field. I really hope Huck humiliates Romney in Iowa, but I don’t think Huck is going to get anywhere near the nomination. Maybe the VP nod, though — a horrible thought. Unfortunately, I fear Huckster-ism is the future of the GOP — big government with a cheerful disposition and a Christian gloss. Huck even said he wanted to boost NASA spending and send a man (or better yet a woman, namely Hillary Clinton) to Mars, and made some very dubious claims about the benefits NASA technology has conferred on us all. Even GPS has less to do with NASA, I’m pretty sure, than with military satellites. Tancredo got in his best line of the night replying to Huck on NASA: how can anyone say that government spending is a problem and then go and support boondoggles like NASA? Tancredo said that candidates like Huck wanted to be everything to everyone.