Republican Des Moines Register Debate Round-Up And Reaction

This afternoon, the Republican candidates for President, including the quixotic and slightly odd Alan Keyes, met in Des Moines Iowa for their final debate before the January 3rd Iowa Caucuses.

To say that this debate was anti-climactic is an understatement. The moderator, Carolyn Washburn, is the editor of the Des Moines Register and, quite honestly, it’s quite easy to see why she’s made her career in the print media rather than on television; I don’t think I’ve seen a person with less passion in quite some time. That, combined with a set of rules that made it virtually impossible for any of the candidates to give a substantive answer to any question made for an incredibly boring affair that doesn’t seem likely to have any substantive impact on the race.

And, to make it worse, I actually watched this thing without the aid of a fine glass of wine. I’ve got to remember that politics and sobriety are a really bad mix.

Anyway, here we go:

Mike Huckabee: At least as far as Iowa is concerned, Huckabee came into this debate as the clear frontrunner. In the two short weeks since the CNN/YouTube debate, he has risen steadily and suprisingly in the polls both in the Hawkeye State and in other parts of the country to the point where he and Giuliani can both equally claim frontrunner status — and Huckabee would have the better argument.

As the frontrunner, all Huckabee had to do in this debate is not make any major mistakes and not let any of the other frontrunners touch him. For the most part, he succeeded in that task. The only time that I can really say I thought he went off the reservation was during the education discussion when he started talking about unbalanced brains and music and arts education. Apparently, the new Republican frontrunner has abandoned the idea of eliminating the Department of Education in favor of the idea of making all our children play the violin.

What’s worse, none of the Republican candidates really went after Huckabee. Partly, this was because of the restrictive nature of the debate and the inanity of the moderator, but the best that anyone was able to do was when Tancredo challenged him about national curriculum standards and Romney argued with him over which one had the better education record as Governor.

Not good enough guys.

Rudy Giuliani: Giuliani did okay today, but if he wanted to stop his slide in the polls, he needed to do better than okay; he needed to hit one out of the park and at least lay a glove on Huckabee. He didn’t do either of these things (to be fair, none of the candidates did all that well).

Giuliani has never been competitive in Iowa, so perhaps his campaign wrote this debate off but given the shortened campaign schedule, and the speed with which Huckabee has caught up to Giuliani in the polls, waiting is not a smart strategy. If Huckabee wins in Iowa and Rudy comes in third in New Hamsphire and South Carolina, his insistence that we “wait until Florida,” as he said Sunday on Meet the Press, will make less and less sense.

Mitt Romney: Like Giuliani, Romney needed to poke some holes in Huckabee today and he really didn’t do it. He argued with Huckabee over who had the better education record, but other than that he really didn’t go after the man who has taken away from him what once looked like an insurmountable lead in Iowa. Other than that, though, I can’t say that Romney did anything to reverse the decline.

John McCain: McCain seemed to have more life in him than he did in the last debate, perhaps because he senses an opportunity to overtake Giuliani in New Hampshire. McCain’s problem is that he’s still running as the War on Terror President when the polls are showing that both Iraq and the War on Terror are not as prominent in voters minds as they were earlier in the year. Some pundits seem to think that the Senator will pull it out and actually get the nomination, but I think it would take a miracle of biblical proportions for that to happen.

Fred Thompson: For a guy who has said that Iowa is an all-or-nothing run, Thompson didn’t seem all that energetic or eager to send the kind of message that could actually put him back in contention. The Iowa Caucuses are January 3rd. Fred Thompson campaign will end January 4th. I will give Thompson credit for being the only person honest enough to tell the viewing public that, yes, there would be sacrifices that would have to be made to reduce the deficit and the size of government; and specifically mentioned entitlement programs in connection with that response.

Thompson provided one of the best moments of comic relief in the debate when he refused to participate in the moderator’s absurd “raise your hand if you think global warming is a problem” question. Thompson said he doesn’t do the hand-raising thing, and, at least for a moment, all the Republicans went along with him. When he asked the moderator if he could actually answer the question rather than just raising his hand, she said no and moved on to the next question.

What a moron.

Ron Paul: For the most part, Paul did a passable job but there was at least one occasion where he gave an answer that, if it had actually been challenged, would have made him look foolish. In his response to the sacrifice question I noted above, Paul basically said that there would be no need for the American public to sacrifice anything — he would bring the troops home from abroad and that would save enough money to solve our problems. The truth is quite different; if the budget is going to be brought under control and the size of government shrunk, then we will all have to sacrifice our reliance upon the state in one way or another. That’s not going to be an easy sacrifice for some people to make.

Tom Tancredo: Is there any question to which the Congressman’s answer doesn’t involve immigration ?

Duncan Hunter: If I closed my eyes when Congressman Hunter was speaking, I would have thought that I was listening to one of the Democratic candidates talk, or maybe an anti-trade union official. What is an economic Neanderthal like this doing in the Republican Party ?

Alan Keyes: What can you say about Alan Keyes ? He responded to a question about global warming by going off for two minutes about the fact that he’s been excluded from every previous debate. He responded to a question about education by giving a bible-thumping response that makes even Reverend Huckabee look like an atheist. There was a time when Keyes seemed like a reasonable person, but that was a long, long time ago; I’m not even sure that he believes what he says and I’m not sure that it matters.

After everything was over, the debate ended as strangely as it started with Washburn asking each of the candidates to make a New Year’s Resolution for one of their opponents. Most of the candidates didn’t really answer the question, but that’s just as well it was, without a doubt, the stupidest debate question ever.

In the end, I don’t think this debate will have any substantial impact on either the Iowa Caucuses or the race on a national level. As things stand, Huckabee’s rise will continue unless and until Republicans start realizing what a big mistake it would be to nominate him.

Cross-Posted at Below The Beltway.

  • J Bradford

    Agree with most everything you said except the part about Ron Paul’s comment on sacrifice.

    We spend almost a TRILLION dollars on overseas policy, so by bringing our troops home and cutting spending overseas, what sacrifice would have to be made here at home?

    Familes having their loved ones here instead of abroad? Is that a sacrifice?

    Our troops protecting our own borders instead of Korea’s and Iraq’s? Is that a sacrifice?

    Making our country safer, and less likely to be attacked by terrorists, by removing our troops from their country? Is that a sacrifice?

    Spending our tax money on building our bridges and roads instead of bombing the Middle East and then paying to rebuild the very bridges and roads that we just paid to destroy? Is that a sacrifice?

    Earning some respect back from the rest of the world instead of being mocked and ridiculed for our terrible foreign poliy and our policing of the world? Is that a sacrifice?

    I’m sorry, but I find your statements flawed and offer no substance to back up your claims.

    Ron Paul has the only ideas and ways of stopping our country from going bankrupt and it’s a shame no one gives him any press. Everyone’s enamoured with Huckabee and his “aw shucks” demeanour. He is nothing but a smoother-talking George W. Bush. If you’re happy with the way this country has been run the past 8 years then Huckabee is your man.

    If you’re tired of the same old crap from Washington, and tired of seeing our country going downhill, then elect Ron Paul. He is the ONLY candidate that can get us out of the mess we’re in. Wake up people.

  • Fritz

    It’s funny they talk about bringing back manufacturing jobs, then say we need more scientists and physicists from the educational institutions. Maybe teach life skills and focus less on completely-useless-to-95%-of-the-population studies. Music and art should and are electives, almost completely unfunded. Machine shop and auto tech. are nonexistent. Drafting is often an after school only class. Math and language are 4 year requirements??? No wonder we don’t have manufacturing or skilled trades anymore, no one knows how to do anything. Try to get a custom tailored, USA made shirt. But, thank god for Calculus…

  • Ron

    Yes, the moderator was just awful.

  • martin

    Fritz, that is a really decent point. I’ve never even thought of that before.

    Thing is, even if they could make the shirt, they won’t do it for $1 a day and no bathroom breaks, so I guess we’re back to where we started.

  • David Wilson


    You are dead wrong. Music and art may not be the most important subjects in school, and I agree. I wish logic was taught in high school. Auto tech and machine shop are not taught because 1) there is not a demand in the job market like there used to be 2) most training for those jobs occur either in a 2 year technical school, or on the job. Also, math and language are SERIOUS needs in our economy due to the large amount of higher end jobs that globalization has brought us such as business, R&D, Information Technology, etc. Manufacturing has been on the way out for awhile now, and lets not forget that school is for more than just getting jobs; it is important in developing and sustaining a well rounded, educated populace. There are some private schools who specifically focus on vocation, and this is ok. This is why school districts should be in control of curriculum and policy, and not the federal government.

  • A Brooks

    Ummm, I know a lot of people aren’t good at math so let me help you out. We have a 9 Trillion Dollar debt, health care issues, government spending issues on medicare, and social security. We spent 1 trillion dollars and no it wasn’t all in 1 year.

    The war isn’t the major issue in this country, unless of course your talking to Ron Paul. I do like a lot of what he stands for but he is a 1 issue guy. At least Ross Perot wiped the floor with nearly every person he debated. When he was in the debate with Bush 1 and Clinton, most of the debate was Clinton saying, “I agree with Ross.”

    Yes we will need to reduce the size of the government, which in turn will make some American’s sacrifice.

    “Agree with most everything you said except the part about Ron Paul’s comment on sacrifice.

    We spend almost a TRILLION dollars on overseas policy, so by bringing our troops home and cutting spending overseas, what sacrifice would have to be made here at home?”

  • Bob Whitman

    This reporter, as so many, treats the race as a game, as info-tainment. There is critisism over what the candidates said in relation to the game, but no discussion of policy positives or negatives. Plenty of metaphors from boxing, to baseball; plenty of name calling, but no intelligent substance. No wonder this country is in the state that it is in. A free press is critical to a free people, but, sadly, our national press fails the test by substituting entertainment for analysis. What silliness to refer to the candidates as “moron,” “Neanderthal,” etc? Then, in an alaysis of the debate the “journalist” in question states an opinion about the national electability of candidate Huckabee. Maybe it would have been better if the “journalist” had imbibded the wine, but I doubt it.

  • Doug Mataconis


    What part of there was absolutely no substance to this debate don’t you understand ?

  • Sue

    I find it interesting that Alan Keyes was in on this debate. This is the first sighting I have seen of him since he was Obama’s opponent in the 2006 Illinois senate race. Now everyone can see why Obama won – I could have won against that idiot.

  • james

    To ay ron paul is a one issue man is wrong. if you listen to him he supports the constitution and is a true republican. I like some of the other canidates but they are promising just a carry on of bush. I don’t want this. everyone is looking the other way at what is going on and not at the reality of the trouble we are getting into. I can’t blame people as they are hammered by the news as to what the media wants the presidential race to be about. take a look at what the real issues are, not the ones the media highlights for you.

  • UCrawford

    I think it’s kind of unrealistic to expect Paul to give the brutally honest answer for the campaign. I think you’ll struggle to find any successful politician who tells people what they’ll have to give up or sacrifice when he gets elected. Do I think Ron Paul’s answer was shallow and inaccurate? Sure. Do I think his answer means he’s not going to try and gut all those wasteful departments and programs if he’s elected? Nope…I think he’s just hiding the consequences of his policy from the voters, which is the smart campaigning move. Guess we’ll see how well that works for him down the road.

    That said, it was a pretty blah debate in an otherwise extremely blah presidential race of late. I’m half-wondering if the voters are even paying attention anymore or if they’ve finally hit their saturation point.

  • TanGeng


    About the Paul error:
    You’re talking about sacrifices by the American people. There are people on the federal gravy train that will have to sacrifices a lot. The average American doesn’t see very much of the gravy though. I’m hoping the farm bill gets axed and then it’ll be the corporate farmers making their sacrifices.

    About the rest, it seems like Huckabee survived the debate, but the media’s having a nice time unearthing all his negatives and total lack of foreign policy experience. It seemed like a hands off debate, and lots of people sounded like Democrats when they stated their positions. What happened to the Republican Party.