Florida Debate Wrap-Up And Commentaryby Doug Mataconis
Given the fact that it took place only five days before the last big primary prior to Super Tuesday, and that recent polls show the race to be very tight, I was expecting last night’s Florida debate to be much more confrontational than it was. After all, if McCain wins in Florida, there’s a fairly good argument that the race for the Republican nomination will effectively be over — if Romney, Huckabee, or Giuliani are going to make stand, it needs to be in the sunshine state.
Despite all of that, though, this debate was, by and large, a snoozefest. Neither Romney nor Giuliani directly confronted McCain, and Huckabee, who is so obviously running for the Veep slot at this point, continued his John McCain love-fest. Like it or not, and I frankly don’t like it one bit, it’s looking more and more likely that John McCain will be the Republican nominee.
So here’s where I think the candidates stand as we head toward January 29th:
John McCain: The only thing McCain needed to make sure he did last night was not mess up, and he didn’t. He’s just come off a convincing victory in South Carolina, has a decent shot of winning Florida, and is leading in most of the major Super Tuesday states like California, Pennsylvania, New Jersey, and New York. As I noted yesterday, it’s a mathematical certainty that no candidate will win enough delegates on February 5th to win the nomination, but John McCain is better positioned than any of the other candidates to come close to closing the deal before Valentine’s Day.
Mitt Romney: Of all the candidates, Romney is best positioned to benefit from John McCain’s rise. At some point, the Republican establishment is going to wake up, look around, and realize that the guy they stopped in South Carolina in 2000 is on the verge of blowing away the rest of the field. When they do, they’re going to look for a candidate, and, right now, the only real alternative to John McCain is Mitt Romney. Last night, Romney needed to look solid enough for these voters for them to start reconsidering guys like Giuliani and Huckabee. Whether he was convincing enough is something we won’t know until Tuesday, both January 29th and February 5th.
Rudy Giuliani: Considering that Giuliani once referred to Florida as his firewall, one would have thought that he would have come out fighting last night. Make no mistake, Giuliani can fight — he did it when he ran for office in New York, and it worked. At the very least, he needed to find a way to bring back the support he’s lost over the last month. And he failed miserably on both accounts. Giuliani will limp on through Super Tuesday, but he’s practically a non-entity at this point.
Mike Huckabee: Huckabee’s low on cash and falling in the polls, and one wonder why he’s still in the race. One theory is that he’s angling for the Vice-Presidential slot if McCain is the nominee. The fact that he’s been relative nice to McCain over the past week or so lends some credence to that theory. In either case, it’s fairly clear right now that Huckabee is not going to be at the top of the ticket. He’ll win some Southern states on Super Tuesday, perhaps, but that will be about it.
Ron Paul: Eighteen minutes into the debate, Paul was handed a nice, big fat softball question. All the other candidates had been asked their position on the “bipartisan” economic stimulus package and, predictably, they all endorsed it. Paul was asked the following question:
Congressman Paul, you often have a different view of these issues. So I’ll ask a vastly different question. Does government — should government, in your view, have any role at all in stimulating the economy like this?
And instead of answering it, Paul goes off on a rambling discourse about interest rates, the dollar, the Fed, and, yes, Iraq. And he repeated that hard-to-believe assertion that we could save $ 1 trillion from the Federal Budget by ended the American “empire”, whatever that is.
Don’t take my word for, it, here’s how Stephen Green put it:
7:18pm Woo-hoo! A question for Paul. “Should the government have any role in stimulating the economy?” A GREAT question for a libertarian candidate. And how does Paul respond? With a quickfire, rambling answer covering everything from the Fed to the weak dollar to a “trillion dollar a year foreign policy.” Folks, we have a two trillion dollar Federal budget, most of which is transfer payment. Paul is, in short, a big fat, high-pitched liar.
Nobody’s ever really challenged Paul on this trillion dollar claim, but the fact is that the numbers in the Federal Budget just don’t justify it.
I’m beginning to think that we’re seeing the beginning of the end of Ron Paul, at least as a visible candidate. He’s invited to the California debate before Super Tuesday, but I’d be very surprised if we see him in a single debate after that. It’s too bad, really, because he’s really the only guy on the stage who comes close to making sense when it comes to issues like economics.
In the end, I don’t think that the debate will have any appreciable impact on the race, either in Florida or nationally. Slowly but surely, this is coming down to a contest between the “maverick” and the Mormon, and I can’t figure out for the life of me why I should support either of them regardless of who the Democrats nominate.