January 5, 2008

Debate Warfare - Real Time Commentary

I'll be issuing my New Hampshire predictions after the debate

Unfortunately I was out at a going away party for a dear friend and started my debate coverage late. So I only caught the end of the republican slugfest as they were asked about Obama. Clearly they were consistently talking about Clinton as thought she would be the nominee and the moderators interjected, wait a sec, what if Obama is the nominee? Another body blow to the idea of the inevitable Hillary nomination.

8:30 pm - I caught the tail end of the republican debate where the republican candidates were talking about Obama. Their responses were a good preview of the major attack points against a potential Obama nominee - tax and spend liberal, wants to create welfare state, no executive experience, no national security experience, wrong on life, wrong on same sex marriage.

These are areas where I do have differences of opinion with Obama and the issues he will have to defend against if he becomes the nominee and faces off against the eventual republican nominee.

9:15 pm - Clinton and Richardson in particular sound like foreign policy geopolitical neophytes. Richardson's idea that the US can ask Musharraf to step aside is idiotic (see the cross post from Stratfor for the reasons why). Clinton's thought that we can ask Musharraf to share control of Pakistan's nuclear weapons is equally silly. Obama so far has not stepped in it, but all of them are foolish to answer so specifically a hypothetical and then expound on that. Obama did the best because he was able to give the most focused answer because he got the most focused hypothetical. None of them sound as though they have a hard geopolitical analysis.

9:35 pm - The moderator question on healthcare touched off a discussion that clearly highlights the tactical approach of Edwards tonight, which is to augment and amplify Obama's attacks on Clinton and defend his flank to some extent. Damaging Hillary is to his benefit. And he plays attack dog to Obama's statesman and I wonder if he's looking down the road to be a possible veep to Obama? Richards is highlighting his experience and calling for civility, and further seals his doom after the dumb answers on foreign policy, because as a tactical matter, his campaign benefits if Hillary is damaged too. Highlighting his experience draws out a plus for him, but I think only reinforces Hillary as a choice over him since you could argue hers is better and if you are going with experience, then go Hillary would go that line of argument. Playing for a veep spot under Hillary?

9:47 pm - The best answer on Iraq came from Obama. However, it did not contain any recognition of the geopolitical reality and role of Iran in our decision making there, or of the need to prevent Iranian hegemony in the region detrimental to our interests. Hillary's answer of starting withdrawal in 60 days is again a too tactical answer, as is Edwards answer about withdrawing and giving a number! Richardson continues with that by saying he will get them out in a year. Obama gave a better conceptual answer about what principles or assumptions he would use in making his decision and avoiding these specific answers about how he would end the war. I think its a mistake to lock themselves in now, before they know everything they will know on day 2 of the presidency.

10:04 pm - Richardson does not have sufficient killer instinct. He's asked if executive experience is necessary for a president, and he doesn't say yes! Then he goes on to tout his resume. Edwards is a better attack dog for Obama's change point than Richardson is for Clinton's experience point. Then he follows up by saying that youth is no detriment, which is a nod to Edwards and Obama. His debate warfare skills are not good. Edwards is talking about how this fight is deep inside him. He is being as one blogger called him "the angry white man". I'm not sure thats any better a political positioning on him than it would be on Obama.

Hillary demonstrates political killer instinct one second and ineptness the next. When asked if she can do things the others can't, she says a firm yes, then when asked again, she equivocates and says she is only making her case. I liked the first answer better, and why are you scared to say you can do something they can't? She does score points right after by referencing how Bill Clinton made major change to reduce the deficit, raise taxes and improve the economy. Obama makes a nice rhetorical counterpoint about the power of words to inspire and engage to counter Hillary's point that that is meaningless. Bill gets after Edwards about his anger and how you need a coalition, that his anger is not helpful. Richardsons tactics tonight don't make a lot of sense to me. He's not really differentiating himself at all, since talking experience does not really help him, but helps Hillary and if Hillary is dominant, he is out.

Obama and Hillary are talking craziness about carbon taxes and cap and trade initiatives. I don't know much about that, but what I do know is that I don't want to pay any more taxes! Curse their tax and spend ways!

10:38 pm - the democratic debate wraps and here's my take; Edwards further demonstrates his unelectability as he continues what is now beginning to sound like a strident, angry ranting against evil multinational corporations. Richardson's debate performance has done nothing to break him from the pack or distinguish him in my mind in anyway. He was a complete non entity, doing very little for himself and actually providing tepid support for Hillary. He tried to be above the fray with the consequence that he never got in it. Barack had a confident mistake free performance, no gaffes, though I found his carbon tax enthusiasm frightening. Hillary's performance was defensive. Mildly pointed attacks, frustrated entreaties that she's been making change for years, that she is a change candidate. It was the performance of someone not entirely on sure footing. In earlier debates, she was more confident and spoke with a more commanding assurance about the issues and she took more risks. Now, she's being careful. She wants to go to the body on Obama, but she has not quite figured out how to do it in a substantive way and not a negative one. If she doesn't figure that out soon, she may find her prospects eroding even further.