Earlier this evening at the Reagan Presidential Library in Simi Valley, California, the four remaining Republican presidential candidates - John McCain, Mitt Romney, Mike Huckabee, and Ron Paul - engaged in their final debate prior to Super Tuesday.
Here are a few notes and observations:
1) When moderator Anderson Cooper announced that the only rule of the debate would be that "there are no rules," I was glad that I had made that trip to the ABC Store last week. Thankfully, though, it wasn't quite as bad as I had expected. Not that it wasn't bad. It was. But that had more to do with the candidates than the format.
2) I hate sit-down debates, especially when you can see the candidates' legs under the table. "Who's got the widest stance?" should not be a consideration in electing a President.
3) The best debater on the stage tonight was unquestionably Mike Huckabee. He kept his cool and stayed pointed and on message. I'm can't say that he won the debate, but compared to the ill-tempered John McCain and the excitable Mitt Romney, he was certainly the most pleasant to listen to.
4) It's disturbing that John McCain continues to stick by his misleading allegation that Mitt Romney supported a timetable for withdrawal from Iraq. It's also disappointing that Mitt Romney couldn't seem to maintain his composure well enough to plainly state what was and is a very reasonable position - a position that differs only slightly, if at all, from that of Sen. McCain.
5) At one point, Ron Paul stated that "the country's in bankruptcy." That's simply untrue. Since I don't think that Ron Paul has a dishonest bone in his body, I can only conclude that he really believes it.
6) Rep. Paul also said that Republicans were elected in 1952 to stop the war in Korea. That's kinda sorta true - Eisenhower did promise to go to Korea to end the war - but the policy he pursued once he got into office was very different from the sort of non-interventionism that Ron Paul preaches today. Eisenhower ended the war short of total victory by signing a cease-fire agreement (after threatening to use nukes), but he didn't leave our South Korean allies to face a hostile neighbor alone. He signed a defense treaty with them, leaving American troops behind to ensure that the cease-fire was enforced and that the advance of Communism in Southeast Asia was contained. It was good that Sen. McCain at least attempted to correct Paul on this point, stating that "Eisenhower didn't bail us out of Korea."
7) Rep. Paul said of Iraq: "They never committed aggression." Oh, really? I seem to remember them invading Kuwait. Following the extraction of Saddam's army from Kuwait, I seem to remember the Iraqis consistently violating the cease-fire that they had signed with Coalition forces by harassing the Coalition planes that patrolled the no-fly zones over northern and southern Iraq. That wasn't aggression?
8) The only candidate who had the right answer to the question about "what makes you more qualified than your opponents to manage our economy?" was Ron Paul. He basically stated that it's not government's job to manage the economy in the first place. Before Rep. Paul's stepped in to correct them, McCain and Romney had flibbed and flubbed and hemmed and hawed, both giving answers that could just as easily have been given by a Democrat. And people wonder why it's so hard to choose a candidate this year. Good grief. With Republicans like this, who needs Democrats?
9) McCain and Romney both said they support a so-called fiscal stimulus package, agreeing that gimmicky tax rebates are a good idea to get the economy moving again. It was good to hear Mike Huckabee express doubt as to whether those rebates would be effective, but then he ruined what would have been a good answer by going on (and on and on) to advocate using the money to widen highways and build bridges instead. Then - lo and behold - Ron Paul stepped in with the right answer: cut taxes, cut regulation, cut spending, and get the hell out of the way so that the American people can go about their business.
10) Who won? Hard to say. I think that Mike Huckabee helped himself the most. Ron Paul was Ron Paul. Romney and McCain were almost equally bad, but I have to give McCain the edge in that contest: he seems to breathe utter contempt for the multitudes in his own party who dare to disagree with him.
11) I still don't know who I'm gonna vote for.