GOP Debate (Round 2)

A few thoughts on last nights GOP debate: It was a better performance than last time around, but the Republican debate in South Carolina last night showed that there still isn’t a Reagan-Goldwater small-government conservative among the front runners. The candidates tried hard to burnish their conservative credentials, but too often their definition of conservative seemed to come down to talking tough on Iraq and abortion. Among the top-tier of candidates in particular, no one articulated a clear Reaganesque vision of limited government.

A few thoughts on the candidates:

John McCain: He apparently got the decaf coffee this time around. Made some good points on congressional overspending (though the drunken sailor joke is getting a bit stale), but offered unpersuasive defense of McCain-Feingold campaign finance reform bill. And no matter how many times he repeated that if we leave Iraq “the terrorists will follow us home,” it doesn’t make it so.

Mitt Romney: He sure is smooth…but has a little problem with accuracy. He said that he balanced Massachusetts budget without tax increases. The truth is his proposed 2006 budget included some $170 million in increased business taxes. This increase comes on top of previous business tax increases of $140 million during his term, as well as some $500 million in increased fees and other forms or revenue. His support for No Child left Behind cements his credentials as a big-government conservative.

Rudy Giuliani: He had a much better performance this time around. He highlighted his fiscally conservative credentials and made a “libertarian” case for abortion rights. But his superhawk persona risks tipping over into Dr. Strangelove sometimes.

Ron Paul: Still largely alone in carrying the small-government banner, Dr. Paul showed how hard it is to make a complex historical argument in 60 seconds. His point about how US meddling overseas helped precipitate terrorism had substance, but landed with a thud.

Jim Gilmore: Scored points for blaming Republicans in Congress for overspending and for criticism of Romney health plan. Lost points for ducking question on entitlement reform.

Tommy Thompson: Looked like he was suffering from indigestion all night. Struggled to find a government program he would cut, finally coming up with an unspecified CDC “stockpile.” How about the Medicare prescription drug benefit? Oh, that’s right, he supports that one.

Duncan Hunter: Called for Jack Bauer to handle terrorism and sounded like a character on the show. “I’d get SecDef on the phone.” Seems to be going for the Pat Buchanan xenophobia vote, but does anyone care?

Tom Tancredo: Gets points for exposing his opponents flip flops, but failed to make his own case. I don’t agree with his position on immigration, but surely he has a better explanation for it than he gave. Loses points too for his gratuitous slap at Islam.

Mike Huckabee: His sense of humor plays well, but defense of tax hikes didn’t fly. He may win Mr. Congeniality, but didn’t do anything to win the nomination.

Sam Brownback: I’m sorry, was Sam Brownback part of this debate?

Of course the format and the questions didn’t help, but as I warn in my book, Leviathan on the Right, unless Republicans rediscover their limited government roots, they are destined for a repeat of their 2006 defeat. Last night gave a few small hints in that direction, but they still have a long way to go.