Indianola, Iowa I don't have a ton to add to Mike's debate analysis. The one thing I will say is that when I first heard the new version of the Clinton pitch Mike mentioned--"Some people believe you get [change] by demanding it. Some people believe you get it by hoping for it. I believe you get it by working hard for change"--I thought it was a winning distillation of the Clinton message. But, having just come back from an Edwards event in Indianola, I'm beginning to rethink that a bit. Edwards basically turned the line around on her--arguing that the only way to get change is to demand it.
Des Moines, Iowa At an event for some medical students and faculty at Des Moines University this afternoon, Huckabee went on a long riff about how you need to change cultural norms to bring about changes in behavior. It included the following: Then the crash dummies came along, and they really helped us to see you know it might be a good idea to wear a seatbelt. Now every state except New Hampshire has a primary seatbelt law. New Hampshire's the only one that doesn't. Of course, their motto is "live free or die." ...
A couple more GOP debate observations that didn’t quite fit my narrative: Giuliani and McCain seemed either unusually subdued (Giuliani) or a little lost (McCain). I couldn’t tell if that’s because they both realize they’re going nowhere in Iowa, or because they were blind-sided by the arbitrary exclusion of immigration and Iraq from the proceedings—issues Rudy and McCain like to talk about, respectively. Whatever the case, they felt like nonentities. Fred Thompson, like Frank said, seemed to find his mojo from time to time. Way too little, way too late.
Okay, okay. So it was a completely lame debate: Another inexplicable decision to take meaty topics off the table. Very few questions designed to elicit confrontation. Extremely confining time limits. And all of this humorlessly enforced by a controlling, schoolmarmish moderator. Oh, and there was also the ludicrous presence of Alan Keyes, who managed to make the cut even though Dennis Kucinich has been barred from today’s Democratic installment. Having said that, the debate did do one thing: It nicely illuminated the central divide among the GOP front-runners.
I agree with David Yepsen, Fred Thompson surprised me most with his performance today. He was funny, and, for once, his terseness actually worked. If today were my first encounter with this political cycle, I would assume he was a front runner. A few other debate thoughts: --Huckabee is notoriously Thompson-esque in his debate prep, eschewing the briefing books and pre-game discussion of strategy. But I thought he seemed pretty well prepped today. Unlike his colleagues, he seemed to understand that he was attempting to sway an audience in Iowa.
Mark me down as blaming the Clinton campaign-staff in the competing staff-versus-candidate explanations for Hillary's recent troubles. It's true, as Adam Nagourney notes in a piece touching on both theories, that Clinton may have had "trouble mastering the political intricacies" of Iowa. But are those things really up to the candidate to figure out? Take this example from Nagourney: Mrs. Clinton spent much of the early part of the year working huge rallies in the state’s major news media markets in the belief that the coverage would reverberate into the more sparsely populated areas.
By now you've probably already heard the big news from the Times magazine's upcoming Huckabee profile. But also interesting is what happens just before he speculates that Mormons believe "Jesus and the devil are brothers." Huckabee is, indeed, a discreet fellow, but he has no trouble making his feelings known. He mentioned how much he respected his fellow candidates John McCain and Rudolph W. Giuliani. The name of his principal rival in Iowa, Mitt Romney, went unmentioned. Romney, a Mormon, had promised that he would be addressing the subject of his religion a few days later.
Over at The Plank, Chris makes a point I'm very sympathetic to: Huckabee's rise is not necessarily good news for Giuliani, or terrible news for Romney. As Chris sees it: Much of the Huckabee-kills-Romney thinking seems to come from the idea that, because both men are targeting social conservatives, if one is gaining support, the other must be losing it.
Here's a picture of Huckabee with Jim Gilchrist, the founder of the Minutemen, at that press conference I mentioned earlier. He reminds me a bit of the actor Chris Cooper--same glassy-eyed tough son-of-a-bitch look. Doesn't sound like it's a visual Michelle Malkin was expecting... --Noam Scheiber
(And even if it was, no one would like you...) Council Bluffs, Iowa Just to pick up on what I wrote about last night and earlier today, Huckabee held a longish press conference here this morning after canceling some local events due to weather. Asked about that new Romney ad, Huckabee went on a long riff about how no one liked that tattle tale back in third grade, and how usually the tattler wasn't the most popular kid in the class, etc. Asked whether he was calling a Romney a third-grade tattler, Huckabee said no, he was just speaking metaphorically.