Top of the Ticket

Political commentary from Andrew Malcolm

« Previous Post | Top of the Ticket Home | Next Post »

The Running Ticket Blog: The GOP Debate Live

CNN's Anderson Cooper began tonight's debate among the Republican White House contenders with an effort to get them to run against President Bush (still their party's titular leader), but only the two candidates with little chance of winning the nomination -- Mike Huckabee and Ron Paul -- went in that direction.

Cooper used the formulation Ronald Reagan famously used against then President Jimmy Carter in the 1980 campaign -- "are we better off than we were 4 years ago" -- to ask the candidates if they could say the country was better off than it was since Bush took office.

Mitt Romney ducked, noting that he isn't running on Bush's record. He then touted his economic record as governor of Massachusetts.

John McCain answered that, overall, he thought the nation was better off, but adding it's facing "a very serious challenge" on the economic front now.

Huckabee and Paul said the country was NOT better off, but they spread the blame to Congress, as well.

-- Don Frederick


Good little zinger there by McCain. Romney was running down a long list of how the Arizona senator is not conservative--voting against the 2 Bush tax cuts, etc. And Romney ended by saying: "If you get endorsed by the N.Y. Times, you're not a conservative."

To which McCain added, "Let me just say, Governor, I was endorsed by your two hometown newspapers."

--Andrew Malcolm


Is this a sure sign that, as reports have it, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger will be endorsing McCain on Thursday?

McCain was asked his opinion of the Bush administration's refusal to allow California to forge ahead with more aggressive rules the state wants to implement to combat the emission of greenhouse gases. McCain, who stood by Bush when asked about the president's economic question in the evening's first question (see below), split with him on this one -- as he would almost have to in order to have Schwarzenegger enlist in his camp.

McCain said that as a federalist, he believed in giving states wide latitude. He also criticized, as he has frequently in the past, the Bush administration for not being more aggressive in combatting global warming.

-- Don Frederick


Oh, my, Romney touches on the third rail without being forced to--changing entitlement. He notes they make up 60% of the federal budget now and will be 70% by second term of next president. Fred Thompson's the one Republican who offered a detailed Social Security reform plan. It's dangerous territory. but Romney quickly added, We're not gonna change the deal for seniors, but for those in their 20s and 30s.

--Andrew Malcolm


McCain tried to veer off subject, rather than provide a straight answer to a direct question, when he was asked about the subject that has bedeviled him throughout his latest presidential bid -- his advocacy in the Senate for a sweeping bill on immigration policy that included a path to citizenship for those who entered the country illegally.

Of late, he's been stressing the need for tougher border security before addressing the citizenship matter. But would he, he was asked, support the original bill if it came to the Senate floor today.

"It won't," he replied at first, an obvious dodge. He then almost literally mumbled that he wouldn't vote for it because the American people have made clear they first wanted improvements in border security.

Pressed to make clear whether he would again vote for the bill as it was first written in 2006, he again dodged. "My bill will not be voted on."

-- Don Frederick


As Tuesday's Florida primary neared, a mini-furor erupted in conservative circles over a report that McCain had indicated that, as president, he would push for Supreme Court nominees such as John Roberts but that someone like Samuel Alito might not be his cup of tea.

McCain tonight embraced both when asked his opinion of Reagan's appointment of Sandra Day O'Connor to the court (she disappointed conservatives on a number of fronts, most prominently her support for the Roe vs. Wade abortion decision). McCain expressed his pride in O'Connor, a fellow Arizonian, but then said he's favor nominees with more tired-and-true conservative records, such as Roberst AND Alito.

-- Don Frederick


I agree with Wm. Irvin in the comments below. What about the other 2 candidates. The moderators are letting McCain and Romney fight way too much over technicalities over what who said when about a phased withdrawal. Sure, they're trying to hurt each other with conservatives and national security, which McCain thinks is his strong suit.

Finally, they call on Rep. Ron Paul, who predictably explained how we shouldn't have been in Iraq in the first place. How we bomb bridges out overseas, then spend American taxpayers' money on rebuilding them when our own bridges are falling down of their own weight. Good pts all and applause lines. And he knows it. Part of his standard stump speech.

And then Mike Huckabee pleads for a question "for those of us down on this end of the table." Finally, he got some.

Wish they'd suddenly have the candidates ask each other a question or two.

McCain steps in and says the reality is we're gonna be in Iraq a long time, the real issue is American casualties, not whether they're present.

--Andrew Malcolm


Gimme a break. If you were watching on the left side of the screen just now, you could see, as Anderson Cooper asked yet another question of Romney/McCain, Huckabee throw up his hands and exchange a look of impatience with Cong. Paul, who understandably shook his head.

Cooper saw him so tossed Paul a question about being commander in chief. And Paul went down his familiar line of saying the govt. should not be running the economy, but lowering the taxes and not printing money "out of thin air."

--Andrew Malcolm


It's long been one of McCain's favorite phrases -- describing himself as a "foot soldier in the Reagan revolution." By our count, he's worked it into tonight's debate three times. And as, over the next few days, he tries to seal the deal with distrustful conservatives and stake out a commanding lead in the GOP race, he's likely to use it again and again and again. At some point, though, he might want to seek out a speechwriter for a bit of variety in pledging his fealty to Reagan.

-- Don Frederick


Don, you're absolutely right on McCain's phrasing. Another favorite of his: "I'm proud of my record" and calling everyone, even those he clearly dislikes, "my friend." Sarcasm doesn't work on TV. McCain wasn't acting exactly like a frontrunner here. He's always performed best as the underdog, which he isn't anymore.

We'll see how he adjusts to that new role.

Maybe McCain should have read the item we posted at noon here today, examining how many times each candidate cited Ronald Reagan's name. The lesson there: It's dangerous this time around. Rudy Giuliani was the Ronald Reagan-name-citing-record-holder for the 15 major GOP debates, saying it 44 times, including 10 whole times in one single answer on Jan. 10. For the graphic presentation of this phrase in those debates, check out the work in that item by The Times' Ben Welsh.

Don, so who do you think won this one?

--Andrew Malcolm


Well, Andy, my nod for the best answer of the night goes to Paul who, after McCain and Romney sniped at each other over what seems at heart a matter of semantics -- whether Romney last year expressed support for setting timetables for the withdrawal of U.S. troops from Iraq -- noted that they were "arguing technicalities of a policy they both agree with."

He went on: "They agreed going in (to Iraq), they agreed for staying, agreed for staying how many years, and these are technicalities.  We should be debating foreign policy, whether we should have interventionism or non-interventionism, whether we should be defending this country or whether we should be the policeman of the world, whether we should be, you know, running our empire or not and how are we going to have guns and butter."

Overall, it's hard to see that any dramatic moment occurred that will derail the momentum that seems to be gathering for McCain so, in that sense, it was a successful evening for him.

-- Don Frederick


The complete debate transcript is available here.

Comments () | Archives (24)

The comments to this entry are closed.

Dear god, will they ever let Ron Paul speak!? This debate is a JOKE. Who are these people? McCain is the worst thing to happen since 9/11. Hands down, than man is a fool, and is no republican. Profit caps? More interventions abroad? Amnesty? Who is voting for this man?

I cannot believe the moderator cut Ron Paul off after 1 sentence and let every other candidate complete there statements in regards to the appointment of chief justice Sandra O'conner. You should be ashamed of yourselves.

Is it just my imagination, or is Ron Paul sitting on that panel?? Those moderating are certainly not allowing him to take part in the "debate"!

I wonder if Ron Paul will be in this debate?

How about letting Ron Paul answer a question?

Is this supposed to be a fair and equal debate tonight? Or is it just between McCain and Romney? Did you forget that Ron Paul and Mike Huckabee are there??? Give some questions to Ron Paul!!!

Let's here from Ron Paul finally! This is not just a fight between Romney and McCain. Is this supposed to be an actual debate between all the Republican candidates?? The media is truly completely biased, misled and ridiculous.

Don, the only momentum gathering around Senator Mccain is artificially generated by the MSM. That's you! Thanks anyway for the interesting comments.

McCain looked OLD & Mean tonight

Two Republicans (McCain, Romney) DISOBEY REAGAN'S 11th COMMANDMENT (thou shall not speak ill of another Republican) IN HIS OWN LIBRARY RIGHT IN FRONT OF NANCY REAGAN. ...not good.

...but good for Mike Huckabee who stayed ABOVE the fray...


Romney, Paul and Huckabee all sounded/looked much better than McCain. No one can deny that McCain is an honorable patriot and war-hero, but that does not mean he will be a great President. He would bring little difference to Washington and the White House. Any candidate besides McCain or Clinton would provide a much needed change to Washington. All I saw tonight from him was an arrogant attitude more concerned with name dropping all of his endorsements than actually discussing the issues. Every time a tough yes or no question went his way he skirted the issue with his arrogant responses of "I've been here all along, I'm proud of my record, so I know all"... same rhetoric as always. At least the other 3 seemed to give more detailed, insightful and straight-forward answers. I thought McCain was supposed to be the straight-talker? I am not impressed and am failing to see what the huge McCain appeal is. His explanation of his conservative credentials was lacking at best. And his attempt to insist that Romney wanted a timetable was ridiculous - the moderators even had to interrupt and point out how he was mis quoting. He sounds more like every other aging, career politician in Washingon.

I was thinking, I'd like to see John McLaughlin of McLaughlin Group "moderate" one of these debates! That would be a hoot. He'd snap these guys to attention.

The reason McCain says "my friend" is to remind himself not to go ballistic in anger.

Every question should be asked of every candidate. Paul and Huckabee suited up, but were mostly kept on the bench. That's not how the game of politics should be played.

I very much agree with the above suggestion of having John McLaughlin run a 'discussion' with all the candidates as he does on The McLaughlin Group. At least he knows how to get them all participating fairly equally.

After watching this debate I can't wait for November. Either Hillary or Obama is gonna wipe the floor with these clowns. I would be sad if I was a Republican and that was the group of people I had to chose from.

A great role for Huckabee and Paul is to let them ask McCain and Romney questions. I guarantee they know their weaknesses better than anyone in America. They have listened to ALL of the previous TWENTY GOP debates because they had to sit through all of them. For that alone they deserve medals!

We each seem to have our own major issue(s) that make their choice for President seem like the best one. The economy is a big one for me. McCain did not know about the "Working Group on Financial Markets" in the last debate. Romney and Huckabee think the stimulus package from DC is a great idea. Just unbelievable and VERY scary if they are elected! My question is: Would someone tell me why we should NOT elect Ron Paul??

Ron Paul has raised more money than the rest in the 4th quarter & is spending it! $20 million in the 4th quarter. $3.5 million so far this quarter. And it was all from individual donations averaging less than $100. No PACs. Unlike the others he is beholding to nothing but the Constitution.

The rest, with Richardson and Kucinich out, seem to be talking crazy talk (or did last week, who knows what the Democrats will say next week!) about our military adventures in the Middle East. Military spending is connected to our current economic mess. Additionally, no one else seems to understand the problems with the economy, inflation, and out of control deficit spending. Inflation is going to eat us alive, as it has already started to do so. Do you really believe that the REAL inflation rate last year, the rate that was used by the government for Social Security check increases this month, was 2.3%? Just look at the price of gold up 30% in 2007, now at an all time high and getting higher!

One can not talk about tax cuts without ALSO talking about cutting spending. We have a $9 trillion debt (nearly double since 2000) that must be paid so we can afford Social Security and Medicare. The interest payments will go sky high when we begin to fight inflation with higher Federal Reserve bank rates.

And we must stop inflation or everyone's life savings will go down the tubes, along with the middle class, like what has happened to the middle class in most countries south of our border. And do not forget Universal Health Care, which is coming down the tracks right at us, unless Republicans begin to understand the seriousness of runaway deficits and inflation. And start educating the country. A Democratic President will surely not fight inflation like Volcker and Reagan did!

Please vote Ron Paul and save the country from bankruptcy abroad and at home!

Gov. Huckabee is the ONLY Conservative left worthy of the Presidency and won't bankrupt this country like the Liberal candidates claim they will (BY TAXING companies into sending EVEN MORE JOBS OVERSEAS).....

I agree Aaaandre and Tom J -- John McLaughlin would be an awesome moderator.

National Taxpayers Union: Only Ron Paul Would Cut Spending (1/30/08)
NTU Report: Other Republicans would increase spending by billions

According to a report released Tuesday by the National Taxpayers Union, Texas Congressman Ron Paul is the only remaining presidential candidate who proposes net spending cuts.

According to the report, Congressman Paul’s proposals would cut government spending by over $150 billion, a conservative estimate of the spending reductions Dr. Paul has proposed. The report concludes that the other remaining Republican candidates, Mitt Romney, John McCain and Mike Huckabee, have proposed spending increases of $19.5 billion, $6.9 billion and $54 billion respectively.

“It should come as no surprise that when you crunch the numbers Ron Paul is the only Republican who would actually shrink the size and cost of the federal government,” said Ron Paul campaign economic advisor Don Luskin. “Romney, McCain and Huckabee don’t hold a candle to Ron Paul – the only true fiscal conservative running for President.”

In ten terms in Congress, Ron Paul has never voted for a tax increase or for an unbalanced budget.

Let us look at McCain’s conservative credentials:

-IMMIGRATION: he wrote the bill granting amnesty to illegal immigrants (co-sponsored by Ted Kennedy)
-SOCIAL SECURITY: he voted to give your social security money to illegal immigrants
-TAXES: he voted against the Bush tax cuts multiple times (he has since flip-flopped and has campaigned as a lifelong tax-cutter)
-RHETORIC: he routinely engages in Democratic class warfare against big companies in America, particularly the “evil” drug companies who research cures to debilitating diseases for a profit
-ECONOMY: as recently as December 2007 he admitted “he does not know the economy very well” and needed to get better at it
-1ST AMENDMENT: he wrote the McCain-Feingold campaign finance bill that was declared to be an unconstitutional infringement of the 1st Amendment (co-sponsored by ultra-liberal Democrat Russ Feingold)
-2ND AMENDMENT: he was called the “worst 2nd amendment candidate” by the president of the NRA
-ENERGY TAX: wrote a bill (co-sponsored by his buddy Lieberman) imposing a massive tax on energy which, according to the Department of Energy, would drastically raise the price of gasoline and put 300,000 Americans out of work
-GLOBAL WARMING: supports radical global warming legislation which involved him voting with every Democrat; think only America is responsible to take action, not other superpowers
-JUDGES: he joined forces with Democrats (Gang of 14) to block the Senate Republican’s attempt to confirm conservative, strict constructionist judges
-WAR ON TERROR: fought with Hillary Clinton to demand that terrorists be given a full American trial
-GAY MARRIAGE: he joined liberals to fight against a federal marriage amendment supporting the institution of traditional marriage
-CHRISTIANS: campaigning in 2000, he famously described Christian leaders as “agents of intolerance”
-PRO-LIFE: he filed an amicus brief against pro-life advocates in Wisconsin
-BI-PARTISANSHIP: he met with leading Democrats in 2004 to discuss the possibility of being John Kerry’s Vice-President
-PROFESSIONAL ETHICS: ringleader of the infamous Keating 5 ethical scandal which cost US tax payers $160 billion (Google it)
-PERSONAL ETHICS: McCain cheated on his first wife after she had a severe accident that left her partially disabled. He then divorced her and married his multi-millionaire mistress, whose daddy bought McCain a spot in the Congress

Don and Andrew. I love you guys! I mean, I'm not gay or anything, but I love both of you!

Ok. Now as for Mr. Anderson Cooper and the Clinton News Network (CNN)

" May the Great Wakiki Bird of Paradise lay a 20 pound dropping on your yellow Volkswagon! " --- Johnny Carson


---------Ron Paul 2008--------

Anderson did a terrible job moderating this debate. He was so unfair to Ron Paul and Mike Huckabee. This was supposed to be a debate and not a beauty peagent for McCain and Romney. "Keeping them Honest"---yeah right!!!

Who do you think won the Republican debate in California 1/30/2008 ?

From the DEBATE held in California 1/30/08. POLITICO.COM interviewed several (11) women who sat down before the debate and asked them who their candidate or leaning to and after watching the debate again asked them about who IS THE CANDIDATE that impressed them and their view had changed dramatically.

Who do you think won the Republican debate in California 1/30/2008 ?

From the DEBATE held in California 1/30/08. POLITICO.COM interviewed several (11) women who sat down before the debate and asked them who their candidate or leaning to and after watching the debate again asked them about who IS THE CANDIDATE that impressed them and their view had changed dramatically.

By Robert Skole - Myth Romney’s Boston street legacy

Mitt Romney — The can-do executive. The tough manager who gets things done. The hot-shot businessman who knows how to run complex operations. He claims to have economy in his DNA. He “saved” the Winter Olympics (big deal, with a couple hundred million dollars in Federal taxpayers' money). His TV ads say, “Take charge. Demand results. No excuses.” He boasts he ran Massachusetts and now says he can fix Washington and run the US of A.

Yeah, sure. We in Massachusetts know different. We’ve seen Mitt as he really is: “Myth” Romney.

Cambridge Street in Boston is an excellent example: a minor street job that Romney’s State Highway Department couldn’t get finished in four years.

When Romney took office in Massachusetts, the first thing he tried to do was combine the Massachusetts Turnpike Authority (which runs Boston’s infamous 15 billion dollar Big Dig boondoggle) with the Massachusetts State Highway Department. This would put the Big Dig directly under his control, via the Highway Dept. He’d take over and clean up the Big Dig mess. He’s a tough executive. He could handle it. The legislature saw a power grab and said, “No, thanks.”

At the same time, a few blocks down Beacon Hill from the State House, a project was underway, managed by Romney’s Highway Department, to re-pave and gussy up Cambridge St., a busy commercial street. The 7 million dollar job was contracted to a well-connected construction company. The job meant new paving, center islands with greenery, new brick sidewalks, new traffic lights, new street lamps.

Romney was in office for four years. His State Highway Department never completed the job. It was Romney’s Boston legacy. A street piled with junk. (Romney’s successor, Democrat Deval Patrick, is maintaining the Romney tradition. Patrick has been in office for one year and the job still isn’t finished.)

Cambridge St. is a half-mile-long state road, extending from Government Center (with the John F. Kennedy Federal Building and City Hall) at one end and the Charles Street Circle at the other. The Circle is a busy traffic circle, and has a subway station at the foot of a vehicular and subway train bridge going over the Charles River to Cambridge. Cambridge Street is the main entrance to famous Massachusetts General Hospital. Along the street are retail shops, restaurants, a fire station, offices, public library and Old West Church, whose steeple was burned by the British in the Revolution to prevent signaling.

Cambridge St. is a few blocks down Beacon Hill from the Massachusetts State House. Romney certainly drove down it hundreds of times when he was Governor. If he ever looked out the window of his limo, he might have wondered, “Hey, why is this state Highway Dept. street job never finished?” And being a hot-shot executive, he would have taken charge, demanded results, and ordered his Highway Commissioner to have the job finished pronto, and no excuses.

Today, five years later, the job is still not finished. I have photos of the street mess, taken in May, 2007, five months after Romney left office.

The photos show construction junk piled at one end of the street, the center islands not finished, traffic lights a hazard to pedestrians, sidewalks unfinished, two large trailers parked on a sidewalk plaza — one proudly marked “State Highway Dept. Field Office.”

The unfinished Cambridge St. is Mitt Romney’s “can-do”, hot-shot, big business executive legacy in plain sight.

And now, Mitt Romney, who can’t manage to fix a street, says he can fix Washington . Yeah, sure. We in Masscahusetts know different.


Recommended on Facebook


In Case You Missed It...

About the Columnist
A veteran foreign and national correspondent, Andrew Malcolm has served on the L.A. Times Editorial Board and was a Pulitzer finalist in 2004. He is the author of 10 nonfiction books and father of four. Read more.
President Obama
Republican Politics
Democratic Politics



Get Alerts on Your Mobile Phone

Sign me up for the following lists: