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Sunday night roundtable: The Fox News/GOP debate

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By Michelle Malkin  •  January 6, 2008 05:28 PM

Update 1/7 9:09am Eastern. Questions about one of those focus group members.

9:35pm Eastern. Wow. Interesting. Frank Luntz’s focus group was just asked about Romney. Only a few raised their hands to say they supported him before the debate. Almost all raised their hands to say they were supporting him afterward. Look:

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Loud agreement among focus group members that Huckabee came across as slick and evasive. I’m telling ya: Shuckabee. The New Hampshirites also agreed that while Fred was good on policy, he didn’t set them on fire. “I just want to shake and wake him up,” one guy said. That’s a regular citizen saying that, ok? Not the Evil Conspiratorial Media.

Last observation: McCain was wearing fangs for the ABC News debate. He left them on the nightstand for tonight’s debate. Must have been difficult not to snarl, though.

9:26pm Eastern. Wallace asks McCain the age question. Wallace: Would you pledge for running for only four years? McCain: No. I’ve got the vigor. It’s exhilirating. I’m excited. I’m older than dirt, more scars than Frankenstein.

Huckabee: I’ve met McCain’s mother. She’s got more vigor. (Crosstalk with McCain.) Wallace breaks up the lovefest.

Told you we wouldn’t get through this without Huck slobbering on McCain.

Bleeeech.

Candidates now giving closing statements. Recycling their talking points. Yawn. Maybe I shoulda had that Red Bull after all. McCain’s last–and I swear he sounds sick and tired of hearing himself. He heaved a big sigh as he launched into his stump mini-speech. SIIIIIGGHHHH. Weird.

Hot Air has vid of some of the livelier moments up here.

9:24pm Eastern. Wallace to Rudy: “Do you have too much baggage to lead the Republican party?” Rudy laughs nervously.

The answer is: Yes, he has too much baggage.

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9:15pm Eastern. Back after another short commercial break. Wallace turns to the negative campaign ads. McCain: “I’m running a positive campaign…Everybody runs their own campaign.” Huckabee talks about his negative-positive-flip-flop decision. “I think the people of Iowa rewarded me…looking for a positive, vertical president.”

Who has nasty Ed Rollins running his campaign.

Romney makes distinction between issue ads that scrutinize records and ads that attack character. Romney jokes about Rollins’ threat. Huck: “Chuck Norris is standing outside.” Romney addresses flip-flop charges. “I’m certainly not the only person who has ever changed their mind on an issue.”

8:58pm Eastern. Finally, we move to immigration after everyone has recited their lifetime travel itineraries and CVs. McCain: “I have never, ever supported amnesty and never will.” (It depends on the meaning of “never.”) Wallace is letting him filibuster with his “I will secure the borders” pie-in-the-sky talk. Recycles his Geraldo Rivera line about not wanting to call up a soldier and telling him that he’s deporting his mother.

Romney: We are a compassionate and humane people, but we are also a people who believe in the rule of law. Amnesty in any form–technically or de facto–just doesn’t work. It just attracts more people to do the same thing past people have done. McCain quotes Romney from 2005 saying McCain’s plan was “reasonable” and not amnesty. Wallace turns to Huckabee over DREAM Act endorsement compared to his new, tough on enforcement plan. He reiterates his support for DREAM Act. Romney asks: What about the children in school? Huckabee doesn’t want to respond to Romney. Huck seems rattled. He’ll only talk to Wallace. Wallace says he was going to ask Romney’s question. Instead of asking about conferring special benefit via DREAM Act, Wallace lets him reframe and stick to talking about what he says is his legal obligation as governor to educate illegal aliens. Amnesty rhetoric is “pure nonsense,” says Huck. His is, sure.

Refresher on their immigration/border security records is at Numbers USA.

Giuliani whines about how “complicated” and “difficult” immigration enforcement is. He’s allowed to filibuster on building a fence, introducing tamper-proof ID without addressing what exactly he’d do with the 12 million already here.

This discussion gets a D minus. All platitudes, few reality-based, policy specifics.

How about:

- Should the government continue to provide funding to cities that adopt sanctuary policies or not?

- Should illegal alien ID cards issued by foreign consulates continue to be acceptable in the face of strong opposition from homeland security and law enforcement experts?

- Do the candidates support or oppose the expansion of the federal employer verification system being challenged by the ACLU?

- Would they support increased funding for the 287(g) immigration enforcement training program?

- Are they for or against the DREAM Act?

- Would they repeal Clinton’s Executive Order 13166 – yes or no?

8:51pm Eastern. Wallace brings up McCain’s attack on Rudy for not visiting Iraq. Rudy: “I am the only one here who has had to face an Islamic terrorist attack, at the center of it.” In case you didn’t know about that. He also brings up his return of the Saudi prince’s money again, which he mentioned during the ABC debate last night. In case you didn’t know about that. Thompson gets his turn to recite his curriculum vitae…and then turns to challenge Huck on closing down Gitmo and challenges Romney on Ted Kennedy’s attendance at his health care signing ceremony. Time’s running out and he wanted to cram it all in, I guess. McCain crams in all his endorsements from retired admirals, generals, and secretaries of state.

8:41pm Eastern. Back from a short commercial break. Wallace raises a McCain attack ad on Romney re. national security. Romney answers challenge to his lack of Washington experience, debate between governors vs. senators. Talks about leadership traits–calm under fire, temperament, executive leadership, etc. McCain responds that we haven’t always gotten the best outcomes with governors ascending to White House (Clinton). McCain: I know Musharraf…I’ll leave it to American people to decide whether that’s important. McCain defends his attack on Romney in which he said Romney was looking at his shoes during war; criticizes Romney for not criticizing Rumsfeld. Romney responds: He was running a state. Mentions he did go to Iraq. “I wasn’t looking at my shoes, I was running a state…There have been great governors, Ronald Reagan being one of them. It does not take a US senator to become president of the US.”

Wallace turns his sights on Huckabee–cites all of his foreign policy shortcomings, ignorance of NIE, Pakistani martial law. Huckabee interrupts. OUCH. Huck’s not liking it. Huck cites all the countries he’s been to, executive experience, chairman of Natl Governors Association. Wallace: But what about your pattern of not knowing things or getting things wrong? Huck: Not a pattern. Maybe a slip of the tongue. But not a slip of morals.

8:30pm Eastern. Changechangechange alert. Wallace wants to go back to change. McCain declares that he’s proud to be an Agent of Change. McCain cites change in Iraq tactics, surge. I have been an Agent of Change in Washington. I know how the system works. Agent of Change. Agent of Change. I think we need a t-shirt. Romney: Washington is fundamentally broken. Can’t have someone inside Washington turn Washington inside out. Sending the same people to Washington, but in different chairs, isn’t going to change. Romney talks about executive leadership skill. Fred and Rudy are giggling that Romney is describing Rudy, not himself.

Wallace throws it to McCain. McCain says he has leadership–in military, not management. “Not for profit, but for patriotism.” Ouch. No matter how you feel about McCain, it’s an effective response. Fred gets a chance to make a bland statement about change. Rudy’s statement about change attacks the Democrats. Good call. Rudy: Change is a slogan. The question is: Is it change for good or change for bad?

***8:23pm.*** Romney challenges Huckabee’s class-warfare demagoguery: “You’re not going to help the wage-earner in America by attacking the wage-payer in America.” Very strong, clear defense of free enterprise. Good moment for Romney.

Wallace asks Giuliani about consumption tax, fair tax. He answers with his stump speech about workfare in NYC. He’s dragging on. Wallace should really move on…and he does. Skips to Fred to ask about consumption tax. Giuliani is not a factor in this roundtable.

8:14pm Eastern. Well, Huckabee lost that exchange with Mitt, who quips that the Arkansas governor “makes up facts faster than you can speak.” Should have just answered the question, Gov. Shuckabee. Wallace moves to Giuliani. He reels off his record, cites George Will’s endorsement. Thompson talks Social Security reform. Romney doesn’t want to cut benefits. McCain praises Bush for attempting SocSec reform. Wallace switches topics…shows a video of Huckabee pitching economic populism.

Wallace to Huck: Does Romney remind you of someone who wants to lay you off? McCain’s cackling in the background. Can’t help himself. Huckabee channels John Edwards.

8:02pm Eastern. Here we go. No lengthy intros, no opening statements, no photo-ops. Chris Wallace jumps right in. You can watch the livestream at FoxNews.com. The first question is on tax cuts. Romney jumps right in with a defense of his tax/fees record in Mass. and launches into a challenge to McCain on his opposition to the Bush tax cuts. McCain calls himself a Reagan foot soldier, emphasizes cuts in spending. Wallace is pushing McCain on his opposition to tax cuts. McCain repeats spending cut talking points, mentions the Bridge to Nowhere, pork barrel spending, line item veto. Romney pushes back on tax cuts.

For those of you playing the Change Drinking Game, we have our first mention of “change.” Romney: “Change has to begin with us.” McCain touts his spending cut successes. “I have a record of saving billions for the American taxpayer.” Wallace turns to Huckabee and his tax-raising record. “Does Mitt Romney have a point?” Huckabee challenges the “semantics of taxes versus fees….I’ve cut taxes 94 times.” Brags about Taxpayer Bill of Rights.

Via Club for Growth:

It is true that Governor Huckabee fought for an $80 million tax cut package in 1997 that was passed by the Arkansas legislature (Cato Policy Analysis No. 315, 09/03/98); cut the state capital gains tax in 1999 (The Commercial Appeal 02/29/99); and passed the Property Taxpayers’ Bill of Rights in the same year, limiting the increase in property taxes to 10% a year for individuals and 5% per taxing unit (AP 03/16/99). However, his record over the rest of his ten-year tenure tells a starkly different story.

* Immediately upon taking office, Governor Huckabee signed a sales tax hike in 1996 to fund the Games and Fishing Commission and the Department of Parks and Tourism (Cato Policy Analysis No. 315, 09/03/98).
* He supported an internet sales tax in 2001 (Americans for Tax Reform 01/07/07).
* He publicly opposed the repeal of a sales tax on groceries and medicine in 2002 (Arkansas News Bureau 08/30/02).
* He signed bills raising taxes on gasoline (1999), cigarettes (2003) (Americans for Tax Reform 01/07/07), and a $5.25 per day bed-tax on private nursing home patients in 2001 (Arkansas New Bureau 03/01/01).
* He proposed another sales take hike in 2002 to fund education improvements (Arkansas News Bureau 12/05/02).
* He opposed a congressional measure to ban internet taxes in 2003 (Arkansas News Bureau 11/21/03).
* In 2004, he allowed a 17% sales tax increase to become law (The Gurdon Times 03/02/04).

By the end of his ten-year tenure, Governor Huckabee was responsible for a 37% higher sales tax in Arkansas, 16% higher motor fuel taxes, and 103% higher cigarette taxes according to Americans for Tax Reform (01/07/07), garnering a lifetime grade of D from the free-market Cato Institute. While he is on record supporting making the Bush tax cuts permanent, he joined Democrats in criticizing the Republican Party for tilting its tax policies “toward the people at the top end of the economic scale” (Washington Examiner 09/13/06), even though objective evidence demonstrates that the Bush tax cuts have actually shifted the tax burden to higher income taxpayers.

Finally, Governor Huckabee opposed further tax cuts at a 2005 gathering of Iowa conservatives (AP 09/17/05). On January 28, 2007, Governor Huckabee refused to pledge not to raise taxes if elected President, first on Meet the Press and then at the National Review Conservative Summit. The evidence suggests that his commitment to protecting taxpayers evidenced in his early gubernatorial years may be a thing of the past.

Huckabee and Romney engage over their state tax records. Net-net, did you raise taxes in your state by half a billion dollars? Huckabee refuses to answer. Huckabee complains about Mitt’s campaign ads. Four times, Romney asks. Huckabee won’t answer. Finally mentions a court order…

***
john mccaonAnother GOP presidential debate kicks off at 8pm Eastern tonight on Fox News. Will Rudy continue to be a non-entity? Can Fred turn amiable performances into real momentum? Can Romney defend himself with more zeal without pulling a McCain and looking churlish? Can Huckabee appear in a forum with McCain without leaving slobber all over the floor?

I’ll liveblog again (seems to me there will be enough fireworks to eliminate the need for Red Bull) and Hot Air will have all the video highlights/lowlights. Chris Wallace is hosting–and you can be sure he won’t do the schoolmarm routine. Charles Gibson earned some praise for his hosting duties during yesterday’s debates. But I found him to be, well, unctuous, at times–and I agree with the observation that he tended to tamp down heated disagreement just when things were getting good. Gibson’s superficial knowledge of the immigration issue left him completely unequipped to challenge John McCain’s slippery rhetoric on shamnesty; he also failed at several moments to follow up on the candidates’ sweeping claims (like Giuliani’s 12 commitments).

I’d like to see some tough follow-ups to some of the candidates’ doozies last night (Huckabee’s mischaracterization of his position on the surge, for example, and John McCain’s pharmaceutical company-bashing). What do you think Wallace should ask? He already had a dress rehearsal with Huckabee this morning on Fox News Sunday:

WALLACE: In last night’s debate, you said that you supported President Bush’s troop surge when he announced it in January of last year. But let’s take a look at what you actually did say in January, and this is when Mitt Romney had already said that he approved the surge.

You said, “Well, I’m not sure that I support the troop surge, if that surge has to come from our Guard and Reserve troops, which have already been overly stretched.”

Governor, you were not the supporter of the troop surge that you represented yourself as last night.

HUCKABEE: Well, I supported the surge. I questioned the use of our Guard and Reserve in repeated deployments because as a governor, I’d seen what that had done to our own Guard troop.

About 90 percent of our Guard have been deployed now to Iraq, and some repeated deployments, long periods of time, three out of five years. These are citizen soldiers. These are people who certainly are willing to go. I’ve never heard any of them complain.

But it’s a real incredible, I think, challenge for not only the soldier but, more importantly, for their families, their employers and their communities.

And what we’ve done with Guard and Reserve forces has got to be changed. It’s one of the things that I would do as a president.

And my point was and remains that if we’re going to have the kind of war we’re going to have, we’ve got to have more troops at the beginning.

WALLACE: Governor, I’m not saying you’re right or wrong. I’m simply saying that you misrepresented yourself last night when you said you approved the troop surge. In fact, days later you said you weren’t sure you supported the troop surge.

The fact is the Guard and the Reserve have been part of the troop surge.

HUCKABEE: They have been a part of it. And my point was and remains that we need regular Army. We’ve got to beef it up. The surge is working.

I think one of the things we’ve seen is it’s been a dramatic success, and hats off to General Petraeus, and I’m grateful that he’s been in that position.

Stay tuned.

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