Just finished watching the GOP debates and one thing that really stuck out was all the Reagan wannabes in the Reagan Library. Here’s why everyone of them are Reagan wannabes; with the exception of maybe Governor Mike Huckabee and Congressman Ron Paul, all on the stage are first and foremost politicians. What made Reagan so effective is he was an ideologue. Many of the candidates commented on how Reagan spoke on principles and how he was an optimist; that is because President Reagan believed in the ideal of America. He didn’t use “It’s Morning in America Again,” or “A City on a Hill” for the purpose of a soundbite; he believed and lived those ideals.
I’m going to comment on each candidate’s performance by ranking them on how well they did, not on who I liked the best. Also, as an evangelical (who wrote about evangelicals and their stances), I will comment on how I think they came across to most evangelicals. Understand that I will be taking the “traditionalist” evangelical approach, based on a biblical worldview.
Gov. Mitt Romney: Romney was clearly the best speaker on the stage tonight. He never got flustered and only occasionally appeared to be using talking points. He was engaging, humorous, and came across as very approachable. I have a feeling that he made a lot of inroads with the evangelical community. He will not, however, be able to overcome the “Mormon Factor” with many evangelicals, including me. Why? See what Bro Dennis spoke of in the Pastor’s Perspective. Gov. Romney did a very good job clarifying his position on hunting down Osama Bin Laden; he came across as believable.
Gov. Mike Huckabee: In my book the strongest candidate from an evangelical standpoint. His strong anti-abortion position, his believable desire to have an ethical government, his very candid criticism of Bush’s firing of Rumsfeld (it came too late), were all strong positions. He made a lot of inroads with the middle class on his criticisms about jobs going overseas while CEO’s take multi-million dollar bonuses. My one criticism is that most of the time he was facing Chris Matthews while the audience and the camera were only getting a side view. His handlers need to fix that real fast. I’m a huge fan of his and that annoyed me so I’m sure many more were put off by it. Overall he did real well.
Rep. Duncan Hunter: I’m very familiar with Rep. Hunter because being an original Californian, I follow California politicians fairly close. I would say he was the big surprise of the night. A couple of times he came off as trying to press his talking points in, but overall his answers were quite succinct and gave the viewer a good look at his positions on the issues. He is very strong on national defense, including immigration. He’d be a good choice for VP. His comments on Iraq were spot-on!
Sen. Sam Brownback: Sen. Brownback also came across very strong on life issues, but his viewpoint on Iraq will not win a lot of votes. He, along with some of the other candidates, kept saying of what they would have Iraq do to cure their problems. Iraq is a sovereign, albeit shaky nation, and there is no civil war, 15 of the 18 provinces are completely stable, so I was unimpressed with Brownback’s recipe for success in Iraq. Nevertheless, Brownback will be pleasing to many evangelicals.
Rudy Giuliani: America’s Mayor places fifth by default because the remaining candidates did so poorly, with the exception of Ron Paul (he’s next). Now overall Mayor Giuliani did okay, but the more Rudy talks about abortion, the deeper he digs a hole with evangelicals. He’s banking on his candor with winning people over; that’s what is hurting him with the evangelical crowd. He is a double-minded man on an absolutely defining issue for the evangelical community. He is obviously strong on defense and he won many a conservative over with his praise of President Bush’s handing of the global war on terror. For me personally, I question the man’s character for the shady dealings he’s had with Bernie Kerik, the despicable way he publicly treated his second wife, and of course the abortion issue. Where he lost me forever tonight was when he said one party is not better than the other; well sir, I differ with you on that. Your centrist approach is what lost the GOP the 2006 election, regardless of what John McCain wants to believe.
Rep. Ron Paul: The best line of the night was when asked if it would be a good idea to have Bill Clinton back in the White House, Rep. Paul said since he voted to impeach Clinton it would obviously be a bad idea. Paul eschewed a predictable libertarian stance and his foreign policy outlook will hurt him with evangelicals. It is the evangelical community that pushed the likes of Sen. Brownback to pass legislation about the Sudan and AIDS in Africa. Evangelicals are not going to embrace an isolationist policy. Overall though he also was a surprise of the night.
Gov. Jim Gilmore: Gilmore definitely came across as competent and his record as Governor of Virginia is a good one, and I’m sure he scored a few points with being a “consistent conservative,” but in the end that will not carry the day. He should have used this opportunity to let people get to know him a little better. When he spoke extemporaneously he came across more personable, but every time he went back to his “consistent conservative” mantra, I shut him down. His best moment was his overall commentary on the Middle East problem, especially wanting to bring the American people forward to go the long haul on this global war on terror.
Sen. John McCain: were it not for Tancredo being a one issue candidate and Gov. Thompson’s overall buffoonery, McCain would have been dead last. His overall performance in a word was: horrible. It was painfully obvious that he was not comfortable getting off his talking points and when he did talk tough, even though it was believable, it was like your grandpa talking about how in the day he would have done this and that. Now he was strong on his comments about winning in Iraq and castigating the Democrats, but he still sounded shaky. Sen. McCain talked about activist judges yet he backstabbed then Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist by heading up the Gang of 14 removing the “nuclear option” to end judicial filibusters. His stance on embryonic stem cell research is a dead-ender with evangelicals. I was very underwhelmed by the Senator’s performance.
Rep. Tom Tancredo: Tancredo’s strong stance on the immigration issue has endeared him to conservatives, but that is all he has. The one chance he had to talk on foreign policy, coming to the aid of Israel, while his overall message was spot-on and will win friends with evangelicals, his delivery made it obvious that he’d rather talk about immigration.
Gov. Tommy Thompson: my pastor told me that everything I write should be sound, sacred, and sensible (man, this is going to be tough). Gov. Thompson, never mind his neglible oratory skills, was quite proud of his record in Wisconsin and I give him credit for the welfare reform he brought. What he failed to mention was his time as a Bush cabinet member; anyone remember that? Gov. Thompson was once HHS Secretary and let’s just say he didn’t leave on the best of terms. Debbie Schlussel explained it on her blog in a way I can’t (well I could, but she already did and I promised my pastor).
Well, there you have it. It’s hard for me to believe that I just spent an hour commenting on presidential candidates for an election that is 18 months away! (Time to go watch the end of the Warriors-Mavs game)