Last night's debate between Republican presidential candidates was mostly a predictable and amiable affair, as the candidates touted their conservative credentials, voiced mild disagreement, and saved their harshest words for attacks on Democrats.
Rudy Giuliani criticized Democrats for having a Cold War mentality in the 9/11 world, and took an oblique shot at John Edwards for arguing that the Global War on Terror doctrine is a simplistic and failed policy. "This is not a bumper sticker; this war is a real war," Giuliani said. Romney piled on by complaining that Democrats "don't think there's a war on terror." The Edwards Campaign shot back immediately. "Bush's failed foreign policy has left us with more terrorists and fewer allies," said spokesman Mark Kornblau in a statement distributed to reporters 22 minutes after the debate ended. "According to his own Administration, George Bush has made America less safe, but the Republican candidates are still tripping over themselves to be just like him."
There were really only two stars during last night's debate: Former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee, who provided the most thorough rejection of President Bush's record, and CNN anchor Wolf Blitzer, who managed to speak for a whopping 19 minutes -- roughly double the time given to leading candidates and quadruple the time given to several others. Blitzer repeated several of the same questions three or four times between candidates' replies, outstripping the 13 minutes he spoke during this weekend's Democratic debate, according to the "Talk Clock" provided by the Chris Dodd Campaign.
Yet unlike most of the candidates, Huckabee did not pander much to Republican primary voters. He did not gloss over the failures of President Bush -- or his approach to governing. Huckabee did not even flirt with the delusional but increasingly popular Republican argument that Bush failed because he is insufficiently conservative. Long-shot candidate Tom Tancredo floated that one last night, arguing that Bush's biggest mistake was governing as a liberal. (You can't make this stuff up.) Instead, Huckabee bluntly listed Bush's policy failures, from bungling Iraq and Katrina to "unchecked" corruption and an overarching refusal to accept accountability. With that record Republicans "deserved" to lose the mid-term elections, he conceded, because "we've lost credibility."
It's true, and most Republican candidates are still afraid to admit it.