GOP Softball Courtship Necessary Prelude to Potential Bloodsport Ahead

05/25/2011 12:25 pm ET

Appealing to a split GOP, candidates played softball in the Florida Republican debate, trying to steal one base at a time.

Fairly soft pitches by the moderators were met with grounders, a few runs by Romney and Huckabee, but no homeruns by anyone. Romney looked confident and more comfortable. Huckabee addressed a key question in saying his faith is who he is but that he respects people all faiths equally and respects people who do not have faith.

These GOP candidates are treading gently on one another now, each attempting to be the Teddy Bear republican to create the greatest contrast with the Democratic contest. 'If they're the mean folks, maybe we can steal the nice-guy image for once.'

The only thing that unites the three legs in Ronald Reagan's stool these days is the Clinton family. Clinton & Clinton, Inc. have been the muse and muscle behind the GOP victories of 1994, 2000 and 2004. Thursday night was the Republican field's first best audition for "Fighter-In-Chief," to be General GOP best armored to fight, in Romney's words, "General Clinton."

McCain now has a long list of endorsements, from everybody else's hometown paper and even the Democrats' Senator from Connecticut. But more important perhaps are the endorsements he brought up of Sly Stallone and General Schwartzkopf. He is respected on foreign policy, but he still needs to prove he's a tough republican. None of the republicans in the field have all three legs. Whoever gets the nod has to pick a VP with the missing leg(s).

Clinton & Company have turned the race with Obama into an exhibition game to show the democratic base how they would handle the republicans in the general election. After the Kerry and Gore candidacies against the republican machine, this is critical criterion. If Obama doesn't look like a boxer, he won't get the chance to look like a president. A soft, elegant Obama may be more than "likeable enough" to voters, but may have trouble closing the deal with democrats who smell blood in a fractured GOP. They can love him with their hearts, but he needs to get their heads to beat Clinton, who has already proved her tactical strength.

Huckabee said it best on Chris Matthews' post-debate Hardball show. He pointed out that that he is the only republican to have fought the Clinton machine and won. He called it "rock 'em sock 'em" and said its not for those who can't stand the sight of their own blood. No wonder he travels with Chuck Norris.