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Hayes: Debate Reaction

9:57 PM, Nov 28, 2007 • By STEPHEN F. HAYES
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Rudy Giuliani is probably the strongest debater of the group, but he botched the question on gun control that was directed to him. The question asked why someone who supports the 2nd Amendment would say what Giuliani said in 2000: "Anyone wanting to own a gun should have to pass a written exam."

Giuliani gave a halting response, saying that gun laws must be enforced "aggressively," rattling off statistics about crime in New York City, and claiming to be a supporter of the 2nd Amendment. Huh? Stumbling over his words, he then cited "the Parker decision" without really explaining what the Parker decision was. It was a bad answer, chiefly because it came across as insincere. Giuliani is strongest when he simply speaks his mind. When he waffles, he often gets specific. He did this in one of the early debates when asked about abortion. He dove into the weeds by talking about the "Hyde Amendment," something known only to strong pro-life voters who were never going to support Giuliani anyway. This seems to be an emerging pattern. When Giuliani equivocates, he falls back on specifics he probably heard in debate prep. But he comes across as something of a poser, like the high school kid who tries to fit in by talking about baseball and complains about the ref. It's an old political cliche, but Rudy should just be Rudy.

Fred Thompson clearly sees Mitt Romney and Mike Huckabee as his main competition. He chose to use his 30-second YouTube spot to show old footage of Romney supporting abortion rights and Huckabee backing tax hikes. It was incredibly effective, mostly because of the way Thompson handled himself afterwards. When the video was finished, Anderson Cooper asked: "What's up with that?" Thompson laughed heartily and said: "Just wanted to give my buddies a little extra airtime." Then everyone else laughed.

Romney - who was shown saying "I believe that abortion should be safe and legal in this country" - responded with a cringe-inducing attempt at a joke. "I'm not sure who that young guy was in the beginning of that film," he said with a chuckle. Silence.

Huckabee helped himself considerably with his answer to a question on religion. The questioner held up a Bible and demanded to know whether candidates believe the words it contains literally. Huckabee, who is running as the religious conservative in the race in Iowa, allowed that some passages in the Bible are allegorical and quoted scripture. The words rolled off of his tongue and he sounded very natural doing it. I suspect that churchgoing voters found it appealing. He closed with this: "There are parts of it that I don't fully understand, but I'm not supposed to because the Bible is the revelation of an infinite God and no finite person is ever going to fully understand it. If they do, their God is too small." It came off as thoughtful, not preachy.

John McCain was strong on Iraq, as he always is, though he reached a bit by trying to engage Ron Paul on the issue. His answer on waterboarding will probably resonate with even those people who disagree with him.