Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Showdown in South Carolina

Rudy Giuliani parlayed a Reagan moment in last night’s GOP debate and therefore probably came out the winner. Remember Reagan in New Hampshire in 1980? The “I paid for this microphone” line? That really helped establish the Gipper as the strong man in the GOP field then.

Ron Paul gave Rudy a wonderful opportunity to slam the idea that, somehow, US engagement to enforce the Iraqi UN sanctions and the no-fly zones was really responsible for the 9/11 attacks. Ron Paul ran with the leftwing “I hate America” line and Rudy pounded him for it.

Undoubtedly, McCain , Romney, and others would’ve done the same, but Rudy got there first and scored heavily. Good for him. Rudy also had some nice shots at Hillary’s socialist, anti-market stuff.

Senator McCain did reasonably well, as did Governor Romney. And despite an entertaining performance by Governor Huckabee, I still don’t think he can make it into the top-tier.

Which brings up another issue: With ten candidates crowding the stage and cluttering up the airwaves (and all the flip-flop, gotcha! moments), the GOP’s strong on defense/security/Iraq message, as well as the pro-growth, low tax message that seemed clear in the first debate became diluted in the second.

As Wall Street Journal columnist John Fund told me, what people really want to know from the candidates is where will they lead the country? And how’s my 401K wealth outlook? This didn’t really get through last night as it did in the first debate.

Perhaps most important were the two people not on stage in South Carolina—Fred Thompson and Newt Gingrich. Several insiders tell me they are going to run. Sen. Thompson probably declares in June, while former Speaker Gingrich holds off until September. That will make five major candidates in a very strong field.

Against all odds, I still believe the GOP recaptures the White House next year.