All those red neckties. All that jockeying to see who could position himself as
most like Ronald Reagan. All those "friends" of President Bush trashing his
conduct of the War in Iraq. All that joking intended to show that they were
"regular guys," not stiff politicians in $3,000 suits. But where, pray tell,
was the debate in all of this?
Ten guys. Ninety minutes. Hmmm. Nine minutes per guy who wants to be president.
Would that be enough time for each of them to tell us just a little about who
they really are? Possibly, if it weren't for Chris Matthews. You know Chris.
The "tough guy" (in his dreams) on one of the most liberal networks on
television, who claims that he plays "hard ball" with his guests.
The only time Matthews throws out "hard" questions is when he has a guest who
is even slightly conservative (which is seldom). Then he is rude, obnoxious,
and unfair in his questioning. Normally he has only liberal apologists on his
show, and he fawns over them. Strictly "softball" treatment for liberals,
including every Democrat presidential hopeful he has interviewed.
During the "debate" Chris and his henchmen took up most of the time with stupid
questions that were designed to show all of the Republican candidates in the
worst possible light. "How would you feel about Bill Clinton being back in the
White House?" What a ridiculous time-waster! Everyone (even viewers from other
countries) knew the answer to that question. Yet Chris (control freak that he
is) insisted that each and every one of the candidates answer his asinine
He had about half a dozen questions (most of them equally stupid) where he went
"down the line," as he called it, making each one answer the question, and
cutting them off when he didn't like their answers. He announced the rules at
the beginning, which included giving each man sixty seconds to answer each
question. But when he went "down the line" he gave them only a few seconds to
answer, in violation of his own rules.
Another stupid Chris Matthews question, which he insisted each candidate
answer. "Should President Bush pardon Scooter Libby?" With all the important
issues on which voters would like to know their views, why did Matthews waste
time on Scooter Libby? I believe he wanted to get them all on the record in
case one of them was faced with a decision to pardon Libby in the future. In
other words, instead of hosting a debate, he was playing prosecutor.
Nine of the candidates meekly answered the question. But I was pleased that Tom
Tancredo used this as an opportunity to get in a plug for justice. He said,
"Yes, but only AFTER he pardons Compean and Ramos." These are the two Border
Patrol agents who were unjustly imprisoned for apprehending an illegal alien
who was running drugs. The extremely liberal Matthews was clearly unhappy with
This was the antithesis of a debate. This was the "I'm Chris Wallace - Look at
me - I'm running a debate" show. For the life of me I cannot understand why the
Republican candidates agreed to having the debate on a far-left network, and
have the debate hosted by Howard Dean, Junior. I'm sure they all regret this
decision. But the damage has already been done, to their images and their
Here are several accepted definitions of the word debate:
A debate is an argument about a topic or resolution. It is conducted
according to a set of rules designed to give each side a fair chance.
A discussion, as of a public question in an assembly, involving opposing
A formal contest in which the affirmative and negative sides of a proposition
are advocated by opposing speakers.
I defy anyone to demonstrate using any of these definitions how Friday's show
featuring the ten Republican presidential hopefuls in any way qualifies as a
debate. There was no exchange of ideas. There was no demonstration of anyone's
skill at articulating an idea or position and defending it. Instead, what we
saw was Chris Matthews on the offense, and the ten "debaters" on the defense.
Chris fired questions at them designed to make them look like far-right
ideologues, and seldom gave them adequate time to respond.
There were also numerous questions from viewers via the Internet. Some of them
rivaled Chris Matthews own questions in the stupidity department. One viewer
wanted to know if the candidates would support amending the Constitution so
that Arnold Shwartzeneger (who was not born in this country) could become
president. What does that have to do with this election? Another asked a
candidate if he had watched Al Gore's propaganda movie, "An Inconvenient
Truth." Who cares?
Another viewer stated that women were the fastest growing segment of prison
populations, and wanted to know what the candidate would do about the problem
of "mothers in prison." What can a president do? If people (including mothers)
break the law, they should go to prison. But the most ridiculous question was,
"What is your greatest weakness as a candidate?" What politician is going to
answer a question like that? What an enormous time-waster. If they are going to
take questions from viewers, they should be screened for relevancy.
There was no real debate in this "debate." Matthews tried to generate some
controversy, but that is not the same as debate. He attempted to get the
candidates at one another's throats. He challenged Giuliani by saying that
other candidates were criticizing his stand on abortion. And he told Romney
that another candidate had challenged his faith. He quoted Sam Brownback as
saying that Romney had stated his faith would not influence his decisions.
Brownback clarified his statement by saying that if a man had a deeply-held
faith, it would be impossible for his decisions not to be influenced by that
Romney, a Mormon, replied, "We are a nation of faith, but we don't choose our
leader based on the church he attends." That was the closest thing to debate in
the whole "debate."
The "debate" degenerated into a series of sound bites by the candidates. There
were many references to Ronald Reagan and to God. But in spite of Chris
Matthews and the way this "debate" was formatted, we got few tiny glimpses of
who some of the candidates were.
Mitt Romney came off as slick and rehearsed. The candidates were not allowed
notes, but it was clear that Romney had memorized the answers to hundreds of
potential questions. People just do not speak as clearly and concisely (with
all the adverbs and adjectives in exactly the right places) as he did when they
Rudy Giuliani appeared not to be taking his candidacy very seriously. He
fumbled the questions regarding abortion, hemming and hawing with his answers.
As the only pro-death candidate on the stage, he and his staff had to have
known he would be hit with abortion questions. But he was strangely unprepared
for them. He basically said that was personally against abortion, but he
supported a woman's "right" to kill her baby at any stage of pregnancy.
Rudy and John McCain also came out strongly in favor of embryonic stem cell
research, a position that will not endear them to the Republican base. Senator
Sam Brownback made the point that adult stem cells are producing the same
results as those from embryos, and do not require killing a baby to obtain
McCain also bragged about his ability to "work with Democrats". He has
certainly done a lot of that the past few years. In fact, it has often been
difficult to distinguish him from a Democrat. He is particularly proud of his
partnership with Senator Diane Feingold, which produced the McCain-Feingold
Act. Feingold is a notorious Socialist. If I were McCain, I would be
downplaying that association.
When asked about a "woman's right to choose," Tom Tancredo, who is well-known
for his work in protecting unborn children, had a great reply: "The right to
kill another person is NOT a right." Mitt Romney was extremely pro-death when
he was the governor of ultra-liberal Massachusetts. But now that he is a
national candidate, he has had a convenient change of heart, and now claims to
be pro-life. He did not do a good job of explaining this sudden change of
Ron Paul got in some licks for abolishing the IRS and establishing a national
flat tax that would be fair to all.
Finally, Sam Brownback espoused a position that I articulated in my 2005
article, "Iraq - Three Nations"
(http://www.conservativetruth.org/article.php?id=3020). What we call Iraq is
actually three nations that were forced by the British to become one, with
disastrous results. Brownback echoed my solution, with a twist. The thinks
there should be separate Kurdish, Sunni and Shi'a states, but he wants Baghdad
to be a federal city.
Nothing said by the other candidates caught my attention. It was the usual
scramble to say something without really saying anything. They seemed to want
to be seen as having opinions, but at the same time they were loath to be
Overall, I was underwhelmed by this group of candidates. They did show some
diversity of opinion, as opposed to the Democrats in their recent debate. The
Dems marched in such lock-step that one suspected they were all from Stepford.
But I did not see a viable leader who could both take the nomination and win a
general election. And I think most Republicans agree with me. Two men who are
not declared candidates consistently place in the top four in the polls when
their names are included. They are former Senator Fred Thompson and former
Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich. In most polls they are in double-digits,
below Giuliani and McCain, but above Romney and all the second tier candidates.
I think either of these men would make a great Republican candidate, and either
could win against Hillary, Obama, or whatever left-winger the Democrats might
nominate. They both have strong conservative credentials. Unfortunately, the
front-runners, McCain and Giuliani, fail miserably in this department. Some of
the second-tier candidates appear to be solid conservatives, but they only
generate low single-digit poll numbers. They just don't have the name
recognition that would allow them to be viable candidates.
I recently had the opportunity to have my picture taken with Newt. As the
photographer was focusing in on us, I said to him, "I sure hope you run." He
just smiled. But he didn't say no.
Fred Thompson is holding back. He says he will watch the field and see if he is
needed. From my point of view, the answer is, "Yes, we need you."
With over a year to go, a lot can happen. But based on what we can see right
now, the Republican field is very light. This election is far too important for
any of us to sit back and "see what happens." All of us need to be involved.
Please spend time in prayer that a godly candidate will emerge who will defend
the Constitution and lead this nation on a righteous path.
Dr. Tom Barrett has been an ordained minister for 30 years. He has written for local and national publications for most of his life, and has authored several non-fiction books. He has been interviewed on many TV and radio programs, and speaks at seminars nationwide. Tom is the editor and publisher of Conservative Truth, an email newsletter read by over fifty thousand weekly which focuses on moral and political issues from a Biblical viewpoint.