Stark differences between the parties

A guest commentary on the Republican debate (transcript here) from Barnstead resident (and frequent Monitor letter writer) Bill Bunker:

Wednesday evening's Republican debate was both interesting and revealing, but several of the candidates surprised me by their performance and answers to questions.

By far, the weakest of the candidates were Ron Paul, Sam Brownback and Tom Tancredo. Brownback was uninspiring, Tancredo was too emotionally charged and Paul was reminiscent of Ross Perot. Paul's gleaming moment was his answer on 9/11. Brownback's centered on his answer on gay marriage. Tancredo's response to illegal immigration, stating that it was not about racism but about rule of law, was right on the mark. Paul's statement that he takes his marching orders from "international law" was disgraceful, and he came across as a raving maniac.

The cutaway interviews at Young's restaurant were interesting, with Mr. Rogers asking what we do with the illegals that are here already. I am not sure that any candidate gave an accurate response.

Heidi Turcotte's response supporting gay marriage was expected after hearing that she was a Health and Human Services social worker, as that profession feeds on the nipple of social dysfunction.

Mark Riss attacked Romney on comparing the service of his son to Romney's son working to get him elected. Riss was obviously emotionally overheated in his attack of Romney, but that's politics. I thought Riss's attack was a bit of a cheap shot and bullying over poorly chosen words by Romney.

James Tautkus did target Rudy Giuliani's family life, but I viewed his question as loaded. I felt for Giuliani as that is private and one cannot draw assumptions on ability to lead based on failed marriages or relationships with rebellious children. Many great military leaders have suffered from the same personal issues.

Getting back to the candidates, McCain seemed feeble but held his own. McCain gave the poorest answer on immigration, but one has to admire a man who sticks to his beliefs regardless of what it will do to his career aspirations. McCain had good answers on Iraq and was on the mark with his assessment that there will be a bloodbath should we withdraw. Unfortunately, his answers spotlighted his entrenchment in "politics as usual" in Washington.

Duncan Hunter was not only very strong in this debate and the least polished of the strongest candidates but reminded me of Jack Kemp. He was very presidential, had strong stances and overall, very confident. His responses on Iraq revealed his understanding of the facts, and his call for "victory" was inspiring. Hunter would be a strong leader and deserves more attention from voters.

Mike Huckabee's analogy that FEDEX and UPS can track million of packages but the government can't keep track of who is here in this country was a perfect response. His answer on abortion was passionate, speaking to respecting, valuing and elevating every life. Equally impressive was Huckabee's answers on Iraq and his challenge of wacky Ron Paul on Iraq. Huckabee is underestimated and quite articulate. My impression is that he would be a no-nonsense leader who would be honest and passionate.

Rudy Giuliani was less than impressive, and I felt that he seemed distant and uninspiring. Giuliani skated on the immigration issue but made a great point on Guantanamo. His shining moment was when he made the point asking when a government has won a war by announcing strategy and when they were going to withdraw. In the opening moments of the debate, Giuliani made a great point that none of the Democrats had run a city, state or business, and that is a valid argument.

Mitt Romney was blindsided by the journalists on the panel, most likely due to the fact that he is the frontrunner in New Hampshire. His answer on immigration was right on the mark, calling for federal funding to stop sanctuary cities. He was correct that the Z Visa is amnesty. On abortion, Romney took the safe position, but it makes sense: Let the people decide and level the playing field. On taxes, Romney was up against the wall, but in "Taxachusetts," 90 percent of the politicians represent one party, the Democrats. He did veto many bills and attempt to cut taxes, and that is both admirable and courageous in a state like Massachusetts. Romney seemed a bit frazzled but seemed to bounce back after every attack.

Concerning the threat from Iran, all candidates but Ron Paul gave reasonable and well-thought-out answers. Once again, Tancredo was a ball of emotion and showed his status as a second-tier player.

This debate revealed the stark differences between the beliefs and agenda of the Democrats and Republicans. It validated for me that the Republicans would provide better security, enforce immigration laws, be able to manage versus govern through social agenda, protect our borders, value human life, protecting the unborn, and not overtax the populace.

Five candidates did well in this debate tonight and they were: Huckabee, who was sincere, passionate and spoke with clarity; Romney, who withstood the harsh attacks and innuendo from the journalists but bounced back and was sincere; Hunter, who surprised me with his honesty, stature and command of the facts; McCain held his own, and it was his best debate yet, but his answers on immigration were too far off the mark, and amnesty is not an option. My assessment of McCain's performance was that he has only one way to go, and that is up; the pressure was not on as the expectations were low. Giuliani missed the mark all over the map but is still in the running and made good points about leadership and most importantly the need for the next president to be a "manager."

It would be interesting to have a joint debate with Republicans and Democrats participating and answering the same questions. That would be a "debate" that would give clarity to the direction that the leading candidates would take our country.