Ballot Box

The South Carolina GOP Debate

COLUMBIA, S.C.–Lowlights from last night’s Larry King Live debate:

Low moment: Larry King: “If I call you by your first names, please forgive me–I know you all so well.” McCain’s riposte: “Call me Senator.”

Low blow: George W. Bush claiming the real reason he didn’t address the Log Cabin Republicans was that the gay Republican group had already made a “commitment” to John McCain. This was a transparent attempt to paint McCain as the “gay” candidate. That’s dividing, not uniting. Answering questions in the press room after the debate, Bush elaborated that he’d “heard” the group was already decided on McCain, which is nonsense and contradicts his previous explanations for boycotting. Bush added that he might address the Log Cabin Republicans after he got the nomination. Exactly!

Blow up: McCain’s attempt to portray himself as the victim of George Bush’s negative campaigning basically failed. The problem was that McCain’s story about why he first aired and then withdrew a negative spot about his opponent was much too long-winded and involved. McCain started by trying to explain the provocation–Bush shared a platform with a nutter named Thomas Burch, who accused McCain of betraying veterans after he returned from Vietnam. According to McCain, Bush’s refusal to apologize for associating himself with Burch prompted the Arizona senator to defend himself. But then McCain also wanted to explain why he pulled the ads last week by telling the story of the 14-year-old Boy Scout who got push-polled, John McCain was his hero, had his illusions shattered, etc., etc. All the while, Bush was hammering McCain for the ad he pulled, which compared the Texas governor to Clinton. This back-and-forth about who started it created an opening for Alan Keyes to jump in and accuse both Bush and McCain of dwelling on inside baseball to the exclusion of substantive issues. “This broadcast is going out to 212 countries,” Keyes said. “Is this kind of pointless squabbling really what we want them to see?” Instead of trying to justify running the negative ad about Bush, McCain should have called upon the technique that has worked so well for him in the past. He should have blamed himself for succumbing to the temptation to run a negative ads and apologized profusely.

Bush stumped!: When McCain said he’d gladly have Colin Powell as his secretary of state, Bush scowled and said that “one of things we shouldn’t be doing is speculating out loud about who we’re going to pick.” Why? asked Larry King. Bush didn’t have a clue in the world. “We’re talking about philosophy,” he said, preposterously.

Bush nailed!: Alan Keyes had a powerful moment–and for my money pretty much won the debate–when he blasted George W. Bush for kowtowing to an audience at Bob Jones University. Keyes himself spoke at Bob Jones, but as he noted, he confronted his audience over the university’s bigoted policies by talking about his Indian-born wife and his Catholic beliefs. Bush rolled his eyes while Keyes was criticizing him and then gave a truly lame and offensive response about how his brother married a “Mexican girl” who had become “a fabulous part of our family.” Keyes then had at him again: “Sir, you said nothing about the religious and racial bigotry that had to be dealt with.” This was the most stirring moment of the debate. McCain then piled on by saying that if he had been invited to Bob Jones, he would have done what Keyes did–gone, but condemned the ban on interracial dating as “incredibly cruel and stupid.” Keyes unfortunately compromised this very strong anti-racist message later in the debate when he stepped forward to defend racial profiling.

Bushism of the night:

“We ought to make the pie higher.” Bush was trying to explain how his tax cuts would promote economic growth. He inadvertently suggested that supply-side economics is pie in the sky.