GOP Debate: Stakes Is High

The candidates are sitting around a semicircular table. Looks more like an academic panel than a presidential debate. On the upside, it means no silly WCW-style entrances.

The first question – “Would you run on George W. Bush’s foreign policy or run away from it?” – brings the conversation back to Iraq after weeks of focusing on domestic issues. You can tell ABC wants this to be a high stakes debate – no attempt to avoid the most heated issues, a la PBS.

Huckabee is ready for the question. He cites Rumsfeld’s “we go to war with the army we have” quote as an example of the Bush administration’s “bunker mentality”: “I felt that the proper way to approach the war was we go to war with the army that we need, and we make sure we have that army when we do go to war.”

As Thompson gives his blah answer, you can see Ron Paul rocking back and forth, itching to jump in. (And the cameraman knows it; he keeps cutting back to Paul.)

John McCain acts all magnanimous, praising President Bush for his foreign policy and praising Giuliani – a decidedly unrisky move, given McCain’s status in New Hampshire right now.

Finally, Paul has his say – his usual arguments about preemptive war and the Golden Rule – and Rudy and Mitt both pounce. Their gists: It’s not us; it’s them. (The terrorists.) After Romney mentions Islamist theorist and activist Sayyid Qutb, Huckabee gratuitously mentions the date on which Qutb died. See, he knows stuff about other countries!

Soon after, Huckabee lands the first major blow. Romney is talking about his “views,” when Huckabee interrupts: “Which one?” The whole press room goes “Ohhhhh!” Romney’s looks like he just involuntarily regurgitated some bile.

Finally, the whole thing devolves into a free-for-all. Gibson holds up a “time out” sign. Anarchy.