CNN's YouTube humiliation of Republicans

Fred Barnes:

When the CNN-You Tube debate among Republican presidential candidates began with a guy named Chris Nandor playing a guitar and singing, my wife Barbara exclaimed, "This is humiliating. This is really bad." Of course she was right. And then things got worse. This debate not only was mortifying to the candidates. It also should have been embarrassing to the viewers, especially Republican voters who might have been watching.

I don't know if the folks who put the debate together were purposely trying to make the Republican candidates look bad, but they certainly succeeded. True, the candidates occasionally contributed. For the first few minutes, Rudy Giuliani and Mitt Romney continued their debate over their records on immigration and did so with the kind of intensity that this trivial matter didn't warrant. These are two fine candidates who have only themselves to blame for looking petty.

But it was chiefly the questions and who asked them that made the debate so appalling. By my recollection, there were no questions on health care, the economy, trade, the S-chip children's health care issue, the "surge" in Iraq, the spending showdown between President Bush and Congress, terrorist surveillance, or the performance of the Democratic Congress.

Instead there were questions - ones moderator Anderson Cooper kept insisting had required a lot of time and effort by the questioners - on the Confederate flag, Mars, Giuliani's rooting for the Boston Red Sox in the World Series, whether Ron Paul might run as an independent for president, and the Bible. The best response to these questions was Romney's refusal to discuss what the Confederate flag represents. Fred Thompson discussed it.

The most excruciating episode occurred when Cooper allowed a retired general in the audience to drone on with special pleading in favor of allowing gays in the military. This was a setup. The general had asked a question by video, then suddenly appeared in the crowd and got the mike. The aim here could only have been to make the Republican candidates, all of whom oppose gays in the military, squirm. As it turned out, they didn't appear to. The general turns out to be a Clinton supporter, by the way.

By my count, of the 30-plus questions, there were 6 on immigration, 3 on guns, 2 on abortion, 2 on gays, and one on whether the candidates believe every word in the Bible. These are exactly the issues, in the view of liberals and many in the media, on which Republicans look particularly unattractive. And there were two questions by African Americans premised loosely on the notion that blacks get nothing from Republicans and have no reason to vote for them.


At the end of the debate, I was left with one question. Why would Republican candidates with a chance of actually winning the presidential nomination subject themselves to two hours of humiliation? I wish the candidates had been asked that. It would have the highlight of the evening.

Barnes thinks Huckabee handled the circumstances of the debate the best. He is quick on his feet and funny. He would be a pretty good trial lawyer. But the debate did not really test whether he or the other candidates would be good a President. This is a format that deserves to die. Barnes is also correct about the Giuliani-Romney cat fight over immigration. They should both just stop it. It is more important to talk about how Hillary and other Democrat health care programs would spend a lot of money on those in the country illegally giving other illegals a greater incentive to come here rather than follow the rule of law. That should be a huge issue in 2008. It will be much more important than who hired whom or who protected illegals in the past.


  1. Nobody is surprised that politics is governed by jungle law. But literally? This was an ambush by the hyenas against the Elephants. And instead of joining ranks and turning on the pack of their attackers, they turned on each other. If I were a Democrat party strategist, I just found the GOP candidates' Achilles heal. What a wasted opportunity.

    Is it just me or did I catch a few randomly-picked-Youtube-questioners winking to someone off-camera a la Muriel Gallo-Chasanoff, the sophomore at Grinnell College? CNN picked up this schtick proving that you can teach an old dog new tricks,

    Finally, Now I know what amateurs look like on camera when they read from Tele-prompters. I had no idea.


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