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[Chris Zuppa | Times]
There were no talking snowmen asking questions in Wednesday night's CNN/YouTube debate among Republican candidates for president. There was a singing guitar player, an animated Uncle Sam and gunfire from one questioner with a very large weapon. The marathon from St. Petersburg's Mahaffey Theater was often entertaining, rarely enlightening - and did not particularly change the dynamics of the wide-open GOP primary.
The pandering was particularly pathetic on immigration in an early exchange. Former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney predictably accused former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani of being soft on illegal immigrants and Giuliani resorted to personal mud-slinging. As the candidates escalated the get-tough rhetoric, no one offered specifics about dealing with 12-million illegal immigrants already in this country. The exchanges demonstrated how toxic the issue has become since President Bush and more enlightened senators, including Republicans John McCain of Arizona and Mel Martinez of Florida, failed to push through Congress a reasonable immigration bill mislabeled by opponents as amnesty.
McCain won points for candor and independence throughout the debate. He defended a comprehensive approach to immigration, refused to pledge never to raise taxes, opposed replacing the income tax with a national sales tax that would be regressive, and talked from experience about going after pork in the federal budget. In his best moment, the former prisoner of war put Romney on the defensive after Romney opposed torturing prisoners but refused to rule out waterboarding - which should meet anyone's definition of torture. McCain's once-foundering campaign has experienced a recent resurgence, and the debate should give him another boost with Republicans interested more in tested leadership than pure ideology.
There were other flashes of candor. Mike Huckabee eloquently defended his unsuccessful effort to help the children of illegal immigrants get a college education as governor of Arkansas. Giuliani refused to embrace a hypothetical federal ban on all abortions (but took credit for the New York Yankees' World Series titles). Fred Thompson tried to talk about entitlements.
But too much of the debate was spent on conservative litmus test issues such as abortion and gun control - and too little on broader issues such as foreign policy, Social Security and the environment. It turns out the animated snowman who asked about global warming during the Democrats' YouTube debate should have been invited back.
[Last modified November 28, 2007, 23:46:35]