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At the GOP Debate (With Guest Bloggers!)

Now this update from the Best Western in Manchester, New Hampshire, where all the most influential media potentates hang their shingle when covering "the New Hampshire Primary," pretending that it's not June 2007, with no meaningful vote in sight.

Before I tell you who won the GOP debate (am stalling for time while I check my notes and try to remember why anyone should care at this early juncture), I should report that I ran into some massive media celebs last night at the Radisson bar. Like, Anderson Cooper, who in person looks exactly like Anderson Cooper. He calls himself "Anderson," but I'm going to call him Andy from now on. Andy Cooper: The All-American Boy. Arianna was there -- sparkling, immaculate -- and Roger Simon, who claimed to be live-blogging the cocktail chatter, and Jeff Toobin, who thinks Hillary has the best shot at the moment to be the next president (not a maverick position, of course, but worth noting, especially in the context of two books being published just yesterday about Mrs. Clinton, neither of which seems to have torpedoed her beneath the water line). [Slingin' the lingo this morning! Stand back. Don't try this at home.] [Memo to drive-by folks who wonder how anyone could get paid to blather on like this: I'm going to write a real story at some point. So stay calm.]

Conventional Wisdom: Huckabee had a very good night. Some folks thought his evolution answer was a long-ball, out of the park. I didn't think so: He left open the possibility that the Earth was made in six days just 6,000 years ago (when asked specifically if he believed that, he said "I don't know. My point is, I don't know. I wasn't there"). [Not to obsess on this, but he also said, "If anybody wants to believe that they are the descendants of a primate, they are certainly welcome to do it. I don't know how far they will march that back." All the way, actually! Huckabee said the original question, in the first debate, about who believed in evolution, was actually a question about who believed in God. "A person either believes that God created this process or believes that it was an accident and that it just happened all on its own." Somewhat ambiguous wording, that, and I'd like to ask the governor sometime whether he believes that God governs the fall of every sparrow or lets the "process" operate all on its own.]

I thought his statement about pro-life people needing to focus on the kid growing up in the back of a car under a bridge was the stronger moment. Huckabee is articulate and has a sense of humor: Someone said he burnished his credentials as the number two on the eventual ticket.

It wasn't a great night for Romney, though not a disaster either -- he just seemed marginalized, and his first answer of the night was weak (asked directly, "was it a mistake for us to invade Iraq?," he said, "Well, the question is, kind of, a non sequitur, if you will. What I mean by that -- or a null set -- that is that if you're saying let's turn back the clock....etc. etc.")

McCain? Mixed reaction from the punditry. Some think that immigration will sink his candidacy. I thought he had an excellent night, with strong, thoughtful comments about the contributions made by Hispanics (people in his home state spoke Spanish long before they spoke English, he pointed out). And surely Tancredo, out there on the fringe, helps McCain look statesmanlike by comparison.

And Ron Paul had a great moment in pointing out that his opponents are willing to nuke Iran. I asked Paul about it in the Spin Room.

"You don't think we should just nuke our enemies at will?" I asked.

"They shocked me! They shocked me!" he said. "They don't understand the American people. And they don't understand how to win elections ... I think it's an immoral position."

Now, I must get to work.


Last night's gibberish:

I'm at the GOP debate, looking for a story idea and, more importantly, free food. I think there's steak and pasta and salad in the back of the hall. And chocolate cupcakes!! This is Saint Anselm College, and there's a little card on my table saying that we shouldn't call it "St. Anslem's College." So I've got it right, I think, so far. NO HIDEOUS ERRORS YET: The definition of journalistic success.

Cillizza is here and he'll blog the event and provide astute analysis while I continue to search for an idea, and eat.

I'm going to write about conservatives -- that narrows it down, don't you think? And Red Meat Politics. The big read meat issue at this moment is immigration. McCain wants to be statesmanlike on immigration; everyone else will rip him to shreds, except for Tancredo, who will aim a flamethrower at him.

[Here's Rick Klein from ABC's The Note -- he just wandered up and I'm going to make him work:

A special guest appearance - Achenbach tells me he just had his 25th reunion at Princeton and I'm looking at my 10th next year - so that makes him much, much older than me. Anyway, big night tonight for the second tier - maybe the last chance they'll have to break through before Fred Thompson jumps in and sucks all their oxygen away. And watch for John McCain to get attacked, attacked, attacked from all sides.]

[And here's Mike Littwin from the Rocky, who has a terrific blog you should read compulsively:

I'm a special -- real special -- guest blogger because I was last seen in this space in Achenbach's extremely long story on the New Hampshire primary. The story was so long that he was reduced to quoting other writers. I think I appeared at about the 13,000-word mark. What Joel left out of the story was that both of us were nearly killed in a March blizzard. Being from Colorado, I should know how to drive in these things, but I've made it my life's work to be out of town during all Denver blizzards, so I was fortunate to road-surf all the way to my hotel room.

The sad thing for writers like me is that this is my second debate in 48 hours and I would only admit on a newspaper blog that I might even enjoy it. The debate tonight should match McCain vs. Romney. You'll recognize McCain. He's the guy older than Romney's dad. I'm going out on the stump with Romney tomorrow, so I'm hoping he says something extremely quotable (read: stupid or at least incendiary) at the debate tonight. I've got to justify the expense account somehow.]

I vow, here and now, to learn to tell Duncan Hunter from Jim Gilmore from Tommy Thompson. On initial glance. Without help from colleagues.

[I'll post a full item on the debate tomorrow ...]

They're taking a break on stage and I just want to report that I counted 5 lightning strikes on Rudy when he talked about the Catholic church and abortion. But maybe there were 6.

Also, Tancredo red-lined on the anger-meter when he talked about being banned from the White House by Rove. Do you think he's a little bitter?

But perhaps the most revealing moment came when none of the 10 candidates on stage said that a gay person should be allowed to serve openly in the military -- even though, as McCain said, we don't have enough troops.

By Joel Achenbach  |  June 5, 2007; 5:47 PM ET
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