GOP Debate Wrap Up
Comity reigned, for the most part, in tonight's Republican presidential debate as the candidates largely agreed on the way forward in Iraq, while disagreeing about their differences on illegal immigration.
The third debate was billed as a potential showdown on immigration between former Gov. Mitt Romney (R-Mass.) and Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), who have engaged in a long distance back and forth over the issue in the last month.
Instead, it was McCain and Giuliani who clashed about the comprehensive immigration reform bill -- sponsored by McCain and supported by President Bush. Giuliani described the legislation as "a typical Washington mess" and the result of a series of compromises that had rendered it toothless.
After Giuliani listed a series of changes he would require before supporting such a bill, McCain retorted: "Rudy you just described our legislation." Giuliani refused to let the issue drop, arguing that he had read the full 400 page bill and that in Washington "They say things and then it is not in the legislation."
McCain later mounted a heartfelt defense of immigrant communities in the United States, inviting viewers to visit the Vietnam Memorial and notice how many hispanic names are engraved there. McCain said immigrants were "all God's children" and that each immigrant community had added to the vibrancy of American culture.
The short McCain-Giuliani exchange was the extent of the true heat between the "top tier" candidates, Giuliani, McCain, and Romney. The three came under fire from Rep. Duncan Hunter (R-Calif.), for allegedly belonging to the "Kennedy wing of the Republican party," but they avoided a direct conflict with the California Congressman who remains little more than a blip in national polling.
On most issues aside from immigration, the major candidates largely agreed with one another.
McCain once again expressed his belief that a win is possible in Iraq but acknowledged the "long, hard and tough" realities of the war. Giuliani said going into Iraq was "absolutely" the right thing to do before turning his fire to Democrats who he accused of being in denial over the importance of Iraq to the broader war on terror, a tactic he used repeatedly during the debate.
Among the second tier, Sen. Sam Brownback (Kans.) and former Gov. Mike Huckabee (Ark.) made the biggest and best impressions. Twice Brownback made mention of his plan to split Iraq into three distinct countries, a proposal he believed would secure bipartisan support. "We have got to pull together here to win over there," insisted Brownback.
Huckabee, who has shined in each of the first two debates, again distinguished himself with his eloquent answer on his religious faith. "If they want a president who doesn't believe in God, there's probably plenty of choices," Huckabee said. "But if I'm selected as president of this country, they'll have one who believes in those words that God did create." His answer was passionate and effective, and drew a rousing applause from the audience.
Make sure to check back on The Fix tomorrow for a list of winners and losers from tonight's proceedings. And, I'll be chatting live from 11 am to noon tomorrow on washingtonpost.com to answer any and all questions you might have from tonight's debate. Check out the video clips below for debate highlights.
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