Sometimes you learn a lot when you see something on TV (or a video screen) without the sound. If you’re watching a movie, say on a plane where you don’t have headphones and became engaged in the images, chances are its a good flick. You find can you follow the story without hearing the dialogue.
The same holds true for politics. I had little interest yesterday in watching the Republican candidates’ debate at the Reagan Library because the 2008 presidential campaign is beginning way too early.
But, yesterday, while I was at the gym doing cardio, they had the debate up on one the TV monitors, so I had a chance to watch without sound — while occasionally reading the closed captions at the bottom of the screen. I have to say, that of the ten candidates, John McCain looked the best. He came across as feisty energetic and self-confident. Mitt Romney also looked presidential, calm and self-confident. Much as I like Rudy Giuliani, it just seemed that he was phoning in his performance (I think I may have read that on another blog), almost as if he were repeating talking points.
My man just didn’t seem engaged. As a result, he seemed to blend in with the other candidates and did not stand out as did McCain. I still have my problems with McCain, but think David Yepsen of the Des Moines Register offered the best synopsis of the Arizona Senator’s performance:
He was critical of the early conduct of the war but stood steadfast in his support for the troop surge despite its unpopularity. He was critical of President Bush for allowing too much spending and went against the Republican grain on issues such as stem-cell research. He also said Congress made a mistake meddling in the Terri Schiavo case.
McCain often comes off well when he says things people don’t like. If you say it with conviction, voters will respect you even as they disagree.
I was following the debate (via those captions) when McCain addressed the Iraq war and commend him for succinctly making his point, noting that while he had been critical of the president in the past, he believes he has finally put together a good strategy. Kudos, Senator. This time, you’re telling it like it is.
From the perspective of this blogger who saw the debate without actually hearing the candidates, I agree that it represents a net plus for John McCain. Simply put, he looked good. But, note as well the observation of Roger Simon (and not just him) that a man who wasn’t there, Fred Thompson, won the debate.
If the debate has any impact on the race, I think it will be to tighten it up a bit. And should Thompson jump in (as most expect him to), he could find himself in close competition with both McCain and Giuliani. Instead of the two-man contest I imagined last month, we could well see a three men in serious competition for the GOP nomination.