In the Arena

The Republican Debate

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I don’t think it was a very good night for McCain. His attack on Romney for supporting “timetables” to end the war is the same sort of political crap as Bill and Hillary Clinton’s attempt to make it seem as if Barack Obama liked Reagan’s ideas better than the Democratic Party’s–it a political word game, and meaningless. The fact is that Romney is right: secret and not-so-secret timetables exist for the withdrawal of American troops from Iraq. General Petraeus has one; the Pentagon has another–faster–one. There is a debate going on as to which timetable will be followed. (As I noted in an earlier post, President Bush is now hinting that he’s in favor of a slower timetable.)
Why would McCain stoop to this? Because he senses a greater truth: that back in the days before the level of violence was reduced in Iraq, Romney was wriggling around, trying to seem “strong” on defense, but looking for ways to keep his options open, just in case the surge failed militarily. I have no doubt that in McCain’s mind, the difference between him and Romney is that he stood firm on Iraq and Romney (and everyone else) was wavering.

At least once a debate, McCain says that he “staked my career” on the war in Iraq. He did it again tonight. But that isn’t quite true: there is no great price to pay in the Republican Party for being a hawk. McCain did–courageously–stake his career on another issue that is anathema to the Republican Party base: immigration. So it was interesting that McCain totally ducked the question of whether he would vote for his own comprehensive immigration bill in tonight’s debate. Not much straight talk there.

Finally, McCain is right on the most basic point: Romney doesn’t have much standing to complain about skeevy politics, given the gazillion dollars he has spent on negative ads. In fact, there’s a certain pleasure to be had in watching Romney swallow a stiff dose of his own medicine.