The Anderson Debate

By Howard Kurtz
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, November 29, 2007 9:29 AM

So much for the YouTubers.

It was the journalist who got last night's debate off to a rollicking start, in which Rudy and Mitt smacked each other around over immigration.

You remember journalists. They used to run things before the rest of the world started uploading videos.

I love YouTube. I like the idea of YouTube debates. But it was Anderson Cooper who prodded the Republican candidates into revealing contrasts.

CNN began the debate with video from Ernie in Brooklyn, who accused his former mayor of aiding and abetting illegal immigrants by presiding over a sanctuary city. Giuliani said he had no choice but to educate the kids of illegal immigrants but turned over the names of thousands of grown-ups to INS.

It was then that Cooper asked Romney whether New York was a sanctuary city. Romney said the immigrants were already committing a crime by being here illegally. Rudy accused Mitt of having a "sanctuary mansion" by employing illegal immigrants at his home. Romney called that offensive and asked whether homeowners who hired a legal company to do household work should ask to see the papers of employees from that company who have funny accents. Rudy talked about his "holier-than-thou attitude" when illegal immigrants were "under your nose."

Now that was a debate. And it was Cooper who made it happen.

Perhaps a minute after the extended exchange, the Giuliani campaign sent reporters an e-mail titled "Don't take our word for it." It contained a 2006 Boston Globe piece headlined, "Illegal immigrants toiled for governor."

Two minutes after that, a Romney e-mail arrived declaring: "Mayor Giuliani Ran New York City With a Sanctuary State of Mind." Enclosed was a 1994 New York Times piece quoting Rudy: "If you come here and you work hard and you happen to be in an undocumented status, you're one of the people who we want in this city."

Fifteen minutes later, the Mitt gang circulated a posting from National Review's The Corner: "I'm leaning Rudy, but he's all wrong on the Romney illegal immigrant yard workers. They were working for a legal immigrant's legal company, a company widely used."

Back in Florida, a Texas woman named Ashley asked Mike Huckabee about providing college discounts for children of illegal immigrants when he was Arkansas governor. It sounded a little weird when Huckabee said "Ashley . . . you're a little misinformed" to a woman who wasn't there. Romney showed he now takes Huck seriously by likening him to "liberals in Massachusetts" (a big-time insult at GOP gatherings). Huckabee got off a pretty good line when he lectured Romney that "we're a better country than to punish children for what their parents did."

John McCain also had his moments, particularly when he lectured Romney for punting on whether waterboarding is torture.

There was one world-class screwup: The retired military man who asked why gays can't serve was a Hillary Clinton adviser, as CNN acknowledged after the debate. As for the man with the gun, the shifty-eyed Bible-wielder, Uncle Sam, the cartoon Cheney and others, they seemed either weird or trivialized their issues.

One last point: Cooper was smart to ask Rudy about this Politico story posted hours earlier: "Rudy Giuliani billed obscure city agencies for tens of thousands of dollars in security expenses amassed during the time when he was beginning an extramarital relationship with future wife Judith Nathan in the Hamptons, according to previously undisclosed government records." But Anderson left out the Judi part! (Giuliani said he was under 24-guard because of threats and didn't handle the billing.)

"The Republican presidential candidates engaged in a slashing debate last night over immigration and other issues, confronting one another in testy exchanges that reflected the wide-open nature of the race in the final sprint toward the Iowa caucuses," says the New York Times.

"The debate also reflected a new reality in the Republican race: for the first time, several candidates used the debate to take shots at Mike Huckabee, the former Arkansas governor who has come from behind to surge in several polls of Iowa caucusgoers in recent weeks."

L.A. Times: "As the debate continued over two hours, the most frequent target was former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, who has been a leader in the two states that loom largest in the early voting -- Iowa and New Hampshire.

"Romney was attacked from all sides, on multiple issues. Former New York Mayor Rudolph W. Giuliani accused him of employing illegal immigrants, while former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee suggested that he was heartless for opposing college scholarships for immigrants. Sen. John McCain of Arizona faulted Romney for refusing to concede that an interrogation practice called waterboarding amounts to torture. And former Sen. Fred Thompson of Tennessee -- via a campaign video -- chided the former governor for changing his position on abortion."

Washington Times: "The eighth Republican debate got off to a blistering start and quickly became the Mitt and Rudy Show, with the two front-running candidates going toe to toe on immigration, interrupting each other until they were booed by the boisterous crowd."

Slate's John Dickerson: "Romney is unlikely to win this tit-for-tat. Sure, every fight he picks with Giuliani helps him solidify the idea that the GOP contest is really only a two-man race (Huckabee who?), but in every round of this fight Romney is going to come out on the short end. On the merits, he's right: Giuliani bends the facts. could start a subsidiary to accommodate their regular reports on his shadings, exaggerations, and willful distortions. But on the political scorecard, Giuliani's charge about Romney has more political punch than Romney's about Giuliani . . .

"In this uneven exchange, Giuliani is also hitting on Romney's essential weakness--that he doesn't have core convictions. Romney's punches, even if they land, don't go directly to Giuliani's core vulnerability. Nor do they diminish Giuliani's best attribute--his reputation as a tough leader."

National Review's Jim Geraghty: "Based on the tone and answers given tonight, you would think that the Republican Party seethes with a blistering resentment of immigrants, with only the briefest of pauses to distinguish between those who are illegal and legal. You would think that the only tax plan that they like is the Fair Tax, and that they would like to somehow eliminate all taxes and let somebody else figure out how to fund the parts of the government that are actually needed. Guys, I thought we were small-government conservatives, not no-government anarchists.

Andrew Sullivan:

"McCain soared tonight, in my view. I think McCain's experience, independent streak, fiscal responsibility, moral core, and national security mastery make him easily the best viable candidate on stage. Yes, I am immensely proud of Ron Paul. And after Iraq, I find his non-interventionism far more credible than McCain's full neocon jacket. But experience does count; and McCain is in a class of his own in wartime . . .

"Nonetheless, it's clear that today's Dixie-based, pro-torture, anti-immigrant GOP will find it very hard to accept the bipartisan, anti-torture supporter of comprehensive immigration reform as its candidate."

As for the torture question, "It's a defining issue and this was a defining moment. Romney's pathetic and despicable inability to say that he opposes waterboarding and that waterboarding is torture disqualifies him from the presidency, in my view."

Salon's Walter Shapiro hated the questions (and disagreed with me about Cooper's role):

"What sent me into a free fall of depression was CNN's instinct for the fatuous in choosing the debate questions. It is a disgrace that in a two-hour debate (it felt longer) there was not a single question about the Israeli-Palestinian negotiations, the pow[d]er keg in Pakistan or Iran. The fault is not with the earnest YouTubers who sent in questions. The blame entirely rests with Anderson Cooper (a debate host who seemed incapable of asking a relevant followup question) and his CNN cohorts who seemed more concerned with goosing the ratings than with grasping the world that the next president will inherit."

How seriously is the press now taking the Huckabee candidacy? Enough so that the AP has called out the fact-checking dogs:

"Huckabee's campaign set up a 'truth squad' to push his side of various stories. It often offers, at best, an incomplete account of his record. On major issues:

"--The truth squad says the only finding by the Arkansas Ethics Commission that Huckabee accepted a gift improperly was tossed out by a state court. In fact, the panel investigated 16 complaints against Huckabee and found five violations. Only one, for accepting a $500 canoe from Coca-Cola, was tossed out.

"Two of the complaints against Huckabee pertain to unreported gifts -- the canoe and a $200 stadium blanket received by his wife, Janet. Two stem from cash the governor or his wife received but did not initially report. The panel also ruled in 2003 that Huckabee's campaign violated state law when it used its funds to pay for an event during the summer of 2002 called Gospel Fest

"During his tenure, Huckabee accepted 314 gifts valued overall at more than $150,000, according to documents filed with the Arkansas secretary of state's office. (He accepted 187 gifts in his first three years as governor but was not required to report their value.)"

My carefully considered reaction: A canoe?

Bill Clinton is stirring controversy again, this time on Iraq. At Red State, California Yankee checks the paper trail:

"Bill Clinton made a political blunder of monumental proportions when he claimed that he 'opposed the war in Iraq 'from the beginning,' a statement even the New York Times found 'is more absolute than his comments before the invasion in March 2003.'

"Is More Absolute?

" 'It depends on what the meaning of the word "is" is' - President Clinton

"At Time, Mark Halperin reminds us that Mr. Clinton said he supported the War in 2003. On April 14, 2003, Clinton praised President Bush:

" 'In his first speech in Minnesota since leaving office, former President Bill Clinton on Sunday praised President Bush's handling of the war in Iraq. But he criticized Bush's domestic priorities and urged the administration to offer North Korea aid and a pledge of nonaggression in exchange for an end to that country's missile and nuclear weapons programs.' [Minneapolis Star Tribune, 4/14/03]

"On May 19, 2003, the Associated Press reported Clinton said he supported President Bush:

" 'Former President Bill Clinton accused President Bush of spending more time fighting the war on terrorism than on domestic issues during a commencement speech at Tougaloo College. 'I supported the president when he asked for authority to stand up against weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, but we can't be forever strong abroad if we don't keep getting better at home,' Clinton said Sunday to a crowd of about 8,000 . . . The Bush administration, Clinton said, 'is still focused on defeating terrorism and weapons of mass destruction, and that's good, but not good enough. The power of our example is just as important as our military might.' '

"Clinton may have questioned the timing of the invasion, but Clinton didn't oppose it 'from the beginning.' "

At the Carpetbagger Report, Steve Benen can't defend the ex-prez:

"The problem, of course, is that Clinton has a reputation for trying to straddle the fence on contentious questions, hoping to be 'all things to all people.' The 'from the beginning' reinforces the narrative -- and takes Sen. Clinton's campaign off-message . . .

"I don't doubt for a second that Bill Clinton is wildly popular, and a real asset to his wife's presidential campaign. But he's going to have to be disciplined on the stump."

Liberty Pundit is a tad harsher:

"I've always said that Clinton is a poll-based politician, that he never was for or against an issue until he saw how the public perceived it. Make no mistake, if the public were totally for the war today, he'd be standing there saying 'oh, yeah, I was always for it!' And what's really crazy is that people on the left who look at this man as their liberal icon or like he was some kind of hero don't seem to get that fact."

Left-wingers are trying to drive a stake through the heart of a poll purporting to show that Hillary would lose to several Repubs next year. Kos tees off:

"I know Hillary's opponents are jumping on Zogby Interactive's latest poll showing Hillary doing substantially poorer than her opponents in head-to-head matchups than her opponents.

"Let me make this as clear as possible: Zogby interactive polls are JUNK. They are about as solid as the Daily Kos cattle call polls would be if we were trying to claim the community represented all Democrats.

"Witness this little bit of disclaimer:

" The poll of 9,355 people had a margin of error of plus or minus one percentage point. The interactive poll surveys individuals who have registered to take part in online polls.

"How a poll that is essentially a web poll can be considered credible is beyond me."

Did Obama insert all five toes in his mouth? The New Republic's Noam Scheiber thinks so:

"I think he's homing in on an effective response to Clinton's experience argument. But, if he's going to get over the hump in Iowa, he may need tone down the ego a bit, and what seemed like a whiff of condescension. You've probably already seen his line about how 'Every place is Barack Obama country once Barack Obama's been there.' This response also stood out for me:

" ' I think there's no doubt that the fact that my name is Barack Obama and that my father was from Kenya and that I grew up in Hawaii that there's that whole exotic aspect to me that people, I think, have to get past. But they also, surprisingly enough, even in rural Iowa, recognize the opportunity to send a signal to the world that, you know, we are not as ingrown, as parochial as you may perceive or as the Bush administration seems to have communicated, that we are, in fact, embracing the world, we are listening, we are concerned, we want to be engaged.

"I suspect the 'even in rural Iowa' part could stick in some people's craws."

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