Mid-way through the debate, Huckabee stole the night with this inspired exchange with Ron Paul. Check it out in the video below, along with preliminary media reaction. This is exactly what Huckabee needed.
My gut instinct: Mike Huckabee and Rudy Giuliani won. John McCain did very well, too.Chris Cillizza, Washington Post:
Debates are about moments, and this debate belonged to an impassioned exchange between Ron Paul and Huckabee about the Iraq War. Fox News smartly let the two men have their say. Refreshing: an actual substantive debate about core principles. What do we owe to the Iraqi people? Ron Paul says nothing -- "we" as in Americans didn't make the mistake, the neocon cabal did. Mike Huckabee believes that the war was a mistake. But -- America's honor is at stake. Honor -- a word that Huckabee associated with John McCain. A word that resonates with the Republican electorate. "We have to be one nation. That means, if we make a mistake, we make it as a single country. Even if we lose elections, we should not lose our honor." Huckabee said the country owes to the Iraqi people our best effort to prevent genocide and stabilize the country. "We have to continue the surge. What we did in Iraq is we essentially broke it. It's our responsibility to try and fix it." Huckabee earned the biggest applause of the night. It may have been -- dare we say -- his break-out moment in New Hampshire, where support for the war isn't all that strong. (If this exchange had occurred in South Carolina, it definitely would have been a vote-earning exchange.) Huckabee was also asked tough questions about his immigration stance; he should wear them as a badge of honor. It means that his rise is being taken seriously by the press and by the Republican electorate.
Picking a fight with Rep. Ron Paul (R-Texas) is a questionable strategy but it just paid off for Huckabee.David Brody, Christian Broadcasting Network:
After Paul -- yet again -- advocated the withdrawal of American troops from Iraq, Huckabee managed to both criticize the war and praise the surge.
"We have to continue the surge," said Huckabee. "What we did in Iraq is we essentially broke it. It's our responsibility to try and fix it."
Paul challenged Huckabee on the idea that America "broke" it, arguing that a handful of advisers to President Bush bore responsibility for the war.
Huckabee wouldn't let it go. "If we make a mistake, we make it as one country," said Huckabee to huge roars of applause. "Even if we lose elections we should not lose our honor and that is more important than the Republican party."
A very nice moment for Huckabee.
Now, as for Mike Huckabee, can someone explain to me why he’s NOT in the top tier? Fundraising is a problem, yes but when it comes to debate performances, you can make the case that he’s the best candidate on stage. His line about Fred Thompson where he said he had been scheduled to be on The Tonight Show with Jay Leno "but I gave up my slot to somebody else because I'd rather be here in New Hampshire with these fine people” was classic. But beyond that, he was very smart to compliment John McCain’s war service and honor. It positions Huckabee close to McCain’s principles and for Huckabee to ride the coattails of McCain on the issue of military honor and integrity is a good thing. Since Huckabee has a lack of foreign policy experience, it’s smart that he make the play that he did tonight. He also laid out his fair tax proposal in a very sensible way. Huckabee’s best moment may have come when he confronted Ron Paul over the Iraq war. Paul said the war is destroying the Republican Party but Huckabee said, ““We should not lose our honor and that’s more important than the Republican Party.” Then this line which may be the line of the debate: "Congressman, we are one nation. We can’t be divided. We make a mistake, we make it as a single country, the United States of America, no not the divided states of America.Chuck Todd, NBC News:
Rudy Giuliani and Mitt Romney did well tonight. They didn’t hurt themselves but the night seemed to belong to McCain and Huckabee. Fred Thompson may be about to join the top tier but John McCain and Mike Huckabee should be there too.
There were three clear winners tonight: Giuliani, Huckabee and Thompson. And there was one big loser tonight: Romney.Steve Kornacki, New York Observer:
Huckabee doing well at a debate is about as common as the sun rising in the east. In particular, the exchange with Ron Paul where Huckabee got to defend McCain, defend the surge and also call Iraq a mistake was, dare I say, a mix of Reagan and Clinton. He was just smooth and showed himself as someone who is a good conservative Republican who could be a very electable Republican nominee.
Understandably, the chatter this week has been about which candidates will be most hurt by Fred Thompson’s just-announced candidacy for the Republican presidential nomination.David Terr, USA Election Polls:
But on the eve of his declaration on Sept. 6, there was more evidence that the biggest X-factor in the G.O.P. race is not from Tennessee. The eight non-Thompson candidates debated in New Hampshire – and this time there actually were verbal confrontations that justified the use of the term “debate” – and it provided still more signs that the man to watch may actually be Mike Huckabee.
Time and again, Mr. Huckabee asserted himself as the strongest orator of the bunch, combining the superficial – but ever vital – charm of Mitt Romney with a remarkable ability, honed during his years in the pulpit, to address bloodless policy topics in a language that is accessible and appealing to the common man.
And he showed political savvy on Wednesday night as well.
Wednesday night, Mr. Huckabee challenged Mr. Paul’s assertion that the American people should not feel obligated to keep their armed forces in Iraq, since the decision to invade was made only by a handful of neoconservatives.
Saying that the United States makes mistakes “as a single nation,” he reiterated his belief that the country has a moral obligation to leave Iraq with some semblance of stability. Mr. Paul used his reply to note that the war is destroying the G.O.P.’s electoral chances. Mr. Huckabee, to the audience’s delight, declared that, “Even if we lose elections, we should not lose our honor. And that is more important to the Republican Party.”
It’s no revelation that Mr. Huckabee is a talented public performer. But in Wednesday’s debate, his screen time seemed to rival that of the major candidates for the first time. It’s a sign that he’s leaving the also-rans in the dust – and may end up in the top tier before this is over.
The one criticism that I have had against Mike Huckabee was that he needed to be more vocal about his stance on the war. All we've heard out of his mouth was about the fair tax, how we need health prevention, etc.. That is the downfall of Governors in that they do not have foreign policy experience. Well, all that was thrown out the window at the debate last night.John Dickerson, Slate Magazine:
You have to admit Mike Huckabee showcased skills in debating with Ron Paul. He had a couple of great sound bites like we are not the "Divided States of America". He is going to get a lot of coverage in the upcoming couple of days for this exchange. It makes for great television and for most conservatives (who are for the war) Mike Huckabee stood out the most.
Anyways, if our contention is right, Mike Huckabee should find himself heading towards 20% just as we predicted.
In the first Fox debate, it was Rudy Giuliani who used Ron Paul as his foil. This time Mike Huckabee engaged in a back-and-forth with Paul over finishing the job in Iraq. It was a rare flare of substance and useful conflict on the question of what America owes the Iraqis. Paul—whom the stainless steel Romney might want to watch for pointers on how to display passion—made the case for withdrawal, arguing that the country should not continue to suffer for the mistakes of a neoconservative cabal in the Bush administration that launched the war. Huckabee, who conceded the mistakes in Iraq, made the case for continuing the fight by appealing to the country's sense of honor. "What we did in Iraq is we essentially broke it," he said, invoking Colin Powell's Pottery Barn rule. "It's our responsibility to try and fix it." Huckabee has been moving up in the polls. He's appealing and amusing and articulates the pro-life position better than perhaps any presidential candidate ever has. This exchange offered a chance for him to show GOP primary voters range—he could speak passionately about the central foreign-policy issue of the day. Since debates live on in the sound bites replayed afterward, the exchange with Paul is one Huckabee should probably post in the middle of his home page. (Paul probably should, too.)Peggy Noonan, Wall Street Journal:
Mike Huckabee, and for this I "Heart" Huckabee, shot back [at Paul] that history will judge whether we were right to go in, but for now, "we're there." He echoed Colin Powell: We broke it, now we own it. "Congressman, we are one nation. We can't be divided. . . . If we make a mistake, we make it as a single country, the United States of America, not the divided states of America." David Brody of the Christian Broadcasting Network says he doesn't know why Mr. Huckabee isn't in the top tier. I wonder too. Maybe he is and we don't know it.