At Thursday night's Republican presidential debate, the GOP contenders did their best not to make any news. No one attacked anyone; no one disagreed on any major policy matter--except regarding a proposal to establish a national catastrophic insurance fund that would back up private insurance firms. (Rudy Giuliani, playing to Florida homeowners, voiced his support for it; Mitt Romney supported the general notion; John McCain attacked legislation that would set up such a fund as a $200 billion boondoggle.) Generally, the candidates made up a chorus for tax cuts and fighting--make that, winning--the Iraq war. (Then there was Ron Paul.) At times, the candidates hailed their rivals. It was so.... un-Democratic. No nastiness--even though McCain and Romney, essentially tied for first place in the Florida polls, have been hurling negative ads at each other. (A Romney ad assails McCain for flip-flopping on tax cuts; a McCain spot blasts Romney for...flip-flopping on tax cuts. McCain is actually comparing Romney to John Kerry.)
If you were forced to pick a winner--and in the absence of policy disputes, the debate was all about the horse race--you'd probably have to choose Romney, who seemed quasi-commanding and who this night, for some reason, looked more like Hollywood's idea of a president than usual. But no candidate hurt his own prospects. That doesn't mean, though, they didn't come out with some whoppers. Here's a sampling:
* Moderator Tim Russert asked McCain about a comment McCain had supposedly made--"I know a lot less about economics than I do about military and foreign policy issues; I still need to be educated"--and McCain shot back, "I don't know where you got that quote from; I'm very well-versed in economics." Well, McCain did tell the Baltimore Sun, "The issue of economics is something that I've really never understood as well as I should." So much for being "well-versed."