Wednesday night's CNN/YouTube Republican debate contained no Hillary Moment--that is, no time when a leading candidate muffed an answer in a manner that created an opportunity for the others to pile on. (Remember Clinton's triple-reverse answer to that question about issuing driver's licenses to illegal immigrants?) But this latest face-off did produce telling moments.
Former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney had the most difficult ones. He froze more than once--which is odd, considering he's had ample opportunity to ready himself for this Republican Party-sponsored debate. In one video query, a fellow named Joseph from Dallas held up a Bible and said, "How you answer this question will tell us everything we need to know about you. Do you believe every word of this book? Specifically, this book that I am holding in my hand, do you believe this book?" The question first went to former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani. He seemed unsure of how to start, and former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee, who was ordained as a Baptist minister, quipped, "Do I need to help you out, Mayor, on this one?" Giuliani recovered quickly and offered the obvious answer: It's "the greatest book ever written....I read it frequently," some parts are "allegorical," some are "meant to be interpreted in a modern context."
Then came Romney's turn. "I believe," he said, "the Bible is the word of God, absolutely." CNN's Anderson Cooper reminded him of the question: "Does that mean you believe every word?" Romney stuttered: "You know--yes, I believe it's the word of God, the Bible is the word of God." He then repeated that answer twice and said, "I don't disagree with the Bible." In other words, he stumbled through a question about the Holy Book. When Huckabee fielded the question, he handled it, naturally, with natural aplomb: "As the only person here on the stage with a theology degree, there are parts of it I don't fully comprehend and understand, because the Bible is a revelation of an infinite god, and no finite person is ever going to fully understand it. If they do, their god is too small." For any social conservatives who care about a candidate's relation to the Bible, Huckabee had slammed Romney.
Later in the debate, Romney hit another bad spot in an exchange during which Senator John McCain shined. A college student from Seattle named Andrew offered this question: "Senator McCain has come out strongly against using waterboarding as an instrument of interrogation. My question for the rest of you is, considering that Mr. McCain is the only one with any firsthand knowledge on the subject, how can those of you sharing the stage with him disagree with his position?" Romney went first: "I do not believe that as a presidential candidate, it is wise for us to describe precisely what techniques we will use in interrogating people. I oppose torture. I would not be in favor of torture in any way, shape or form." It was a non-answer, and Cooper pressed him: "Is waterboarding torture?" Romney repeated himself: "I don't think it's wise for us to describe specifically which measures we would and would not use."
McCain moved in: