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No doubt about it. If tonight’s performance is any indicator of what’s to come, expect 2008 to be a repeat of the ’96 Clinton/Dole thrashing where President Clinton’s optimism of the looming Millennium trounced Bob Dole’s cranky-old-man looking backwards longing for the simpler days of yesteryear. MSNBC hosted the first Republican Presidential candidates debate live from the Reagan Presidential Library in California.

Ten old white men stood on stage trying to convince us of the GOP’s “Big Tent” philosophy. Compare that to the 9 DNC candidates that include the first serious Woman, African American, and Hispanic presidential contenders in American history… and not one of them, forced to defend a President with a 28% approval rating.

Like The Passion of the Christ, the ghost of Ronald Reagan was resurrected at every opportunity. Not only were the debates held in the Reagan Presidential Library in the shadow of his mothballed Air Force One 747, his name was evoked no fewer than 16 times during the 90 minute debate (either by name or in the form of “the man whose library we are in”). Romney and Giuliani shared top honors with three invocations each of The Gipper… though Rudy probably wins that push by being the very first speaker and invoking Reagan’s name twice during his initial :30 second introduction.

In the week before the debate, viewers were allowed to submit questions they would like the candidates to answer. Unfortunately, those questions are no longer online, but a quick perusal by me at the time found between 90%-95% of the questions angry, accusatory and adversarial… most certainly asked by Democratic voters angry over the parade of abuses by the Bush Administration and the Conservative crime-wave that were Jack Abramoff, Mark folley, Tom Delay… ad infinitum. It appears MSNBC choose to exclude the adversarial questions and stick to those that seemed most likely to come from Republican voters. The most adversarial question of the night asked Sen. John McCain, “Do you believe in evolution?” The query was turned into a group question, of which three of the ten candidates raised their hands when asked, “Who here does NOT believe in evolution?” How anyone can look at our Chimp-in-Chief and dismiss any possibility that we are descended from apes, is beyond me.

Another question asked, first of Rudy Giuliani and then of the remaining candidates, specifically if they supported the idea of a “National Identification Card” as a means of dealing with illegal immigration. All but one (two?) said they supported the concept (with Texas Rep. Ron Paul the lone holdout on strict Conservative “right to privacy” grounds). Rudy was ADAMANT that the means of identification be “tamper resistant“. Hey Rudy, you know what’s the most “tamper resistant” means of identification? Have ID numbers tattooed  on  everybody’s  arms! Then, when the next question was asked of Governor Romney, he preceded his response by “clarifying” that he previously meant that only IMMIGRANTS should be forced to carry such a card, not natural born citizens. All of the other candidates suddenly chimed in with quick “Me too!” clarifications. Funny, because that wasn’t the question. And just how do they intend to get immigrants to carry these cards? And if you don’t have one, does that mean you’re a citizen? Reminds me of Cheech & Chong’s “Born in East LA” where he is asked to produce his “Green Card”. “Green card??? I’m from East LA!” (watch entire movie here). I mean, why on Earth would anyone carry a card that proves your NOT a natural born ‘mericun??? I don’t think they thought that one out too carefully, if you ask me.

Another fun moment was when Hard-Right wingnut Duncan Hunter tried to minimize John McCain’s veteran status by noting, “You’re not the only candidate up here with military credentials Senator McCain. I’m chairman of the House Armed Services Committee.” Oooooooooh, I bet that’ll have McCain looking for Hunter in his rear-view mirror! Another fun moment? Hunter making the case for War with Iran. Vote for Hunter if you’re worried about the war ending too soon… say, before the year 2100.

If there was a “sane” Republican in the debate, it had to be Texas Rep. Ron Paul, the lone Republican candidate (trailing far back in the polls) who voted against invading Iraq in the first place, and angrily condemned President Bush’s illegal wiretaps and suspension of Hapeas Corpus. Alas, he also argued in favor of abolishing all government-funded social programs, and over-turning Roe v. Wade, virtually assuring that no Democrats will be voting for him either.

All through the debate, one could not help but notice that the three leading candidates, McCain, Giuliani and Romney, were all trying to distance themselves from past remarks or public perceptions that hurt them in the polls… most notably Romney and Giuliani’s past support for Abortion Rights and McCain’s support for the war in Iraq. The first two bobbed & weaved like Oscar de La Hoya, explaining that they would seek to overturn Roe, while McCain took every opportunity to call the handling of the war in Iraq a complete & total disaster.

As political comedian Bill Maher pointed out in an interview last week: Republicans are desperately looking for “the next Ronald Reagan”, with his sunny optimism. Problem is, after abandoning long-time Conservative principles against “nation building” and standing for “fiscal responsibility”, the only thing Conservatives have left to run on is terror and fear.” The only candidates expressing “optimism about the future” and ending the war in Iraq, are the Democrats. So unless, through some nightmarish disaster, the two candidates turn out to be “Joe Lieberman (I-CT)” vs. Ron Paul (R-TX)”, I just don’t see anyone looking at the two candidates and deciding that extending the hell that has been the Bush Presidency for another four years is a good idea.

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