In the case of a nuclear terrorist attack, “I am looking for Jack Bauer at that time, let me tell you.”
The Fox News sponsored forum from South Carolina was all about all things “24”: terrorism, dirty bombs, border threats, then following us home, waterboarding, Guantanomo — you name it. On a set straight out of Barry-Enright, and chief moderator Chris Wallace setting up gameplaying terrorist scenarios (“Here is the premise”), candidates were under the gun to burnish their credentials under the pressure of a lightning round. In fact, the entire debate had a bizarre tension to it, as if Fox had a secret surprise just around the corner. (Mystery guest? Blindfolds?)
Lesser known candidates tried to take aim at the big three candidates — dubbed “McRomney” — by questioning their conservative credential on social issues. But it was hard to characterize those moments as important when Wallace was talking about mushroom clouds. When McCain was grilled as to his past support of the flying of the Confederate flag over the South Carolina state capitol, the audience booed. “It is time we all moved on on this issue,” he said. He earned applause.
Wallace wisely avoided excess effusion when he denied any candidate the ability to weigh in on the death of Jerry Falwell. Instead, he went right to Iraq. You may despise Fox, but they sure are efficient.
That focus on the war, terrorism and other security issues ultimately played to Giuliani’s strengths. Still a tad wobbly when explaining his position on abortion, he was handed a present in the form of Ron Paul, the little-known Texas congressman who is the sole anti-war candidate in the field.
Citing the CIA’s theory of “blowback,” Paul said of 9/11, “they attacked us because we have been over there. We have bombed Iraq for over ten years.”
“I am suggesting we listen to the people who attacked us and the reason they did it.”
That left an opening for Giuliani, who offered a sharp rebuke. “I don’t think I’ve ever heard that before, and I have heard some pretty absurd explanations.”
For Paul, it was the most attention he’s had the entire campaign.
And attention is what it is all about. Like the debate less than two weeks ago, at the Reagan Library, it is tough to discern just what the candidates would do as president, and still hard to tell them apart. Asked why the field of contenders was all white men, and not more diverse, former Virginia Gov. Jim Gilmore said that there “are people who are a minority who will be candidates.” Who?
Instead, there were moments of zingers. Huckabee on congressional spending: “Like John Edwards in a beauty shop.” There were subtle jabs: McCain’s rivals were sure to note his past work on “McCain/Ted Kennedy” immigration reform. And there were two word policy initiatives: Romney’s plan to “double Guantanomo.”
McCain tried to make things clear: He’s against torture, and against the so called “enhanced interrogation techniques.” Giuliani and other candidates also are against torture but for “enhanced interrogation techniques.” So aren’t they really for torture?
Yes, questions remained unanswered. But there was no time for that. The clock was ticking. The bell was about to go off. Everything else will have to be explained away in the days to come. Jack Bauer’s world leaves no time for nuance, even if times like these demand it.