Silly Questions Abound in First GOP Debate: 'What Do You Dislike Most About America?'

Update (15:33): MRC/NB's Rich Noyes will be on Fox News at 4:15 p.m. to discuss this. Look for a new post shortly thereafter with video.

In a debate packed with silly questions and ones matching left-wing attack points on GOP candidates, in the first “Interactive Round” of questions submitted by the public on Politico.com, a co-sponsor of the debate, Mitt Romney got the most bizarre. The Politico Executive Editor Jim VandeHei, a Washington Post political reporter before jumping to The Politico earlier this year, found this one worth posing: “Daniel Dekovnick [sp phonetic] from Walnut Creek, California wants to know, 'What do you dislike most about America?'" Romney responded: “Gosh, I love America. I'm afraid I'm going to be at a loss for words...”(More questions below)

Video clip of VandeHei posing the “what do you dislike most about America?” question and Romney's response (45 secs): Real (1.3 MB) or Windows Media (1.5 MB), plus MP3 audio (260 KB)

Read past the jump for more oddball questions and a huge blog roundup.

The “Interactive Rounds” at the Republican presidential debate, from the Ronald Reagan Library in California and carried live on MSNBC, became an opportunity to raise hostile questions from a left-wing agenda or meant to embarrass the candidates (what's the difference between Shia and Sunni? How many have been killed or injured in Iraq? etc.)

Some of the other questions VandeHei chose to ask during the same round (about 25 minutes into the debate) in which he posed the whopper to Romney:

  • To Rudy Giuliani, “Bradley Winter of New York would like to know if there's anything you learned, or regret, during your time as Mayor in your dealings with the African-American community?”
  • To Mike Huckabee, “Thousands of reputable scientists have concluded, with almost certainty, that human activity is responsible for the warming of the Earth. Do you believe global warming exists?”
  • Later, to Tom Tancredo: “Will you work to protect women's rights, as in fair wages and reproductive choice?”

Update (01:36 | Matthew Sheffield)

Moderator Chris Matthews, the long-time Democratic operative-turned journalist, also asked his fair share of ridiculous questions, bizarrely attacking White House aide Karl Rove and favorite target Scooter Libby. Regarding Libby, Matthews asked whether the former vice presidential aide deserved a pardon (he does not according to Matthews).

The "Hardball" host went hard after Rove, attempting to pressure former Virginia governor Jim Gilmore. "Is Karl Rove your friend," he asked, wondering whether Gilmore would even think of allowing the nefarious Rove in the White House. Gilmore rebuffed Matthews: "It isn't a matter of Karl Rove. What's important to this nation isn't Karl Rove."

VandeHei's question about Islam was a true stump-the-candidate moment which Giuliani handled fairly well. The tables were turned later in the debate when Matthews wrongly tried to correct Romney after the latter mentioned altered nuclear transfer as an alternative to fetal stem cells. Matthews appeared to think the former Massachusetts governor was talking about nuclear energy.

Things did not improve for Matthews. Near the end of the 90-minute plus session, he actually asked the candidates if they approved of the idea of having former president Bill Clinton back in the White House:

“Would it be good for America to have Bill Clinton back living in the White House?” he wondered.

Amazingly, no one agreed with him.

Surely Fox News would not have been so ridiculous to the Democratic candidates.

Other blog reactions (see more at Instapundit):

  • Paul Mirengoff: "Giuliani didn't pander, but was less successful than McCain in giving answers that will appeal across the spectrum. Indeed, his statement that he would be ok with a Supreme Court decision overturning Roe v. Wade, but also with a decision continiuing to uphold it, leaves him pretty vulnerable, it seems to me."
  • Mary Katharine Ham: "He still doesn't do it for me, but I'd say Romney probably came out on top. McCain and Giuliani didn't noticeably mess up, but their likeable, distinguishing characteristics got lost in the shuffle tonight. Romney doesn't have that 'it' factor that McCain and Rudy usually have, but he didn't disappoint anyone by showing up without it."
  • Ed Morrissey: "Mitt Romney won this debate. He looked relaxed, answered clearly, showed real warmth and a sense of humor, and actually answered the questions asked of him -- even the stupid ones, to which I'll return shortly. After Romney, one has to think that Jim Gilmore and Mike Huckabee may have made some strides in breaking out of the third tier. They also showed that they could connect emotionally to the audience and give clear, thoughtful answers. [...] How did MSNBC and Politico perform? -- Poorly. The format guaranteed that we would learn next to nothing about these candidates. The Politico editor kept strolling all over the stage, asking questions from their on-line audience that were embarrassingly inane. Matthews's questions were better, but phrased in a manner that (a) seemed hostile, and (b) didn't allow for thoughtful answers."
  • Stephen Green: "You know who Tancredo reminds me of? That TV character actor who was everywhere during the '70s and '80s. Lots of MASH appearances, I think. Can't remember his name. I'll look it up later. In the meantime, I keep expecting him to crack a broad smile and a bad joke, followed by a small hit of laugh-track."
  • Ace: "The 30 second limit on answers pretty much guarantees the most scripted of soundbite campaign slogans. Interesting moments: Giuliani offers a 'nuanced' position on abortion, as Chris Matthews puts it (supporting NY state's decision to use taxpayer money to fund abortions, but supporting other states' rights to make a different decision; saying he hates abortions, but must respect a woman's right to 'choose another path'); McCain stating, as if it's a good thing, that he knows how to walk across the aisle to deal with Democrats as he's been doing it 'his entire career.' Yes, we know that, Senator. That's the problem.
  • Erick Erickson: "John McCain won. Let's not dance around this. Mitt Romney shined, he stood out, he did well. Rudy Giuliani imploded. Rudy totally and utterly self-destructed tonight. He had many chances to get in good with the core base of Republican voters and ignored every moment. But McCain cuisine reigned supreme. He served up a dish of anger, a willingness to criticize, and a desire to fight — hard. But let's be honest. Who really won? Fred Thompson."
  • Jonah Goldberg: "I hope Democrats, feminists and others are taking note that Chris Matthews's question about whether it would be good if Bill Clinton was back in the White House basically makes Hillary — the wife and actual candidate — the bit player."
  • Jason Smith: "It’s still more than a year away and real life is passing us by while we decide which candidates had the best sound-bite material. It’s not as if the world’s problems can be solved by a bunch of polished politicos parading before television cameras responding to hostile and sometimes completely stupid questions by political opponents in under a 30 second time limit."
  • David Weigel: "Matthews's devious 'ignore Ron Paul' plan backfires when Paul gets the last word in the debate. And yet afterwards, no one wants to talk to him - Romney dives offstage to mug with Nancy Reagan, and Paul is left huddling with Tancredo. It looks not unlike the Math Olympics team sitting at the back of homeroom as the popular kids talk about the awesome kegger at Todd's house this weekend."
  • Ian Schwartz: "According to our poll, Drudge's poll, and many bloggers, Romney won the debate. I got to say, I'm not a Romney guy, but he came off as the winner to me. However, he also won the 'invoke Reagan as much as you can' award too. It would be interesting to see Fred Thompson debate this 'incomplete crowd.'"
  • Sister Toldjah: "It was very tough to follow. Matthews was a terrible moderator and treated the candidates as though they were on Hardball, not debating. Chris, take pointers from your colleague Brian Williams next time, ok? You’re a lousy debate moderator. I don’t think there was any clear winner to the debates tonight because there was no rhyme or reason to the questioning."
  • Mickey Kaus: "I guess I'm really not a Republican--or else Chris Matthews is an effective Dem saboteur--because the whole GOP field seemed weaker after the debate (just as the Dem field seemed stronger after its MSNBC debut). Judging just on affect, Blink-like, I thought McCain, Ron Paul, and Hunter did well. Giuliani a bit less well. Romney appears stiff and phony compared to the other front-runners. He made me want to go re-read Catcher in the Rye. Tancredo and Huckabee failed to make much of an impact at all. Brownback seemed to be talking about 50% of the time, but I can't remember a thing he said."
  • Jim Addison: "I have to say also, without equivocation, that the MSNBC [sic] debate moderation team SUCKED. The questions were weak (not to mention often coming from a Democratic talking point memo perspective), and Chris Mathews exercised absolutely no control at all. [...] Former Governors Tommy Thompson and Jim Gilmore gave a good account of themselves, showing their experience and judgment. In a perfect world, such highly-qualified candidates would be very competitive, but we live here, and they aren't. Good show! to both of them, though, on their way out the door."
  • Ann Althouse: "I confess to being moved to tears by Brownback talking about the sacredness of Terri Schiavo's life (even though I disagreed with what the Congress did). I'm impressed by the way this man believes what he believes and expresses this. But, of course, it would be a terrible mistake to make him the candidate."

Update (05-04 | Matthew Sheffield) I'm locking comments on this one. They're getting too numerous. Please move discussion to the open thread.

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Brent Baker
Brent Baker
Brent Baker is the Steven P.J. Wood Senior Fellow and VP for Research and Publications at the Media Research Center