On MSNBC Tuesday night most commentators thought Mitt Romney blew the GOP debate by saying he'd have to consult his lawyers to figure out if he had the authority to bomb Iran. (Michael Scherer has his trademark "What you missed" take on the debate here.)
I understand why they criticized Romney. He said it more than once, and he sounded like a corporate wheeler-dealer, not like a president. But I was also a little put off by what seemed like attacks on Romney's caution about attacking Iran. "I don't think Jack Kennedy spent a lot of time with lawyers during the Cuban Missile Crisis," noted moderator Chris Matthews, who is usually smarter about both dumb GOP war swagger and the Kennedys: Of course Jack Kennedy's closest advisor during the crisis was his top lawyer and brother, Attorney General Bobby Kennedy. Norah O'Donnell compared it to Fred Thompson suggesting that if caught, Osama bin Laden would get "due process."
I know what was politically wrong with both answers, yet I always find uncharacteristic caution about war and killing on the GOP side slightly reassuring. But I could be wrong about this one; it's likely Romney and Thompson's answers reflected their foreign policy dimness as much as realpolitik smarts about fighting terror. And either way, maybe the GOP will learn: Live by simplistic war-mongering, die by simplistic war-mongering.
I think it's clear Fred Thompson was the loser, given that he'd skipped all the other debates and needed to play catch-up in this one. He sounded tentative, his voice cracked during the first question, he had to consult his notes. (Plus, he started the day off on a bad note with the announcement he'd tapped the great political expertise of George "Macaca" Allen for his campaign.) The obvious winner Tuesday night? Hillary Clinton.