Highlights of the YouTube Debate CNN hosted a Republican debate in Florida last night, with all questions coming from YouTube users. Slate.com's John Dickerson discusses the best and worst performances.
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Highlights of the YouTube Debate

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Highlights of the YouTube Debate

MADELEINE BRAND, host:

From the studios of NPR West, this is DAY TO DAY. I'm Madeleine Brand.

ALEX COHEN, host:

And I'm Alex Cohen.

Coming up, celebrities stumping for presidential candidates in New Hampshire.

BRAND: But first we start with the actual candidates. Slate's John Dickerson is here to talk about where the Republicans stand today after last night's CNN/YouTube debate.

Hi, John.

Mr. JOHN DICKERSON (Slate): Hi.

BRAND: John, in the post-debate coverage on CNN last night there seemed to be no consensus winner. Is that true today?

Mr. DICKERSON: Well, I think there - the consensus, to the extent there is one, is that Mike Huckabee had a good debate. He's had strong debates all along, actually, but this is his moment. He's doing very well in the polls in Iowa. Everybody is looking at him and wondering, you know, could he make it beyond Iowa? And so with that increased scrutiny he actually turned in a good performance last night. John McCain did pretty well too. Everybody else kind of came in in the middling category.

BRAND: Yeah. And then I guess Huckabee maybe stood out because he seemed not to be going for other candidates' throats the way Mitt Romney and Rudy Giuliani did. They were just going at each other last night.

Mr. DICKERSON: That's right. Huckabee looked reasonable. He also got some easy questions. You know, a former Baptist minister, he got the question about, you know, the literal interpretation of the Bible, and he gave quite a good answer.

Rudy Giuliani and Mitt Romney, on the other hand, started the debate in a protracted snit fight, back and forth, on the question of immigration, in which they both looked kind of petty and unpresidential. And so it didn't do either of them much good, that beginning fight.

BRAND: This is when Romney accused Giuliani of running a sanctuary city for illegal immigrants and then Giuliani countered that Romney ran a sanctuary mansion, his own house, because he had hired illegal immigrants.

Mr. DICKERSON: Yeah. It gets into the weeds quite quickly. It was left to Fred Thompson to then note that Rudy Giuliani, who has had some trouble with Bernie Kerik, his former police commissioner, and other of his hires, was in no position to point fingers about other people and their trouble with people that they'd hired.

BRAND: Do you think, John, that these accusations, though, these sort of below-the-belt accusations, will stick?

Mr. DICKERSON: Well, I don't think so. I think probably voters think, oh, what a nightmare and why don't these two grow up? I think there is a little bit of a benefit here for those two candidates in getting in these back and forth fights. It reinforces the notion that it's really a two-person race. And for Mitt Romney, that's - there's benefit in that, because he's getting a lot of pressure from Mike Huckabee in Iowa and he's getting some pressure from other candidates in other states. And he'd really like to become the non-Rudy Giuliani alternative for conservatives who are looking for that alternative and at the moment seem to be picking from a number of different candidates.

BRAND: Was it interesting to you, John, that they seem to be more interested this time around in attacking each other than attacking Hillary Clinton?

Mr. DICKERSON: Well, that's right. I'm not sure whether the lack of mentions of Hillary Clinton - and there were a few, to be sure - but whether it was because she is having trouble in her party and is no longer the threat, or these candidates - and I think this is the answer - that these candidates have to scrape with each other because they are all in peril in one way or another. And they either have to knock the other guy down or try and build themselves up. And so that's the more frantic, immediate need.

BRAND: Well, speaking of Senator Clinton, her husband, Bill Clinton, the former president, has again been in the news for something that he said. And he said that he never supported the Iraq war. That is being contradicted today by the White House, which said, no, indeed, we had private conversations with him prior to the invasion and he supported it.

Mr. DICKERSON: Well, this is a very complicating for Hillary Clinton. You don't even need to adjudicate facts here to know that Hillary Clinton doesn't want to be talking about the Iraq war, where she voted to authorize the use of force and has paid the price for that, where Barack Obama has used that effectively in the key state of Iowa. Secondly, the notion that Bill Clinton might be on two sides of an issue reminds voters that was one thing that people didn't like about him, and still don't, and this notion that he didn't have core beliefs, that he would tell you one thing today and another thing tomorrow, this is all very off-message for Hillary Clinton's campaign.

BRAND: John Dickerson of Slate.com, thanks.

Mr. DICKERSON: Thank you.

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