The main reason that the last truly great Republican, Barry Goldwater, lost his Presidential run was that he refused to flatly rule out preemptive use of a US nuclear weapon in the Cold War. The fear that this meant that he might provoke a nuclear shooting war with Russia over Vietnam or some other Cold War hotspot was summed up in a widely displayed bumper sticker that parodied the Goldwater campaign's official slogan, "In your heart, you know he's right," as "In your guts, you know he's nuts" -- a fear that the Johnson campaign brilliantly if brutally stoked with a one-shot TV ad that explicitly threatened the voters' children with being blown up by nukes if they voted the wrong way.
I had several occasions to think of that ad, last night, while watching the Republican candidates' debate. It was that kind of a night.
But first, the nominees for stupidest question of the night. The 2nd runner up goes to one of the emailed in questions, to Tom Tancredo, asking him who other than him should be the Republican nominee. Unsurprisingly, he declined to pick one, and said that he'd support whoever won the nomination. The 1st runner up goes to another emailed in question, to Mitt Romney, asking him what he hated most about America. Unsurprisingly, he answered that there isn't anything that he hates about America. But the winner, and it's a doozy, goes to Chris Matthews himself, who asked all 10 candidates how they would feel about having Bill Clinton living in the White House again. Unsurprisingly, all ten candidates were against it; basically they all used their response time to bash Hillary Clinton. It was, in fact, almost the only thing the whole night that all ten of them agreed upon, that Hillary Clinton is a bad person.
Oh, and a special prize for worst phrased question of the night: Matthews asked all 10 candidates how they felt about the requirement for national tamper-proof ID cards, but the way he phrased it, it was impossible to tell if he was talking about tamper-proof biometric IDs for visitors to this country or about requiring all Americans to carry federally mandated national ID cards. Their answers were a confused jumble because they were under tight time pressure in their answers and none of them ever figured out exactly which of those two questions they were supposed to be answering.
They came close to agreement on Iraq: all of them except Ron Paul supported the President and want to stay the course. Tommy Thompson stood out among the other nine as being the only one who actually had a strategy for winning that even passes the laugh test, his (probably should be famous) three point plan: 1) Condition our staying the course on the al Maliki government winning a vote in parliament to keep us there. He doesn't say what he'd do if that vote didn't pass or if al Maliki failed to submit it; this would only be meaningful if the answer is "or else we pull out and let the al Maliki government fail, and begin negotiations afresh with whoever wins the civil war." I don't know if he has the guts to say that, though. 2) Make the Iraqis revise their constitution yet again to turn the 18 administrative regions into actual states, each with its own state government, and let the Shiite majority regions elect Shiites and so forth. 3) Divide up Iraqi oil revenues into thirds: one third to the Baghdad government, one third divided among the states, one third divided up evenly among the whole population. This fascinates me because it's just about the least conservative thing that was said all night, since it contradicts the whole idea of privatizing the oil sector and seems to include an actual threat to pull out if Iraq's governing Shiites keep freezing out the Sunnis the way they have been.
Oh, and I forgot one other point of unanimous agreement: all ten of them, including Rudy Giuliani, were in favor of overturning Roe v Wade. The other 9 were all in agreement that the day that Roe gets struck down will be "a great day in American history;" Rudy's more "liberal" stance was that he wants Roe overturned but isn't that excited about it, and is okay with the political reality that if abortion's legality was turned over to the individual states that his own home state would probably leave it legal.
The buried lede: But no, the really scary thing about the night was just how eager everybody on that platform was, even Ron Paul, about nuking Iran. The question Matthews offered, originally to McCain, was whether or not he agreed with Fred Thompson's claim that Iran has already committed acts of war against us, and that we're fully justified in any use of force against them in return. Not only did he agree, at great length, but went on to say that if the CIA thinks that Iran has a nuclear weapon and might use it against Israel, we should drop The Bomb. This rattled Matthews enough that he asked everybody on the platform if the US would assist Israel in a unilateral attack on Iran's nuclear sites. McCain and Giuliani both said that the President should ask the CIA's permission first; everybody else agreed 100% yes.
Sam Brownback wanted to go farther than that. Earlier in the evening, he was asked what to do about the fact that even in the "moderate Islamic" regimes that he thinks should be supporting us more, our popularity is down to around 10% to 12%. Brownback's answer was that we should engage those "moderate Islamic" regimes, and he specifically named Pakistan, with "the full range of tools: economic, diplomatic, and military." (Emphasis added.) That's right, not only does Sam Brownback join the vocal majority on the platform who were openly asking why in the heck Bush hasn't nuked Iran yet, he wants us to threaten to invade Pakistan if the Pakistani people don't start liking us more.
If that doesn't scare you, you're not paying attention.