For the first 30 minutes or so of the debate most of the questions were about foreign policy and especially Iraq. During these questions, Bush seemed combative and defensive. As he answered questions or responded to Kerry’s statements, Bush paced back and forth as close to the audience as could, aggressively gesturing all the while with his voice rising in volume and tightening in tone. He came off less likable in my opinion. Bush’s worst moment was when he sort of whined that with regard to Iran his administration was “doin’ just what he [Kerry] suggested.” This is the kind of thing that will continue to erode Bush’s advantage on foreign policy. In general, I thought Bush’s answers sounded more reasoned and intelligent than his answers from the first debate (although I disagree with him).
Bush did better in the second half of the debate when the questions turned to domestic issues. He made little jokes and he calmed down. However, the content was lacking. He made excuses for poor economic performance in some answers while in some answers persisting in asserting that things are going well. While his delivery was more easy going and classic “guy I want to have a beer with” style, I doubt people will buy it. It certainly wasn’t anything new substantively.
On judicial appointments, Bush stuck his neck out and said he would not appoint anyone to the Supreme Court who would have voted for the Dread Scott decision. “That’s opinion, that’s not what the Constitution says. What we need are strict constructionists.” Law Talking Guy, would you please put the Dread Scott decision into a context of strict versus loose constructionists?
The Republican spin line is clearly going to be “you can run but you can’t hide” with regard to Kerry’s Senate record. Bush said it twice and the second time he said it, it sounded like he was waiting to spring it. It’s a little late in the game to start that up. If Bush gets acclaimed as the winner of this debate, it might get some traction. But in the even of a tie or a Kerry win, I doubt it will work.