Romney won, Rudy lost. That's Chris Matthews' take on the GOP presidential debate he moderated on MSNBC last night. Matthews made his views clear during his appearance on this morning's "Today." Meredith Vieira, who interviewed Matthews at 7:09 EDT, seemed to share her colleague's assessment.
TODAY CO-HOST MEREDITH VIEIRA: Winners and losers in your assessment?
MSNBC HOST CHRIS MATTHEWS: Oh, come on. Well, let me just say I thought that just factually, Giuliani stood out on the issue of abortion rights, clearly. At one point I asked if they would be happy, if it would be a good day for America, if the courts struck down Roe v. Wade, the court decision back in '73 that gave a woman the right to an abortion, and he said 'that would be OK,' Very tentative. And then later on he reasserted his position that he is for abortion rights. So I think that separated him on a big issue.
VIEIRA: Yeah, but Chris, he also said it would be OK if a strict constructionist judge upheld Roe v. Wade. It sounded like he was talking out of both sides of his mouth there.
View video here.
In fairness to Giuliani, as a matter of constitutional principle he was not necessarily being inconsistent. He has made it clear that he could imagine a strict constructionist judge deciding that Roe should be upheld as a matter of stare decisis -- respect for established precedent. Unless one takes an entirely results-oriented approach to court decisions, something judicial conservatives pride themselves on not doing, Rudy's responses can be squared. Vieira tacitly embraced a more populist approach: if you're for abortion rights you should uphold Roe, and vice versa. It doesn't necessarily work that way. And that is true in both directions. For example, pro-choice constitutional scholar Alan Dershowitz has acknowledged that Roe was wrongly decided and should be overturned.
OK, back to the Meredith-Matthews banter.
MATTHEWS: He [Rudy] had some difficulty last night.
And later . . .
VIEIRA: Let me ask you about Mitt Romney. Because he comes in here, he's one of those candidates that everbody talks about but he's not doing particularly well in the polls, yet a lot of people felt last night he looked and sounded the most presidential of the group. What do you think about that?
MATTHEWS: I think he'll go up on the polls. Because I think a lot of people, maybe two or three million people, saw him last night, the political people, they'll talk him up, it'll get around, we're talking about it right now. I think Mitt Romney will move into the top three very clearly now. I think.
As Meredith began to close the segment down, Matthews interjected, clearly wanting to give his bottom-line conclusion.
MATTHEWS: So it's probably a lucky night for Romney, altogether.
My two cents say Matthews was on the mark. As much as I would generally want to resist superficial impressions, it's unquestionable that Romney looked the most comfortable and presidential. And on a night when all were seeking to be seen as the successor to the man in whose library they stood, by his sunniness and good nature Mitt seemed most fit for the mantle.
ASIDE: If Rudy didn't help himself, neither did McCain in my opinion. He looked tired and confused at times. And his "gates of hell" line, while popular in the hall, struck me as canned and forced.
Contact Mark at firstname.lastname@example.org