There is a clear contrast between John McCain and his rival candidates when it comes to his willingness to talk about Iraq and matters of fiscal conservatism, but tonight's Republican debate probably won't be the forum to articulate them, according to McCain's senior political strategist.
When asked about the difference between McCain's ample comments on the war in Iraq compared to the comparatively slim offerings by Rudy Giuliani and Mitt Romney, strategist John Weaver said "there is also the contrast of dealing with runaway spending and entitlement reform that really no one wants to talk about. But we are not going to control the format of the questions. So probably the most the Senator or anybody will be on is 9 to 12 minutes. It's not exactly the venue to get those things through."
The most important goal tonight then, is to look presidential.
"I don't know how many undecided people will turn in and look at this," said Weaver. "But if somebody did and said that person can be and should be commander-in-chief, that person has a vision. That's what you hope to accomplish."
In last week's debate between the Democratic candidates, moderator Brian Williams asked for a show of hands by those candidates who believed that there was indeed a global war on terror. Notably, John Edwards did not raise his hand. I asked Weaver what McCain thought.
After naming a raft of countries in Europe, Asia, Africa and the Middle East that had been the targets of terrorist attacks, he argued that global terrorism was clearly a reality, but that when it came to a global effort to fight it, he said "Obviously the United States is leading it and is doing the bulk of that and obviously we have to do a better job of uniting our allies and dividing or enemies than we have done in the last several years," he said, clarifying "well into the Clinton administration."