Brit Hume asked a ticking time-bomb question of 10 GOP presidential candidates, and the answers he received made it clear -- fear and anger drive the Republican contest, and the man who can exploit those emotions will win his party's nomination.
The GOP debate sponsored by Fox News is over. Held at the University of South Carolina's Koger Center for the Arts, the gathering of 10 candidates was remarkable for its raw edges. No pretense of an Eleventh Commandment for Republicans; candidates attacked each other with little hesitation, especially on national security issues.
Hume presented a scenario of a terrorist attack, with suspects rounded up and held at Guantanamo Bay. Those suspects have info that another attack is imminent, Hume presented, before asking: Do you torture the suspects to get information?
And this is where Sen. John McCain found himself in another time and place.
He gave the logical answer: Torture doesn't work and it isn't right; it runs counter to the ideals of the United States.
Rudy Giuliani gave the red-meat answer: Do anything, everything, even "enhanced interrogations."
The crowd went nuts for Giuliani's words because they want a take-no-prisoners tough guy. They want to believe the U.S. can torture its way to safety and security. They don't want to hear a war hero talk about the futility of torture. They want Jack Bauer and the comfort of TV fiction.
Giuliani tough-guyed his way to a victory Tuesday night. To the GOP base he's still wrong on abortion and gay rights. But he acts like an ass-kicker, and all that matters is the act. McCain's real torture? Too real to be taken seriously.
Ron Paul, a Texas congressman, had his throat cut by Giuliani when he dared say that U.S. policies in the Middle East created blowback that helped spawn the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001. Giuliani claimed he'd never heard of such an explanation, a belittling bit of sarcasm delivered just as Giuliani's knife severed Paul's windpipe.
Mitt Romney was articulate, of course, and it still sounded contrived. The rest of the pack stayed back.
(The netizens at Free Republic -- conservative Republicans who power the primaries -- are mulling over their debate reactions here. David Catanese at KYTV has his analysis here. Missouri Politics was live blogging the event; its coverage is here. For coverage of an earlier GOP debate on MSNBC, click here).