When you put six people on stage who are devoid of feasible ideas having an intellectually stimulating debate is an unrealistic expectation. That is exactly what happened Saturday night on the campus of Drake University in Des Moines, Iowa during the Iowa Republican Presidential Debate.
ABC televised the debate with George Stephanopoulos and Diane Sawyer moderating. The audience which, by the recent extremely low standards acted acceptably was chosen by the Iowa Republican Party. For the purposes of this discussion I won’t even get into the footloose manner in which the “facts” were handled. Suffice to say that I’m sure Glenn Kessler and his contemporaries have been working feverously and I look forward to reading their work Sunday morning.
The debate was both a showdown between Mitt Romney and Newt Gingrich along with a desperate attempt by Rick Santorum, Rick Perry and Michele Bachmann to become relevant. Ron Paul had his loyal, and at times vocal, corps in attendance. I for one will not be surprised if he finishes well in the January 3rd caucuses. It takes a dedicated and motivated group of supporters to do well in a caucus state and Ron Paul has that.
In the main event Romney and Gingrich went head to head on health care where both of them fall somewhat short of conservative dogma. Stephanopoulos exploited a tiny opening Romney gave him during an answer and turned it into an exchange of attacks. Newt appeared to have a great line when he said the only reason Romney wasn’t a career politician is that he lost a Senate race to the late Ted Kennedy. Romney cutely counter saying if he had made the NFL he probably would have been a football star. Romney also played to the conservative base by citing the 10th Amendment on at least 5 occasions. Later they went head to head over Gingrich’s recent statement in which he referred to the Palestinians as an “Invented people”. With the aid of Santorum, Romney was able to paint Gingrich as at least reckless.
Bachmann and Santorum attacked both Romney and Gingrich, who are leading in the polls, on health care, the payroll tax holiday extension and anything else they could. During these exchanges Romney had what I thought was the winning line of the night when Perry again challenged him on a passage in his book. Perry stated, “I read the book.” Romney responded, “I wrote the book.”
Bachmann lamented Herman Cain in both her first and last statements. Citing his 9-9-9 plan and unveiling her win-win-win plan. She never really could explain it – of course neither could Cain explain 9-9-9 – but at least Glenn Kessler can just cut and paste from old columns to refute part of it. Her other new line was to attempt to cast Romney and Gingrich as one by repeatedly calling them Newt Romney. If that has a familiar ring to it that is because it sounds a lot like the name of the legendary late Notre Dame football coach Knute Rockne. With Bachmann’s knowledge of historical facts perhaps that is who she really was referring to. Romney cleared up the identity problem by stating that he and Newt are not clones.
The second session of the debate began with a series of questions on character especially marital fidelity, setting up an attack on Gingrich. Perry took the bait and added a personal appeal to the Christian voters; Santorum was rather restrained in his remarks; Paul said character mattered but then went off on one of his tangents; Romney spun the question into an attack on President Obama; Bachmann talked about the Federalist Papers but made a big point of stating. “I’m a Christian” – which with an Iowa audience might have also been an attack on Romney. Considering the audience he was playing to, Gingrich handled it well by saying he had made mistakes and had gone to God for forgiveness.
The winners were Romney and Gingrich. Romney stuck with his Willard’s world philosophy of assuming the nomination is his and running against President Obama – he attacked at every opportunity. Gingrich knew his target audience and played to it well.
Ron Paul continued to be the crazy uncle but don’t discount him in the caucus. Perry, while having perhaps his best debate performance to date, didn’t do nearly enough to resurrect his campaign. Interestingly, he threw Gingrich a lifeline when he said he thought the press had blown Gingrich’s statement on the Palestinians out of proportion. Keep an eye on that – was Perry making nice for a reason? Bachmann, despite the two new soundbite lines, was just her crazy self again. She has to do very well in Iowa or it is all over for her baring a third party run. I don’t think she did nearly enough other than guarantee I will get to bed earlier than the fact checkers.
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