Fox News Iowa Republican Presidential Debate Recap

Thursday night, Republican hopefuls squared off in the final debate before the pivotal Iowa contest in the new year.  Fox News was the “host”, so the usual suspects served as moderators – Chris Wallace, Megyn Kelly, and Brett Baier.  The format was relatively cut-and-dry with very little in terms of gimmicks – the Twitter nonsense and YouTube.  The candidates appeared polished and seasoned from an seemingly endless series of these debates and provided a rather encouraging glimpse of what Barack Obama may face as we head toward the general election.  On the whole, I thought it was a pretty good debate – but that could just be because it’s the “last one.”  I love the vetting process, but I’m not really sure I can stomach another one of these things for a while.

Either way, here’s the rundown.  Scoring’s nothing fancy.  (1-10)  Just in case you’re not that sharp.  Scoring a (1) is not a good thing.

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RICK PERRY:

I’ll be pretty plain about it; Perry did pretty well for himself Thursday night.  Coupled with a solid performance in his last outing, I do believe the Texas Governor will be making some rethink writing him off.  I can’t say he “won” the night outright, but he was certainly a contender for best moment of the night.  His “Reforming Washington” initiative which once spawned the Pelosi debate challenge was extremely well received by the audience and may have been the biggest moment Perry’s had since he proudly announced his candidacy and his intention to make Washington “inconsequential.”

After some back-and-forth about Newt’s alleged “lobbying” past, Perry drew quite a favorable response from the crowd and made me begin to wonder if the Texas Governor’s still got a role to play in this race.

“The issue we ought to be talking about on this stage is how you really overhaul Washington DC.  And the idea that you can’t tell the difference between lobbying and consulting, the idea that we have Congress staying there as many days as they do and the salary that they have….  That’s the reason I’ve called for a part-time Congress.  Cut their pay in half, cut their time in Washington in half, cut their staff in half.  Send’em home.  Let’em get a job like everyone else back home has.  And live within the laws of which they pass.  You do that and pass a balanced budget amendment to the United States Constitution and the conversations that we’ve been having up here will be minor.”  - The crowd really did go nuts.

Cavuto pushed back and said/asked “They worked 151 days last year – how much more would constitute part-time?”  Perry’s response?  “I would suggest to you 140 days every other year like we do in Texas.”

Practical?  Probably not.  Popular?  Absolutely.

I think Governor Perry was attempting to play to that line of thinking when he also reasserted his desire to end lifetime appointments for the Federal Bench.  I’m not sure how he thinks making political the only supposedly non-political branch of government is going to improve the situation; but I suppose if you want to cut Congress’s pay, staff, and time in Washington; it is probably only a natural evolution to extend it over to the Judicial Branch as well.  Executive trumps Legislative – Executive trumps Judicial?

Perry was also – once again – willing to have a laugh at his own expense.  When it was pointed out that he has admitted publicly that he’s not the best debater and that may be problematic in a contest with President Obama, Perry responded by saying “I’m kinda getting where I like these things.  I’ll get there early.”  He then shamelessly attempted to tie in a Tim Tebow reference for good measure  - something about critics saying he can’t throw and would never be a good quarterback.  I guess that puts Perry in the camp of folks that somehow think Tim Tebow’s winning games because he’s actually a “good quarterback.”  Note to self – Rick Perry knows nothing about football, but the guy’s got his finger on the pulse of Evangelical football fans.

Perry gets a (7).  A more than solid performance that will no doubt make some take another look at the first former front-runner.

 

MICHELE BACHMANN:

She won the Ames Straw Poll and has fizzled ever since.  Could this be her reemergence as a legitimate contender?

Probably not.

She continued pushing the Robo-Michele response that she’s “worked very hard” in Congress to push conservative principles.  Actually, I applaud the Fox moderators for not calling on Rick Santorum to once again point out that she’s worked hard, but never achieved a darn thing.  Considering the fact that the audience received Perry’s call for limiting Congress’s time spent “working”, she may need to play another angle.

I should also admit one thing about myself before we move forward because it does very much influence the way I judge Michele Bachmann’s performances in these debates.  And yes, I know it’s unfair.  It may even be somewhat sexist.  But man, it must suck to be a woman running for president.  Here I am watching her debate the big issues of the day and all I could think about was her wardrobe and her makeup choices.  Her face just looked tight and her makeup was more than unflattering.  The woman’s got an eye issue and she seems determined to show it off like a beauty mark.  Plain Jane, Mrs. Bachmann.  Plain Jane.  We know you’re attractive.  Downplay it.  Again, I know it’s not fair.  I couldn’t care less about what Romney was wearing short of him showing up like the “Rent is too damn high” guy.  But if Nixon can lose the presidency because he had a 5 o’clock shadow, Bachmann can lose points with this guy for looking like the SNL caricature of herself.

But that wasn’t her only problem.  She seemed determined to hit Gingrich every chance she got – I suppose desperation can bring that out of anyone.  After attempting to nail him on the Fannie /Freddie coziness, she then preceded to accuse him of loosely supporting partial birth abortion.  When Gingrich dismissed both assaults as lacking factual foundation, she threw what amounted to a presidential primary temper tantrum saying “I’m serious candidate for President of the United States” and she was tired of people dismissing her as if she didn’t have her facts straight.

But the night wasn’t all bad for Bachmann.  When she got away from Newt, she actually reminded me of the candidate that once rocketed to the top of the polls.  After Ron Paul gave what might have been the scariest defense I’ve ever heard a Republican give for a defense of a position on Iran, she quickly remarked “I think I have never heard a more dangerous for American security than the one we just heard from Ron Paul.”  I very much agreed and think most watching probably did as well.

She went on to say, “We know without a shadow of a doubt that Iran will use a nuclear bomb to wipe Israel off the map and use it against the United States – look no farther than their constitution… their goal to set up a world-wide caliphate… we’d be fools to ignore their plan.”

Bachmann gets a (3).  She had a window tonight to reclaim some of the momentum she once had in the state of her birth and I do believe she wasted it by attempting to chip away at Newt Gingrich rather than pointing out why she should be the Party’s nominee.  It may surprise some of you, but I’m disappointed actually.  I would have liked to have seen Bachmann stick around for a while.  It now looks like it may be Iowa, New Hampshire, maybe South Carolina, and done.

 

JON HUNTSMAN:

I received a very passionate and well-written email earlier today encouraging me to give Jon Huntsman a fair shake.  I guess the email’er didn’t like that I scored a couple of the last debates with (1) representing the Huntsman standard of suckiness.  Because I didn’t know the motives or the affiliations of the person that sent me the email, I took it upon myself to assume it must have been sent by one of his three daughters who have joined him on the campaign trail.  And in the spirit of vanity and optimism, I also assumed it was the really attractive one.

Soooo…. Either because I promised his most attractive daughter I’d give him another look; or because he managed to change the delivery and/or the message Thursday night, Huntsman was able to convince me that he’s not entirely RINO.  I still see no path that would lead me to voting for the guy, but I am taking the time to include him in the recap, so I’d say that’s progress.

 

The one area where I have agreed with Huntsman from day one is on the matter of these pledges.  I think they’re ill-conceived and counter to the notion of responsible government.  I think they make our representatives beholden to special interests that only purport to have the interests of the American people in mind.  Some represent sound policy, but even those are unconscionable to this conservative that believes the only oath a politician should take is to uphold and defend the Constitution.  Period.

So, I applauded Huntsman when he said he wasn’t “going to pander or sign those silly pledges.”  He scored more than a few points with me when he said he “wasn’t going to show up to a Donald Trump debate.”  And I also must admit, he certainly got my attention when he said “we’re getting screwed as Americans.”  Someone poll-tested the “youth vote.”

He made a fine argument that we have both an “economic deficit and a trust deficit.”  Frankly, I’m not sure which one is more in disrepair.  He called for term limits and said the Republican Party should make no effort to “pander to the Hispanic vote.  Instead, he said we should hold firm to our principles and let them come to us.  Much agreed.

And then there was still the typical Huntsman nonsense.  On China, he said we “Need more than a transactional relationship”  - we need shared values –  that’s democracy, human rights, religious tolerance, and the Internet?  For a guy that’s supposed to be the foreign affairs expert on that stage, he sure seems unwilling to make a definitive statement on just about any issue related to foreign policy.  I think the guy wants us to take on faith that he has the answers – they’re just too complex to sum up in a 30-second window.  Newsflash Huntsman – throw me a bone.  Let me see if I can handle it.

But then there was the best moment of the night for Huntsman… and it came at the close of the debate, so I’m certain it hit home in more than a few households still tuning in – “I actually worked for Ronald Reagan.”  Can you think of six more powerful words to say to close a GOP debate?

Huntsman gets a (4).  He mattered for a change – and that matters.  Maybe not in Iowa, but last I checked they get Fox News in New Hampshire as well.

 

RON PAUL:

Rush said he can’t win and I’m not one to disagree with Rush just for the heck of it.  That said, I continue to give Paul the opportunity to demonstrate what it is that he would really intend to do if he somehow became our nation’s next president; and he has once again left me wanting.  Is he the babbling, borderline batshit crazy congressman that goes on rants defending Iran and blaming American foreign policy; or is he the guy that could write a book about Liberty that could serve as a treatise on limited and responsible government?  Going by the Rick Perry – what you see is what he is – standard, I’m inclined to go with babbling batshit crazy congressman.

 

On cutting spending, Paul said he would task the welfare / warfare camps with making cuts to each other’s interests and then hold them to it – that’ll work.  Someone wanna tell Paul that they just tried that with the “super-committee?”

When he was asked if he would pledge his support for the eventual nominee – should his/her last name not be Paul – and he refused to give an answer.  Instead, he opted to answer the “electability” question instead saying “everyone up here can beat Obama.”  Again, someone wanna tell Congressman Paul that if he runs as a third party candidate, NO ONE up there will be beating Barack Obama?

In his defense, he was on the verge of a great moment on the subject of GSE’s (Government Sponsored Enterprises).  He quickly pointed out that regardless of how Newt or anyone else spins them, they’re still not “free enterprise.” And then he went into one of those classic Ron Paul stringing words and topics together randomly rants.  Let’s just say he lost me.

And then there was the Cavuto question where he asked Paul to defend his own contributions to out-of-control spending in Washington where the moderator asked Paul to defend a March 15, 2009 statement where he said he would “take any opportunity to give money back” to the people of his district.  What ensued from there was an exercise in patience and a demonstration of what it likes to live in the mind of one Ron Paul.  He admitted that if 434 other members behaved the same way spending would grow exponentially.  He then proudly stated that he’s never voted for an earmark, but believed every piece of spending should be earmarked to prevent power from being given to the Executive Branch.  That turned into a proclamation that he doesn’t want to be a powerful Executive.  Again, he lost me.

Oh, and let’s not forget Iran.  (I’m paraphrasing here)

Congressman Paul – if you knew Iran was going to get nuclear weapon – you’d still be in favor of lifting sanctions?  You’d effectively be running to the Left of Barack Obama.  You cool with that?

Of course I would.  There is no evidence of it happening.  The situation’s no different than in 2003.  It’s another Iraq coming… War propaganda coming on.  The sentiment is mixed – even in Israel.  The greatest danger is overreacting…  We lived in cold war with 30,000 missiles pointed at us.  That was dangerous.  

What if there was solid intelligence? (Not paraphrasing…)

All we’re doing is promoting their desire to have it.  How do we treat people with a nuclear weapon – with a lot more respect.  Sanctions are an act of war.

Obviously I’d like to see a lot less nuclear weapons – iran not to have one -reduce them – less chance of war -but to declare war on 1.2 billion muslims and say all muslims are the same – this is dangerous talk-  yeah there are some radicals but they don’t come here to kill us because we’re free and prosperous.  Do they go to Switzerland or Sweden?  That’s absurd. If you think that is the solution, then we have no chance of winning this.  They come here and they explicitly explain it – CIA has explained it to us- they want to do us harm bc we’re bombing them…  

Why were we flying a drone over Iran?  Why do we have to bomb so many countries?  Why do we have to have so many bases?  How you gonna rebuild the military when we have no money – how we gonna take care of the people?  Danger is us overreacting.

Paul gets a (3).  He matters in Iowa because everyone matters until they no longer matter.  Sadly, I think Paul will matter right up to the day he decides to get out of this race and run as an independent.

 

NEWT GINGRICH:

Charles Krauthammer says Newt Gingrich has an “establishment republican” problem.  Anyone wanna bet whether he solved that problem Thursday night?

No takers here.

That said, Newt once again demonstrated the undeniable talents that helped catapult his campaign to the forefront.  He was center-stage – literally and figuratively – and took the best shots from the rest of the field and the moderators; and I’m inclined to believe he emerged relatively unscathed.

But first, the negatives…

I thought Gingrich made an overly academic and shamelessly vague defense of his time working for the overlords of federally subsidized home ownership by defending GSE’s and attempting to compare the Freddie/Fannie giants to “your local electric cooperatives and credit unions.”  I very literally laughed out loud when I heard the words coming from his mouth.  I laughed harder when no one effectively called him on his BS argument.

While defending his Paul Ryan “right wing social engineering” Meet the Press remarks, Newt once again doubled-down on his position that sound leadership is governing from the most conservative position that Americans can support.  Probably a fine practical approach; but not exactly the kind of things folks like to hear in a primary debate, now is it?

The positives…

Anyone else notice that every time another candidate was about to unleash or Newt – or just unleashed on Newt – he paid them a compliment and rendered them absolutely silent?  Brilliant.

On Israel, Gingrich made one of the most articulate and grounded arguments of the evening for the flawed position on the “peace process” put forth by the Obama administration saying, “People talk about a peace process… 11 missiles fired into Israel last month; over 200 missiles fired at Israel this year.  You think if we had 11 missiles fired into the United States – well with this president he might say ‘gee if we could communicate you might like us more’ – most Americans would say if you’re firing missiles at me that might not be a very good gesture.”

When asked how he would advise Republican leadership to handle the Keystone pipeline / payroll tax cut debate, he took a shot at Romney’s “zany” remarks and said,

“I sometimes get accused of using language that’s too strong. So I’ve been standing here editing.  I’m very concerned about not appearing as zany.  The President cannot figure out — I’m using mild words here – it is utterly irrational to say I’m now going to veto a middle class tax cut to protect left wing environmental extremists in San Francisco so that we’re going to kill American jobs, weaken American energy, make us more vulnerable to the Iranians, and do so in a way that makes no sense to any normal rational American.”

Attach it to middle class tax cut- send it to president -make him veto it.

Perhaps, the best moment of the night for Gingrich came when Megyn Kelly asked Newt to defend comments he made regarding subpoenaing federal judges or possibly eliminating courts altogether.  Kelly said to Newt – some say that will shift the balance of power?

Newt’s response?

They’re right.   The courts are far too powerful, dictatorial, and way too arrogant in respect to their opinions on the interpretation of the Constitution.  Then he gave a history lesson on the judicial system – which will no doubt be fact-checked endlessly.

He drew a huge response from the crowd when he said, “If judges are so radically anti-american that they thought One Nation Under God was wrong, then they shouldn’t be on the court.”  In a nutshell, Newt said he would take on the entire judicial system if it refused to restrict itself.  When asked how he would respond to his critics, Newt fired back.

NEWT:  “Have they studied Jefferson?  In 1802 he abolished 18 of 35 federal judges.”

KELLY: “Something that was highly criticized

NEWT:  “Not by anybody in power in 1802… Jefferson was asked, is Supreme Court supreme?  That is absurd…That would be an oligarchy… Lincoln repudiates Dred Scott decision in his first inaugural address in 1861 and says no 9 people can make law in this country.  That would be an end to our freedom.”

I share that little history lesson from Newt not because it was all that impressive from where I sit, but only because I do believe the casual political enthusiast was more than impressed with his sense of history.  Newt’s been playing the “I’m a historian – not a politician” card for a while now, and I do believe this was the most effective argument he’s made directly to the American People to support that claim.  I guess we’ll have to see if the folks of Iowa were buying it.

Newt gets an (8) following the standard for front-runners from previous debates – emerge in one piece and the night goes down as a success.

 

MITT ROMNEY:

Some great lines from Romney Thursday night…

“Mr. President how’d you do running General Motors?”

“America’s in decline?  It is if he’s president; not if I’m president.”

“Obama asking for our drone back?  A strong America is the best ally peace has ever known… A foreign policy based on pretty please?  You’ve gotta be kidding?”

“This has to be the American century – America has to lead the free world.  And Free world has to lead the world.”

“A strong military doesn’t create war – A strong American prevents people from testing us.”

A few not so great moments as well…

When asked to clarify his previous position that those here illegally would have to return to their native countries and “get in the back of the line”; and how that would be squared with his seemingly opposing position that he would not “round them up”, Mitt said he would push for an ID card for legal immigrants – something that would require verification from employers like E-Verify.  The problem – while Mitt said he would sanction employers for not screening in a fashion similar to those issued tax offenders, he still never really answered the question of how he’d “round them up.”  I suppose he’s making the argument that if they can’t work – they won’t stay.  He didn’t say it, but I can only assume that’s what he was getting at.  Still a worthless argument in my book, but I figured I’d at least give him the benefit of the doubt on a half-way flawed idea and flesh it out.

He also took a pretty good shot from Chris Wallace when the Fox News Sunday host asked Romney to defend the evolution of his positions on gay rights, abortion, and “guns.”  I think Mitt did a fair job explaining the move to the Right – that is if you are of the mindset that one can evolve with such positions both adulthood.  Either way, just pointing it out for the casual viewer is problematic enough for Romney.  No defense would be a complete and adequate defense once that poison pill has been floated out there.

Romney gets a (7).  I thought he did a more than adequate job of remaining sufficiently adequate.  I’m fairly certain that’s what he was shooting for, so I’d say that’s mittion accomplished.

 

RICK SANTORUM:

He might be a marginal candidate with no shot of winning the Republican nomination, but there’s no sign Rick Santorum is going to go down without a fight.  He bet his entire campaign on Iowa; and because of that, he may have had more riding on Thursday’s debate than anyone else.  Actually, he was anything but shy about admitting as much during the debate saying that he’s held more than 350 town hall meetings and he’s “counting on Iowa to help me catch fire.”

Was this the spark that will light the fire?

I’m frankly a little surprised that Santorum hasn’t seen a bump at least somewhere along the way in the race, so I guess he’s due.  In fairness, I do believe he is the most across-the-board conservative in the field.  Why he’s been unable to find traction is lost on me entirely.  We’ve seen Bachmann, and Cain, and Gingrich surges… Why not Santorum?

If he had a theme for the evening it was clearly “proven conservative leadership.”  He said of his time in the Senate that “if you were a conservative, you came to Rick Santorum.”  He then contrasted said leadership position and style with that of Speaker Gingrich by saying “he had a conservative revolution against him.”

When asked how he would handle the looming government shutdown, he offered the best line of the night.

“In 2008, the American public were convinced by Barack Obama that they needed something to believe in.  We now understand that what we need is a president that believes in them.”

Call me a flip-flopper, but I don’t care what I’ve said about the guy in the past… I’m buying what he’s selling there.  As a proud Reagan Republican, one of the things I appreciate most about the Reagan presidency was the fact that he made Americans proud to be Americans again.  Pride in country and pride in self.  If we are to emerge from the doldrums of this recession, it will take a leader who can inspire a sense of optimism – not in the brilliance of his leadership, but in the potential of the American People themselves.  I don’t know that Rick Santorum is that guy; but I do know I heard a little Reagan when I heard that line.

Santorum’s next best moments of the evening came in response to Ron Paul’s latest crazy Iran rant –  “They’ve been at war with us since 1979… Iran is not any other country.  It is a country that is ruled by the equivalent of Al Qaeda at the top.  They are a radical theocracy.  The principle virtue of Iran is not freedom or opportunity.  It’s martyrdom.”  He went on to say that the situation with Iran is nothing like the Cold War – that this is no deterrent of mutually assured destruction with that regime.  “MAD would not be preventing war; it would be an inducement to war.   This is their objective… calamity is their objective.  Their mission is to take on the west.  They don’t hate us because of what we do or our policies, but because of who we are.  We should say close them down or we’ll close them down for you.”

I can’t lie, I’m starting to warm up to the guy.  I never saw it coming and really still can’t believe it’s happening.  The guy’s a solid conservative; and I can’t say at all that I’d be even remotely worried about him going head-to-head with President Obama.  Either way, he gets a (7).  Anyone that can listen closely enough to Ron Paul to make an effective case rebutting one of his foreign policy rants is A-Okay in my book.  Another good performance and still no gaffes or deal-breaking moments to speak of.  Someone wanna tell me how this guy’s still in 6th?

 

 

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  7 comments for “Fox News Iowa Republican Presidential Debate Recap

  1. Kim Yukel
    December 16, 2011 at 9:55 am

    Thanks for your analysis of last night’s debate. My husband is a staunch Republican. I am a right-leaning Independent/Libertarian. We are always annoyed and appalled at the liberal media and it’s incredibly biased news. I have never been to this website before but stumbled across it trying to find some analysis of the FOX debate (and will have to bookmark it as a new favorite). Your analysis of last night’s debate was dead-on. Although I’m a woman, I even have to agree with your comments on Michele Bachmann. She’s very intelligent and passionate, but so screechy and intense-looking. My husband can’t stand Hillary Clinton, but look at how’s she’s even softened over the years! As for Rick Santorum, I generally don’t have any issue with what he says, but it’s how he says. He’s just not very likeable. Comes across as disagreeable, stubborn, desperate and whiny. What last night’s debate showed us, once again, is that the perfect Republican nominee is a blend of all of these candidates. Unfortunately he/she doesn’t exist, so the priority in 2012 MUST be to get out the votes and support whoever is the nominee, with one goal in mind … NO MORE OBAMA. Thanks.

    • December 16, 2011 at 10:54 am

      Many thanks for taking the time to share your thoughts Kim. I’m glad you stumbled over here and that you liked what you found.

      I think your Bachmann-Clinton comparison is probably a very good one. The Clinton of today knows she’s smart, accomplished, and respected. Candidate Clinton was none of those things and came off like a woman with something to prove rather than a case to make to the people.

      You are also very correct that the combination of all these candidates would probably create the most desirable candidate we could hope for; but since we cannot, I guess we’re eventually going to have to choose. I’m approaching a decision on which candidate I’ll vote for and I know I’m looking forward to a day when Barack Obama’s officially our only opponent.

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