As anticipated the Republicans were a bit livelier in their big debate last night. And this morning the pundits are out in force, analyzing the debate performances. Red State gave an interesting view, with Erick Erickson not really giving any of the field high marks, declaring Romney the winner by default. I watched it and was taken by several things.
1) Newt Gingrich- I thought he had a good debate. He took on Chris Wallace because he is fed up with the media fixation on his campaign failings. Not sure it was the smart thing to do in the long term, but he certainly turned the focus away from his failed campaign infrastructure during the debate, even comparing his foibles to that of Ronald Reagan. Gingrich’s other point, that the so called super-committee set up as part of the debt ceiling deal was a stupid idea, is essentially correct. But as Erickson points out debating has never been a problem for Gingrich. Organizing and working have been the problems. Good performance, but still a second tier candidate who will be crushed in Iowa.
2) Michelle Bachmann- She held her ground against the attack she knew was coming from Tim Pawlenty. And while many are incredulous about the substance of her answers on the debt ceiling, and her highlighting the save the traditional light-bulb legislation as a major accomplishment, I think that misses the essential appeal of the Bachmann candidacy in Iowa. She is the anti-Washington candidate, standing her ground against those selling governance and compromise as essential to the future of the Republic. Not raising the debt ceiling, as Rick Santorum pointed out, was not a mathematical possibility. And if that is the standard of judgement then Bachmann loses the argument to Pawlenty and Santorum. But in my opinion that is not the standard. I think Bachmann more than held her ground, and was not at all injured by the attacks.
3) Tim Pawlenty- A genuine nice guy trying to get tough. I just don’t think he made any progress by virtue of the debate. His hope rests on superior organization on the ground, where most feel he has invested to produce the best Iowa field team. Failure to score in the top two in Ames would have to be considered a bad blow to the Pawlenty campaign. But it could be worse. He could be Jon Huntsman.
4) Jon Huntsman. The biggest waste of Presidential campaign resources since Fred Thompson’s candidacy. His contributors should sue the campaign for malpractice. This guy does not know where he wants to be positioned, and his halting, tentative performance should make clear that he will never break the 4% mark. He should spare himself further embarrassment and get out now.
5) Mitt Romney. Governor Romney, after some tough interactions on the stump in Iowa, performed well. I agree with Erickson that he wins by not losing. And although Pawlenty went after him a bit on Romney Care the barbs were mostly exchanged between the other candidates. Romney continues his inexorable march to the nomination, despite the best efforts of some Republicans and the media to portray him as a weak front-runner.
6) Were there any other candidates there?
Many people seemed stunned by the unanimous show of hands by the assembled candidates that they would reject a 10-1 “grand bargain” that provided for that ratio of spending cuts to revenue increases in order to solve our budget problems. While I was not surprised by the response it just shows how dug in the Republican base is on that issue. As a substantive matter the position is ludicrous. But as I pointed out on the Bachmann matter that is not what the candidates are thinking about as they hope to gain traction with Republican primary voters.
A win for Romney, with Bachmann, in my opinion, also a winner and now poised to win Ames and then withstand the coming entry of Governor Perry into the race.