The most telling moment of Thursday’s GOP debate wasn’t when Michele Bachmann cooly stuck a knife between Tim Pawlenty’s ribs, or when Rick Santorum plaintively begged for more airtime, or when Mitt Romney easily slipped past questions about his record on health-care reform. It was when every single GOP candidate on the stage agreed that they would reject a budget deal that was $10 in spending cuts for every $1 in tax increases. Even Fox News’s Bret Baier couldn’t quite believe what he was seeing. He asked again just to make sure the assembled candidates had understood the question.
The main takeaway from tonight’s debate in Ames, Iowa is that Tim Pawlenty doesn’t have what it takes to perform on the presidential campaign trail. Michele Bachmann chose for some reason to orient her campaign around slamming him, and he looked intimidated and scared, while drawing no blood against anyone else. On the surface, the winner would seem to me to be Mitt Romney. He “looks presidential” compared to the others. He also clearly has some ability to discuss public policy.
Romney got away without a glove being laid on him and so everyone will say he "won" the debate on that basis, that he looked "presidential". I gave up counting how many debates Hillary Clinton "won" on that basis.
Most political reporters came away from last night's Republican debate impressed with Mitt Romney. I came away wondering what possible advantage Romney could have over Rick Perry from the perspective of a Republican voter.
Michelle Bachmann, even when given a second chance, seemed genuinely to believe that the federal debt ceiling applied to future spending, not bills and tax cuts the Congress had already voted to enact. Not sure which is worse: that she knows better and decided this was an applause line to push, or she really doesn't know the first thing about the Congressional budgeting process. I bet most Americans also think that holding down the debt ceiling is a forward-looking budgetary step — ie, that it's like resolving to spend less next month. But they're still wrong. The real comparison is resolving not to pay a credit card bill when it shows up. For a national candidate not to understand this??? Seriously, this is like discovering that your doctor thinks that your trachea is attached to your spleen.
Last night wasn’t about coherence or sanity; it was about impressing unhinged activists whose connection to reality is tenuous at best.
What really struck me was that I couldn’t recognize the United States that any of the eight candidates was describing. “The country is bankrupt,” thundered Ron Paul. “We are inches away from no longer having a free economy,” claimed Mitt Romney. Gentlemen, the economy is going through a really tough patch. But come on.
I thought tonight's debate was much closer than the last one. I didn't really see any clear winners or losers.
Obviously too, when he proposed and eventually signed his bill extending near-universal healthcare coverage, Romney did not think the individual mandate morally wrong — in fact, he defended it in moral terms, as a means of preventing free riders from getting expensive healthcare at taxpayers' expense. But of course now, for the United States as a whole, it's an abomination. That's moral clarity for you.
Rep. Michele Bachmann was the outstanding performer in last June’s Republican presidential debate in New Hampshire. In tonight’s debate in Ames, Iowa, she certainly sent sparks flying, but could not repeat her star turn. And by getting embroiled in a nasty set of exchanges with former Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty, she made her fight with him the most important story about her this evening.
It’s still possible that Pawlenty will do well enough on Saturday to survive — for a while. But even if he does, so what? He's just not a good candidate.
It’s still true that Mitt Romney looks and sounds “presidential.” More than any other candidate, he appears comfortable in discussing policy, even if his ideas—support for the Cut, Cap, Balance bill, and a federal amendment banning same-sex marriage—are nearly indistinguishable from those of everyone else on stage. Regardless, he has yet to shake his moderate instincts and image, with the legacy of being the competent former governor of a liberal state.
In general the debate featured unanimity despite the loud, petty arguments about who supported raising cigarette taxes in Minnesota (Tim Pawlenty versus Michelle Bachmann), and who said what about who (Pawlenty versus Mitt Romney). There was plenty of sniping, but no meaningful disagreement, except for Ron Paul versus Rick Santorum on Iran.
The debate-point winner was probably Newt Gingrich, who bashed his media tormenters effectively and was generally smooth and fluid, and the strategic winner was probably Mitt Romney, who had some good moments and again escaped any serious damage from his rivals. But in terms of the immediate impact on Saturday’s Iowa Straw Poll, it’s a bit harder to tell, since neither of the debate “winners” are competing in Ames.
Look, as far as effects, debates mostly don't matter.