11 pm. One word on the questioners: far, far, far better than Sawyer and Stephanopoulos. Kelly and Baier stood out. Wallace gets cred on Romney and gays. And we didn't have all that reality show crap at the beginning. And one word on those "dings" from a reader:
I keep looking at my Gchat thinking that the chime is a close friend wanting to tell me something actually interesting. Fox news is for old people that don't know how to use gmail.
10.58 pm. What does this do? I'm not sure it changes much. Gingrich was the strongest to my mind, with the exception of his dreadful defensiveness on his whoring for money in the rotating doors of Washington's corrupt elite. Romney needed to up his game and score some real points. He failed, I think. Huntsman had his best debate yet – and makes me wonder if I have under-rated him as a campaigner and debater. Bachmann really came back strong, but Ron Paul stood out. His refusal to pander on judges and Iran gave him a real distinction. Perry was better than recently.
I suspect Gingrich will retain his lead – because he showed some humor and because he relates to the viscera of this party in a way that Romney simply cannot. Romney will dip in Iowa, and Bachmann and Paul will gain. Will the Iran answer torpedo him? Probably. But if the GOP thinks Americans are going to back a pre-emptive war on another Middle Eastern Muslim country, they're deluding themselves. Bush refused to do it. So in this sense, Paul is closer to Bush on Iran than the rest of them. So the Republican Establishment panic will soon intensify.
10.57 pm. Gingrich acts in this final segment as the anti-Obama conciliator. But again Ron Paul and Huntsman stand out by defending clear, open, robust debate, including arguments based on policy.
10.50 pm. Bachmann tries to ding Gingrich on abortion. And she won't back down. And Newt then does! He admits he refused to purge Republicans on the issue of partial birth abortion. Advantage: Bachmann. And did I mishear or did he call her "Congressman Bachmann." Did I detect a little early Thatcher spirit in Bachmann there. I warmed to her feminism. She and Megyn Kelly have been on a roll tonight.
10.43 pm. Romney says he hasn't changed his mind on gay rights. He ran for office promising to be a more pro-gay Senator than Ted Kennedy. Who in the last twenty years has gone from that position to a Federal Marriage Amendment? Kudos to Wallace for reciting these words right back at him. Romney then defends himself on non-discrimination. So does he oppose the federal Employment Non-Discrimination Act? Would he sign it?
Santorum pounces. Romney seems resigned to losing on this with this primary electorate. I have never seen his pro-gay past so effectively brought up in public. It's about time.
10.41 pm. Huntsman tells the truth! Illegal immigration is lower than in 40 years! And he rightly notes the desperate need for reform of legal immigration, especially H-1 visas. He's done extremely well tonight – the best performance of his campaign.
10.36 pm. Perry thinks that Hamas, Hezbollah and Iran are trying to attack the US via the Mexican border. Note how Obama's massive shift of resources to the border, his huge uptick in deportations, and the collapse of illegal immigration … makes no difference to this crowd. Romney now proceeds to propose a biometrical card for legal immigrants. I have one in my wallet. It's called a green card. What are these people talking about? But Newt's immigration answer is very strong in thi context. Again, I think he is beating Romney tonight – in so far as he is appealing more successfully to the Republican base.
10.31 pm. A reader writes:
Left wing Dish head, first time writing. Huntsman's statement was the first time I've ever said "I'd vote for that guy," about a Republican. He demonstrated a conservatism without craven submission to the banks. I would take that over Obama's sycophantic attitude toward the financial sector any day.
Perry wants to "get it on" with Obama in a debate. I assume he meant "bring it on" maybe, but in light of his recent anti-gay campaign ad, maybe it was a Freudian slip.
Rick Perry is a walking Freudian slip. Another writes:
Dude, I know that sports isn't your strong suit, but really! What kind of ball are you playing with?!? "Gingrich is pitched the softest of softballs on the UN and hits it out of the park." OK?!?!?
10.23 pm. Gingrich deftly, beautifully deflects the "zany" attack and claims he is editing himself. The best lines of the night. Charming. And moderation, mond you, equals attacking "left-wing environmental activists in San Francisco." A lovely bit of gay-baiting thrown into the mix. Gingrich killed that one. He's winning this debate. But notice that any defense of environmental policy is finished in this party. The environment is the enemy. Oil companies can do no wrong – even after the disaster in the Gulf of Mexico.
The shift away from any attempt at balance between economic and environmental interests is striking. The whole idea of climate change – or any concern about it – is completely absent here. That is true of no other political party, right and left, in the entire Western world. It is certainly not true of China, which is investing massively in green and nuclear energy. This party is a radical outlier on the civilized planet on this question.
10.21 pm. "No space" between the US and Israel. None. Our entire Middle East policy determined by the Israeli government. Perry argues that the US should have bombed Iran, i.e. launched a war, to destroy the drone. So one candidate wants war with Iran now.
10.19 pm. Gingrich is handed the softest of soft balls on the UN and runs with it. He scores. In my view, he is beating Romney tonight. And Paul's clarity and difference on foreign policy really might resonate with Iowans.
10.14 pm. Bachmann is now simply stating as facts the wildest notions of Iran's avowed threat to attack Israel and, even more absurdly, the US. These people are paranoid beyond belief. If you want to know why I endorse Ron Paul, this exchange clinches it. Most of these Republicans would launch a far more dangerous, reckless and counter-productive war than the one against Iraq. That is a huge issue. And only one candidate will oppose it.
10.12 pm. Again, Romney accuses the president of treason, saying he backs Chinese power over American. Romney wants a doubling of warships and 100,000 new troops. How to pay for that? No answer. But what's notable about Romney is his resolute intention to play the treason card.
10.10 pm. Santorum thinks that the Shiite regime in Iran is equivalent to al Qaeda. Then he argues that they actually want to destroy their entire country as an act of collective martyrdom. He's nuts. But his belligerence brings some lusty roars from the crowd. The appeal of military aggression as the core activity of the US government is deep in the GOP.
10.05 pm. Now we see the courage of Ron Paul. Why is it more "left" to be prudent in intervening rather than rash. Over-reaction and pre-emptive war are not conservative values. And Ron Paul makes an argument from the point of view of the Iranians. An attempt at proper context – given the massive nuclear superiority of Israel, and the nuclear capacity of Pakistan and North Korea. The character of the man shines through: this is courage.
9.59 pm. Perry also wants to strip lifetime tenure from judges. Gingrich and Romney refuse to pick one. Huntsman reveals less extremism in not endorsing Thomas or Scalia.
9.50 pm. Gingrich defends stripping the judiciary of its independent powers. He's now on a roll about judges as anti-American. It's red meat for the base. And it will help him a lot. Bachmann also wants to destroy any judicial restraints on the tyranny of the majority. And she uses the Iowa marriage decision as a great springboard. Once again, Ron Paul emerges as the serious constitutionalist – and refuses to pander. This is exactly why I like him. He speaks truth to panderers and believes in the separation of powers. Gingrich doesn't. Romney, to his credit, defends the constitution against Gingrich's anti-constitutional radicalism.
9.49 pm. After Santorum asks for manufacturing industrial policy, Romney disavows any. Romney lies when saying that Obama believes the US is in decline. When has Obama said that?
9.46 pm. The Chinese have not been helping Huntsman's China policy these days, have they?
9.39 pm. A very dumb attack on Paul on earmarks. He defends himself with a great argument about taking deductions in the tax code. Cavuto doesn't listen. Paul argues forcefully for a president who doesn't want power, who doesn't want to run things, who wants to protect the freedom of the citizens of the US. That radical argument, which is deep in American history and tradition, is the real change Paul represents. "I don't want to run things!" "I don't want to run the world!" Given our bloated dictatorial imperial presidency, it's the cure.
9.31 pm. How did Barney Frank "exploit" his power with respect to Freddie and Fannie, as Newt asserts, before he attacks others for loose allegations? And Gingrich's answer on this was a terrible mess. Paul destroyed him. I don't see how Gingrich can defend this corporate cronyism and financial whoring. Then he's telling the crowd that there are great examples of government-run enterprises around the country. Bachmann comes in for the kill: she wanted to end Freddie Mac when Gingrich was cashing its checks. Her best moment yet in any of the debates.
Gingrich is reeling. His line about lobbying is pathetic. And Bachmann, God bless her, won't relent. She uses Politifact against Gingrich. His response is rattled and weak. On the ropes. And arguing in Iowa that the government's encouragement of home ownership is still a good idea, he is surely sowing even more doubts about his conservative credibility.
9.30 pm. Romney is using GM as his best riposte to Obama on the Bain question? But Romney wanted the company to go bankrupt; Obama saved it – and it has returned to health.
9.23 pm. I found Huntsman's answer on leadership the best of the bunch – and the first time he has really used his remarkably successful record in Utah to effect. Maybe I have under-estimated his political skills and he is warming up. I stand by all the things I said about him substantively in my Paul endorsement.
But notice how all of them argued that they would lead by standing on principle. Isn't that Paul's central point? And, as I said in today's "Ask Andrew Anything", we are electing one branch of government, not a dictator.
9.20 pm. Romney is invoking his bipartisanship in Massachusetts in the primary context. Odd. To call an 85 percent Democratic Massachusetts legislature a "blessing in disguise" is not exactly a winner in Iowa. But it's a good pivot for the general. Does he think he has this in the bag?
9.17 pm. Huntsman is the best he's been in an opening statement: especially on Wall Street. Great line on pandering. And some zip. At last.
9.16 pm. Perry invokes Tim Tebow – another appeal to the Christianist base.
9.14 pm. Did Bachmann say she would spend her presidency attacking Barack Obama? Yes she did. But she did make a clear concession: she says she used to be a "normal person". Not any more.
9.13 pm. Marcus went overboard with the mascara this time.
9.12 pm. Romney makes his case as a businessman as his core quality against Obama. But he seems rather subdued to me. Gingrich was far more alive and commanding.
9.08 pm. Ron Paul challenges Rush Limbaugh while echoing him. Obama is beating himself. And then he makes a clear case for his philosophy, and for massive spending cuts in the first year. His entire case is the same as Gingrich's – except Paul has a far more consistent conservative record than Gingrich. And notice that he managed to avoid answering the question on whether he would endorse whoever wins the nomination.
9.06 pm. Gingrich's response to the electability question was superb. From the Christmas pandering to the reminder of how Reagan was dismissed as incapable of beating Carter at this point in the cycle in 1979. The core points: I can bring a clear contrast with Obama and I can beat him in a debate. It's exactly what the base wants to here: very large change. A total home-run, in my view.
9.03 pm. The crowd is obviously going to be a player tonight. Paul and Gingrich get the biggest applause.