Eight Republican candidates take the stage this evening in Ames for a debate co-hosted by Fox “News” and the Republican Party of Iowa: Representative Michele Bachmann, former Godfather’s Pizza CEO Herman Cain, former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, former Utah Governor Jon Huntsman, Representative Ron Paul, former Minnesota Governor Tim Pawlenty, former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney, and former U.S. Senator Rick Santorum.
Several Republicans who have launched presidential campaigns weren’t invited to the debate, including former New Mexico Governor Gary Johnson, longtime GOP activist Fred Karger (the first openly gay Republican presidential candidate), and Representative Thad McCotter. Fox made that call because those candidates didn’t receive an average of 1 percent support in five national polls. It’s an especially tough break for McCotter, who might have assumed automatic entry to the debate after paying for space at Saturday’s straw poll event. He will be on the straw poll ballot, along with the eight candidates debating tonight.
Former Texas Governor Rick Perry isn’t in Ames because he hasn’t officially declared his candidacy. Perry will try to bigfoot the straw poll by making his intentions clear on Saturday in South Carolina.
I’ll update this post later. Meanwhile, comments about the debate or the GOP presidential race are welcome in this thread.
UPDATE: Thoughts about the debate are after the jump.
In a sense, Grover Norquist won the debate, because all the candidates raised their hands when asked if they would refuse to raise taxes in exchange for spending cuts ten times as large.
I missed the fireworks between Bachmann and Pawlenty early in the debate.
“It’s an undispatuble [sic] fact in Congress her record of accomplishment and results is nonexistent,” Pawlenty said of his fellow Minnesota Republican. “The American people are going to expect more.”
Pawlenty said that Republican voters want a presidential candidate who can compete with President Obama when it comes to results. For instance, he said he tackled health care reform “the right way” in his state.
Bachmann rattled off a list of charges against Pawlenty that she’s cited before: That Pawlenty as governor “implemented cap and trade,” that he supported an “unconstitutional” health care mandate, and that he once said, “the era of small government is over.”
“That sounds a lot like Barack Obama to me,” Bachmann said. By contrast, she said, “I have fought all of these unconstitutional measures against Barack Obama.”
Bachmann’s team was ready for the confrontation: Her staff handed out to members of the press at the debate a two-page document entitled “The Big Government of Tim Pawlenty.” The document, among other things, charged, “Tim Pawlenty was for government bail-outs before he was against them.” […]
Furthermore, Pawlenty pointed out that while Bachmann has been vocal in her opposition to policies like raising the debt ceiling and the bank bailouts, those policies were nevertheless implemented.
“It’s not her spine we’re worried about, it’s her results,” he said. “If that’s your view of effective leadership with results, please stop, because you’re killing us.”
Pawlenty probably doesn’t have a better angle against Bachmann, but I am not convinced that the average Iowa Republican caucus-goer wants someone who’s gotten “results” versus someone with a diehard conservative voting record. Pawlenty declined to make an issue of Bachmann’s migraines, saying he’s worried about the headache President Barack Obama is causing. He did make several funny comments; if you can find Obama’s plan on any of these big issues, I will come to your house and cook you dinner. Or, if you prefer, I will mow your lawn, but Mitt Romney is limited to one acre if he wins. Pawlenty got lost in the shuffle during the second half of the debate.
Bachmann is a strong speaker, and I think she helped herself by emphasizing her record of not compromising. “When others ran, I fought” is a pretty good sound bite. She is 100 percent wrong to suggest that the U.S. could get by with never raising the debt ceiling again, but she probably sounded convincing to a lot of Republicans watching. Byron York asked her the worst question of the debate (which is saying something): would she be submissive to her husband if she were president. The crowd didn’t like it.
Ron Paul had the loudest cheering gallery, and I thought his performance was strong. Most Republicans will not agree with his foreign policy comments (we need to stay out of wars, what’s wrong with talking to other countries, Al Qaeda was not in Iraq, we created the Iranian problem in 1953). But he turns out people on Saturday the way he turned out people for the debate audience, he could do very well in the straw poll. I still see him stuck around 10-15 percent for the caucuses, though.
Mitt Romney benefited from other candidates mixing it up with each other instead of attacking him. I didn’t hear any gaffes. (He got heckled at the Iowa State Fair soapbox earlier today, but I don’t think this “corporations are people too” line is going to be a big deal either.) On the negative side, several of Romney’s answers were evasive, feeding the impression that he is weaselly. He didn’t address the question about why he bragged to a credit rating agency about Massachusetts raising taxes. He didn’t make clear whether he would or would not extend unemployment benefits; instead, he talked in general terms about reforming the unemployment system. I still don’t think his health care reform finesse sounds credible–why was Romneycare the right thing for Massachusetts if Obamacare is so wrong for the rest of the country?
Jon Huntsman did well to defend his stance on civil unions and speak out for not letting the country default. I completely reject his premise that environmental regulations keep manufacturing out of the U.S., but that’s probably a popular line with Republican primary voters. He’s not competing in Iowa and not going to be a factor in the caucuses, but if any moderates in New Hampshire were watching, I think Huntsman came across well.
Rick Santorum probably helped himself with social conservatives tonight. He gave a passionate answer about why abortion is wrong even in cases of rape. Responding to a question about marriage, he talked about the moral imperative of the federal government to step in and prevent states from adopting certain kinds of laws and standards (the 10th amendment has limitations). He mixed it up with Ron Paul on foreign policy, and I think most Republicans would agree with Santorum. Toward the end he criticized Paul and Bachmann for their stance on the debt ceiling, explaining some facts of life about why we can’t get by without ever raising it again. I don’t think Santorum will finish in the top three in the straw poll or in the caucuses, but he may appeal to the same kind of people who supported Alan Keyes or Gary Bauer in past years.
Herman Cain is a good speaker, but I don’t know who his constituency is supposed to be. I didn’t hear him say anything “wrong” from a Republican perspective, but I don’t think he made a compelling case for his candidacy either. Bachmann has probably hurt Cain as much or more than she’s hurt Pawlenty in Iowa.
Newt Gingrich is also a non-factor in the race, but he spoke with his usual confidence. He got cheers by attacking the panel journalists for asking stupid questions, and I agree with at least one thing he said: the super Congress committee to solve the debt problem is a dumb idea.
What did you think of the debate, Bleeding Heartland readers? Who had the best and worst lines?
The dumbest idea I heard was Romney’s plan for personal unemployment savings accounts. How many people could afford to sock away money in a special fund, just in case they lose their job? If you’re not living paycheck to paycheck, you’re probably trying to save up to buy a house/car, or for retirement, or for children’s education. There is no way that individual unemployment savings accounts could replace the current system of jobless benefits.