GOP debate: Pawlenty and Bachmann tangle, but Romney’s still ahead — and looking over his shoulder for Perry

The third time was a charm for the Republican presidential debates.

After an initial debate that most of the big names skipped, and a bizarre second debate undone by its own format, Thursday night’s debate in Ames, Iowa, had everything. Well, everything but a discussion of entitlements and the person of Rick Perry (although the Texas governor, about to enter the race Saturday, was mentioned by name). Still, it was a lively and worthwhile affair.

The candidates were combative: with one another as well as with the journalists asking the questions. The two big stories coming from the debate will surely be Tim Pawlenty’s sparring with fellow Minnesotan Michele Bachmann and the exception Newt Gingrich took to some of the questions he was asked.

Gingrich was feisty from the beginning, calling out panelist Chris Wallace for a “gotcha question” after the candidates had been asked to leave their talking points at the door. A question about a two-month-old story — the mass resignations of much of Gingrich’s campaign staff in June — hardly qualifies as a “gotcha question” in my view. But it set up Gingrich as a candidate ready to take on the media (even friendly Fox News), and he later took on the idea of the “super committee” tasked with designing $1.2 trillion to $1.5 trillion in deficit reductions. He came off much better Thursday night than perhaps any time since his May speech at the Georgia Republican Convention — two days before he stumbled badly by calling a House GOP plan to reform Medicare “right-wing social engineering.” The debate performance was, in all likelihood, too little, too late.

Pawlenty and Bachmann tangled a few times, over the former governor’s contention that Bachmann’s record in Congress lacks accomplishment, and the congresswoman’s argument that Pawlenty forced her and other state legislators (at the time) to choose between creating a cigarette tax or weakening abortion restrictions. As has been the case throughout the campaign when the two have butted heads, Pawlenty seemed to come out looking worse despite making more substantive points. (But the biggest damage? That belongs to the notion that there is such a thing as “Minnesota nice.”)

In fact, Pawlenty seemed ready to take any shot that was open. Granted a do-over from the last debate, he challenged Mitt Romney head-on for the latter’s health reform law in Massachusetts and reclaimed his epithet “Obamneycare” to describe the law’s similarities with President Obama’s federal health reform. He also had perhaps the best line of the night, offering to cook dinner at the house of anyone who could find Obama’s deficit-cutting plan. He clearly had a sense of urgency Thursday night, but the debate did little to question the widespread belief that his campaign’s prospects rest on his performance in the straw poll that takes place in Ames on Saturday.

Romney, on the other hand, comes away as the winner of the debate by default — he entered it as the front-runner, and nothing happened during the debate to change that.

Bachmann looked human Thursday night. She nearly flubbed a question about Christian “submissiveness” to her husband — her face froze, but sustained boos from the crowd bought her time to collect her thoughts (and deliver a strong answer about mutual respect between spouses). She is still using the “blank check” line to describe the debt-ceiling deal, even though she named who signed the check (Congress), to whom it was made out (Obama), and for how much ($2.4 trillion). She is making an undeliverable promise in saying the economy would show signs of a turnaround within the first 90 days of a Bachmann presidency. And at one point she actually failed to reappear on stage before the telecast resumed from a commercial break; I half expected Wallace to ask her, “Are you sure you’re not a flake?” but he demurred.

There were also a couple of volleys between Rick Santorum and Ron Paul about foreign policy (because Santorum is for having one…I kid, Paulites, I kid!) and exactly what issues should be left up to the states (short answers — Paul: most of them; Santorum: nothing that relates to morality). It was entertaining, but ultimately the time would have been better spent hearing what all the candidates would do to fix Social Security and Medicare, two elephants in the room that remained unmentioned.

The elephants in the room that were mentioned were Sarah Palin and Rick Perry. Nothing of consequence was said about either one (Bachmann insisted once again that she and Palin are friends, not potential Jello-wrestling opponents), but the main consequence of the debate is to prove there’s an opening for someone. As Palin remains unlikely to enter the race, that someone would seem to be Perry. He’ll certainly spice up the next debate: Sept. 7 at the Reagan Library in California.

Oh, I almost forgot: Herman Cain and Jon Huntsman also appeared at the debate. Cain had a good line about immigration — “high fences and wide-open doors” — but otherwise failed to demonstrate he’s really a first-tier candidate. Huntsman is rapidly turning into this year’s version of Fred Thompson, if only Thompson had failed to generate any excitement before entering the race as well as afterward.

(Note: To give folks more time to read and comment on this post, Poll Position will run a little later than usual this week.)

– By Kyle Wingfield

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41 comments Add your comment

Zadoc Paet

August 12th, 2011
12:19 am

Wow, that was the best debate of this season with Santorum and Paul getting heated. Not to mention T-Paw and Bachmann.

POLL: Who won the August 11 Fox News GOP presidential debate in Iowa?
Vote: http://www.wepolls.com/p/1823034

johnc

August 12th, 2011
1:13 am

BETTER POLL: Who cares?

The AntiBoortz

August 12th, 2011
2:53 am

That the field of GOP contenders for the presidency should include buffoons like Cain and Bachmann is an embarrassment to the party and the country, and proof that our system is too broken to heal itself.

The AntiBoortz

August 12th, 2011
3:10 am

Not a single candidate would end the Obama/Bush tax cuts, even for 10 times as much in spending cuts. Pathetic pandering. If everyone remembers those taxes were in place during all of America’s best years. When we had growth, jobs and at the end of Clinton’s term we even had a balanced budget. Pathetic.

Mr. Dithers

August 12th, 2011
5:36 am

Is Newt still running, or is he just invited to the debates until his one year membership runs out?

parasite

August 12th, 2011
5:50 am

confederacy of dunces!

ByteMe

August 12th, 2011
6:07 am

and the congresswoman’s argument that Pawlenty forced her and other state legislators (at the time) to choose between creating a cigarette tax or weakening abortion restrictions

And people who’ve done the research have determined that Bachmann… lied.

The budget deal included a $.75 cigarette tax and provisions that the anti-abortion folks wanted to make it more embarrassing to get an abortion. So when forced to choose between being anti-any-tax and anti-abortion, she voted FOR the budget deal after trying to get the cigarette tax stripped from the bill (that vote failed by a wide margin).

So… she lied by claiming she voted against the budget deal. And she lied that the deal would weaken abortion restrictions.

DeborahinAthens

August 12th, 2011
6:21 am

Michele is a lot like Palin in their propensity to make up “facts” as they go along. But George W. Bush did that, too. What is it with Republicans who think that if they repeat something over and over it becomes fact?

Gordon

August 12th, 2011
6:30 am

Agree with AntiBoortz above. Don’t see anyone that provides enough detail on how they are going to balance the budget. I want specifics, and that probably will need to include higher taxes either by closing loopholes or raising rates. Preferably the former.

Bobby

August 12th, 2011
6:37 am

The only thing I did not see in last night’s debate was the wearing of white robes. A burning cross in the background would have been a nice touch.

jt

August 12th, 2011
7:56 am

“There were also a couple of volleys between Rick Santorum and Ron Paul about foreign policy (because Santorum is for having one…I kid, Paulites, I kid!) and”…………..probably not enough “shock and awe” for most people, but it is decency writ large——(and Iraq was gonna be a cakewalk…….right?)——-
.
Our current foreign policy is a joke but diplomacy by gunpoint,mass murder, and death and destruction isn’t nothing to kid about.How come the people with cushy office jobs are always the ones that are most war-crazy?
.There is a reason why our military overwelmingly supports the godd doctor.
Herein lies Dr. Paul’s foreign and national defense policy ——–

Today, however, hundreds of thousands of our fighting men and women have been stretched thin all across the globe in over 135 countries – often without a clear mission, any sense of what defines victory, or the knowledge of when they’ll be permanently reunited with their families.

Acting as the world’s policeman and nation-building weakens our country, puts our troops in harm’s way, and sends precious resources to other nations in the midst of an historic economic crisis.

Taxpayers are forced to spend billions of dollars each year to protect the borders of other countries, while Washington refuses to deal with our own border security needs.

Congress has been rendered virtually irrelevant in foreign policy decisions and regularly cedes authority to an executive branch that refuses to be held accountable for its actions.

Far from defeating the enemy, our current policies provide incentive for more to take up arms against us.

That’s why, as Commander-in-Chief, Dr. Paul will lead the fight to:

* Make securing our borders the top national security priority.

* Avoid long and expensive land wars that bankrupt our country by using constitutional means to capture or kill terrorist leaders who helped attack the U.S. and continue to plot further attacks.

* Guarantee our intelligence community’s efforts are directed toward legitimate threats and not spying on innocent Americans through unconstitutional power grabs like the Patriot Act.

* End the nation-building that is draining troop morale, increasing our debt, and sacrificing lives with no end in sight.

* Follow the Constitution by asking Congress to declare war before one is waged.

* Only send our military into conflict with a clear mission and all the tools they need to complete the job – and then bring them home.

* Ensure our veterans receive the care, benefits, and honors they have earned when they return.

* Revitalize the military for the 21st century by eliminating waste in a trillion-dollar military budget.

* Prevent the TSA from forcing Americans to either be groped or ogled just to travel on an airplane and ultimately abolish the unconstitutional agency.

* Stop taking money from the middle class and the poor to give to rich dictators through foreign aid.

Ignatius

August 12th, 2011
8:22 am

That’s an insult to dunces.

carlosgvv

August 12th, 2011
8:25 am

Seeing all these candidates and listening to the debate only confirms how well the Dumbing Down of America is proceeding.

Ayn Rant

August 12th, 2011
8:32 am

The only one among them with even the faintest grasp of American reality is Romney, the millionaire son of a millionaire. Now, isn’t that wierd?

@@

August 12th, 2011
8:33 am

The internal sniping I can do without. Bachmann, Pawlenty, Santorum (although I agreed) and Paul did not impress.

Huntsman is a no-go. His responses were vague, at best. His only redeeming quality? He’s a Flat Taxer. THAT, I liked.

Romney and Cain held firm on the issues. Cain’s honesty is refreshing…”I know more now than I new then.” Romney gave Herman a nod as being the only other person with business experience. Since our problems lie within the business community, I can see Herman negotiating with business leaders in his capacity as Mitt’s VP.

Newt’s still the ideas guy. His ideas warrant attention.

Reagan’s 11th Commandment goes a long way with me. Mitt and Herman adhered to it. Newt would do well to remember it.

Blue Man on a Red Island

August 12th, 2011
8:37 am

My favorite part was all of them raising their hands to say they would walk away from a debt deal that had $10 in spending cuts for every $1 in tax increases. That kind of consistent ignorance does not come easy. Congrats Grover!

Pizzaman

August 12th, 2011
8:43 am

Is anyone really interested in an Iowa straw poll that has only predicted the winner once since 1979?

Jack

August 12th, 2011
8:51 am

Governor Romney clearly demonstrated both during the debate and earlier in the day why he should be the next President of the United States.

As a businessman, I appreciate Governor Romney’s understanding and importance of corporate American. You can jump up and down and shout all you want about the big, bad rich and their corporate partners but the bottom line remains as it always has – the business of America is business and what is good for corporate America is good for America.

IF the republicans don’t get bogged downed in silly social issues (what was Bachmann’s shinning moment last night – she saved the light bulb for America?) and bravo macho Texas foolishness, they will choose Romney to lead the ticket and he can throw a bone to the social issue voters by picking someone that appeals to them as his running mate.

I have no use for personal attacks on the President – I admire him as a person and think that he and his wife model the behavior that I wish all parents would model BUT I could never vote for him because of his anti-business democrat policies.

If the republicans want to follow the social issue silly section of their party and nominate sojmeone like Perry, Palin or Bachmann, I will leave the top line on my ballot blank and contribute to down ballot business republicans.

Really?

August 12th, 2011
9:29 am

WHY is no one talking about Ron Paul? Why are all media outlets shunning Ron Paul? His remarks on foreign policy and eliminating the federal reserve were brilliant. I DONT UNDERSTAND WHY PEOPLE ARE NOT RECOGNIZING HIS POLITICAL APTITUDE AND COMMON SENSE SOLUTIONS. Come on America.

Tea Party Hobbit

August 12th, 2011
9:46 am

After seeing last night’s performance, you can stick a fork in Huntsman, Santorum and Pawlenty. Gingrich is already past due, but keep him in there to keep things lively. I don’t think he has any money left for campaigning, but he is so refreshingly blunt. The question to Bachmann about being a submissive wife was way over the top. Hillary would have b*&#h-slapped whats-his-name for that one! He’s lucky that Bachmann is actually a lady. Romney didn’t flub anything, so he stays on top for now. 800 lb elephant in the room was the – well elephant not in the room. Perry will really shake things up. My guy Herman looked solid and I think cemented himself as a solid VP choice at least. I liked Ron Paul’s answers on many topics – but cannot understand how he is so naive as to think we have absolutely nothing to fear from a nuclear Iran. Really?

Ike

August 12th, 2011
9:52 am

Nobody on AJC wants to blog about the U.S. Post Office so I’m doing it here. The postal service has too many post offices and too many employees. Where I live, there are 6 post offices within a 20 mile radius. One post office would be sufficient, maybe two. How does a company that loses $8 billion per year not make changes ? To read that there are over 500,000 people on the retirement plan tells you that their system is screwed up.

Tea Party Hobbit

August 12th, 2011
10:15 am

Oh, and what is all the fuss about Perry being a Christian? Come on – of the candidates at the debate last night, which of them is not a Christian? Ok, you could make a pseudo-case for the 2 Mormons, but that religion is still centered around Jesus. So what’s the big deal with Perry? Prayer? I would say most of the candidates up there also do that too!

Moderate

August 12th, 2011
10:54 am

While I agree with most of the views regarding the economy and taxes, most of these candidates views on social issues scare the ever living crap out of me. Michelle Bachmann is too far right-wing for me to ever even consider. When you have a candidate that makes Palin look moderate, that goes into the wack-o zone for me. She will not be getting my vote, and I pray she doesn’t upset Romney.

Moderate Line

August 12th, 2011
10:57 am

The Gallup poll just release showed the Dems with a 51 to 44 advantate in generic polling.
In 2010 Gallup had the Rep wining 52 to 42 in a high turnout election and the Republicans won 52.6 to 44.8.

http://www.gallup.com/poll/148964/Democrats-Enjoy-Slight-Edge-2012-Congressional-Ballot.aspx

Moderate Line

August 12th, 2011
11:04 am

Really?

August 12th, 2011
9:29 am
WHY is no one talking about Ron Paul? Why are all media outlets shunning Ron Paul? His remarks on foreign policy and eliminating the federal reserve were brilliant. I DONT UNDERSTAND WHY PEOPLE ARE NOT RECOGNIZING HIS POLITICAL APTITUDE AND COMMON SENSE SOLUTIONS. Come on America.
++++
It’s obviously a conspiracy against political aptitude and common sense. I have notice when people say somone has common sense it is usually someone who agrees with them. If he had such political aptitude it seems he would be able to get the press to cover him.

Moderate Line

August 12th, 2011
11:08 am

Ike

August 12th, 2011
9:52 am
To read that there are over 500,000 people on the retirement plan tells you that their system is screwed up.
++++
Could you clarify why this is screwed up. Are you saying there are 500,000 people who are retired from the post office who are collecting retirement? If you downsize the post office even more people would be on their retirement plan just like if you down size the government there would be more people on government retirement plans. I am not sure I understand where you are coming from.

dylandawg

August 12th, 2011
11:50 am

If anyone besides Romney is nominated Obama will win reelection. The rest are just too nutty for independents. Perry can brag about Texas jobs but when the stats for poverty,education, etc. etc. come out, Texas will be seen for the barely functioning state that it is.

Ike

August 12th, 2011
12:50 pm

I’m saying that they have always had too many employees. They still do. Just another form of government waste and not balancing your buget.

Ike

August 12th, 2011
12:52 pm

The postmasters sit in an office and do nothing making $100,00 a year. The post office is a losing business to start with. They pay postmaster & 3 employees $1,00 a day collectively and take in $400 a day (example from my post office).

Ike

August 12th, 2011
12:54 pm

Obama stands very little chance of re-election. Gas at $3.50 a gallon,unemployment at 12%,stock market busting,no new jobs. He’s done.

Ike

August 12th, 2011
12:55 pm

The only way to stabilize the economy is for gas to go down to $2.00 per gallon.

Merlin

August 12th, 2011
12:57 pm

The politicians are all screaming about finding ways to cut spending. They can start with cutting their salaries 25 %…

Merlin

August 12th, 2011
12:59 pm

Ron Paul’s like the last guy chosen to play on a middle grades p.e. softball team. He doesn’t fit in physically or mentally with everyone else. There’s no moderates. You’re either conservative or liberal.

Merlin

August 12th, 2011
1:02 pm

Let me explain about being no moderates. Let’s say a Democrat propses a Liberal bill. It goes thru congress and gets voted on. You agree,you’re Liberal,you disagree you’re conservative.

Moderate Line

August 12th, 2011
1:08 pm

Of the 22 states that voted for McCain only 4 pay more in taxes than they receive.

http://educationclearinghouse.wordpress.com/2011/08/10/which-states-get-the-most-federal-tax-dollars/

Pia Razon

August 12th, 2011
1:31 pm

Ron Paul completely won that debate. Michele Bachman was a close second. I love her response to the submission question and his to the issue of Iraq. He is consistent and principled, even when it’s not popular. I read the most hilarious blog on PoliticalChamber.com this morning calling Santorum out for being a cry baby. “Weee weee weee, it’s my turn . . . ” still laughing.

Jack McFarland

August 12th, 2011
3:01 pm

Yeah, Santorum’s comment about morality and state rights was ridiculous. Why does he always harp on social issues? The economy, jobs, the debt, and unemployment are more important than two guys getting hitched.

Gm

August 12th, 2011
4:06 pm

I just love how these tea party people think they represent all America: white liberals, african americans, all people of color all going to come out in huge numbers, do you think these people have not been watching the bigots attacking President Obama?
Wait till President Obama start going from state to make his case against the anti Americans on the right, I know I felt safer the last 3 years then the whole 8 of George Bush.

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MrLiberty

August 13th, 2011
9:43 pm

Ike – Please explain why we SHOULD worry about a nuclear Iran. Iran has not invaded another country for over 800 years (while the US has invaded dozens in just the past century. Iran has no air force, no rocket technology, and the CIA says that they have no nuclear weapons program. Iran has signed the Nuclear Non-proliferation Treaty and allows weapons inspectors into their country routinely. Israel refuses to sign the treaty, practically denies that it even has a nuclear weapon despite having stolen the technology from us and possessing over 300. Even the US refuses to allow inspectors as the treaty requires. Iran is surrounded by nuclear countries – Israel, Pakistan, India, Iraq (US), Afghanistan (US), China (not far away), and Russia (not far away). As soon as N. Korea got a nuke we stopped treating them like garbage and started negotiations with them. They learned well. Within a few minutes of the launch of a nuclear weapon against the US, the country would vanish from the face of the earth.

If we were willing to trade, negotiate, etc. with Russia when they had 40,000 nukes, why should we be so afraid of a non-nuclear Iran. We certainly have become craven cowards in this respect. Virtually every other candidate on the stage would be willing to start a war against this nation of nearly 50,000,000 people all because they MIGHT want to get a nuclear weapon. Many would likely use a nuclear weapon against them to stop their development of such a weapon. That smacks of the grossest level of immorality I have ever heard. The US is the only country to ever use a nuclear weapon against another country and we dropped them on cities full of innocent women and children – all because our worthless president wanted to impress the Soviets.

There certainly is one country worth fearing on this planet, but it is not Iran…it is the US (well, rightly the US government).

[...] a pattern: He leveled a criticism at her, and she came back swinging at him. When, as in last Thursday’s nationally televised debate in Iowa, the subject is something as complex and esoteric as a budget bill in Minnesota — and [...]