The ‘Minnesota Mean’ debate featuring a pit-bull Iowa frontrunner in Michelle Bachmann getting comfortable taking sparring practice with hanging-on-for-dear-life former Governor Tim Pawlenty was better for entertainment value than the prior New Hampshire debate, but didn’t change the fortunes of any of the candidates on the stage.
Several twitter observers suggested Texas Governor Rick Perry benefitted most by not being there and mixing it up with the candidates who are working Iowa on the ground leading up to this weekend’s GOP straw poll in Ames. I don’t completely agree, but I see how Perry’s shininess helps him as the others trash each other. The candidates were given a chance to rip Perry and mostly left him unscathed.
The Minnesota candidates’ sideshow eclipsed a quite solid performance on policy by former Speaker Newt Gingrich and some zippy one-liners from businessman Herman Cain. The biggest distraction in the debate was a “time’s-up” bell that sounded disturbingly like the one you used to drive over at the gas station. I kept expecting some guy in coveralls to try and clean my windshield. Other distractions included weird allusions to dog food, Mickey Mouse, and high fences and open doors. But what can you expect from a debate in which one of the co-sponsors is the D.C. equivalent of the Penny Saver?
And so, on to the highlights (as always, the caveat this comes through the filter of a Democrat who does not watch Fox News much):
Bachmann was more cheerleader-like, excited about leading her movement and determined that we know she led against the debt ceiling the last 2 months (she said it at least 5 times.) And when Pawlenty took it to her, she gave as good as she got, ripping him for cap and trade, tax hikes and “the era of small government is over”
Romney sounded more professorial than in recent performances (“seven things come to mind . . .” really?). He still seems stilted, uncomfortable, defensive and not ready for prime time. Weird for a guy who has been running for President for, like 6 years.
Pawlenty went on the attack, which confirms he’s as desperate as we were beginning to think he was. He claims he didn’t talk about Bachmann’s headaches (he did) and he didn’t raise taxes, only “fees” as Governor. He’s gone from the nice guy next door to the guy who stayed too long at the party.
Paul preached libertarianism unconcerned with whether he’s perceived as the crazy uncle of the bunch. He made an interesting slip when talking about immigration when he expressed concern that people who are granted amnesty “become voters.” That’s an interesting and specific concern – is the GOP concerned Hispanic immigrants may not vote for them? (Bush wasn’t.)
Gingrich continues to be the adult in the room people say they are looking for, but he’s getting about as much attention as a circus on the moon. He excoriated the “SuperCommittee” on the debt, saying its “about as dumb an idea I have heard of in my lifetime.” Not a bad indictment of a sick system from one who used to run the House of Representatives.
Huntsman is too timid, nervous and also for civil unions. End of campaign. Rick Santorum talked about himself in the 3rd person. That’s always creepy. Overall the debate did absolutely nothing to change my assessment about how the straw poll turns out, as I’ll address in my next post.