The GOP is not playing around anymore and Fox News is serious about journalism. Let both of those statements soak in for a minute because they are the two strongest conclusions that anyone could draw from last night’s Republican presidential candidate debate in Ames, Iowa last night hosted by the Fox News Channel. There was a lot to learn last night about what we are going to see over the next 15 months of presidential campaigning and the highlights are clear to anyone who had the pleasure of watching last night.
1. Newt Gingrich ain’t trying to talk to you.
Newt Gingrich was fascinating to watch last night. As a man whose campaign started with such promise and who has essentially faded into mockery and oblivion over the last few months he still strides across the stage and responds to questions like he’s up 15 points in the polls and is already shopping for monogrammed “POTUS” pens at Tiffany’s.
His answers were sound and reasonable as usual, but his overall demeanor was pure irritation. He went toe-to-toe with Bret Baier and Chris Wallace and accused them of shooting him “gotcha” questions no matter what they asked him. I’m not sure if that’s the strategy you want to take when you can’t even break double digits five months into the campaign, but that’s the route he took. I Tweeted last night, “Has any Republican ever won the nomination by picking a fight with Fox News?”
Gingrich is apparently going to test that theory. My bets are that Fox wins. Which brings us to our second lesson from last night.
2. Fox News does not have a favorite.
Say what you will about Rupert Murdoch’s race-baiting, issue-bending, Tea Party supporting ideologically slanted news channel, last night they stepped up in a major way for a presidential debate. The panel, composed mostly of Fox News reporters instead of pundits, was relentless in their questioning of candidates.
Chris Wallace in particular would not let anyone wiggle out of any question and there was no noticeable slant in the questions asked to the candidates. Wallace zeroed in on candidates on the question of the 10th amendment and whether or not a state could force citizens to buy healthcare. I didn’t take “sometimes” for an answer. If previous debates on Fox this year were chided for treating the panelists like they were second-class citizens waiting for the big dogs, this debate showed that it is putting all of these guys to the test. And some of the them stepped up and did pretty well, which brings us to our next lesson from last night’s debate.
3. Minnesota ain’t big enough for Bachmann and T-Paw.
I cannot remember the last time you had a former governor and congress-member from the same state running against each other when both campaigns felt that they were still competitive. (Ron Paul v. Bush doesn’t count!). Someone apparently dropped some five-hour energy into Tim Pawlenty’s cereal that morning because he came out blazing and took jabs at Romney and Bachmann.
Bachamnn for her part gave as good as she got, and in fact was probably the best debater through the first half of the program. She accused Pawlenty of compromising with the left and failing to support the unborn in order to balance the budget with liberals while he was governor of Minnesota. He said her answers were “illogical,” which has a slight tinge of sexism to it.
Perhaps the hard knocks in the first hour tired Bachmann out because she was off her game for the second half. First, she was late getting back to her podium after the mid-debate break, which was a faux pas, and didn’t do anything to mitigate rumors that she’s disorganized or worse, “ditzy,” second it seemed like for the second half of the debate she was essentially silent.
She didn’t get many questions and most of the commentators focused on other candidates. The Pawlenty campaign has all but said that without a good showing in Iowa on Saturday he might have to pack it in soon, in Bachmann’s case if her intra-state fight last night causes her to slip in the polls she might have Pawlenty to thank.
4. The GOP is probably not going to win the presidency on policy.
You don’t have to be on the left or the right to know that last night was a treasure trove for the Obama campaign’s opposition research team. Word is that they think the President will be going up against Romney next year. Romney, along with everyone else on stage, did not do himself any favors with some of his statements last night. When asked if he would extend unemployment benefits Mitt Romney suggested giving people “personal unemployment savings accounts” that they could draw upon during extended unemployment rather than asking the government for help?
Really? If you have don’t have a job you ARE living off of your personal savings already, and once that’s gone what happens? Oh, that’s right, millions of Americans living in tent cities across the country. Jon Huntsman was asked directly how he could explain his corporation providing so many jobs for people overseas, but not in America and he didn’t have a sound answer for that one at all. Herman Cain (remember him) was asked why he spends more time talking about other people’s religions than he does his own policies, and the list goes on and on.
Rick Santorum’s list of exaggerations and mis-truth’s was just legendary. At one point he championed the fact that as a senator and as future president that he would fight gay marriage anywhere it popped up in America, but at the same time said Iran’s oppression of gays was one of the reasons we should keep them from getting nukes? You have to love it when a candidate gets so incensed about the rights of a group abroad that he spends his career at home trying to oppress.
5. Rick Perry did NOT win this debate.
The sloppy commentator and journalist is going to say that the “real winner” from last night was Rick Perry. Since he won’t be entering the race until Saturday, will miss the straw poll and this debate he can supposedly sweep in and make mincemeat out of this crop of also-rans. This is not the case by a long shot. If anything, last night he showed that even the least likely of nominees (Ron Paul for example) showed some backbone and political savvy that will make them less than pushovers in the coming months. The first debate with the entire field (assuming no one drops out after Saturday) will be in September at the Reagan Library in California. While Perry may have a honeymoon between now and then, the men and women on stage last night are not dropping out of this campaign without a fight. Governor Perry is going to have to do some serious praying to make his way in this field.
The article originally appeared at Loop21.com under the headline “Five Things Learned from the Ames Debates.”