Of course some performed stronger than others and from my vantage point, the strongest was Newt Gingrich, who at times found himself in the hot seat.
During the second twenty minute segment of the debate, Newt drew a great deal of criticism for his having made $1.6 million in consulting fees from FreddieMac. On this issue, Rep. Michele Bachmann repeatedly condemned Gingrich’s business transaction with FreddieMac as an ultimate example of influence peddling. To this Newt charged that Bachmann simply did not have her facts straight and reiterated the fact that he did not participate in any lobbying activities that could be construed as examples of improper influence and conduct. While Gingrich’s need to defend his consulting for FreddieMac did account for his most uncomfortable moment, the rest of the night was his.
Newt’s finest moment came when he lambasted President Obama in an eloquent and stinging rebuff of the President’s opposition to the Keystone pipeline project. On that issue Newt pulled off a successful triple play as he ingeniously tied Obama to a failed domestic energy, jobs , and national security policy. Newt began his response to the Keystone XL oil pipeline project question in a most amusing , selfdeprecating manner while simultaneously mocking his closest rival in the nomination contest, Mitt Romney.
He began his answer by stating that since he has often been accused of speaking too bluntly, he was “watching his words” and “editing” himself before answering that question. He then added:
“I’m very concerned about not appearing to be zany,”
The phrase refered to remarks made by Mitt Romney who had earlier in the week refered to Newt as “zany”.
From there, Newt proceeded to hit several home runs during the night with proposals designed to restrain extraneous power of the judiciary, and continued with strong calls to put an end to immigration lawsuits against Alabama, Arizona, and South Carolina and and a particularly rousing call to cut off federal funds to sanctuary cities.
With a mix of Humility, humor, and history, Newt produced what was probably his strongest performance yet and at the very least, helped stem any recent fall in the polls he has seen since last week.
Also pulling off a strong debate performance was Mitt Romney.
Mitt scored some high points with creative characterizations of Obama policies such as his “pretty please” foreign policy and references to Obama’s record job creation as something which suffers because the President has not lived in the real world and how “to create a job it helps to have created a job” .
Romney had his own share of discomfort when Chris Wallace pressed him on his changing positions on abortion and gay marriage. But Romney responded by admitting that while his position on abortion had evolved to that of a pro-life belief he argued that he has alweays been a supporter of the sancticy of marriage to be that of a union between a man and a woman, and that as a Governor he has done nothing but work to preserve both the sanctity of marriage and life.
Beyond that brief exchange that had Mitt on the defensive, the rest of the night saw him deliver one of debate appearances of the season.
While Gingrich and Romney stood out, the rest of the field was strong but unspectacular and did not achieve the type of results they needed to catapult them in to any kind of game changing position.
Rick Santorum was smooth and professional but unremarkable.
Rick Perry overcame his image as an incompetent debater and had some scripted but well delivered funny and memorable lines including one comparing himself to Tim Tebow, the second year NFL quarterback who draws criticism for his strong Christian faith and praise for his strong come from behind string of victories on the field.
Jon Huntsman was again, just there. While nothing he said was counterproductive, he seems to remain stuck in neutral.
Michele Bachmann was on her game but she essentially came out of this debate as the negative candidate. Her relentless attacks on Gingrich, particular when she tried to claim that Newt was an enemy of the unborn, seemed to at times be overboard, and a display of far fetched examples of political stretches of the truth. While she held her own and demonstrated herself to be a consistent conservative, she probably hurt herself more by coming across as overly aggressively in a contest where voters are beginning to believe that the most important thing is to beat Barack Obama, not necessarily another Republican.
Place goes to Ron Paul.
Paul had a consistent positive pitch when it came to his sincere faith in fiscal conservatism and purity. However he lost the bulk of Republican primary voters when he was pressed on his dangerously ignorant foreign policy and national security views. This was especially the case when Ron Paul basically denied the dangers of Iran and of their potential capacity for the utilization of nuclear weaponry. It was here that Rick Santorum, once again, unleashed a powerful rebuttal to Paul’s incompetence in the area of the federal government’s primary constitutional responsibility.
Overall, the debate was probably more entertaining than informative but it did give voters a glimpse at the potential strengths and weaknesses of each candidate in these final few days leading up to the Iowa Caucus.
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