Newt Gingrich entered last night’s Fox News debate in Sioux City, Iowa, with a political target on his back, as Mitt Romney and the rest of the Republican presidential candidates looked to challenge his front-runner status ahead of the Iowa Caucuses. In a week that has seen unacceptable attacks from a bygone era from the likes of Mitt Romney and Ron Paul, Gingrich, vowed to stay to stay positive. My big fear before the debate was that the Republican candidates would have done so much damage in their primary campaign that any hopes of beating President Obama would be all but disappeared before 2012 had even begun.
The moderators were Megyn Kelly, Bret Baier, Chris Wallace and Neil Cavuto and they put forward good strong questions and weren’t afraid to challenge the candidates. I was especially pleased to hear a question on the Fast and the furious being placed, as it is a topic certain to raise its head during the general election.
Speaker Gingrich was definitely looking for a big performance on the night to compliment his new found front runner status. Gingrich did receive some tough questioning especially from Michele Bachmann over his involvement with Freddie Mac. Overall though, Newt as in all the previous debates, was the most substantive on policy and tried his best to stay focussed on the policy aspect on the night. He added humour into his responses saying he didn’t want to be viewed as overly critically, so he was standing there editing before responding to a question about President Obama and the Keystone pipeline, he even poked fun at recent critiques of his “zany” reputation. Gingrich delivered a powerful condemnation of President Obama campaigning instead of passing the approval for the Keystone pipeline. One thing I noticed was that while Bachmann was quick to attack Newt at every opportunity, Bachmann on more then one occasion deferred to Gingrich’s response and threw some additional commentary to attempt to build up her response in some instances. Gingrich demonstrated with ease that he has the solid base of policy and in particular foreign policy, that no other candidate can match. Overall a good, solid, winning performance by former speaker Gingrich and after a week where the GOP party machine and many other Republican Super Pac’s, have been running a hard hitting campaign against him.
The two biggest issues of clarification for me on the night were that he possesses the policies to beat President Obama and the toughness to face the attacks that would come in a general election campaign. Newt is tough and in my view, has demonstrated that he desperately wants people’s votes and to challenge President Obama.
Contrary to many media commentators, I believe former Pennsylvania Senator Rick Santorum did himself a world of good during last nights debate. While he wasn’t as outlandishly aggressive like Bachmann, he again highlighted his efforts in Iowa. He emphasised the need to restore American manufacturing jobs and gave a very good answer on the Iranian issue, again clashing with Ron Paul. The one thing I think Santorum managed to do very subtlety last night was position himself as the strong social conservative to the Iowa voters. The conservative voters of Iowa will have noticed his performance to their satisfaction even if, the mass media didn’t pick up on it. I thought it was Santorum’s best debate night without appearing desperate as Bachmann did. Should he get a decent result and surprise a few people in Iowa. An area Santorum will need some stronger selling points on is job creation and the economy, if he is to make an impact in later states.
Former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney appeared to heed the general consensus before the debate, that he needed to move away from his ill advised and much publicised attacks in particular against Newt Gingrich. I was extremely surprised to hear in the post debate summary on Fox News that Frank Luntz and Hannity, thought he won the debate. I thought to myself, what! I must have been watching a different debate. Romney’s performance was safe; he managed to provide some good substantive answers on the economy and did well in explaining his role with Bain Capital. Romney was presidential in his delivery, but yet again, almost tripped up in the debate on foreign policy. Like Gingrich, Romney focussed his attacks on President Obama to good effect saying, if he is elected president this century will be an American century, not a Chinese century. Romney explained the narrative about working with an overwhelmingly Democratic legislature in Massachusetts, which was effective to a watching audience.
In my humble opinion, not his best debate performance but a comfortable one nonetheless. My concern with Romney is that he will look like a Republican, but sound too much like a Democrat in a general election match-up against President Obama. I’m yet to be convinced of his ability to take on the Obama campaign machine and win. Romney is too prickly in my view to take the harsh attacks that will inevitably come in a general election campaign.
The Texas Governor had a relatively quiet first half of the debate until a question by Neil Cavuto brought him to life on his debating skills. I loved the way he put humour but a level of seriousness into his reply saying he would even turn up early to debate President Obama. He did well attacking Gingrich over his perceived inability to distinguish between a lobbyist and a consultant.” An interesting if somewhat equally confusing statement was when he compared himself to Denver bronco’s Quarterback Tim Tebow. The point he was trying to make essentially was he is now an underdog candidate but can mount a comeback against the odds like Tebow. Perry has restored some credibility to his challenge and his call for a part-time Congress is starting to catch some people’s attention. If Perry can finish in the top four in Iowa and with his recent renewed confidence, he could challenge in South Carolina and Florida in a serious way. Perry is starting to show he is resilient and prepared to fight his way back into contention.
I’ll give Congresswoman Bachmann credit for her gutsy and aggressive performance last night. She took every opportunity to try and steal the limelight but over cooked her fine start by trying to hit Gingrich again on his record with Planned Parenthood. She sounded like a moaning child in a playground saying she’s serious candidate, the mere fact she used that statement immediately made the point that actually, although she’s a serious politician, her day and chances of winning in Iowa are all but gone. I highlighted how she would default to Gingrich’s answer when it appeared to anyone watching, that the question she was asked, stumped her slightly. My point here is, you cannot attack a candidate constantly and when it suits you for playing it safe purposes, defer to their answer as the authoritative response if you want to be president. I did enjoy her tussle with Ron Paul on his position in Iran. Surprisingly she didn’t use the Newt Romney line which has been so effective in the previous debate. Gingrich was clever mentioning her statements as being often factually incorrect, a simple yet effective rebuttal, as it is a charge she has often been accused of in the past. Overall, I credit her for her effort but she over played her hand somewhat and were noticeably exposed in some of her response. An “A” for effort though, but a case of too little, too late.
As always Ron Paul supporters packed the auditorium and were their usual vocal selves. Paul was energised, direct and articulate in most of his responses and he is clearly enjoying his moment as serious contender for winning the Iowa caucus. Paul as always was consistent, repeated his commitment to cutting $1 trillion from the budget. He looked and acted like a frontrunner however, his isolationist stance on Iran hurt him badly again last night. Only if Paul could find a way of shifting his position on Iran slightly he would have much greater broad appeal but as we witnessed during Bachmann’s brutal and most powerful attack, his foreign policy makes him frankly unelectable in a general election. Paul will have a good result in Iowa no doubt largely due to his organisation and supporters however; he simply isn’t electable with his stance on Iran. Paul got hit hard in the post-debate conversation with Sean Hannity over his Newsletter and he was visibly rattled and agitated by Hannity. I don’t expect to see him appearing anytime soon on the Hannity show.
I have a simple statement here, would the real Jon Huntsman stand up. If anyone watched the debate between himself and Gingrich earlier in the week they will see he was simply brilliant. Last night it was a train wreck, simple. Huntsman’s attempts at humour and using young language such as “we are getting screwed as Americans” fell flat. He didn’t make an impression with any of his answers and seemed too laid back and without any real sense of passion throughout. A very disappointing performance and ironically, he probably did himself some harm in New Hampshire too, where he was starting to make some recent gains.
Overall, the lesson from the night was the fact that perhaps it was the first night where the GOP candidates are starting to cause damage to President Obama and gain interest from the larger electorate. A promising night for the party and something to certainly start the Obama campaign machine to stop taking re-election as guaranteed.