On last night’s Republican presidential candidates’ debate in Iowa, as William Buckley used to say, a few observations.
Mitt Romney: He has the frontrunner role nailed, and his canned responses on Romneycare and Bain were enough to deflect attention last night. He escapes relatively unscathed for the moment. But his defense of Romneycare is a defense in substance of Obamacare. And his comments on his work at Bain haven’t improved much since his debate with Teddy Kennedy in 1994. He is one cold fish.
Rick Santorum: I admired him greatly as a United States Senator, but his wipeout by Bob Casey is not exactly a stellar platform from which to launch a presidential candidacy. He seems to me to be diminishing himself in this race.
Herman Cain: The guy has a sense of humor and an occasional shaft of insight, but his candidacy is a joke. Is it really okay to retail the bigoted thoughts of his Georgia neighbors about Romney’s Mormonism and disclaim responsibility? I don’t think so.
Ron Paul: Can we trade this guy to the Democrats for a player to be named later? He would make a great consultant to Dennis Kucinich on foreign policy.
Jon Huntsman: Asked about the 80-20 ratio of foreign to American employees in the family business, he thrashed around in search of an answer. That shouldn’t have been a tough question, but this one is: what makes him think he should be president of the United States?
Newt Gingrich: He did a good job last night, but what is he selling? There is no market for his candidacy.
Michele Bachmann: Michele Bachmann was a backbencher advocating conservative causes in the Minnesota Senate, where Republicans were a decided minority during her years in office. She continued the role in Congress, where she has yet to achieve a position of political responsibility. To the extent that she has become a lightning rod as a national figure, she has drawn on her native gifts to turn herself into a fundraising machine. With her Iowa roots and appeal to a conservative base, her moment has come around as a presidential candidate in the Iowa straw poll and caucuses. What Howard Dean was to Iowa Democrats in the 2004 cycle and Obama was to Iowa Democrats in the 2008 cycle, Bachmann is to Iowa Republicans in this cycle: the Ivory soap candidate, 99 and 44/100 percent pure.
Tim Pawlenty: Bachmann is the fly in Tim Pawlenty’s ointment. Pawlenty has staked everything on Iowa. He is the generic Republican candidate at a time when the generic Republican seems to be what is called for to match up against Obama. Pawlenty thought that a strong gubernatorial record in the state next door would prove enough to break through in Iowa and launch him to the top tier of competitors in New Hampshire. He didn’t factor Bachmann into his calculations. Bachmann is highly unlikely to secure the Republican presidential nomination, but she is highly likely to derail Pawlenty’s aspirations. Thus the fireworks in last night’s debate.
The winner? That’s easy. The winner last night was Barack Obama.