Some musings re. Thursday night’s debate in Iowa featuring eight Republican presidential hopefuls:
- Timing’s Everything. In the smaller scheme of Iowa politics, the debate was timely and impactive as it came two days before Saturday’s Ames Straw Poll. In the larger scheme of the nominating process, the timing of this affair couldn’t have been worse as Texas Gov. Rick Perry reportedly is but hours away from entering the race. Put Perry on the stage and it’s a different, much better debate (though I am struggling with the concept of a 9-candidates jockeying for air-time).
- Not Good n’ Pawlenty. The first 15 minutes of the debate were suitably civil – until Tim Pawlenty took an unnecessary swipe at Mitt Romney (Pawlenty saying he’d mow the lawn of anyone who can find the President’s economic plan, but for Romney he’d limit the offer to an acre). A bad joke in that (a) it came across as snide and (b) Pawlenty’s bigger problem is chipping away at Michele Bachmann’s Iowa base, not Romney’s personal wealth.
- One Minnesotan Schools the Other. And, on cue, Pawlenty illustrates why his campaign has underachieved to date. Given a chance to criticize Bachmann, he instead goes after Obama (maybe Pawlenty saw how the Newsweek cover backfired, and his first instinct was to tread lightly). Bachmann doesn’t miss the chance to smack Pawlenty on cap-and-trade. Pawlenty then responds by going after Bachmann’s congressional record, but Bachmann gets the last word . . . because she started the exchange. This is why some campaigns succeed and others struggle – candidates have to seize the moment.
- President Huntsman. The former Utah governor won’t shy away from having said nice things about Barack Obama and Bill Clinton. He wants comprehensive reform of illegal immigration – despite catching flak in New Hampshire. He continues to support the legal recognition of same-sex civil unions. With that kind of honesty and lack of pandering, he has a good shot at becoming president . . . of a university.
- The Odd Man Out. You let eight people debate, someone’s going to go missing. Tonight, it’s Rick Santorum, who doesn’t get a turn until 45 minutes into the 120-minute debate. Santorum may indeed be the first candidate to drop out of the race if he falls flat at the Straw Poll, but this isn’t right. Also missing to this point: Ron Paul, who will be much more visible on Saturday.
- Then Again, Stealth Can Be a Good Thing. The debate is the Tim and Michele Show – two Minnesotans who won’t be exchanging Valentines come February. This enables Romney to go long stretches without being noticed – precisely what the spin doctor ordered.
- The Lone Eagle. It would seem that a Paul Administration wouldn’t have a problem with Iran obtaining nuclear weapons (just one of the congressman’s “colorful” libertarian views) and wants to bring the troops home. Paul says the problem is America “doesn’t mind its own business.” Like Charles Lindbergh, Paul is flying solo on the campaign trail with this 21st Century brand of isolationism.
- Grizzly Sighting. Turns out that Sarah Palin did make it to Ames – to hang out at the State Fair, a day after the Republican debate and a day before the Straw Poll. Palin’s resumed her “One Nation” bus tour and says she’ll make a final decision on running by fall. So let’s do the math. The autumnal equinox is September 23. That gives the former Alaska governor nearly six more weeks to tease and torment the political media.
A good night for: Bachmann, who got the better of Pawlenty time and again.
A good night for: Romney, who found FNC’s Chris Wallace easier to handle than State Fair hecklers.
Not a good night for: Pawlenty.