Monthly Archives: December 2011

Don’t Fear The Reaper? The Latest Iowa Poll Results

What if the Iowa caucus results don’t matter?

I raise the question in light of the most recent Iowa poll that shows Gingrich’s support almost halved during the last two weeks, from about 27% to 14%, putting him third behind Paul (23%) and Romney (20%), both of whom saw their numbers remain relatively stable.

Q2 If the Republican candidates for President were Michele Bachmann, Newt Gingrich, Jon Huntsman, Gary Johnson, Ron Paul, Rick Perry, Mitt Romney, and Rick Santorum, who would you vote for?

Michele Bachmann ………………………………….. 10%

Newt Gingrich …………………………………………. 14%

Jon Huntsman…………………………………………. 4%

Gary Johnson …………………………………………. 2%

Ron Paul ………………………………………………… 23%

Rick Perry ………………………………………………. 10%

Mitt Romney……………………………………………. 20%

Rick Santorum………………………………………… 10%

Someone else/Not sure ……………………………. 7%

(The best part of the PPP poll? 31% of respondents think Barack Obama was not born in the United States, and 21% aren’t sure.  Donald Trump can still win this race!) The RealClear politics aggregate polling now show Newt (green) in essentially a dead heat in Iowa with Paul (brown) and Romney (purple), but the trend lines are going in the wrong direction for the Newtster.

This is to be expected given the blanketing of the Iowa airwaves with anti-Newt advertising – much of it financed not by other candidates, but by the so-called superpacs working on those candidates’ behalf.  For example, since Newt rose to the top of the polls a Romney shadow PAC called Restore Our Future has spent several million dollars funding at least one attack ad targeting Gingrich and another favoring Romney. Paul, of course, has been running his “serial hypocrisy” ad against Gingrich for a couple of weeks now.  At the same time, these groups are running positive ads for their own candidates as well – here’s one supporting Rick Perry:

All this is taking a toll on Gingrich’s poll numbers, particularly since he still has a minimal media presence in the state.  He is now the second choice of 13% of Iowans, essentially tied in that category with Perry, Romney and Bachmann – but behind “Someone else/Not Sure” at 18%.  His favorability/unfavorability numbers have declined to 46/47, behind the more positive numbers of almost everyone else except Huntsman.

Of perhaps greater significance than Newt’s slide, however, is where his support is going. It’s not to Paul or Romney, both whom are essentially treading water in Iowa.  Instead, it appears that former Newt backers are now splitting their support between Perry, Bachmann, and Santorum, all of whom are at 10% in the last PPP poll, and whose aggregate polling trend lines are all inching north.

This raises an interesting possibility. Historically, Iowa serves two purposes. First, the winning candidate can get a boost in media coverage and funding, particular if the victory exceeds media expectations. Think Obama in 2008.  Equally important, however, Iowa has often served a winnowing function, culling second-tier candidates from the field.   A lot can happen in two weeks, of course, but right now Iowans don’t seem prepared to rule any Republican out of the race.  Fully 37% of Iowans still say they may support someone other than the candidate they are currently backing. That’s a lot of uncertainty.  The current conventional wisdom is that a candidate must finish in the top three in Iowa to remain viable. I’m not sure that’s true.  If there are three, or four, candidates  who each get 10-12%, and who are clustered behind the two leaders (say, Romney and Paul),  it’s possible they might all retain enough backing to stay in the race, particularly considering the proportional allocation of delegates that Republicans are using in the early contests.   Indeed, if no clear frontrunner emerges for the Republican nomination, some pundits are looking ahead to the possibility of a brokered convention.  It’s far too early to contemplate that outcome.  But it’s not too early to wonder whether, in Iowa, any Republican will be winnowed from the field after Jan. 3.  Maybe it’s true, after all – there’s no need to fear the Reaper.

On A Wing and a Prayer: What Tim Tebow Can Teach Obama

When it comes to leadership, what can President Obama learn from Broncos’ quarterback Tim Tebow? Apparently, quite a lot. At least that’s the claim Matthew Dowd makes in this recent National Journal article. Dowd argues that Obama has lost his leadership mojo: “Take a look at Obama’s latest interview.  It does not make you feel better about where we are heading.  You don’t feel like we are going to win under his leadership.  He points fingers and refuses to admit his own mistakes or weaknesses.  I often wonder where is the Barack Obama of the 2007 and 2008 campaign.  That Obama was much more like the leader we need at this time.  He offered hope, he had soaring rhetoric, he offered a change from the bitter politics in Washington, and he made us feel we could win.”

The cure for Obama’s leadership ills, Dowd argues, is to steal a page from the Tebow playbook and begin “quarterbacking our country” in “Tebow style”.  And what is that style? “Tebow is the kind of leader for his football team that our country needs at this crucial moment … . [N]o matter the outcome, Tebow has shown what faith, and confidence and humility can do for a team of limited skills that was losing consistently before. This is exactly what President Franklin Roosevelt and President Reagan understood about leadership…What citizens and businesses need is a leader who can raise us all up to a level we didn’t know we had in us, give us confidence in ourselves, give us a common goal to work toward, and make us believe in and have faith in ourselves again.”

I confess that my first time through I thought this might be one of the most inane columns I have ever read. Upon second reading, however, I was convinced of it.  Now, having calmed down a bit, I realize my first and second impressions were exactly right.

Look, as someone who writes what has become essentially a daily blog post, I’m sympathetic to Dowd’s likely motivations in writing this piece. He realized that Tebow is now a national story, and he was probably looking for column material that would attract the maximum google hits. So, we probably shouldn’t take this too seriously. In that vein, let’s play along with Dowd’s logic and see whether Obama has anything to learn from Tebow.  To anticipate my conclusion, the short answer is: No.  Here’s why.

Let’s begin with the most important point: Tebow doesn’t call his own plays!  That’s right – Tebow is miked up and receives direction from the sidelines (and, perhaps, from up above as well – but that’s another story.)  It’s possible, I suppose, to do the same with Obama – but who would be calling the shots? Biden?  Michelle?  If we follow the Tebow football metaphor, why not Bill Belichick? Of course, had Belichick been in charge since day 1 of Obama’s presidency it’s likely that unemployment would be at 4%, Democrats would still control Congress and Obama’s approval would be close 75%. And all with a cabinet composed of political retreads and unknowns.

Still I suppose it’s not too late to bring Belichick on board now. Of course, his first move would probably be to sit Obama. I can hear the press conference now:

Question:  “Coach Belichick, why is the President on the inactive list for this week’s game?”

Coach Hoodie: “Coach’s decision for the good of the team. Clinton gives us a better chance to win, so I made the switch. The President’s record being what  it is, I just thought it was best to make the switch now. That’s it.”  Clinton, of course, would then lead the Democrats to an improbable comeback in 2012, when they reclaim Congress and she gets 8 years. Obama would become a regular on the Rachel Maddow show.

Reason two: Tebow is getting bailed out by his field goal kicker. Who’s going to hit one from beyond 50 yards with time running down for Obama?  Hillary?  Personally, I prefer Kathy Ireland, but that’s purely for aesthetic purposes. Hillary probably has better distance.

But I digress.  My point, I hope is clear.  Dowd would have us believe that Obama’ s struggles have something to do with defects in his leadership style.  In Dowd’s words:  “I do think this Tebow boomlet is about faith.  And it’s about confidence.  And leadership.  And humility — a humbleness born of strength and conviction.  It is about Tebow’s faith in his own teammates.  It is about his faith and confidence in his own organization.  It is about him acknowledging his own weaknesses and failings and mistakes and understanding that if his team looks good, then he looks good… This economy, and our country, do not need more programs out of Washington, D.C., or legislation from Congress, or tax cuts for the wealthy, or more spending on government stimulus.  What citizens and businesses need is a leader who can raise us all up to a level we didn’t know we had in us, give us confidence in ourselves, give us a common goal to work toward, and make us believe in and have faith in ourselves again.

It seems this is a leadership lesson we keep having to learn over and over again through our country’s history.  It is so easy to forget how successes were achieved along the way by Kennedy-style exhortations such as ‘we are going to the moon.’ It is so easy to default into failing Washington-style, us-against-them, to try and get short-term political success. But maybe a quarterback who seems as much boy as man can show us all, including the candidates for president, how to win and how to get our country back on track.”

Oh, please. Obama’s “failings” to date have nothing to do with a faulty leadership style, and everything to do with a sluggish economy that has failed to create jobs – a failure rooted in a fiscal meltdown that predated his time as the nation’s “quarterback”.  And while Obama’s “quarterback play” hasn’t been faultless (see my previous post) the fact remains that he is playing the game under rules set down more than two centuries ago that limit his play calling, and facing a cohesive opposition party that controls half the playing field. It’s going to take more than a wing and a prayer to win this one. Indeed, the whole “us vs. them” football metaphor is misleading. The truth is that in the last week alone Congress has passed both a major appropriations bill and a military authorization bill, and in both cases the legislation had enough bipartisan support to overcome opposition from the extremist wings of both parties.  The lesson, I think, is clear: bargaining and compromise, and not Kennedy-style exhortations, are what constitutes real leadership in this political system.  Or, to use the football metaphor, Obama should skip the fourth-quarter dramatics and inspirational speeches and instead pursue a strategy of “three yards and a cloud of fuss.”  It is amazing how inspirational success – even minor success – can be.

As for Tebow Time – today, he confronts the Devil himself. Let’s see  how that turns out.


The Pipeline Controversy: Keystone Cops in Washington?

The Obama administration may have set itself up to disappoint supporters on the Left still again. In so doing, the President may also have weakened his sources of bargaining power.

Earlier this morning the Senate, by an 89-10 vote, approved a two-month extension (until February 29th of next year) of the payroll tax cut enacted last year. The Senate legislation also includes language authorizing approval for the controversial Keystone XL pipeline unless President Obama decides the pipeline is not in the national interest. (The bill, which must pass the House, also includes the so-called “doc fix” by postponing a 27% cut in pay for doctors serving Medicare patients, and it extends jobless benefits. To cover the lost revenue and increased spending, the Senate will levy new fees on the Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac.)

But here’s the catch. You will recall that the Obama administration has been pushing for an extension of the tax cut, which was enacted a year ago and lowered the payroll tax to 4.2%, saving families earning $50,000 about $1,000 a year. In an election year, voting against a tax hike would appear to be a winning issue. Tea Party activists, however, have expressed ambivalence about signing on to an extension, arguing that the loss of revenue furthers undercuts the Social Security and Medicare programs which depend on payroll tax revenue for funding. To sweeten the deal for Tea Party-backed Republicans, House Speaker John Boehner linked an extension of the payroll tax reduction with provisions expediting review of the controversial Keystone pipeline project.  When this proposed deal was first raised in a House bill (H.R. 3630) that linked the Keystone project to an extension of the payroll tax cuts Obama promised a presidential veto: “If the president were presented with H.R. 3630, he would veto the bill.”

To be sure, in the administration’s Statement of Policy (SAP) containing the veto threat Obama didn’t mention Keystone by name.  Instead the SAP referenced opposition to Republicans’ “choice to refight old political battles over health care and introduce ideological issues into what should be a simple debate about cutting taxes for the middle class.” Nonetheless, the reason for the veto threat was clear to see. And that veto threat, in my view, was a mistake. Remember, the Obama administration was initially on board with approving the Keystone project, but last November, under heavy pressure from environmental activists, it reversed course and put off a decision until after the 2012 elections, citing the need for further environmental review of the  project.  That decision was intended take the divisive issue off the table during an election year.

Here’s the problem. Obama issued his veto threat without in my view fully gauging how Republicans – and members of his own party – might react to the Keystone proposal.  In fact, it’s quite possible that some Senate Democrats will support a bill extending the tax cut even if it is linked to expedited consideration of the Keystone project.  The reason why is not hard to understand; it will be hard for many Democrats, in a time of 8.5% unemployment and dwindling energy resources, to go on record opposing a bill that backers promise will create jobs and reduce energy dependence on foreign imports. Several labor unions that typically support Democrats have gone on record as supporting the Keystone project as well.  To be sure, a vote for the Keystone bill will again alienate environmentalists but – their dire threats to enact retribution notwithstanding – does anyone really think they will vote against Obama come 2012?

In two months, then, (if I understand the legislative process) when the current extension expires Obama is going to find himself in a very difficult position: he either stands by his veto threat and blocks an extension of the payroll tax because of the Keystone linkage, after pushing for it during the last several months, or he signs on to the legislation and incurs the wrath of environmentalists and the left wing of his party once again.  All this presumes, of course, that some version of the Senate bill passes the House, which will likely vote on the bill later this week.  Based on his past record, if these are his only two options, I am confident I know which one he will choose. But the veto threat makes this a far riskier choice than it otherwise had to be.

To be sure, if Obama wants to stand by his threat, he may get some political cover from the State Department, which must issue the permit approving the Keystone project. It has said it cannot conclude a review of the pipeline project within the next 60 days.  So in theory Obama can claim that his hands are tied and reject the project come next February.  This maneuver, however, won’t stop Republicans from using this as a campaign issue by portraying Obama as anti-jobs and in hock to environmental extremists.

I’ll leave it to those more knowledgeable than I regarding the merits of the Keystone project.  But politically, Obama has boxed himself in with his veto threat.  This is still another reminder that we often confuse the exercise of a president’s formal powers, in this case the veto, with actual power – effective influence on political outcomes.  There was no reason for Obama to put his political reputation on the line by personally issuing the threat.  Instead, he could have reprised the more limited threat he used in the military detainee debate, in which his advisers, but not Obama, recommend the veto threat.  This allows the president to signal his preferences, but leaves some wiggle room for negotiating a compromise. Instead he has put his political reputation on the line.

The choices a president has in his own hands are his only means of guarding his power prospects. Given the limited opportunity to influence events, presidents must be acutely sensitive to the likely impact of those choices on their sources of power.  I could very well be wrong but from my vantage point it’s not clear that in this instance, Obama fully gauged the long-term risks in making his veto threat.

Tebow-mania Strikes Iowa (But Wouldn’t Rick Perry Rather Be Tom Brady?)

A couple of days ago I posted an analysis of the last Iowa polling results that showed the race there tightening.  In the process of analyzing the crosstabs of one of these latest polls (something I know you’ve come to expect here) I uncovered an interesting result:  PPP had included a question gauging candidate support by whether one favored Tim Tebow or not.  This struck me as both an odd question to ask, but also a gauge of just how big a news  story, and a potentially polarizing figure Tebow had become.  For those of you not yet acquainted with Tebow-mania, he’s  the quarterback who has led the Denver Broncos to a series of rather improbable victories during the last six games, despite the fact that the football moves through the air like a drunken cormorant when Tebow throws it.  He has led his team to victory, moreover – and perhaps not coincidentally? – while being rather open about his strong Christian beliefs and lifestyle, going so far as to acknowledge that he’s “saving himself” for marriage.  Between the miraculous victories and openly religious beliefs, Tebow has become something of a controversial figure, which I guess explains why PPP decided to include him in a political survey.  Somewhat tongue in cheek (who, moi?) I noted that the survey indicated that among those who disliked Tebow, Ron Paul was favored by 38%, easily leading all other candidates.  No one else even broke double figures.  However, among those who looked favorably upon Tebow, Newt Gingrich topped the polls with 29%.  I suppose the explanation is that Tebow’s detractors are more likely to be the libertarians and moderate Democrats who are uncomfortable with overt displays of religiosity, and of mixing God and state…er….football.  Tebow supporters, in contrast, are more likely be social conservatives who, so far, prefer Gingrich.

Whatever the explanation, the post did attract more than a bit of attention in the blogosphere , but I’m not going pretend to take credit (or blame!) for what happened at last night’s debate.  In all likelihood, Perry’s campaign staff saw the same favorability numbers toward Tebow among Iowans that I did and decided to wrap themselves in Tebo-mania. Here’s the relevant survey question from the PPP poll:

Q30 Do you have a favorable or unfavorable opinion of Tim Tebow?

If favorable, press 1.

If unfavorable, press 2.

If you’re not sure, press 3.

(Asked only of 171 respondents)

Favorable……………………………………………….. 48%

Unfavorable ……………………………………………. 13%

Not Sure…………………………………………………. 40%

You saw what happened next.  When Rick Perry was asked in last night’s debate  if, given his uneven debating performances to date, he could do well in this format one-on-one with President Obama, Perry decided to try to create his own come-from-behind victory, proclaiming that, “I hope I am the Tim Tebow of the Iowa  caucuses”.  Let’s roll the video:

Hey, no one thought Tebow could start in the NFL either. Truth be told, while many pundits wrote Perry off after his initial disastrous debate performances, he has bounced back both on stage – last night’s debate performance was his second strong one in a row – and in the polls.  As this RealClear composite polling graph shows, Perry (in blue) is beginning a (so far) modest climb in the Iowa polls.

 I’ve said this before, but it bears repeating: given his record and funding, Perry is not out of this race by any means.  Even a fourth place finish in Iowa may position him to “solve” the coordination problem raised by my colleague Bert Johnson regarding which candidate the social conservatives will eventually settle upon.  If Perry is that man, he potentially becomes the leading anti-Whoever is Leading candidate.   Know this – he is ramping up his media presence in Iowa, and except for a three-day holiday break , he has promised to plant himself in Iowa from now through caucus day.  And when it comes to winning a caucus, it’s better to finish strong than to start strong.

And what of Tebow? He has a more difficult task ahead than winning the Iowa caucus: he needs to beat Tom Brady –arguably the greatest quarterback since Joe Montana – and the Patriots this Sunday.   That will take a true miracle.

Which leads to the question: why wouldn’t someone want to be the next Tom Brady of the Iowa caucuses?

Oh, that’s Ms. Tom Brady getting…er….sacked.

Live Blogging the Final Iowa Debate

Late start tonight – sorry!  The debate is on Fox News tonight.  Big issue here is whether Gingrich can stay positive, yet respond to the direct attacks that will come his way from  Paul and Romney.  The other big question: will one of the second-tier candidates step forward to win over the undecideds.

9:05 First question to Newt – can you prove you are electable?

Newt immediately does the politically incorrect thing and wishes everyone a Merry Christmas.

9:07  but isn’t he zany?  Is he a real conservative?  Newt responds by reeling off his record as Speaker.  When critics mention his baggage, they often forget his policy record while Speaker – it’s something that speaks to conservatives.

9:09 Same question to Paul – is he electable? “Anyone up here can beat Obama”.

9:10 To Santorum: why hasn’t his campaign caught fire?  He’s counting on the voters to catch fire for him. That sounds painful. He points out that conservatives rebelled against Gingrich when he was Speaker – he doesn’t note that he lost his last election for the Senate.

9:11 Chris Wallace (Newt’s whipping boy from the last Fox debate!) – Mitt, why don’t people trust you as a real conservative.  Again, he trumpets his private sector record, even his failures (JetBlue would never work!)

9:13 – To Bachmann – are you too conservative to win the general election?  So far, these are real softball questions.  Bachmann notes that she’s won four elections to Congress.  She spent “50 years as real person”.  Presumably now she’s a Stepford Politician

9:15 – to Perry: how can you win against Obama if you can’t debate?  Says debates are growing on him.  The first Tebow reference! Ding, Ding, Ding!  Remember the polls showing Tebow haters favor Paul.  Perry wants to be the Tim Tebow of Republican politics!

9:17 To Huntsman – convince us you are a real conservative. Huntsman kicks The Donald! (I won’t show up to a Trump debate!)  Ouch!  The crowd twitters, but they don’t applause.  Some conservatives like Trump…  Huntsman is climbing some NH polls, but so far hasn’t registered here in Iowa.

(@Jeff – screwed?  Will that cost him the Mormon vote?)

I hate these 30 second answers (how would you negotiate with Congress) – Romney agrees. He touts his time as Governor of Massachusetts to remind us that he worked with Democrats.

Gingrich: I helped Reagan program get through a Democratically-controlled House. I worked with Bill Clinton.  That’s leadership.

Paul: two factions out there. One wants warfare.  One wants welfare. Get them to meet halfway.  (That would be fair fare, wouldn’t it?)  Is governing really this easy?   Sheesh…

Bachmann: look deficits in the eye. Huntsman: record as governor of Utah.

This was an absolute waste of time.

The tweet innovation seems to me to be ripe for abuse by an organized campaign.


So far this has been a very tame debate.  Let’s see if Wallace can rile things up.  On to Romney: are you a hard-hearted capitalist?  Nice response here I think by Romney on teaching Obama how the economy works. Strong response.

On to Gingrich and his Fannie Mac connection – is he hypocritical?  Gingrich’s response:  I was a private citizen.  I was helping people learn how to get mortgages.  He doesn’t back down, but let’s see what Paul has to say.  Paul’s not buying it – he says Newt was getting paid by the government. This is not a winning issue for Newt and Paul is not going to let it go, nor should he.  How does Newt respond?  He points out that many joint private-public partnerships do good things. Credit unions, agricultural extensions, etc.   Bachmann – evidence of influence peddling?  Gingrich took checks!  She’s not buying the comparison between credit unions and Freddie Mac.  She’s on a roll here!  Gingrich calls her a liar.  I never lobbied.  I tried to defeat the housing act!  Bachmann – Politifact says I speak the truth (but that was the last debate).  Still, let’s pile on Newt!

Newt says he only worked with people whose values he shared – does that mean he shared Freddie Mac’s values?  That statement will come back to haunt him.

9:38 – Another attack on Gingrich – this time regarding whether he supports Ryan’s medicare fix.  Newt is trying to stay positive here, but it’s hard when you are the focus of everyone’s jabs.

9:40 Does Paul support earmarks?  This is a softball to Paul, and he doesn’t miss.  Newt’s thinking, why don’t I get these questions? Paul says he has never voted for an earmark.  The questioner persists, but this is a winner for Paul.  Just give it up.

Did I just hear that Paul wants to be a Whig president?

9:43 Perry gets a question but he wants to dump on Newt and get on a his high horse and push for an amateur Congress, and a balanced budget.  This is a crowd pleaser even if it makes no sense.

(Santorum has to be fuming – where are his questions?  Even Huntsman is getting more!)

Huntsman just dissed the rest of the world except for China.  The crowd is mute.  Why is he here again?

9:48 Santorum pushes a tax holiday, and his made in America policy.  He’s going to repeal regulations.  the crowd likes this.

9:49 Twitter question to Mitt – where will the jobs be created in the next 10 years?  Another strong Mitt answer – let the market answer that!  And he uses this to his familiar riff on the America century.

9:51 Subpoenaing judges?  Newt says yes – courts have become too powerful.  Need to reestablish a balance of power.  This is red meat for conservatives, and for Newt, because it gives him a chance to riff on his historical knowledge – can you say Gingrich, Jefferson, FDR and Jackson?  Gingrich is going to town here. …his best answer of the night!  Blame the lawyers!  Amen.

Bachmann: should the 9th circuit be abolished?  We need the President and the Congress to take power back from the courts.  Appoint judges who adopt an original intent perspective.  (@Jessie – this is Newt’s bailiwick.  For this audience, he doesn’t have to please Professor Dry with his knowledge of the Federalist Papers. He just has to reference them, and it sounds legitimate.  Paul’s and

Favorite Supreme Court justice.

Santorum:  Thomas

Will Perry be able to name a justice?  He gets three!  Not much disagreement here, except from Paul, as you might expect, who refuses to name a good one, because they are both good and bad.  How’s that for an answer!  Sometimes I think Paul just wants to be disagreeable for the sake of disagreeing.

Let’s face it, this is another wasted question.

Why does Huntsman always seem like he’s lecturing us before he actually answer a question?


So far, Newt has been on the receiving end of most of the attacks.  Like James Bond’s martini, he’s been shaken, but not stirred – at least not stirred to anger.  Not yet.   But it’s hard to see how this can help him.  Meanwhile, I think Romney has been at the top of his game. This is his best debate so far, and he couldn’t have picked a better time to pick  up his game.  Paul has been sharp.  Perry had a good sound bite with his attack on Congress.

Let’s move on to foreign policy.  Great question to Paul. Would you remove sanctions on Iran?  Paul leaves himself open here – he’s appealing to his libertarian crowd, but denying that Iran might have a nuclear bomb shortly isn’t going to please everyone.  It leaves him open to the claim that he’s naive.  Baier pushes the issue. What if we knew Iran had nuclear weapons.  Paul doesn’t give ground here – he’s willing to let them have it.  Not going to play well with everyone.   Let’s see if Santorum jumps on him.  But first Baier is trying to see how far Paul will go to appease Iran…..answer: pretty far.

Now Santorum.  This should be fun. He is going to be the war drum right on Paul’s head.  Santorum is so flummoxed at Paul’s naivety that he can’t speak!  But when he does, the crowd loves it.

Romney gets an easy  question regarding drones.  This is a president who says “pretty please”.   Another softball, but to his credit he hits it well.  I thnk Mitt sat next to a cup of caffeine today.  He’s sharp.  Go Mitt!

10:12 To Bachmann – any circumstances in which you would send troops back into Iraq.  Bachmann accuses the President of losing the peace.  And she jumps on Ron Paul for his foreign policy views.  This is going to be Paul’s Achilles heel, and why he has an upper limit on his support.  Bachmann really does well on this question. Paul seems to recognize this, and he walks back from the Iran nukes being no problem.  But he then goes back on the isolationist rant.  Bachmann wants to throttle him.  “the greatest underreaction in world history!” Paul calls Bachmann a liar – she’s a drama queen!  He says I knew Jack Kennedy!  He was a friend of mine!  He understood how to deal with a crisis.  This is no crisis.

This is good stuff.

Gingrich has to jump in on this and strike back at Paul  while he’s under attach.  And he does – citing missiles hitting Israel now.  And Paul wants us to talk with those firing the missiles.

Let me tell you what this nation needs. It needs Huntsman to stop telling us what this nation needs.  Sheesh….and he gets two dings to boot. Just answer the question.

On to Syria.  Mr. Perry?  Intervention time?  Perry says institute a no fly zone. And then attacks Obama for asking for our drone back.

Newt – doesn’t want to appear zany (take that, Mitt).  Self-editing (preplanned, but they work!)  Utterly irrational to veto a middleclass tax cut ….. ….another winner.  As he did the last debate, Mitt weathers the storm but comes back fighting.  Send a middle tax cut with Keystone to Obama and let him veto it.  Just like he did with Clinton on welfare reform.  The audience eats this up.  If only it was that easy….. .

(@Michael – This is a debate!  Not a midterm!  They only have 30-60 seconds to respond.  You should be glad someone is even referencing the Federalist Papers!)

10:27 – How would Bachmann respond to another Gulf oil spill?  She uses this as a chance to go back and push for Keystone and attack the “radical environmentalists” and Obama.

10:29  Doesn’t Perry coddle oil companies.  Boy, everyone is big on giving us history lessons today.  Perry says it’s ok for states to be laboratories of coddling.  But Washington DC shouldn’t be picking winners and losers.  Hmmmm…..this makes very little sense and the crowd gives it muted applause.


Solid performances in the last section for everyone but Paul, who took a beating on his see no evil foreign policy.  Santorum suffered too, but mostly because no one talked to him.

10:35 Kelly asks Perry about Holder and Fast and Furious.  Who, me?  Politicize this issue?  Another softball – and Perry nails it.  Even if Holder didn’t know about – that’s enough to fire his ass.  Perry uses this to both demonstrate his bona fides on border security and to morph into anti terrorism policy.  He’s having a strong debate.  Santorum gives his amen.

Kelly to Romney asking him to clarify his immigration policy.  Romney focuses on one part of the question, but does’t really answer how he’s going to get people to go home, and how many, to get in line.   Gingrich – is that realistic?  Yes, and no – but let’s move on to dropping lawsuits against Arizona, let’s stop funding sanctuary cities.  Smart move by Newt – move away from the allowing long-time illegal immigrants to stay.

Not sure how far Huntsman is going to go by saying no one coming here anymore.  That’s not what they are saying in the border states!  I see his point, but it is easy to lose it.

Wallace – he’s good at pushing buttons. He’s going to push Mitt on being a political flip flopper.  Guns, Gay rights, abortion – Mitt says he never changed his mind on gay marriage.  Did change his mind on abortion. What about guns?  Wallace won’t give up – says he supported an assault weapons ban, a 5-day waiting period.  Romney I think handles this pretty well.  So Wallace tries to get someone else to attack him Romney.  Santorum is quite willing to help out.

Santorum says Romney didn’t stand on principle against gay marriage.   He sided with the court, rather than pushing his own powers to change it.  Romney says no – he abided by a Supreme Court decision.   He pushed a constitutional amendment to ban gay marriage.  It will be interesting if Santorum keeps at this.

The problem here is that there’s not a lot of evidence that social issues are going to matter much in this election.  Bachmann is going to attack Gingrich for funding Planned Parenthood.  This isn’t going to matter as much as Bachmann hopes it will be.  Gingrich again says Bachmann has her facts wrong.  Bachmann almost comes out and says Gingrich is belittling her (as a woman?)  But Gingrich is on strong footing her – it’s not going to score many points for Bachmann.

Baier  –  this is a question that plays to Gingrich’s strength – obey the 11th commandment.  Santorum is not apologetic for attacking.  Perry turns it around to poke fun at himself.  Gingrich, however, has the most credibility on saying he’s obeyed the 11th commandment, and he gets the biggest applause.  Paul – we are making up for the media’s shortcomings.  Bachmann uses another Reagan quote to turn the question back on Obama.

And that’s it.  No more debates before the Jan. 3 caucus.  Let the spin begin.

Some quick thoughts:  Romney was strong tonight, except for a hiccup on some of his stands while Governor.  Gingrich weathered the early storm on Freddie Mac (his weakest part) to finish very strong.  Bachmann has gotten better and better as these debates go on.  Paul wobbled during the foreign policy exchange.   Perry is quietly working his way up with a few strong talking points and an ability to make fun of himself.  Santorum did a good job, but not enough to change the dynamics.  I just don’t think Huntsman is catching on.

So, who helped themselves the most?

Probably Rick Perry.  He’s hitting his stride and I think is creeping into the top tier.  Romney was solid and I think he probably stopped his slide. Interestingly, he didn’t go on the attack at all this time around. Presumably he’s going to rely on paid advertising for that.  Gingrich’s performance was more uneven – he still can’t explain Freddie Mac -but in the end I think he probably will hold on to his support, although I’m not sure he’s going to expand it.  I think Bachmann’s strident attacks appealed to her base, but probably don’t help her broaden it.  Santorum simply didn’t get enough air time to move his numbers north, and Huntsman’s audience really isn’t here in Iowa.

The big loser?  I think it’s Paul – his views toward Iran and nukes will appeal to the narrow group of isolationist libertarians, but most mainstream Republicans are going to think it is borderline nutty.

19 days and counting.  Gingrich’s first t.v. ad is hitting the airwaves in Iowa on Thursday.   Will it be enough to stabilize his support?  Perry is blanketing the states with media buys – can he parley his recent strong debate performances into a top four finish?  Has Romney regained some support based on tonight and will his strong media presence help him retake the front runner’s position? Will Paul see a dip in support based on tonight?

this is turning into a great race.