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.




  1. Isn’t it odd how both Republicans and Democrats think the Court is too political/activist. Generally when everyone is angry someone is doing the right thing.

  2. While I agree that he doesn’t need to please Professor Dry, shouldn’t someone call him (and for that matter the entire Tea Party, especially Glenn Beck, who has pirated the Federalist Papers) on his dishonesty? Perhaps this is too idealistic of me, but if we’re talking about the Founders, we are really talking about the big and great ideas that created this nation. We should at least take the time to get it right. This will be especially true if Newt becomes the nominee and has these Lincoln-Douglas style debates (I know they won’t happen). The Left needs to start reclaiming the Founding, and maybe Newt should sit in on American Political Regime this spring. (Rant done).

  3. Bachman wants an investigation to get to the bottom of the oil spill? Right…no, I’m pretty sure we knew what the problem was there. In fact, we had a live 24 hour video stream of it.

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