The Iowa Debate

We’re only a couple of weeks away from the Iowa caucuses. Last night Fox News sponsored a Republican debate in Sioux City, the last opportunity for each of the candidates to take their message to a widespread audience. The polls, prior to the debate, have been dynamic in the sense that one can’t really tell who has the upper hand right now. Gingrich leads in some, Romney in another, Paul rising rapidly.

So who was helped and who was hurt by what transpired last night? I watched the whole thing, so I do have some thoughts on that. Let’s start with those at the low end of the polls and work our way up.

Huntsman sounded credible, but still comes across as arrogant and condescending, as if he is the only smart guy in the room and has to lower himself and his rhetoric to make the others understand his wisdom. While some of his answers were fine, there’s no way this debate will elevate his numbers.

Santorum, as always, didn’t get as much airtime as the others, but he took advantage of the time he had to offer sound arguments on national security. He also fired directly at Romney on the issue of same-sex marriage, taking him to task for allowing it to happen in Massachusetts on his watch. What I would like to have happen, I think, is for Santorum to be either the Secretary of Defense or Secretary of Health & Human Services in an upcoming Republican administration. That’s his niche, not the presidency.

Bachmann is someone I want very much to like, but she keeps shoving me away by her strident attacks. Yes, she’s solid on issues, and I appreciate that in her, but she doesn’t come across as presidential, and I’m not at all sure she always has her facts straight. Her insecurity revealed itself when she commented that she was a serious candidate for the presidency. If you have to make that statement, you’ve already lost the argument. It’s like a manager of whatever enterprise, or the head of some department instructing his/her underlings that he/she really is in charge. What Bachmann needs to do is bide her time and run for the Minnesota Senate seat currently occupied by a national embarrassment named Al Franken. She would serve the nation well in that role.

Perry was very likeable this time around. He probably was the most relaxed aspirant on the stage. His ability to poke fun at himself while still offering a conservative critique of current issues was a winning combination. Does that mean he has erased my concerns from earlier debates? Not by a long shot. I’m still not convinced he’s ready for prime time as a presidential contender. Images of a debate with Obama continue to haunt. For me to feel comfortable with him as the Republican choice, he’s going to have to not only maintain what he accomplished last night, but steadily improve.

Paul was his consistent self. That worked well when talking about basic constitutional issues dealing with the economy and scope of government, but I believe he hurt himself big time with his commentary on Iran and the threat to the United States. He sees no real threat, and spent most of his time claiming that his own party is a warmongering entity out to alienate the entire Muslim world. It almost descended into a rant, and I actually felt sorry for him in the middle of it. While I respect Paul’s devotion to constitutionalism, he is a disaster on foreign policy. One can disagree with aggressive nation-building policies without denigrating honest attempts to eliminate Islamic terrorism. He continues to believe that diplomacy will work with Iran. That is foolish and unrealistic. Paul’s numbers were rising prior to this debate; I wouldn’t be surprised to see them plummet now. If the audience was any indication, he’s in trouble. They booed him lustily a couple of times.

Romney was Romney. I’ve said enough about him in previous posts. You know he’s not my favorite for a variety of reasons. He did nothing last night to change my mind. Does he look and sound presidential? Yes. Am I convinced he’s a genuine conservative who can be trusted? No.

Gingrich had to take a lot of heat. At times, he may not have convinced the audience that the charges were unfair, particularly on his role as advisor for Fannie and Freddie. Yet he was steadfast in asserting he was not beholden to them, and that his primary concern was a conservative one—helping people afford housing. He distanced himself from Barney Frank and Chris Dodd on the issue, saying his vision was not the same as welfare-state Democrats. I believe him on that, but appearances are what some people see first and find hard to forget. He was strong on a number of issues—the out-of-control judiciary, for example. Like Perry, he communicated a sense of humor about himself at times, such as when he said he was busy editing his comments in his mind before speaking so he wouldn’t be accused of being “zany,” a Romney critique this past week. On most points, he acquitted himself well.

I will be voting in the Florida primary next month. I’m still assessing the candidates, but I’m giving my hardest look right now to Gingrich. I want to believe he’s for real. I want to believe the old Gingrich has been left behind with respect to his infidelities. I want to believe he can win the general election. I want . . . but remain unconvinced. I’m just glad the primary isn’t today. I have more time to consider.