Friday, December 16, 2011

Why Rick Perry Won and Michele Bachmann Lost the Iowa Debate

 - Review of the Fox News Sioux City GOP Debate - 

I watched most of last night's Fox News Sioux City GOP debates twice. Once to analyze the statements and positions and the second time to observe the ebb and flow of the debate itself. In the beginning it was a relative picnic, but it became the knife fight I had predicted as the debate progressed. Unfortunately for Michele Bachmann, she got careless with her blade and a lot of the blood on the floor was her own - or it will be in tomorrow's news cycle, anyway. Bachmann's analysis is the longest by far, so if you make it through there, you're home free.

Republican presidential candidates are picture...
Prior Fox News Debate
Image via Wikipedia
My take on the debates by candidate:

Michele Bachmann: Minnesota Congressman Bachmann made three key strategic errors last night. First, her credibility is not an established fact and attacking more than one candidate last night stretched it beyond the breaking point. Bachmann weighed in on both Newt Gingrich and Ron Paul, but her biggest error was different; one that could have easily been avoided.

People without heavyweight credentials of their own cannot challenge Newt Gingrich's conservative credentials, which is why Mitt Romney surrogates such as Bill Bennett and George F. Will do so but Romney seldom does personally. Bachmann is a conservative, but compared to Gingrich her political resume is both thin and short.

Declaring Gingrich, who has a 98.5% lifetime pro-life voting record over a period of two decades, to be in favor of partial birth abortion because he was more concerned with electing Republicans back in 1998 than in their positions on individual issues is brassy, but not smart. It is also an obvious twisting of facts to make political points and makes Bachmann appear desperate. Strike one.

Add in Bachmann's expected - as I predicted before the debate - attack on Ron Paul and she had quite a night. The attack on Ron Paul regarding the Middle East may earn her some points, but Paul flat-out contradicted her interpretation of an International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) report on Iran's nuclear capabilities. It didn't help Bachmann when she "corrected" Paul who referred to the "UN report" because though the IAEA was established separately, it reports directly to the United Nations and the UN Security Council. Even if technically correct, she appears petty. Strike two.

Finally, some of Bachmann's statements can be attributed to differences in understanding, but she also made a two-in-one mistake regarding facts. First she said, "I am a serious candidate," and as you know, if you have to say it, then you are not. Second, to support that statement, she dragged the PolitiFact people into the debate stating that they had found everything she said in the previous debate to be true.

Sadly for Michele Bachmann PolitiFact disagreed both vehemently and immediately. I'm not certain, but I believe the post was up before the debate was over. While I believe PolitiFact leans left, you can't argue with them on their own ratings, especially when those ratings are available to the public.

Bachmann was rated by PolitiFact on two statements from the most recent previous debate. One rating was "Mostly True" but the other was "Pants on Fire," which translates into a big, fat lie. So tonight's statement was also rated as "Pants on Fire" and that's not based on an interpretation but a simple, available fact. And since I was on the website, I noted that Bachmann has been rated 52 times by PolitiFact; seven statements were "Mostly False", 19 statements have been rated as "False" and 12 as "Pants on Fire".

First, why do you refer to a liberal website that has you completely or partially lying in 73% of the statements they have analyzed? Second, why do you make an obviously false statement on national television that can be checked in less than 30 seconds?

In the short run, some of tonight's events may help her, but in the long run she has damaged herself greatly. In fact, she's likely to be in many headlines tomorrow, but not in a good way. Bachmann has a penchant for overstating her points and has been called on it publicly. She will be again on a misstatement that she had to know was wrong. Bachmann was last night's loser.

Rick Perry: Texas Governor Rick Perry did not need to win the debate last night, nor does he need to win the Iowa caucuses. That's a good thing for him, because he will not win them. Perry has campaign funds, an organization and is the beneficiary of low expectations. All Rick Perry needed to do last night was establish a strong foundation from which to launch a comeback. He did that.

This was Perry's strongest debate; not that he has set a very high bar, but he did well last night. He was upbeat, alert, and got some strong applause lines. His response on a question regarding Eric Holder was met with strong applause and I think the crowd surprised themselves with the overall strength of the response.

Watch for Perry to build on last night's performance. He has a long row to hoe to get back into the top tier, but we have all seen how volatile this race can be. It would not be wise to count him out. Perry was last night's winner because he did everything he needed to do to further his candidacy.

Newt Gingrich: Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich handled himself very well in last night's debate. He was even-keeled and occasionally generous to his fellow candidates. He even magnanimously praised Mitt Romney's role in working with Congressman Paul Ryan (R-WI) to advance entitlement reform.

As expected Gingrich was attacked as someone who was not a conservative, but this gave him an opportunity to rattle off his conservative credentials, which are impressive. This is something he must continue to do, especially for younger voters.

The one time Gingrich appeared off-balance was with the Bachmann attack. The grimace on Newt's face was visible, but when he replied he was under control again. I believe the facts bear Gingrich out, but I think Congressman Bachmann did him real harm with her attack.

I also noted that Gingrich was not received with the warmth crowds normally bestow. Like him or not, he was a lion for the Republican Party in the 1990s and he usually is received in that regard, but it would appear that the negative attacks have diminished his stature in the eyes of many. Still, his performance was excellent. Even though he out-debated everyone, Gingrich was last night's runner-up due to the potential damage from Michele Bachmann's insistent attacks.

Mitt Romney: As I predicted, former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney stressed his electability, and as I suggested, he contrasted himself with President Obama. He also repeatedly emphasized the need to beat Obama in the general election. Former Governor Romney had a good night, even receiving praise from former US House Speaker Newt Gingrich for his role in helping improve Congressman Paul Ryan's plan to reform entitlements.

Romney also looked good in weathering an attack from Rick Santorum on judicial nominees when Romney explained the process in Massachusetts. The response made Romney appear reasonable and competent and able to govern effectively.

Ron Paul: Congressman Ron Paul floated through most of last night's debate. He did get the expected questions on the Middle East, especially on Israel and Iran. Paul might be right on Iran's nuclear capability, but most Republicans are not willing to take a chance to find out.

Bret Baier repeatedly asked Congressman Paul what he would do if Iran blocked the Straits of Hormuz, a narrow passageway through which around one-third of the world's oil is shipped. Paul repeatedly avoided answering the question in the scenario Baier gave.

Nothing Paul said tonight will daunt his supporters, who are both fervent and active. On the other hand, I do not anticipate the Congressman broadening his appeal based upon last night's performance.

Jon Huntsman: Former Utah Governor Jon Huntsman answered some questions tonight, but his preamble still tends to be longer than his answers. He repeatedly stressed the "trust deficit" in Washington and got in some good plugs for what he accomplished as the Governor of Utah. This was Huntsman's best debate to date.

Rick Santorum: Former Pennsylvania Senator Rick Santorum did not clench his teeth together, but smiled throughout the debate. He got heavy applause when he reminded Iowans that he, alone of the other candidates, had personally campaigned against the Iowa judges who implemented same-sex marriage in the state.

Santorum may pick up some of Michele Bachmann's support. After tonight I expect Bachmann's numbers to dwindle and I expect Santorum to be the main beneficiary of Bachmann's lost supporters. For this reason, I declare Santorum a mini-winner.


Overall this was a good debate, but the final result of the Bachmann-Gingrich exchange remains to be seen. I don't expect to see all of the results for several days.

Don't forget to vote in the poll which has also been posted.

by Ken Carroll

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