5 Quick Thoughts on the Iowa GOP Debate in Ames

Romney unscathed, Bachmann-Pawlenty clashes, and a defense of civil unions from Jon Huntsman amesdebate.banner.jpg

Updated 08/12/10

AMES, Iowa -- Some observations on the Fox News Republican presidential primary debate here, filed from the basement press center of the Hilton Coliseum at Iowa State University, where they normally hold basketball games or Ice Capades:

Good-bye, Minnesota Nice. Tim Pawlenty and Michele Bachmann clashed early and often. Pawlenty, who had clearly come prepared with some zingers for Mitt Romney and others to make up for his lackluster debate performance in New Hampshire, denied upon questioning that he'd drawn attention to Bachmann's headaches. But he worked hard to give her some new ones. She responded with the poised and polished fierceness that's made her every appearance seem as orderly and, uh, intense as a scripted television spot.

"It is an undisputable fact that in congress her record of accomplishment and results is nonexistent," Pawlenty said of his one-time state colleague and now national rival.

"I would say governor, when you were governor in Minnesota you implemented cap and trade in our state and you praised the unconstitutional individual mandates and called for requiring all people in our state to purchase health insurance that the government would mandate," Bachmann retorted. "Third, you said the era of small government was over. That sounds more like Barack Obama, if you ask me."

Bachmann cast herself as a fighter: "People are looking for a champion. They want someone who has been fighting. When it came to health care, I brought tens of thousands of Americans to Washington to fight the unconstitutional individual mandates. I didn't praise it. When it came to cap and trade, I fought it with everything that was in me, including I introduced the Lightbulb Freedom of Choice Act so people could all purchase the lightbulb of their choice."

"She's got a record of misstating and making false statements. And that's another example of that list," Pawlenty retorted. "She says that she's fighting for these things. She fought for less government spending, we got a lot more. She led the effort against ObamaCare, we got ObamaCare. She led the effort against TARP, we got TARP. She said she's got a titanium spine. It's not her spine we're worried about, it's her record of results.

"If that's your view of effective leadership with results, please stop, because you're killing us."

"I was at the tip of the spear fighting against the implementation of ObamaCare in the United States Congress. Nancy Pelosi, Harry Reid and Barack Obama ran Congress, but I gave them a run for their money," Bachmann was unmoved. "Again, on cap and trade, I was there from the very beginning, giving Speaker Pelosi a run for her money. That's why I was Speaker Pelosi about her number one target to defeat last year, because I was effectively taking them on on nearly every argument they put forward...when others ran, I fought. And I led against increasing the deficit."

An exchange about a Minnesota bill that raised taxes on cigarettes and strengthened an anti-abortion position served as the second round of their squabble, with Pawlenty saying he regretted having voted for the act and Bachmann explaining why she supported it as an anti-abortion candidate. Hard to say who was the victor here, but it was good to see them actually debating their records and actively seeking to distinguish themselves.

Newt Gets Feisty with Liberal Media Outlet Fox News. Maybe he got too much sun at the Iowa State Fair, where he was walking about under the noonday sun, giving fair-goers the thumbs-up with Callista and taking photos with families, but Newt Gingrich seemed to have had it with acting like he might actually have a shot at things if he pretended to be someone other than himself.

First he went after Fox News host Chris Wallace, chastising him, "I wish you would put aside the gotcha questions" and declaring, "I intend to run on ideas."

And then he seemingly remembered that he used to be someone, and not just an afterthought on the would-be presidential stage who people make fun of for his now-shuttered Tiffanys account and policy flip-flops.

"Look, I think this super committee is about as dumb an idea as Washington has come up with in my lifetime," he said, after all the candidates on stage affirmed they'd walk away from a ten to one cuts to revenue budget deal in the future.

"I mean I used to run the House of Representatives," the former speaker said. "I have some general notion of these things. The idea that 523 senators and congressmen are going to sit around for four months while 12 brilliant people, mostly picked for political reasons, are going to sit in some room and brilliantly come up with a trillion dollars or force us to choose between gutting our military and accepting a tax increase is irrational. This is -- they're going to walk in just before Thanksgiving and say, all right, we can shoot you in the head or cut off your right leg, which do you prefer?

"What they ought to do is scrap the committee right now, recognize it's a dumb idea, go back to regular legislative business, assign every subcommittee the task of finding savings, do it out in the open through regular legislative order and get rid of this secret phony business."

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Garance Franke-Ruta is a former senior editor covering national politics at The Atlantic.

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