Bachmann has a strong following and organization, and she is likely to do well in Saturday's vote. She couldn't afford to lose her momentum, and she didn't. She parried Pawlenty's attacks forcefully.
The second debate of the night was between Newt Gingrich and Fox News. The former House speaker was asked about the mass defection of his aides and about his overspending, and he shot back that it was a gotcha question. "I'd love to see the rest of tonight's debate asking us about what we would do to lead an America whose president has failed to lead, instead of playing Mickey Mouse games," he said.
Great answer. Great theater. Very silly. Gingrich is a man of a thousand ideas, but leadership is about ideas and implementation. Gingrich has shown a lack of discipline in his professional and private life. A question about an undisciplined campaign goes directly to his abilities as a leader. Gingrich made this point later when talking about Ronald Reagan, who, he pointed out, was able to pass tax cuts with a Democratic Congress by rallying the country. That kind of thing requires operational discipline that Gingrich hasn't shown.
The third fight was between Rick Santorum and Ron Paul over Iran. Paul, who broadly disapproves of U.S. meddling in the affairs of other nations, said the United States should not fret about Iran gaining nuclear weapons. Santorum jumped on Paul, saying anyone who held Paul's view "is obviously not seeing the world very clearly." Paul accused Santorum of a march to war identical to the one that led to the conflict in Iraq.
Paul was once again the crowd favorite. He will do well in the straw poll. When he talks about individual liberty and spending restraint, it sounds far more authentic than when the other candidates sound similar themes.
It was Gov. Jon Huntsman's first debate. He offered his own version of leadership. He was the only candidate who praised the House Republican debt-limit deal. He stood by his support of civil unions. He embraced the moderate view of leadership focused on working together and getting solutions. He seemed out of place in a party that doesn't define leadership that way. If Michele Bachmann is red meat, he is soybean.
Still, in a debate about leadership and whether it is demonstrated through compromise or by steadfast adherence, the view was clearly tilted toward the latter. When the candidates were asked if, in order to get a agreement on cutting spending, they would accept a deal that included a 10-to-1 ratio of spending cuts to tax increases, not one candidate said they would.
This was the last debate before Texas Gov. Rick Perry enters the race. He has a populist appeal, a record in his three terms as governor that will sound good to GOP activists, and a network of fundraisers ready to launch his campaign. He is slated to announce Saturday, which means Mitt Romney may only have a few more days to enjoy that smile.
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