GOP Debate Sioux City Iowa

December 16, 2011 by staff 

GOP Debate Sioux City Iowa, The debating chapter of the 2012 Republican pre-primary has closed. Here’s where things stand for the turbulent field of candidates: Newt Gingrich is far from dead, but he has taken fire and may be fading. A resurgent second tier of Michele Bachmann, Rick Santorum and Rick Perry is clamoring for a second look from Iowa voters. Ron Paul has sneaked into remarkably strong position despite — or perhaps because of — his refusal to pay lip service to Republican orthodoxy. And all this chaos is playing right into the hands of Mitt Romney, who has regained a steady footing after a couple of shaky weeks.

And now the real campaign begins.

Over the next two and a half weeks, the candidates will barnstorm Iowa, straining mightily to bend the storylines baked by Thursday night’s debate to their advantage. This whole bizarre, foreshortened nominating contest has been shaped by the 13 debates to an unusual degree, but now the candidates are tasked with the old-fashioned work of wooing the elusive, skeptical tribe of Iowa caucus-goers. (The exception: Jon Huntsman, who participated in Thursday’s debate but will quickly decamp for New Hampshire, where he is staking his campaign.)

A quick rundown of what we learned from the last debate before the Iowa caucuses:

1. Gingrich gets bloodied. Everybody was gunning for the former House speaker, with motivations that seemed a mix of political necessity and personal resentment. He has proved difficult to trap in the past. But he did not come off well defending the conservative bete noire Freddie Mac from a barrage of strong criticism from Bachmann and Paul. Paul repeatedly spelled out the term “government-sponsored enterprise” and bludgeoned Gingrich with it, leading Gingrich to respond: “The term government-sponsored enterprise has a very wide range of things that do a great deal of good.” Bachmann affected shock at this, saying, “That’s absolutely wrong. We can’t have as our nominee for the Republican Party someone who continues to stand for Freddie Mac and Fannie Mae. They need to be shut down, not built up.” Gingrich accused her of not having her facts straight, but Bachmann came back strong: “You don’t need to be within the technical definition of being a lobbyist to still be influence-peddling in Washington, D.C.”

2. The return of Bachmann, Perry and Santorum. These three are all fighting for the same sliver of the Iowa vote, and based on Thursday, those voters may be torn between them. Bachmann had one of her strongest performances, giving no quarter to Gingrich and getting into a heated scrap with Paul over whether military action against Iran ought to be considered a possibility. Perry, who is working hard to earn a second look after his disastrous late introduction, was firing on all cylinders, flogging his crowd-pleasing plan for a part-time Congress and, most memorably, comparing himself to Denver Broncos quarterback Tim Tebow: “There are people that stood up and said…you know, he is not playing the game right. … I hope I am the Tim Tebow of the Iowa caucuses.”
3. Ron Paul rallies his private army. The Texas congressman has a tendency to ramble, but early in the debate at least, he gave some of the strongest answers to questions about his electability — “Anybody up here could probably beat Obama … I think he’s beating himself” — and earmarks, deftly turning around the accusation that he’s been hypocritical by applying for federal funds for his district while voting and fulminating against earmarks in principle.
4. Romney has calmed down. In the last few debates and some press interviews, Romney had been jumpy and agitated, culminating in his damaging offer to bet Perry $10,000 in the debate before this one. On Thursday, Snippy Mitt was gone, replaced with a more patient, graceful model of the Romney-bot. Rather than get exasperated and try to brush off yet another accusation of flip-flopping, he went through his conversion on abortion step by step and with frankness. As a gubernatorial candidate, he acknowledged, “I was effectively pro-choice.”

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