Last night was the last televised debate before the January 3 Iowa Caucuses. Fox News did a great job of covering a lot of information. The good news is that almost every candidate on stage did well articulating their vision for the country. The bad news is that it allows the front running losers of Gingrich and Romney to remain the frontrunners. If Bachmann and Perry had done this well when they were ahead, they would still be the frontrunners, but last night Newt Gingrich and Mitt Romney were the frontrunners and they acted like it.
Unfortunately for conservatives, the flip-flopping duo of Gingrich and Romney survived the debate without anyone bringing them down. There is no doubt that Romney is locked in to win in New Hampshire and that Iowa is now all that matters. If Ron Paul or Mitt Romney win Iowa, a strong second place finish for Bachmann, Santorum or Perry could propel them to be the anti-Romney guy in South Carolina. If any of those three were to win Iowa, they could prove be the guy in South Carolina. All three have legitimate conservative messages and records that could resonate. Keeping in mind that everyone did well and that nothing happened to change the course of the debate, let's jump into some of the lasting impressions from the debate.
Jon Huntsman sounded very reasonable when he discussed the fact that we give oil a monopoly on energy in the U.S. while we are sitting on a mountain of natural gas. Huntsman seems to be a candidate that understands energy, trade and the economy. It is too bad he doesn't get it on anything else.
Newt Gingrich did very well last night. He withstood attacks all night long and still came out without anything more than a few scratches. This is stunning considering what an opponent Gingrich has been to conservatism over the years. Newt Gingrich's idea to subpoena judges was fantastic (so fantastic that it must be addressed in a separate article). Likewise, Gingrich was strong in taking on the United Nations. This is great red meat for the Iowa base. Where Gingrich did not fair as well is where he lied, and he lied a lot. If he hadn't lied he would have had even more explaining to do.
Gingrich repeatedly held that he "never lobbied." No one believes that he was paid millions to teach history or give friendly advice. One way or another, Gingrich made calls and had meetings advocating the positions of his employer. He didn't register as a lobbyist and he didn't necessarily make it his number one priority, but he "peddled influence" as Bachmann noted time and time again. The stunning fact is that Newt Gingrich, believing he would never run for office again, helped Fannie and Freddie stay afloat on tax payer funds. He may be the ideas guy but he had no idea such practices as well as an insurance mandate would become so toxic to his own party. He has no choice but to run from those positions now, but it doesn't take away from the truth of where he's been.
The other notable flaw that shown through last night was Gingrich's history of talking the pro-life talk while never taking a step in the pro-life walk. Michele Bachmann exposed him in memorable fashion.
Michele Bachmann vs. Newt Gingrich.
Representative Bachmann is fantastic in her current role but needs more experience as well as the ability to prove to the primary electorate that she is someone that can win a general election and that her ideas are deep solutions and not shallow slogans. It almost gave me goose bumps as I listened to Bachmann ask Gingrich if it was "a virtue to tolerate infanticide"? She was referencing the fact that Gingrich has demonstrated a willingness to support and campaign for RINO's that have supported partial-birth abortion. Gingrich defended the practice. Gingrich believes that this is what it takes to create a big-tent party, Bachmann believes there is a better way. She knows that the goal is not to purge the republican party of people who disagree with us but that campaigning for a candidate that champions pulling a baby halfway out of the womb in order to more efficiently puncture its skull is barbaric and reprobate.
This isn't about ideological purity, it is about right vs. wrong. It shouldn't be hard to stand for life. Republicans should be in the business of making the life issue as central to republicanism as small government and low taxes. In fact, the goal for pro-lifers is to make the pro-life plank something all Americans can agree on. People like Gingrich and Karl Rove and others who work to build majorities should not only work towards a republican conference that is entirely pro-life, but towards a culture that enables one half of the Democrat conference in both Houses of Congress to espouse pro-life positions and voting records within fifteen years. We are better than this and our leaders need to reflect this.
Abortion is an uncomfortable topic but a common sense issue that a three year old child can understand. If someone can't agree with us on partial birth abortion, they should be ostracized from running for office in our party. It is that important. You don't win if you lose yourself in the process. Capitulation on radical ideas isn't the path to a workable majority. In the short term, pro-aborts are going to have to be tolerated in the Senate to get a majority, but why do we need advocates of infanticide? This is the seminal issue of morality of our time. Show me a candidate that is unwilling to protect the weakest among us and I will show you a candidate that is spineless on other issues as well.
Gingrich's views are highlighted to an even greater degree by willing to say that life begins at implantation. The medical community has fallen into the same trap due to lobbying of the peddlers of products like the "Plan B Pill" who need pregnancy to be moved back to implantation in order to be known as a contraceptive. This is murky territory Gingrich should stay clear of. Every person trying to justify the practice of abortion has created an arbitrary line for which abortion should no longer be ok. Some say implantation, others say heartbeat, brain waives, viability, some say until nine months, others argue that abortion should remain legal as long as the head remains in the womb, while a few Ivy League scholars have argued that abortion should be legal after birth as long as it is done prior to the child being self aware. The common thread to all of these lines is that they are arbitrary. There is no proof that one is more important than the other. The only logical scientific line that can be drawn is conception, as this is when a new life is created that has a unique DNA sequence that is renders the child completely unlike the mother or father and able to grow into one of us. Once this unique human with a DNA code is created, the argument becomes an academic exercise over what should be considered an important feature to be protected. Gingrich obviously doesn't understand this issue as well as he should to be our leader. I applaud Michele Bachmann for calling him on it.
The fact that Gingrich never attempted to strip Planned Parenthood of funding before causes concern as well. Now he says he would withhold funding from Planned Parenthood. The problem is that if President Gingrich tries, the Senate will shut down the government over it. Democrats defend abortion like as the sacred cow and they are very good at painting the right as extremists. Gingrich would likely lose the PR war if the media portrays the fight as over abortion. How does he plan to keep his promise to strip Planned Parenthood of funding? It is a noble and necessary effort but one that should be carefully planned. From what I've seen, Gingrich doesn't have the stones for such a showdown.
It probably won't do her much good, but Bachmann scored big on this point and gave Iowans pause before pulling the lever, or touching the touch screen, for Gingrich.
Mitt Romney had one of his strongest debates thus far, excluding his inability to defend his inaction on gay marriage and opposition to gun rights. Romney's answer to questions on what he did as a venture capitalist at Bain Capital was fantastic. There is a small part of me that would like Obama to attack Romney on this issue, just so I could enjoy the Romney response. Romney's general election message statement saying, "to create jobs, it helps to have created jobs . . ." is one that could prove devastating to Obama's re-election chances were Romney to be the nominee. Likewise, Romney hit the perfect tone on Obama's inaction on allowing a U.S. drone to fall into Iran's hands. (Although Ron Paul had an even better response, "Why are we even sending drones through Iran?").
In the end, the audience may not have noticed it, but Santorum had Romney looking the naked without any defenses on the issue of marriage.
Rick Santorum vs. Mitt Romney.
I continue to applaud Rick Santorum for his articulate definition of conservatism. Santorum took it straight to Romney last night on his failure to stand up for the culture when he had the chance. Mitt Romney allowed gay marriage to be legalized by the Massachusetts Supreme Court without lifting a finger to stop it. He is the father of gay marriage in America and last night he continued to lie to us on the issue. Santorum did an excellent job of stating the truth while not harping on the issue. Rick Santorum is done. I would like see him go home, re-brand himself as a fiscal conservative while holding his social conservative credit. If he could run for Governor of Pennsylvania and win based on his "Made in the USA Plan" than he would be the candidate to beat as a presidential candidate. He needs to work on his presidential poise. He needs to become a candidate that smiles and laughs without smirking. His demeanor doesn't inspire hope, it speaks of worry. Santorum is legitimately concerned that the country is in danger, but instead of conveying the message calmly, he tends to convey it in a nervous fashion. Santorum is great but only he can make the necessary changes to make himself into a candidate that can be ignored. If he can change those things, he could run for president in his late 50's four to eight years from now.
Rick Perry had a strong debate. His Tim Tebow comment continues to demonstrate that he is the one that understands the language to speak to Iowa caucus voters. His one liners on Congress and spending were home runs. Had he done this in October, he would be the nominee. Is it enough now? Only if the negative ads on Gingrich take Newt out of the race altogether. Perry has positioned himself well to comeback in Iowa, the only problem is that Gingrich is holding up, but if Perry can creatively put out the ads in Iowa to rise in the polls and come in second, he will have exceeded expectations. With someone like Ron Paul or Mitt Romney coming in first, he may be well positioned to barnstorm South Carolina. The guy that wins South Carolina will win the nomination. If Ron Paul wins Iowa, it will be discounted and the second place finisher will be the de facto winner. Perry has a lot of work to do and a lot of ads to run, but he still has the Texas bravado, Christian message and strong record to draw a distinction from Obama. Most importantly, Perry has the money to get the job done. Keep your eyes on him, he isn't done yet.
Ron Paul had a great debate. I am sure many conservatives will continue to call him crazy and out-of-touch with the mainstream. They do so at their own peril. Paul may or may not lose Iowa. Her certainly won't be the nominee or president, but it doesn't matter. The Ron Paul revolution isn't a cult of personality but a revolution of ideas. We are seeing a generational shift within the party before our eyes. His ideas are resonating. While Ron Paul will never be president, the next person to pick up his ideas and moderate them will be.
Barry Goldwater was thought to be an extremist. He got smashed as the presidential nominee. But someone else came along and moderated his views and got elected to two presidential terms by wide margins. That person is now regarded as the hero of our movement.
Paul's conservative message of peace is resonating whether mainstream republicans agree or not, they are losing the message war. People agree that there is no reason to go to war with Iran. Republicans hate to think that American foreign policy may have played a role in raising a generation of anti-American Arabs. Many republicans feel more comfortable believing "they hate us because we are free." That isn't true. It is convenient but isn't true. Young republicans know it and they support Ron Paul, a funny looking old man for all of the right reasons, we should be proud of them. While young democrats follow Obama and Hillary Clinton based off of a cult of personality because they are strong or young or attractive, young conservatives are thinking whereas young liberals are feeling. Like it or not, the consensus they are coming to is one of libertarianism.
As the parties march toward the generational shift they inevitably take every few decades, watch for the Republican party to continue to take a more libertarian bend. As we go deeper into debt, most conservatives will wonder whether 900 bases in over 130 countries is a worth endeavor. Neo-cons are losing the message war to libertarians. These arguments make sense to people. Conservatism and perpetual costly warfare are inconsistent. The Republican party will continue to be the party that goes after nations that allow harm to come to us, like Afghanistan, but in the future the base will be a demographic that doesn't push to go into wars like Iraq and Iran where we have no legitimate interests. Ron Paul may not have helped his 2012 presidential campaign last night, but he sure helped a future candidates.
Romney is trying to hold on long enough to be the nominee. This is the likeliest scenario. Gingrich can't hold on in Iowa. If he does, it will be an underwhelming win that will hurt him going forward. There is still room for Perry to break through if he continues to make stops all over the state and effectively hit Gingrich with negative ads while putting out persuasive positive ads on himself. We'll be following Iowa closely to see what happens in two weeks.