The Republican field at last night's Iowa debate looked electable, all in all. That is, except for Ron Paul, who insisted that a nuclear Iran is no threat to the U.S. because the old Soviet Union had nukes and that worked out OK.
Michele Bachmann looked presidential. She remained poised, and kept a sense of humor, no matter who attacked her. She managed to answer -- without rolling her eyes -- a really offensive question about whether her religious beliefs would force her to "submit" to her husband even if she is elected president. Without condescending or taking umbrage, she patiently explained that the verse in question meant that she and her husband have built a marriage based on mutual respect.
The only time Bachmann failed to deliver was when pressed about government-run healthcare at the state level. In that example, the tenth amendment does not provide a vehicle for attacking the program. As a constitutional conservative, and a lawyer, she should have grasped that distinction. Her instinct that even a state should not compel a citizen to buy a product (healthcare) was laudable but not well reasoned.
Tim Pawlenty attacked Bachmann relentlessly, unfairly and to little effect. Bachmann, for her part, gave as good as she got -- revealing an intellectual toughness and calmness.
T-Paw's theme was that Bachmann had failed to achieve any of the causes she had championed in Congress. But let's be clear: when Bachmann was railing against Obamacare, Republicans did not control the Congress. Rather than fault her for her inability to prevent the passage of Obamacare, she should be commended for making the case against it -- loudly and articulately -- even knowing that she lacked the votes. That is called courage and principle. It was a cheap attack on T-Paw's part and it diminished his standing even further.
Newt Gingrich had a good night. He alone stressed that time is of the essence on creating jobs; he called Republican members of Congress to return on Monday, and gave a specific plan of action: repeal Dodd-Frank; repeal Oxley-Sarbanes. His specificity and sense of urgency were refreshing. One surprise from Newt: he embraced Ron Paul's call to audit the Fed. Even Ron Paul expressed surprise that his idea had gone "mainstream."
Mitt Romney comported himself like he always does. He is the presidential candidate from central casting. His responses were intelligent and polished. No one was able to land a punch on him, though he failed to explain why federalism works for healthcare (state experimentation good! 10th amendment!) but not for marriage (NY vote on gay marriage bad! need for uniformity).
Rick Santorum, poor guy, got little air time. But he used what he got masterfully to advance the cause of life. He pointed out that the U.S. Supreme Court refused to allow the execution of a rapist, which means that under current law, the rapist gets to live but the baby conceived by the rape can but put to death. It was a powerful moment.
Perhaps the biggest surprise to those of us who don't know him was Herman Cain. He is smart and funny. Best moment of the night was when he told the panel of questioners that the country needs to learn how to take a joke. Like Gingrich, he was very specific on what he would do to encourage economic growth -- including by cutting capital gains and corporate taxes. Cain made clear that he brings a business savvy that all the other candidates (except Romney) lack.
Poor John Huntsman. Enough said.