Deace’s Tea Party Debate Grades
By Steve Deace
Michele Bachmann won the crucial Iowa Straw Poll, but it wasn’t until Monday night’s Tea Party Express debate that she finally showed voters the titanium spine and policy specifics they’re looking for in a president.
To be sure, Newt Gingrich and Rick Santorum also had very strong performances that should compel Republican primary voters to give them a serious look because they’ve had a string of solid outings. However, it was Bachmann – the frontrunner turned backburner since her Straw Poll win – who needed a strong performance the most.
And she delivered.
With assistance from Santorum, Bachmann did what analysts like me have been urging her to do for weeks since post-Straw Poll free-fall began—compel voters to choose her by contrasting her record with Mitt Romney and Rick Perry.
That’s exactly what she did.
First, Bachmann absolutely took Perry apart over his controversial executive order mandating a Gardasil STD vaccine for Texas schoolgirls as young as 10-years old, which was overridden by a two-thirds vote of the Texas State Legislature. Perry tried to respond, even resorting to the classic “good intentions” excuse used by liberals for their similarly immoral policies for years, but Bachmann didn’t let him get away with it. Whatever flesh was still left on Perry’s weakened bones at that point was then promptly removed by Santorum who finished Perry off.
Later, Bachmann took aim at Romney for his Romneycare scam, telling the audience you can’t trust a guy that signed into law a healthcare mandate for his own state to repeal the healthcare mandate Obama signed into law for all the states. Even better, CNN went right to a commercial break at that point and panned to the audience where several were giving Bachmann a standing ovation for her point.
Finally, she was sharp and specific on every single one of her other policy answers, abandoning the talking points regurgitation that had become her mainstay/albatross. It was truly the first time in a public I saw Bachmann make the case for her candidacy because of how good she wants voters to believe she is, not just because voters liked her in comparison to a field they simultaneously seem disappointed by.
In confronting Perry and Romney, Bachmann was even better than her memorable donnybrook with Tim “30 pieces of silver” Pawlenty at the last Iowa debate. She didn’t belabor the point she wanted to make, exhibited aggression under control, and got the last word each time.
At the very least Bachmann made it difficult for the Tea Party audience in attendance to justify nominating either Perry or Romney for president, even if she didn’t convince all of them to support her in their place. That said, based on how I read the crowd, something tells me that if a Straw Poll had been taken of the crowd following the debate, Bachmann would’ve won going away.
Not to mention, unlike the last debate, I didn’t spend the night wondering what would be happening if Sarah Palin were on that stage. In fact, until I wrote that sentence I hadn’t thought about Palin at all.
Beyond Bachmann’s strong performance, here’s how I would grade the rest of the GOP candidates’ performance on Monday night.
Herman Cain (B)
He made sure to get all of his consultants’ major talking points in, including another 9-9-9 reference. And now he’s suddenly for auditing the fed, so at least his consultants are clearly listening to the voters. His performance improved his odds of ending up with a better deal than Pawlenty got for selling the final morsel of his soul.
Newt Gingrich (B+)
It was the third strong debate performance in a row for the former speaker, who only missed out on an “A” grade because CNN’s Wolf Blitzer caught him out-kicking his coverage a bit on his corporate tax loophole rhetoric, but the rest of the night Gingrich was strong and presidential. In addition, for the first time in several debates he contrasted himself with his competitors, casting aside the “team GOP” tune he’s been singing as of late.
Jon Huntsman (I)
I have to give the former Utah governor an incomplete, because I was forcefully exposed to so much of his shtick in the last debate that I just fast forwarded my TIVO every time he came on screen.
Ron Paul (B-)
Paul was dramatically more alert and focused than the past two debates, and did a good job dueling with Blitzer in defense of individual liberty and personal responsibility. However, his continued insistence of U.S. foreign policy antagonizing the 9/11 terrorist attacks is both historically inaccurate in its failure to recognize the militant nature of Islam from its very introduction to the world (which led to the formation of the U.S. Marines), and also undercuts his valid argument urging Americans to reconsider our military policy in the Middle East.
Rick Perry (D+)
Perry got off to a strong start, articulating the approach to entitlement spending preferred by the Tea Party crowd compared to Romney’s call for reform (see that as kick the can down the road). However, after that it was all upstream for Perry, who may have suffered the most damaging 30 minutes of his political career during one brutal stretch where he was completely dismantled by Bachmann and Santorum. Perry looked especially weak playing the “good intentions” card opposite a woman on the attack. So much for the alpha male governor we’ve all been waiting for. That exercise in passive-aggressiveness was more Tim Pawlenty than Clint Eastwood.
He then finished himself off with a cringe-inducing attempt at defending his support of college tuition for illegal aliens, which went over like a fart in church at a Tea Party debate. That sequence alone could cost Perry the nomination, and I’m guessing he’ll be writing another national column clarifying his remarks on this issue any day now.
And was I the only one who noticed Perry drifting off into space like Will Ferrell impersonating George W. Bush on Saturday Night Live while others spoke? It was very awkward to watch him drifting away, and then suddenly snap back to attention when he was called on. Not sure what that’s all about.
Overall, I can now see why he won’t come on my show. At this point, he should avoid going on any shows that encourage critical thinking and just run $30 million in feel-good commercials because so far he can’t stand up to the scrutiny. Combined with his average debut performance last week, Perry is in trouble of becoming the next Fred Thompson. The mob is fickle, and the mob giveth and the mob taketh away. I have already heard from several Iowa activists the bloom is off the rose. If Perry does any more debates like this, he’ll supernova in Iowa faster than you can say Herman Cain.
Mitt Romney (C-)
After a strong performance at the Reagan library, Romney was out of his element among the Tea Party crowd. He lost the room early defending entitlements versus Perry, and then he was disemboweled by Bachmann over Romneycare. Romney started the debate by kissing Bachmann, and then could be seen doting over her as she spoke early in the debate. Wonder if he feels jilted now?
Rick Santorum (B+)
Nobody has worked harder the past two months to make his case to principled primary voters, and if there’s any justice at some point the polls will reflect those voters are getting the message. Santorum is also deconstructing Perry’s spotty record at every turn. He’s playing to win, and at some point you would think it should pay dividends for him.