This final debate leading into the Iowa caucuses was a positive one for all GOP candidates. Why? Because the questions from the Fox team were less “gotcha” questions, or questions that divide the GOP from many Americans (e.g. “Should we spend a fortune to put up a fence to keep those Hispanics out of this country?”), and more questions that allowed the candidates to attack Obama’s failed presidency and propose remedies for his errors.
In this debate, for example, we finally had questions that allowed lengthy criticism of the “Fast and Furious” scandal, the president’s drone-missile-in Iran embarrassment, U.N. misappropriation of funds, Obama’s undercutting of the Keystone XL pipeline, and judicial activism. Those are solid Republican issues, and Gingrich in particular was able to separate himself from the president on several of them.
Gingrich held his own. His best moments were when he used historical evidence and conservative beliefs to attack judicial activism, and when he painted a picture of the grand loss of the Keystone XL pipeline — and how, if not corrected, it will damage the U.S., empower Iran, and benefit Canada. His weakest moment was defending his “consulting” fee from Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac.
Romney also did well. He praised freer markets as the economic solution to U.S. woes, defended his record as a capitalist, and parried criticisms of his stance on gay issues. Contrary to predictions, Romney and Newt rarely attacked each other; at one point, Newt praised Romney for his work in promoting the bipartisan Ryan-Wyden compromise on health care. When asked where the new jobs would come from in the next ten years, Romney delighted conservatives by quipping, “The markets will decide that.” Not the planners.
Ron Paul and Michele Bachmann had a fascinating exchange on Iran and foreign policy. Most of the minor candidates stayed minor. The GOP as a party will gain from having their ideas and criticisms of the president so boldly presented.
— Burton Folsom Jr. is professor of history at Hillsdale College, and co-author (with his wife Anita) of FDR Goes to War, recently published by Simon & Schuster. He blogs at BurtFolsom.com.