Last night was the last R debate before the Iowa caucuses that are less than a month away. Get ready for a long, protracted campaign, folks. There are four candidates making noise -- Ron Paul, Rick Perry, Mitt Romney, and Newt Gingrich. (Bachmann and Santorum ain't even viable, so forget about them.) And none of them will give up position.
This was the most important debate, because remember Conventional Wisdom -- the candidate who took Iowa wound up getting the party's nod for the nomination since 1972. With the news cycle going into hibernation because of the Christmas holidays, this is the last image of the candidates people will have until the new year and just before the votes get taken.
Gingrich revealed his opportunist stripes to anyone paying a lick of attention. When he first started running, he was just there to try to keep the others from bouncing off the ceiling. He repeated decried how the questions in the debate were meant to pit the candidates against each other and how everyone should be civil, respectful, and co-operative. But anyone can be a good sport when they are losing and can never win. Gingrich has since become the front runner, and last night, the gloves came off. Romney realized that, in order to get his momentum back, he had to target Gingrich. Gingrich handed him his ass with snarky remarks, saying the only reason Romney worked in his precious private sector and wasn't a career politician was because he lost to Ted Kennedy. Romney actually had a good counter, saying if he had been drafted out of college, he'd be a career football player. But no news outlets are covering that part, only Gingrich's smack. Now that Gingrich has a shot at the nomination, he's gone negative instead of his, "I'm staying above the fray." And the true self emerges.
(Side note: the Tea Partiers can kiss my Polish ass. With Cain dropping out of the race, their support has gone to Gingrich. In other words, the Tea Partiers, who want someone who isn't business as usual in Washington, are backing the most business as usual candidate in Washington, DC. Fuck. You. All.)
Ron Paul consistently got applause when he spoke. I'm telling you, I'm not sure he'll take Iowa or NH, but I have a gut feeling he'll take second in one, possibly both states, and send the R's scrambling. That's what you get for throwing your own candidate under the bus last election.
One of the chief criticisms of Shrub when he was running for President was his lack of involvement. He had people doing the work for him, and he just kind of wandered through the debates, the campaign, his Presidency, etc. Perry made Shrub look positively hands-on. Admittedly, it's a shrewd strategy. He lets Romney and Gingrich tear into each other, keeping him out of trouble (debating is not his strong suit) and letting them be seen as combative. This worked for the most part, with only one incident that actually backfired pretty badly on Romney (more on this later). But it still made him look distant, and it still doesn't prepare him for the knife fight he wants with Barack Obama. He's like a backup football player who has never taken a snap in the game -- yeah, you may think you have the talent and are ready, but seeing action is a LOT different than practice, especially when you have to learn on the fly.
Bachmann continued her "I'm not dead yet" by taking a page from Herman Cain. Cain rode to success with a snappy campaign slogan, 9-9-9. Bachmann came up with "Win-Win-Win" and talked about a lot of bullshit proposals that would never make it out of committee. She also continued to start her points with a folksy story meant to show she's one of the people. Amazing all the life experiences she's had. Christ, I can't wait for her to bomb out so I'll never have to listen to her again.
Romney's biggest fuck-up shouldn't even be regarded as a fuck-up. During an altercation with Perry over Obamacare, Perry said he read Romney's book. The original, not the paperback that Perry hinted was strategically re-edited. Romney challenged him that he was misrepresenting the book (he should have challenged Perry if he could even READ a book), and even asked him if he wanted to bet. "$10,000!" Romney said. I didn't think anything of it because people make exaggerated bets all the time. How many times, when predicting an event you are so sure is a certainty, do you say something like, "I'll bet a million buck on it!" Well, the Twitterverse blew up over it. One guy said that was three months pay for the average family. People basically started revising Romney into part of the 1% that Occupy Wall Street was protesting. Romney's biggest enemy was himself.
(Side note: Mormons aren't allowed to gamble.)
For those wondering, the line in the book is a tenuous one. The book in question is called "No Apology", and was first published March 2, 2010, before Obamacare passed (March 23). It contains the line, in regards to Romney's Massachusetts with its Single Payer Mandate, "We can accomplish the same thing for everyone in the country." The paperback version of "No Apology" was published February 2011, and yes, indeed, the line is deleted. Although, considering nothing else in the book changed, I don't think this line is as Fraught With Portent as Perry made it out to be. YMMV.
Let's stick with the Single Payer Mandate thing for just a minute. Romney tried to redress his Individual Mandate as no different than what Perry did with his executive order that girls be vaccinated for HPV. Romney described it as a sexually transmitted disease (Jesus, not this shit again). He said, "And my view -- you had a mandate in your state. You mandate that girls at 12 years ld had to get a vaccination for a sexually transmitted disease. So it's not like we had this big difference on mandates." I'm not sure that's a fair comparison. Perry's order dealt with one specific problem and only affected girls in Texas, while Romney's plan was far more sweeping. Technically, both plans forced people to address health care needs, but I just don't see this balanced in the ledger.
Paul said he could keep the payroll tax cut in place, because he would close needless government departments. In fact, with his plans for scaling back government, he could cut taxes for everybody.
And get ready to vote in your state's caucuses, people. Remember, if you don't make the decision, the decision will be made for you.