Final Iowa Republican Debate Grades

Hard to believe it- the debate in Sioux City tonight was the last time all these candidates will be on the same stage.  That’s a pretty safe bet because the only debate scheduled between now and the Iowa caucus is the one that Trump was supposed to moderate that only has 2 candidates (Newt and Huntsman) and may be cancelled.  And surely at least someone (probably a couple of them) will drop out after Iowa.

Here are my thoughts on each candidate’s performance in this crucial debate (from highest to lowest in the Iowa polls)

Newt – A

I don’t particularly love Newt, but there is no denying he was magnificent tonight.  His first answer on he consistency and electability was a bit of a softball, but you still have to knock it out of the park and he did.  His response on the Keystone pipeline was the best line of the evening… the part about trying to filter himself came off perfectly… very humanizing.  He faced lots of attacks, but he did a pretty good job at brushing them off and discrediting the attackers.  And the part where he gave Romney credit for coming up with the plan that Ryan and Wyden are now pushing forward made him seem generous and likable.  He’s had a rough week of attacks from the media, both left and right (some of it, like his anti-capitalism attack on Romney’s business dealings, self-inflicted), but tonight, it is hard to think of much he could have done better.

Romney- A-

Not quite as stellar of a night as Newt, but still very good.  The line about how he would handle the debate with Obama by talking about GM was brilliant and probably helped in the minds of voters who don’t think that Romney will be strong enough to stand up to Obama (I think there are more of these types of folks than many realize).  I’m not sure how admitting he turned down a chance to invest in JetBlue will play, but in my mind, the financial failure is far outweighed by the humility and honesty conveyed by the admission of imperfection;  in other words, I think Romney needs to humanize himself more than he needs to convince people he is smart.  Mitt also did a good job of countering Santorum’s lies about his position on gay marriage.  Also liked the quip against a “pretty please”  Obama foreign policy.  And strategically, I think not attacking Newt was the right move…. so many others were doing it for him and even if Newt wins in Iowa, if Romney can finish in the top 3, he’s still in good position to win a long, competitive primary.

Ron Paul- A if you like him, F if you don’t

Paul fired up his supporters, but won no converts.  Personally, I think he’s beyond naive on Iran, but I’m sure his niche of supporters loved it.

Bachmann- A if you like her, F if you don’t

She may have been dressed in angelic white, but in my book she came off as a bully.  I know there’s a swath of conservatives who like her no-holds-barred style and ceaseless attacks, but in my view, her overly emotional attacks on Newt made her look desperate and incredibly unpresidential.

Perry- C

On a shallow level, he had some good lines (especially declaring himself the Tebow candidate).  But surely most Iowans can see through this as a canned line and utterly substance-less pandering, right?  I did laugh out loud when he said something like “Obama’s governing is one failure after another and I’ve done it for 11 years in Texas”.

Santorum- C

Meh, he was there, he said some good things, but nothing all too memorable.  He’ll be out of the race the day after Iowa.

Huntsman- D

If there’s ever been a less likable figure to run for president, I don’t know who it would be.  He’s obviously a smart guy, but like Perry, he was a good governor who seems a bit out of his depth in the big leagues of presidential politics.



  1. Randy in Richmond says:

    Thanks Ryan. I haven’t watched a debate yet but your summary lets me know somewhat how the wind was blowing last night.

    And an aside, what instrument does your wife play ?

  2. as a lawyer/judge i am baffled with the philosophy of NG when he proposed that congress somehow subpoena federal judges to congress to explain their decisions. my guess the judges would ask congress the same.

  3. Good point Dick…. I would agree that was Newt’s weakest point in the debate and think he is wrong on that point… Romeny’s answer was much more reasonable.

    Randy: thanks for asking… my wife is a harpist.

    I’ve noticed that some commentators thought Bachmann did well, so maybe I scored her a bit low. I just find her grenade-launching style to be a big turnoff, and I don’t think I’m alone in that.

  4. if you lose the case the lawyers and judges are bad. if you win the case the lawyers and the judges are good. another candidate, i dont remember who, said something like: in my state i appointed prosecutors to the criminal bench to assure justice. prosecutors, federal and state, are mostly lawyers who never practiced law, had a client, ran a business or had a regular income or regular hours. lawyers who work in the trenches make better judges because they understand real people from all aspects of life. in part, the lawyers bar is to blame for allowing this to happen. so be it. be it so.

  5. after watching Ron Paul on jay leno show for a moment he reminded me of Pres. Harry Truman. genial, witty, pragmatic, direct on point, a political, unapologetic and his own man. his anti-war policy and stance on foreign aid is more in tune with middle America.