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Did Obama win the GOP debate? [The conversation]

August 12, 2011 |  1:05 pm

GOP Iowa debate
Many commentators are saying "the gloves came off" during Thursday's GOP presidential debate in Iowa, just two days before the crucial Ames Straw Poll. A post on The Times’ Politics Now blog asked whether the candidates would defy Ronald Reagan's edict and go for each other's throats. Well, they did. The highlight, of course, was the Tim Pawlenty-Michele Bachmann clash. Bachmann won round one back in June when she declared her candidacy, but who emerged on top in last night's fray?

Michael Medved of the Daily Beast wrote that Texas Gov. Rick Perry won the debate because he had enough sense not to show up. Bachmann, he said, looked "slightly dazed;" Jon Huntsman "badly fumbled" in trying to define himself; Mitt Romney benefited from "avoiding stumbles;" the "most impressive presences" were Rick Santorum and Newt Gingrich, who have no chance of winning.

Meanwhile, the two candidates considered the front-runners for the crucial straw poll in Ames on Saturday (Ron Paul and Michele Bachmann) both looked utterly inconceivable as President of the United States.


One can only hope that the next televised encounter will show the field looking more formidable with the addition of Governor Perry (and, very possibly, other fresh faces) and the departure of some of the present participants who are bidding for attention more than presidential power.

John Avalon said the Republican Party was "at war with reality," in a piece for CNN. Barack Obama might have been the winner of the debate, but with the way the last few weeks have gone, the next president may indeed be a Republican, he wrote.

At a time when America needs a strong and vibrant center-right, that once-core Republican constituency was almost entirely unrepresented on the stage Thursday night. And not coincidentally, the two candidates closest to that zip-code -- Romney and Huntsman -- were the only ones who appeared even vaguely presidential.


It was a good debate to the extent that it was a spectacle with plenty of partisan conflict, canned applause lines and special-interest pandering. The problem is that such political circuses rarely produce statesmen.

An article in the Wall Street Journal by Paul A. Gigot said Romney was the winner, though a weak candidate "by historical standards." With the field as it is, there might be room for more candidates, he wrote.

With Texas Gov. Rick Perry entering the race, Mr. Romney is about to get more serious competition. But don't be surprised if other candidates look at the weak field, and at President Obama's sinking poll numbers, and decide to jump in after Labor Day.

Obama looked the best after Thursday night’s display, wrote Juan Williams. The president appears "sleek, fast and so very hip" compared with the "1950s Oldsmobile" Republicans. Williams called the candidates out of touch, especially in their rejection of a hypothetical debt-reduction plan that has a 10:1 ratio of spending cuts to tax increases.

There were many factors that contributed to Barack Obama's victory in the 2008 presidential election. True, he proved to be more adept than John McCain in all of the important elements of modern presidential politics -– fundraising, organization, communication and media management. But on a deeper level, he beat McCain and the GOP at their own game by becoming the candidate of aspiration, optimism and the future. Obama spoke for an inclusive, unified America as a land of opportunity for all, and with a progressive approach to problem solving.

Did you see anyone putting a GOP stamp on a forward-looking message last night?

The best thing Obama has going for him right now are the GOP candidates, Timothy Eagan wrote in the New York Times. Perry's upcoming announcement of his bid for the presidency is supposed to save the GOP from the "crazy eight caucus," but his willingness to leave problems -– namely, the worst drought in Texas history –- to the divine is worrisome, he wrote.

But Perry's tendency to use prayer as public policy demonstrates, in the midst of a truly painful, wide-ranging and potentially catastrophic crisis in the nation’s second most-populous state, how he would govern if he became president.

"I think it's time for us to just hand it over to God, and say, 'God: You're going to have to fix this,'" he said in a speech in May, explaining how some of the nation's most serious problems could be solved.

The biggest loser in the debate? According to President Obama's twitter, it's the middle class: "Unmentioned for the 3rd debate in a row."


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-- Samantha Schaefer

Photo: Republican presidential candidates, from left, Rick Santorum, Herman Cain, Ron Paul, Mitt Romney, Michele Bachmann, Tim Pawlenty, Jon Huntsman and Newt Gingrich during the Iowa GOP / Fox News Debate on Thursday. in Ames, Iowa. Credit: Charlie Neibergall / Getty Images

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