Mitt Romney

August 12, 2011

You gotta hand it to Fox News: these guys know how to put on a show.

The panel of “reporters” at last night’s Republican presidential debate, particularly Chris Wallace, hurled one tough question after another at the eight candidates on the stage (for two hours – two hours!) in Ames, Iowa while the bellows, boos and howls of the live audience made it sound like a WWE steel cage match. None of that wimpy “please hold your applause” stuff for Roger Ailes.

In the end, however, all the excitement boiled down to little more than most of the candidates shouting “pay attention to me” while cynically pushing every right-wing hot button they could summon.

Of the eight wannabes on the stage, only front-runner Mitt (“corporations are people, too”) Romney and the embattled Newt Gingrich remotely resembled a national leader, someone with enough bearing, stature and chops to imagine (however terrifyingly) them becoming a major party nominee.

Romney was the winner of the evening, simply because none of the others laid a glove on him (Tim Pawlenty’s limp slaps aside), and he was glib and adept, if sometimes patronizing, in bashing President Obama as “over his head” in dealing with the economy, while ticking off crisp talking points about his own free market ideas to fix everything in a jiffy. He did have the strangest line of the night, however, when he said he won’t eat Barack Obama’s dog food. Huh?

Gingrich shone largely because expectations for him were so low, after his campaign imploded a few months ago and he reported being $1 million in debt in his latest filing. His sharp attack on the media, in the person of Wallace, was great theater, his rant about the “super congress” budget committee was terrific and his world-weary tone of a veteran big leaguer contrasted with the white-rat-on-speed squeals and yapping of his second-tier rivals.

Our personal favorite performer was Texas congressman Ron Paul, whose isolationist ravings about the war-mongering idiocy of our foreign policy made a shocking amount of sense, despite his endless harping on the need to return to the gold standard, and his uncanny resemblance to crazy Uncle Bob telling everyone in a too-loud voice at Thanksgiving dinner that they need to apply DMSO to whatever ache, pain or life-threatening illness that’s bothering them.

Michele Bachmann — whose brief disappearance from the stage left us wondering if she had to a) take an aspirin b) powder her nose or c) grab some lines from Ed Rollins — all but promised that she would nuke Iran to keep them for becoming a nuclear power but handled the question of whether she’d be submissive to her husband with a certain amount of poise. Her attacks on Tim Pawlenty were sharp and nasty, which was fun, but when he said she’d never accomplished anything in Congress her only direct response was to tout her pushing a bill for freedom of choice in light bulbs. Pro-choice on light bulbs. Really?

Pawlenty (who offered to cook us dinner and cut our grass) and Jon Huntsman were feckless washouts, while Rick Santorum — who had to bite and scratch to get any attention at all — looked and sounded like a back-bench legislator (surprise!). He did get in one nice if oblique shot at Bachmann when he noted that of course the debt ceiling had to be raised to keep the U.S. from becoming a deadbeat nation — leadership not showmanship, he said. Herman Cain is just plain screwy.

Texas Gov. Rick Perry, who is expected to enter the race this weekend during the Iowa Straw Poll in which he’s not participating, appeared only in a question from the reporters and none of the actual contenders were willing to brush him back, save one sideways mention by Huntsman that the GOP needs all the prayers it can get.

The actual content on the candidates’ remarks, in the end, doesn’t mean as much as whether they impress viewers as someone they could imagine being Leader of the Free World. Which is why Romney — no matter his conflicted stand on the 10th Amendment — came away the winner.

Those seeking a play-by-play replay of the evening are advised to check out Gawker’s live blog. Not that any of this matters much since the Ames straw poll (for which Thursday night’s debate was a precursor) and, for that matter, the Iowa caucuses themselves, have little to do with a) who gets nominated and b) who becomes president. But it keeps our brothers and sisters in the news media busy spinning crapchurn for months on company expense accounts.

Note to Fox: Lose the annoying game-show warning dinger.

Press Clips: This week’s Little Pulitzer for Investigative Punditry goes to the inestimable Timm Herdt, for his hiding-in-plain sight perceptual scoop highlighting the absurdity of California’s Leviathan-sized legislative districts.

The point, of course, was made first and ably by Joe Mathews and Mark Paul, but kinda’ got buried in the big picture coverage of their “California Crackup”opus. But Herdt, who properly credits the dynamic duo, is right on the money with his timing, as what-about-me cries of anguish about the new legislative maps produced in the zero-sum redistricting process pierce the skies of California. For good measure, Herdt’s fine- writing-done-cheap piece provides just-right small, telling details to describe the nuttiness of the out-of-scale sprawl that shapes the current system:

The size of the Legislature — 80 Assembly members, 40 senators — was established in 1879. At the time, there were fewer than 1 million people living here.

To read entire column, click here.