Fox News Iowa Debate: Daily Beast Contributors Weigh In

With less than three weeks until caucuses begin, the candidates took the stage in Iowa. But did Newt win? Howard Kurtz, Michael Tomasky, and more Daily Beast contributors weigh in.

12.16.11 4:09 AM ET

Newt Plays Clumsy Defense
by Howard Kurtz

Gingrich had an off night as he chafed under criticism, while Romney threw no punches. Howard Kurtz scores the Fox debate.

Newt Gingrich sounded downright defensive at the Fox debate, insisting, in I-am-not-a-crook fashion, that he had never changed a position for money.

It was his worst moment in the presidential debates so far as Gingrich tried to explain away his $1.6 million in payments from Freddie Mac. And it came despite the fact that his major rival, Mitt Romney, didn’t take a swipe at him.


Newt Toys With the Competition
by Michael Tomasky

Newt was supposed to take a beating tonight. But he didn’t. Instead, says Michael Tomasky, he showed how to turn a weakness into a strength—and make Romney look like John Kerry.

Was this supposed to be the night that the others dinged Newt Gingrich, took him down a peg, precipitated his downfall? Well, it wasn’t. Gingrich knows how to do this.

His best moment, and the best moment of the debate, came in the second hour when Gingrich talked about the Keystone pipeline proposal. He talked about the merits of the proposal as he sees them, but his answer was really about cleverly and preemptively dealing with the storyline that he’s “zany” and intemperate and therefore unelectable. It was a textbook example of how you take one of your own weaknesses and in 30 or so seconds show people that you’re aware of it and there’s another way to look at it. And it was the second time that Gingrich did it tonight—the first was right at the beginning, when he went on that riff about how Ronald Reagan was 30 points behind Jimmy Carter at this same point in 1979.


Newt’s Shameless Chutzpah Saves Him
by Paul Begala

Bachmann was the only candidate with the cojones to land a direct hit on Gingrich, but at the end Newt was still standing, with Romney left in the dust, says Paul Begala.

Newt Gingrich may, to some, seem a loathsome creature, but you gotta admit he has perseverance. The roly-poly former speaker has absorbed attacks, both personal and political, that would have reduced most pols to the fetal position. But his remarkable combination of grandiosity, self-delusion, and brazen, utter, shameless chutzpah keeps him coming back.

Then again, the quality of the shots taken at him have not always been that impressive. It says something, perhaps, about the Republican presidential field that Michele Bachmann was the only candidate with the cojones to land a direct hit on Gingrich in the Sioux City, Iowa debate.



Newt’s Crazy Attack on Judges
By Gerald L. Shargel

At Thursday night’s debate, Gingrich trumpeted his plan to subpoena jurists who make controversial rulings. Attorney Gerald L. Shargel on the little constitutional hurdle in his way.

Picture this: A highly qualified and exceptionally well-regarded Manhattan federal trial judge rules, in a case before him, that the federal death penalty statute is unconstitutional. Federal prosecutors strongly disagree and bring the case to a federal court of appeals. Three judges consider the case. The question before them is whether, as a matter of law, the judge properly applied case precedent and constitutional provisions. The reviewing judges do not vote their personal preference; it matters not whether they favor or oppose the death penalty. In the ordinary course of appellate review the decision is made to reverse the ruling of the lower court, based on nothing more than legal precedent. In the reviewing court’s view, the trial judge got it wrong. No one challenged the judge’s intellectual honesty.



Newt Gingrich Barely Singed In GOP Debate
By Eleanor Clift

Newt faced some flamethrowers, but barely got singed in the GOP’s Sioux City debate. Eleanor Clift on how the ex-speaker took the lead.

Newt Gingrich was on the griddle for much of the evening, easily defending his ideas and deflecting criticism. He got singed only once when Michele Bachmann accused him of taking money from Freddie Mac “to influence senior Republicans to keep the scam going.” Otherwise, he took the lead on every issue, hitting the sweet spot on issues closest to the heart of today’s conservatives: liberal judges who rule for gay marriage and against God, and a perceived weakness by President Obama in confronting Iran.



Mitt Embraces Center-Right Record
by John Avlon

In a surprise debate move, Romney embraced his center-right record as Massachusetts governor, offering it as evidence he can forge bipartisan consensus. Gingrich solidified his conservative credentials, while Paul, Huntsman and Perry all scored some points, says John Avlon.

Mitt Romney’s strange tack in the final Iowa debate was to speak to a New Hampshire and national audience.

For perhaps the first time in this campaign, he unapologetically framed his Massachusetts record as a center-right leader who could achieve bipartisan consensus. He actually began his answer opposing gay marriage by bragging on the fact that he appointed an openly gay person to his cabinet. This isn’t the usual social conservative pander less than three weeks out from Iowa.



Rick Perry’s Bay of Pigs Moment
by Peter Beinart

For the Texas governor, it seems, even defeat in war is better than no war at all. Peter Beinart on the clueless call for a new ‘Monroe Doctrine’ for Latin America.

Many commentators will say the highlight of last night’s Republican presidential debate was Michele Bachmann’s attacks on Newt Gingrich for taking money from Freddie Mac. Not me. In my view, the highlight was Rick Perry endorsing the Bay of Pigs.

Midway through the debate, Perry suggested that the U.S. enforce a new “Monroe Doctrine” toward Latin America, “like we used against the Cubans in the ‘60s.” Let’s unpack that.