Rick Perry Benefits in Iowa GOP Debate From Michele Bachmann Pile-On

The Texas governor was not onstage, but benefited from the Michele Bachmann pile-on. By Kirsten Powers.

Pat Sullivan

Who won the second GOP debate in Iowa on Thursday night? Rick Perry by a landslide.

While the Texas governor was not on the stage, he stands the most to gain from avoiding a contentious and difficult debate where the questioners pulled no punches.

In that, Fox News and the Washington Examiner—the cohosts of the debate—came out on top. During two hours of tough questioning on a range of topics, the candidates were not allowed to hide behind their talking points, and at times it resulted in lashing out, most notably by Newt Gingrich, who could barely conceal his rage at not being a top-tier candidate and being forced to answer questions he deemed unacceptable.

Perry also stands to gain from the pile-on of Michele Bachmann, primarily by former Minnesota governor Tim Pawlenty, who feebly attempted to bloody the breakout star of the presidential season. Pawlenty diminished himself with the attacks, and Bachmann reinforced her image as a tough candidate who won’t be thrown off her game.

Bachmann preserved her position in the race and turned in yet another impressive performance, which could help catapult her to the top spot in the Ames straw poll, which she is favored to win. But in recent polls she still lags behind Romney and even Perry, a dynamic that winning the straw poll could help alter.

Bachmann also was handed a gift in the form of a question from the Washington Examiner’s Byron York that the audience found offensive. York queried her about her past statement that women should be submissive to their husbands. York asked her: “As president will you be submissive to your husband?” The audience angrily booed.

York was correct to ask the question-–had he not asked it, someone else would have eventually—and it is something people are curious about. Bachmann’s response—with a smile—that she and her husband have an equal relationship, was pitch-perfect. The moment was reminiscent of Hillary Clinton being asked in the 2008 New Hampshire debate why people didn’t like her as much as Obama. Her answer, “Well, that hurts my feelings,” made her seem vulnerable and the question just reinforced the idea that she was held to a different standard than the other candidates—where mean or inappropriate questions were acceptable.

Despite her strong performance, it remains to be seen if she can shake up Romney’s frontrunner status. Rick Perry is also a wild card and we have to see if he is going to live up to the hype or be another bomb like Fred Thompson.