Rick Perry, Mitt Romney, Lead Republicans’ Iowa Debate

The Texas governor wasn’t on hand for Thursday’s GOP debate. But the weak showing made it clear: the field is wide open. By Michael Tomasky

Hard to say that there was a winner at the GOP’s Iowa debate Thursday night. It was more like Tee-Ball, where everybody gets a trophy, win or lose. First of all, the panel did ask genuine, and genuinely difficult, questions. Byron York of the Washington Examiner forced the night’s most telling moment, when all the candidates (or at least all those asked) said they wouldn’t back a cuts-to-revenue deal even at a 10-to-1 ratio. That’s all you need to know to understand that no matter what they say on other questions, they would all run governments that would rack up massive deficits and force massive expenditures onto old people, and in fact pretty much the rest of us, too.

It was a pretty good show though. Michele Bachmann. I’m sorry, but those eyes are crazy. Something effulges through them from within that most of us don’t have, and it’s not something I saw in my mother’s eyes, let’s just put it that way. And what was that bathroom break, or whatever it was? Rick Santorum always sounds to me in these things like the most textbook conservative Republican on both domestic and foreign policy, but he never seems to gain any ground. He’s like a set of positions attached to the least compelling human being you can imagine. Jon Huntsman was honorable in his bizarre way, but absurd. Tim Pawlenty was other-than-honorable and close to absurd. Mitt Romney just disappeared for 15-minute stretches at a time, but did himself no harm.

Some other people were up there. Oh, Newt Gingrich: If he were in double digits, his throwdowns at Chris Wallace would’ve looked strong, but as it was they looked annoying. And Herman Cain. Yikes. And Ron Paul. He had loads of homers there. But he went way too far on foreign policy for that crowd. I guess the winner was Rick Perry.