Minnesota nice is now Minnesota mean: At the GOP presidential debate in Iowa tonight, the two Minnesotans on the stage—Gov. Tim Pawlenty and Rep. Michelle Bachmann—didn't quite come to blows, but at times they seemed awfully close.
When Pawlenty, after prodding, doubled down on a prior claim that Bachmann has no record of results, Bachmann responded with a recitation of Pawlenty's lowlights: Support for cap-and-trade, a long-ago flirtation with an individual mandate to purchase health insurance, and an old declaration that "the era of small government is over."
Pawlenty responded by attacking Bachmann's "record of making false statements"—and by expanding on his argument that, for all her rhetorical volume, her frequent attacks on liberal policies had produced nothing of substance. She may have led the fights against ObamaCare and raising the debt limit, but those fights, Pawlenty pointed out, were lost. "If that's your idea of effective leadership, please stop," he said. "Because you're killing us."
The audience seemed possibly ready to kill questioner Byron York after he asked Bachmann whether, as president, she'd continue to be a "submissive" wife—as she's said she is now. The crowd booed, and Bachmann waited it out before answering gently: "I respect my husband," she said, confidently avoiding the question. "He's a wonderful godly man. And we respect each other."
Several of the candidates, though, seemed to have little respect for the panel moderators. Pressed about the constitutional basis for the individual mandate, former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney got snippy, and argued that it wasn't the U.S. Constitution that mattered. "Are you familiar with the Massachusetts constitution? I am," he all but sneered before proceeding to note that states force people to do all sorts of things, like make children attend school. Why should buying health insurance be any different?
Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, meanwhile, twice accused questioners of posing "gotcha" questions—including once for being asked about his conflicting statements both for and against the Libyan no-fly zone. Pushed to answer, he rambled, dissembled, and then insisted that we should "rethink" our entire approach to the conflict. After all, he said, he's running a campaign based on ideas. I suspect it won't be long before he starts to rethink his troubled candidacy.
Former Pennsylvania Senator and social conservative stalwart Rick Santorum literally had to remind the audience that he was still on stage—waving his hands at one point as if to say "I'm still here!" and grousing repeatedly about the relatively low number of questions thrown his way. Sure, he was there, but you have to wonder why: Santorum's primary mission seemed to be defending every last aspect of the GOP's authoritarian streak: militarism in the Middle East, hyper-moralism at home, federal authority over marriage and the states. He bragged about his hawkishness and got in a drawn-out squabble with Ron Paul about the 10th amendment.
Ah yes. Ron Paul was there too. And he acted, well, a lot like Ron Paul usually does: forceful sometimes, rambling others, frequently both at the same time: He naysayed the non-cuts in the final debt deal and answered a question about immigration with partially explained references to the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and international drug dealers. He reiterated his dislike for amnesty, and allowing illegal immigrants to vote, but he doesn't want to force employers to play immigration cops either. For Paul, it's as much a question of emphasis as anything: "Why," he asked, "do we pay more attention to the borders over seas and less attention to the borders at home?" Paul's own biggest hang-up came from a question about his longtime professional backyard: the halls of the Capitol. After making a case for far more comprehensive spending cuts, including to the wars, he paused, unsure of himself, when asked whether he could get his plan through a divided Congress.
Jon Huntman tried to avoid divisive talk about civil unions, arguing that his support for them didn't mean those who disagreed were in any way wrong. Civil unions are a good idea. Or a bad one. Whichever one you pick, he thinks you're right. I guess that's what makes him a moderate.
There were no divisions amongst the Republicans about tax hikes, though: Every single one raised their hand to signal they'd turn down a deal that cut 10 dollars of spending in exchange for one dollar of tax increases. Even if it balanced the budget, and the new tax revenues came entirely from closing targeted tax giveaways and loopholes? Apparently.
After a deep-dish response in the last debate, former Godfather's exec Herman Cain didn't mention pizza this time around, but he did declare at one point that "America's got to learn how to take a joke." A lot of Republicans, at least, will probably need to: They'll be voting for one of these candidates.