In the Arena

18 Days Till Iowa: Last Night’s Debate Part II–Newt Edition

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Last night’s debate was particularly fraught for Newt Gingrich, but I don’t know if it was for good or ill. Will Iowans remember him fumbling around trying to rationalize his $1.6 million relationship with Freddie Mac in the first half of the debate…or will they remember the red-meat eloquence of his second-half answers about the judiciary and the President’s decision to delay the Keystone pipeline. Here’s a closer look at two of those responses:

1. Freddie Mac–My favorite moment of the debate. Gingrich was so bolloxed that he had to resort to defending government programs:

The term government-sponsored enterprise has a very wide range of things that do a great deal of good. Go across this state and talk to people in the electric membership co-ops. Go across this state and talk to people in the credit unions. There are a lot of very good institutions that are government-sponsored.

And, frankly, the idea that anything which in any way has ever touched government could raise questions about doctors dealing with Medicare and Medicaid and a whole range of other government activities. There are many things governments do. I did no lobbying of any kind for any organization. And that was — that was a key part of every agreement we had.

Michelle Bachmann promptly whomped him upside the head with a rhetorical two-by-four:

There’s a big difference between a credit union and Freddie Mac and Fannie Mae. And they were the epicenter of the mortgage financial meltdown. I was trying to see these two entities put into bankruptcy, because they, frankly, need to go away, when the speaker had his hand out and he was taking $1.6 million to influence senior Republicans to keep the scam going in Washington, D.C. That’s absolutely wrong. We can’t have as our nominee for the Republican Party someone who continues to stand for Freddie Mac and Fannie Mae. They need to be shut down, not built up.

One of the wonderful things about this exchange is that it was that rarest of moments: A Republican acknowledging that sometimes government gets things–aside from the blunt use of military force–right. In trying to defend his indefensible insider buckraking, Gingrich not only stood up for the federal mortgage lenders (who really did have a major role in the housing bubble), but also for a panoply of government programs, including Medicare and Medicaid.

I thought Gingrich’s campaign was in full collapse right then and there, but he revived himself with brilliantly nasty responses on the judiciary–demonstrating for once that he is a historian, with relevant quotes from Jefferson and Lincoln, rather than merely bloviating about it–and on this one:

2. The Keystone pipeline. This was particularly impressive because Gingrich was able to get in a “zany” shot on Mitt (who, amazingly, wasn’t asked to defend the z-word by the Fox moderators) and construct a devastating attack on Barack Obama:

 You know, Neil, I sometimes get accused of using language that’s too strong, so I’ve been standing here editing.


I’m very concerned about not appearing to be zany. And…


But — but I want to paint a picture for all of us. The Iranians are practicing closing the Straits of Hormuz. The Canadian prime minister has already said to the American president, if you don’t want to build this pipeline to bring — create 20,000 American jobs and bring oil through the United States to the largest refinery complex in the world, Houston, I want to put it straight west in Canada to Vancouver and ship the oil direct to China, so you’ll lose the jobs, you’ll lose the throughput, you’ll lose 30 or 40 years of work in Houston.

And the president of the United States cannot figure out that it is — I’m using mild words here — utterly irrational to say, I’m now going to veto a middle-class tax cut to protect left-wing environmental extremists in San Francisco, so that we’re going to kill American jobs, weaken American energy, make us more vulnerable to the Iranians, and do so in a way that makes no sense to any normal, rational American.

Wow. That’s like a three-cushion bankshot–dinging Romney, destroying Obama and feeding raw filet mignon (“left-wing environmental extremists in San Francisco”) to the wingnuts. This boy’s got game! Gingrich opened a vein that will bleed between now and next November: Obama’s blatantly political decision to delay a decision on Keystone until after the election is a ploy that will hurt him in middle America.

And so, the question: Was it enough to make Iowa Republicans forget about Freddie Mac? We soon shall see.

A couple of other notes about the other guys:

Rick Perry–Some of my colleagues are saying that the eruption of stupid sports analogies–Tim Tebow, heaven forfend!–means that Perry had a good debate. He didn’t. He sweats stupidity from every pore. He reeks of it.

Jon Huntsman–had his best debate yet. I especially liked his refusal to sign any of these “silly” pledges. Take that, Grover Norquist.

Rick Santorum–also  was in attendance.