Last night's GOP debate was highly entertaining and, surprisingly, informative. Here's a few observations:
1. I thought Tim Pawlenty had an excellent performance. I would have liked more specificity when he was going after Mitt Romney, but he did precisely what he needed to do. He criticized after Romney for his myriad missteps in Massachusetts and Bachmann for her nonexistent legislative record. He successfully painted Bachmann as a fringe voice rather than a real policymaker and leader. This was critical, because Pawlenty desperately needs a strong finish in the straw poll this weekend to keep his campaign viable.
2. After Pawlenty was through with her, Bachmann looked lost and defeated. This was the first time I can remember that Bachmann has had to face open hostility -- in the first debate, she went unchallenged and was the star -- and it was obvious. I haven't read any post-debate reaction, but I believe she took an enormous hit last night. It's offensive that Bachmann thinks she is even remotely qualified for the presidency, so I'm thrilled to see other candidates willing to step up and take shots at her.
3. I was also interested by how fixated Rick Santorum was on Bachmann. Santorum obviously thinks that he and Bachmann are going after the same segment of voters. If he would ease up on the culture-warrior shtick, voters might actually see a politician who grasps the nuances of public policy better than most of his competitors. Perhaps Santorum knows that the more he slobbers over social issues, the less likely it is that he will have to explain his vote on Medicare Part D.
4. The last point on Bachmann: I genuinely don't understand how true "conservatives" can line up behind her. She hasn't ever accomplished anything, so how do you know how she's going to govern? I can understand tea partiers lining up behind the likes of Jim DeMint, Rand Paul or even Pawlenty. But Bachmann? Is the tea party really about rhetoric and not results? If so, that would explain its fixation with Bachmann.
5. Herman Cain doesn't belong here. He has such a laughably poor grasp of public policy that I almost felt sorry for him. He is embarrassing himself and his party by continuing his campaign. I don't know that a less-informed man has ever taken a debate stage.
6. Newt Gingrich's obsession with trying to fit every world event into some grand historical puzzle is both dishonest and annoying. The next debate drinking game should be based on Gingrich's use of the phrase "in my lifetime." I give Republican primarygoers a great deal of credit for not buying his nonsense.
7. Chris Wallace's line of the night, to Jon Huntsman: "At the risk of raising Speaker Gingrich's ire, I'm going to ask about your record, sir." Brilliant.
8. Huntsman seems like the forgotten candidate after all the fur flying, but he is clearly a serious person concerned with serious things. Even if he is only truly running for 2016, he made an excellent first impression last night. Additionally, his record demonstrates that he is more conservative than John McCain or George W. Bush, so any suggestion that he's not "electable" in a Republican primary is completely off-base. I would be thrilled with Huntsman as the nominee.
9. While I have concerns about his electability, Ron Paul has powerful conservative ideas, and my agreement with him on so many issues will make it hard for me to vote for anyone else. Paul has studied monetary policy for three-plus decades, criticized the Bush administration long before it was in vogue for conservatives to do so, and regularly points out the folly of our interventionism overseas. Our country would be in a much better place if we had listened to Ron Paul in 2002 and 2003. Everyone seems to be obsessed with Gingrich as the "ideas man," but I have yet to see a candidate demonstrate such a deep understanding of the issues that have befallen American as Paul.
10. Finally, once again, where was Gary Johnson? He was a successful two-term governor of a blue state who cut taxes and annually ran balanced budgets. Bachmann has been in Congress for five years and never authored a single bill that has been signed into law. The fact that Johnson is a marginal candidate and Bachmann -- until last night, at least -- is considered a frontrunner is truly absurd.