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Des Moines Des Bate

The opinions expressed by columnists are their own and do not necessarily represent the views of

The thing about telling you that I watched the GOP debate that took place in Des Moines, Iowa Saturday night is I have to admit I had nothing else to do Saturday night.

-- Attend Joint Chiefs of Staff Christmas Party - Pentagon

-- Fly to New York to see "Spiderman" - Broadway

-- Weekend cruise to friend's private island - Caribbean

-- Feed the cat

-- Make a meat loaf

-- Watch GOP debate

Here's the shorthand version of what I think happened.

Newt Gingrich won. No surprise. Gingrich is leading the pack because there have been 217 debates and he's been great in all of them. Anyone who thought he was going to suddenly collapse under the weight of being the frontrunner simply doesn't understand the Tao of Newt.

The Twitter-verse exploded when Mitt Romney offered to bet Rick Perry $10,000 on who was right about what was in Romney's book regarding a national individual mandate for health care.

I haven't read Romney's book. Perry claims he has. The fact-checkers indicated Romney would have won the bet but it was the fact of the bet itself - not who was right or wrong - that captured everyone's attention.

Most people in Des Moines don't bet $10,000 unless it's the down payment on their house.

I suggested on Twitter that Romney make a $10K donation to an Iowa charity in Rick Perry's name. I haven't heard from Gov. Romney as to whether or not he thought that was as swell an idea as I did.

People in Iowa know Romney is extremely wealthy and, notwithstanding the puffery of the Professional Media Class pretending they had forgotten, it will not affect many actual caucus-goers. Romney did his usual professional, polished, Presidential job.

Speaking of Rick Perry, if he had done as well in the previous debates as he did in this one this might still be a two-person race, but the non-Romney person might well have been Perry.

But, he didn't and it's not.

But, Perry did very well, and may have reassured some of his earlier supporters that he does, indeed, deserve a second look.

Hold that thought.

Michelle Bachman had her second good debate in a row. Maybe its because she realizes she has nothing to lose, but she did very well, in spite of invoking the late, lamented Herman Cain's 9-9-9 plan not once, but twice.

In the most recent CNN poll in Iowa, Bachmann is - literally - in the middle of the second tier (Perry is at 9 percent, Bachmann 7, Santorum 5) and it is not unlikely some of the people who supported her in the Iowa straw poll in August might be giving her a second look.

Hold that thought.

Rick Santorum appeared to have more self-confidence in this debate than in the debates previous. He didn't seem as needy or as desperate as he has sometimes sounded. That might be because he has spent so much time in Iowa his kids would qualify for in-state tuition to a state university.

Santorum is all in, in Iowa and his performance might have lit a fire under conservatives who wanted to support him, but might have thought he didn't have the right stuff.

Hold that thought.

Ron Paul was Ron Paul. He is what he is and either you buy the act or you don't, and I think a significant number of Iowans do.

Paul's problem with a short-handed debate (Jon Huntsman didn't participate so there were only six lecterns on stage) is he is not very good at the "Let-me-respond-to-the-last-response" game that was the style of Saturday night's debate.

Nevertheless, Paul is very well organized in Iowa and is (at least in my mind) likely to be the big surprise in the Caucuses.

Hold that thought.

The thought I have been asking you to hold is this: Newt is leading the polling in Iowa by 13 percentage points over Romney (33-20) with Paul right behind at 17 percent.

If all of the non-Romney, non-Newt players in Iowa improved their positions, then that helps Romney because there probably are not many Iowans who are trying to decide between Santorum and Romney.

If the non-Romney, non-Gingrich candidates all generate more support, the majority of that support will come out of Gingrich's column not Romney's.

That might make January 3 a very, very interesting night.s

Ok. You can let go of that thought, now.

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