Tonight's Fox News Iowa debate was more frustrating to watch than some of the Wolf Blitzer-moderated CNN debates or the ABC News one the other Saturday night because the approach here seemed to asking gotcha questions individually to each candidate rather than letting the candidates go at each other or all answer the same questions.
So it was really more of a serial interview between Fox News and the candidates, as opposed to a debate among the candidates moderated by Fox News. The candidates weren't so much debating each other as the journalists were trying to debate the candidates. I say this as someone who likes Fox News and appreciates being on there very occasionally as a guest, and who can sympathize with a journalist who, seizing the opportunity to question a presidential candidate, asks a gotcha question. Tonight, though, the results were a bit disappointing. It's hard to tell how much of this is Fox's fault and how much was the ground rules negotiated by the campaigns.
Still, there were some illuminating moments. Newt Gingrich was hammered hard by Michele Bachmann and Ron Paul for his work for Freddie Mac. "That is something that our nominee can't stand for," Ms. Bachmann said.
Mr. Gingrich said that his policy is to break up Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, but that government can play a role in backing credit unions and rural electric cooperatives and Medicare and Medicaid. "Having people have a chance to buy a house is a value," he said, likening his paid $1.6 million Freddie Mac work to his support for Habitat for Humanity. Mr. Gingrich did have several chances to stress his accomplishments as House speaker in passing welfare reform, a balanced budget, and a capital gains tax cut.
The other clear contrast came on foreign policy, where Ron Paul called for lifting American sanctions on Iran, which he called an act of war. On Iran, he said, "the greatest danger is overreacting." (The other candidates missed the obvious chance to correct him by saying that the greatest danger isn't overreacting, but the danger that Iran would nuke an American city.) Said Mr. Paul, "We have 12,000 diplomats in our service, we ought to use them once in a while."
On the other end of the spectrum was Senator Santorum, who said Iran had been killing American troops in Iraq with improvised explosive devices, and that in an Islamic Republic dedicated to martyrdom, mutual assured destruction wasn't a deterrent but an "inducement." Said Mr. Santorum, "They don't hate use because of what we do or what policies we have, they hate us because of who we are."
Mr. Paul later replied, "They don't come here to kill us because we are free and prosperous. Do they come to Sweden and Switzerland?"
Governor Romney, who appeared confident and focused on President Obama, faulted President Obama for asking Iran to return an American drone. "A foreign policy based on 'pretty please?' You gotta be kidding," he said. He called for adding 15 new ships a year to the Navy instead of 9, and adding 100,000 more troops to the military.
Mr. Paul responded, "How are we gonna rebuild the military when we have no money?"
Ms. Bachmann also faulted Mr. Paul's answer on Iran. "I have never heard a more dangerous answer for American security than the one we just heard from Ron Paul," she said, charging Iran with wanting to establish a caliphate. "We would be fools and naifs to ignore their purpose and their plan," she said.
Jon Huntsman, who usually grates on me, gave a good answer on China, saying he'd have responded to China's recently announced tariffs on American cars by inviting a few dissidents to the American embassy. He said that eventually the U.S.-China relationship needs to move from being "transactional" to being based on "shared values," such as "democracy," "human rights" and "greater tolerance toward religion," all of which would require change in China.
Ron Paul did not answer a question about whether he'd support the eventual Republican presidential nominee. Governor Perry said he'd ask Attorney General Holder to resign over the "Fast and Furious" ATF scandal, while Senator Santorum said he would fire him.