master debaters

What You Missed in the 13th GOP Debate

SIOUX CITY, IA - DECEMBER 15: Republican presidential candidate Texas Gov. Rick Perry fields a question during the Fox News Channel debate at the Sioux City Convention Center on December 15, 2011 in Sioux City, Iowa. The GOP contenders are in the final stretch of campaigning in Iowa where the January 3rd caucus is the first test the candidates must face before becoming the Republican presidential nominee. (Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images)
Typical Perry expression. Photo: Scott Olson/2011 Getty Images

Tonight’s Fox News debate was, unbelievably enough, the final one before the Iowa’s first-in-the-nation primary contest on January 3, but it’s unclear whether any of the race’s leading candidates — Mitt Romney, Ron Paul, and Newt Gingrich — managed to distinguish themselves from the rest of the field. Paul was his usual self, but his extremely isolationist foreign-policy views — he’s apparently completely unconcerned about Iran and Islamic extremism in general — must have freaked out some potential supporters. Gingrich was on fire at times, as when he was railing against the always-unpopular “activist judge” bogeyman and criticizing President Obama for, you know, anything, but he also received plenty of unflattering attention for the million-plus dollars he earned while working for Freddie Mac. Romney, meanwhile, was his usual steady self, always focused on Obama and the general election that he wants everyone to believe he’ll inevitably be a part of. The debate’s real surprise was Rick Perry, who managed to be folksy and adequately coherent tonight and avoid suffering a single onstage stroke. What else happened? Here’s a rundown.

Number of Times the Name Reagan Was Mentioned By the Candidates: 10

Number of Seconds Into His First Answer That Newt Gingrich Compared Himself to Ronald Reagan: 18

Number of Times the Name Bush Was Mentioned: 3 (two for George W. Bush, one for George H.W. Bush)

Number of Times Jon Huntsman Said the Word Screwed: 3 (“We are getting screwed as Americans,” “This president has so screwed up this economy,” “Our visa system is so screwed up in this nation”)

Most Unfair Out-of-Context Sound Bite: “I’m counting on the people of Iowa to catch fire.” — Rick Santorum

Top Two Most Blatant Panders to Religious Voters:

2. “First of all, let me just say to you and to all of our viewers, merry Christmas.” — Newt Gingrich, on December 15

1. “I hope I am the Tim Tebow of the Iowa caucuses.” — Rick Perry

Amount of Time That Jon Huntsman’s Eyebrow Was Arched: The entire debate.

Most Baseless Criticism of President Obama: “This is a president who fundamentally believes that the next century is the post-American century. Perhaps it will be the Chinese century. He is wrong.” — Mitt Romney

Most Grudging Demonstration of Bipartisan Spirit: “There are Democrats who love America as Republicans do.” — Mitt Romney

Least Bold Proclamation That Was Intended to Be Bold: Huntsman announcing that he isn’t attending the Trump debate — the debate that nearly every candidate, and now even Trump himself, has turned down.

Biggest Lie: “I’m getting to like these debates.” — Rick Perry

Remark Followed by the Most Deafening Silence: “There are a lot of government-sponsored enterprises that are awfully important and do an awfully good job.” — Newt Gingrich

Most Technically True But Totally Disingenuous Claim: Gingrich insisting that his “right-wing social engineering” quote on Meet the Press “didn’t reference” Paul Ryan — which it didn’t, explicitly, in that sentence.

Craziest Idea That the Audience Loved: Rick Perry proposed limiting Congress to “140 days every other year, like we do in Texas.”

Best Semi-Serious Moment of Self-Reflection: “I sometimes get accused of using language that is too strong. So I’ve been standing here editing.  I’m very concerned about not appearing zany.” — Newt Gingrich, referencing Romney’s “zany” remark from earlier this week.

Most Baseless Source of American Pride: “One of the reasons I’m optimistic about the future of this country is because we have rule of law. Let’s face it. One of the great things that this country has that very few other countries have.” — Jon Huntsman.

Top Four Most Obscure Historical References:

4) “I’d ask, first of all, have they studied Jefferson, who in 1802 abolished 18 out of 35 federal judges?” — Newt Gingrich.

3) “Lincoln repudiates the Dred Scott decision in his first inaugural address in 1861.” Newt Gingrich.

2) “He carried more states against Carter than FDR carried against Herbert Hoover in 1932.” — Newt Gingrich.

1) “It is time for this country to have a real conversation about a Monroe Doctrine again like we did against the Cubans in the 60s.” — Rick Perry.

Most Intense Argument: Michele Bachmann vs. Ron Paul on Iran.

Best Geography: “Iran is not any other country.” — Rick Santorum

Most Self-Contradictory Position: “I’m firmly in support of people not being discriminated against based upon their sexual orientation. At the same time, I oppose same-sex marriage.“ —Mitt Romney.

Most Flattering Self-Assessment: “I’m a serious candidate for president of the United States.” — Michele Bachmann, taking umbrage with Newt Gingrich’s repeated assertions that she gets her facts wrong

Most Presumptuous: “There’s nothing that’s been said by these folks on the stage that I’m not going to hear 100 times from President Obama.” —Mitt Romney on attacks against him

Winners: Nobody