Video: Bachmann takes down Paul

I can’t guarantee you that this will be the last video we post from last night’s debate, but it’s probably going to be the most memorable — after Rick Perry’s gestalt-grasping clip in which he declared himself the “Tim Tebow of the Iowa Caucuses,” that is.  In this clip, Michele Bachmann goes after Ron Paul on Iran and national security as if she takes him seriously.  Paul is reduced to sputtering a non-sequitur about how wrong it is to declare war on 1.2 billion Muslims, which isn’t at all what Bachmann said, and more or less becomes unable to complete most of his own sentences, the majority of which are also non-sequiturs.  No matter what one thinks of Bachmann, you can’t deny her ability to get under the skin of other candidates:

One of my favorite moments in this debate came when Paul tells Bachmann that the “UN” never said any such thing, and then in the next breath says they weren’t telling the truth when they did. It provoked a few laughs from the audience and a whole avalanche of derision on Twitter. The mask well and truly slipped for Paul in this final debate.

So how did the Republican candidates do? Mitt Romney started off strong and was having one of his best debates in weeks until Chris Wallace asked him about his position switches on abortion, gay rights, and gun laws. He gave a good answer on his transformation to pro-life, but left himself wide open on gay rights. Rick Santorum had his best moment of the debate when he methodically walked through what Romney actually did and said on defending marriage. That didn’t turn the night into a disaster, but Romney didn’t finish strong. Santorum did well last night, too, and given his blanketing of Iowa for the last several months, might have given voters there a reason to give him a second look.

Gingrich had a better debate all the way through, but he took a few slings and arrows along the way. He took some hits on Freddie Mac again, especially from Bachmann, but gave a good rebuttal to those attacks — although clearly no one is thinking that Freddie Mac hired him as a historian. Bachmann scored on the argument that one doesn’t have to be a formal lobbyist to influence people in Washington, and it seems foolish to argue that Freddie Mac didn’t hire him as a consultant for his influence on public policy as a former Speaker. No one is buying the “historian” idea. Otherwise, Gingrich gave a feisty and charismatic performance, or at least charismatic in Gingrich’s terms. He didn’t do any damage to himself, and at the least Gingrich gave himself some room to reclaim a little of his lost momentum.

Rick Perry had the best risk/reward outcome in the debate. As I predicted, no one on stage went on the attack against Perry, and that meant Perry didn’t have to go on the attack against anyone else. The Tebow reference was obviously planned, and brilliant; it’s catchy, timely, easily understood as a deep underdog prevailing through faith in himself and God despite being dismissed by everyone else as the clock starts running out. Perry didn’t get quite as much face time as other candidates, but he made the most of it. After two good debates, and this latest especially strong performance, Perry now gets to do the retail politicking at which he excels without having to engage in any extemporaneous exchanges with other candidates. He could turn this into a comeback, and really be the Tim Tebow of the Iowa Caucuses. Don’t count him out.

As for Bachmann, she had a good evening as well, but made a couple of big mistakes. After scoring points on Gingrich on Freddie Mac, she overshot the mark by accusing Gingrich of trying to elect Republicans who back infanticide. Gingrich slapped back at Bachmann for not getting her facts straight, which has been a problem for Bachmann in the past. Even though Bachmann has regularly attacked other candidates for not telling the truth, at least as she sees it, she protested that her status as a candidate for President of the United States means that her facts are straight, and that it’s “outrageous” to suggest otherwise:

Bachmann earlier had cited Politifact as stating that she had all her facts straight in the last debate, a strange thing to do since Politifact has been roundly critical of Bachmann’s debate claims for months. Sure enough, immediately after the debate, they gave her a Pants On Fire rating for that claim:

At that point, Bachmann jumped back in. “Well, after the debates that we had last week, PolitiFact came out and said that everything that I said was true. And the evidence is that Speaker Gingrich took $1.6 million. You don’t need to be within the technical definition of being a lobbyist to still be influence-peddling with senior Republicans in Washington, D.C., to get them to do your bidding.”

Wait… what? We said that “everything” Bachmann had said was true?

Actually, that’s not what we said.

At the Dec. 10 debate she was referring to, PolitiFact checked two claims from Bachmann and rated them Mostly True and Pants on Fire.

The fact-check she may have been referencing was, “In 1993, Newt Gingrich ‘first advocated for the individual mandate in health care. And as recently as May of this year, he was still advocating’ for it.” We rated that one a Mostly True.

But we also rated her claim that Mitt Romney, as governor of Massachusetts, “put into place socialized medicine.” We found that was ridiculously false and rated it Pants on Fire.

Her comment about our ratings was also a bit of a non-sequitur. Neither of the two items we checked addressed the subject at hand — Gingrich’s work for Freddie Mac, what he thinks of Freddie Mac today, or whether Gingrich was ever a lobbyist.

Maybe Bachmann was simply trying to burnish her image as a truth teller. However, using PolitiFact to back up that assertion is a bit unusual. Her PolitiFact report card shows 59 percent of her statements rated have earned either a False or Pants on Fire. She has earned five Trues, three Mostly Trues, six Half Trues, seven Mostly Falses, 19 Falses and 11 Pants on Fires.

That’s so easily checkable that it’s almost unbelievable that Bachmann would cite Politifact as a specific authority on the subject. Has she not read their site and their evaluations of her statements? Their evaluations certainly put paid to the notion that being a presidential candidate means one should just assume you have your facts straight, too.

As for Jon Huntsman, it’s hard to see why he bothered to show up. He isn’t competing meaningfully in Iowa anyway. Huntsman didn’t offer any compelling narrative or responses last night, so he would have done better for his campaign to stay in New Hampshire and do some retail politicking in a state he’s taking seriously.