GOP Fight Night: The Top Five Moments

August 11, 2011 7:06 p.m.

Remember that nice friendly New Hampshire debate from June when the GOP’s fresh-faced field candidates, still basking in fluffy magazine profiles, joined hands to sing songs of President Obama’s failed stimulus? That wasn’t this debate.

Instead the candidates mixed it up early and often, even lashing out at the moderators. We compiled the pugilistic highlights, from Tim Pawlenty and Michele Bachmann’s snowball fight to Newt Gingrich’s war on FOX News, into a video. Read on for the nitty gritty details after that.

Tim Pawlenty Remembers To Attack Romney

You get the impression Tim Pawlenty, who passed on attacking Mitt Romney in the June debate, spent a lot of sleepless nights in the interim thinking about all the zingers he should have used instead. On Thursday, he threw the debate’s first punch against the frontrunner.

Asking rhetorically whether anyone could find him firm economic plans by President Obama, he promised the audience, “If you can find Barack Obama’s specific plan on any of those items, I will come to your house and cook you dinner.” After a brief pause he continued, “Or if you prefer, I’ll come over to your house and mow your lawn.” Turning to face the multi-millionaire former Massachusetts Governor, he concluded, “But in case Mitt [Romney] wins, I’ll limit it to one acre.”

This drew cheers and jeers from the audience. One of the debate’s hosts offered Romney the chance to respond, but he laughed and replied, “That’s just fine.”

The Minnesota Throwdown

Everyone in the debate was feistier this time around after a neighborly first gathering in June. But Tim Pawlenty and Michele Bachmann were in a class of their own, repeatedly facing off in brutal fashion over everything from taxes to abortion to the finer points of Minnesota’s 2005 government shutdown. Pawlenty started things off by going after Bachmann’s lack of successful legislation in Congress: “If that’s your record of results, please stop, because you’re killing us,” he said. Bachmann, clearly ready for a brawl, responded with a multi-part assault on Pawlenty’s record as governor, bringing up his brief flirtation with a health care mandate, his past support for cap and trade legislation, and an old quote (which he immediately disavowed at the time) that “the era of the small government is over.” Then she leveled the ultimate insult: “That sounds a lot like Barack Obama to me.” And that was just the start — Bachmann went on to accuse Pawlenty of forcing her to choose between saving unborn babies and raising taxes in a deal ending the 2005 government shutdown in Minnesota.

Bachmann’s Respectful Marriage

Debate host Byron York asked Michele Bachmann about her past quotes that she became a tax lawyer at her husband’s insistence, citing Biblical passages that a wife should be “submissive” to her husband.

“As president, would you be submissive to your husband?” York asked — prompting vociferous booing from the audience.

“Thank you for that question, Byron,” Bachmann responded, to applause. “Marcus and I will be married for 33 years this September 10th. I’m in love with him, I’m so proud of him. And what submission means to us — if that’s what your question is — is respect. I respect my husband…and he respects me as his wife. That’s how we operate our marriage. We respect each other, we love each other.”

Bachmann then added that together she and her husband had built a business, raised their children, and raised 23 foster children. “I’m very proud of him.”

Newt Bites The Hand That Bejeweled Him

Some “thank you” FOX News gets for employing Newt Gingrich as a contributor until he left for his presidential run. The former Speaker repeatedly accused the moderators of asking unfair and insubstantial questions, at times drawing applause for the media-bashing antics. Asked by Chris Wallace whether his sagging campaign showed he would be an ineffective leader, Gingrich referred back to Wallace’s colleague, Brett Baier, who opened with a call for throwing away talking points. “I took seriously Brett’s injunction to put aside the talking points,” Gingrich said. “And I wish you would put aside the Gotcha questions.” Later, he was asked to explain his history of shifting statements on the conflict in Libya. “This is another example of a ‘Gotcha!’ question,” was the first thing out of his mouth.

Herman Cain: Only Kidding About The Gators

Herman Cain was asked by Fox News panel member Susan Ferrechio about his public embrace of President Obama’s mocking comments that conservatives wanted to build a moat with alligators along the U.S.-Mexican border. Cain fired back, winning applause with this line: “America has got to learn how to take a joke.”

For the record, Cain’s original “moat quote” from June:

We have put a man on the moon, we can build a fence! Now, my fence might be part Great Wall and part electrical technology…It will be a twenty foot wall, barbed wire, electrified on the top, and on this side of the fence, I’ll have that moat that President Obama talked about. And I would put those alligators in that moat!

And finally… the highlight that wasn’t

For all the ballyhoo that accompanied Jon Huntsman’s entry into the race several weeks ago, the former Utah Governor and recent ambassador to China has been at a steady low level in the polls. He can walk away from his first debate relieved that he came across as steady and sturdy, but he didn’t produce anything remotely approaching a highlight.

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