Thursday’s debate was one of the most spirited ever in a GOP primary, according to conservative commentator Patrick J. Buchanan. Former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney came out of the debate on top because he emerged unscathed, Buchanan added.
Buchanan, a three-time candidate for president himself, told Newsmax in an exclusive interview Friday morning that Romney, Minnesota Rep. Michele Bachmann, and former House Speaker Newt Gingrich all scored big.
“I thought Mitt Romney clearly comes out the winner. He was presidential. Nobody laid a glove on him and he handled himself very well,” Buchanan tells Newsmax.
Bachmann reinforced her position as Romney’s principal challenger, and the candidate of the right, he said.
“I thought she handled herself well. And I thought Newt Gingrich, for all of his problems, was outstanding,” Buchanan said.
Former Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty found himself in a “very, very tough situation,” because he had to go on the offensive in order to distinguish himself from the GOP field, Buchanan said. But attacking other Republicans could hurt his popularity with some elements in the GOP base, said Buchanan.
Bachmann, the primary target of Pawlenty’s attacks, returned fire effectively when he stated she had a weak legislative record in Congress. She countered that some of Pawlenty’s policies sound similar to those of President Barack Obama.
“I don’t think Pawlenty won the first round there,” said Buchanan, a syndicated columnist and MSNBC commentator. “I think she won the first round, but it was a very spirited exchange.”
Buchanan singled Gingrich out for a strong performance, saying “I would put Newt near the top or at the top.”
“I thought his attack on the supercommittee of Congress was enormously powerful and deeply damaging to that supercommittee,” Buchanan tells Newsmax. “I think Newt is somewhat liberated by the fact that he’s not going to win this thing. He’s not organized out there for the straw poll. I think he’s going to try to redeem himself in these debates. I thought he just did an excellent job.”
Buchanan, who served as senior advisor to presidents Nixon, Ford, and Reagan, voiced skepticism that the debate would have much impact on Saturday’s straw poll in Iowa, however.
“I’ve been in two Iowa straw polls, and if you haven’t given away close to 2,000 tickets at $30 apiece, and you haven’t hired to 100 buses to get your troops out there, what you did 36 hours before the straw poll is not going to make a great deal of difference,” he said. “It could make a marginal difference with those who come to the straw poll undecided, but most of those folks going in there have been given tickets by one of the other campaigns.”
The one candidate Buchanan slammed for a poor debate performance was former Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman.
“I don’t think Huntsman distinguished himself at all except as someone who looked like he was green,” said the Morning Joe regular and MSNBC political analyst. “He really was not at the top of his game -- or close to the top of his game -- in the debate, as almost all of the others were.”
Buchanan predicted that depending on the results of the straw poll, the GOP field could see its first drop outs in coming months.
“I think Newt will stay around. He’s not going to be the nominee, he’s not going to win Iowa, he’s not organized out there. And if he doesn’t win Iowa, I don’t see how he’s going to win New Hampshire. But he stays around to make himself a felt presence, and do what he did last night.
“I think there’s a possibility that Pawlenty could drop out,” Buchanan told Newsmax. “I think if Pawlenty is beaten by Ron Paul and Michele Bachmann tomorrow, I think there’s no argument for his candidacy, because it was based almost entirely on Iowa.”
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