OK, so the fireworks weren’t quite there on Monday. The candidates seemed more concerned with introducing their dozens of grandchildren and out-doing each other’s attacks on President Obama than in directly addressing each other. But the GOP debate produced some illuminating moments, from Tim Pawlenty’s awkward avoidance of a confrontation with Mitt Romney to Herman Cain’s plan to root out “violent” Muslims. Without further ado, here are the top five highlights:
1. Tim Pawlenty Wusses Out
Expectations were high going into the debate that Tim Pawlenty and Mitt Romney would lock horns early and often over health care given the Minnesota governor’s recent digs at Romney. But Pawlenty threw his shot when moderator John King brought up the issue, declining to restate his claim that the White House’s health care law was “Obamneycare.”
“I just cited President Obama’s own words that he looked to Massachusetts as a blueprint or a guide when he designed ObamaCare,” Pawlenty said when asked by the moderator about the phrase. “Using the term ObamneyCare was a reflection of the President’s comments that he designed ObamaCare on the Massachusetts health care plan.”
2. Michele Bachmann Makes Her Big Announcement
Michele Bachmann stole the show early in the debate by officially announcing her run for president, telling the audience she had filed her papers that morning. By the end of the debate, her campaign website and Twitter feed were online with a quick video introduction.
3. Herman Cain Still Not Sure About Those Muslims
Asked to account for his past claim that he wouldn’t appoint any Muslims to his White House cabinet out of fears they would impose Shariah law, Herman Cain said he only was worried about some Muslims. And much like Kurt Russell in The Thing, Cain said he was merely searching for the right test to discover which ones are infiltrators trying to kill us.
“I would ask certain questions,” he said. “It’s not a litmus test. It’s making sure we have people committed to the constitution first in order for them to work effectively in the administration.”
4. Newt Gingrich Back To Bashing The Ryan Plan
Newt Gingrich, whose senior staff quit in a mass protest last week, offered perhaps his toughest critique of Paul Ryan’s Medicare plan since he labeled it “right wing social engineering” on Meet The Press. Asked about those comments, Newt said that the GOP should be very careful about imposing any proposal that is not popular with the American public, comparing such a move to the dreaded Obamacare. “If you can’t convince the American people it’s a good idea, maybe its not a good idea,” he said.
5. Tim Pawlenty Floats His Medicare Plan
Bachmann wasn’t the only one who broke some news at the debate. Pawlenty offered up the most detailed description of his still unreleased Medicare plan thus far.
“I’m going to have my own plan…that will feature some differences from Congressman Ryan’s plan,” Pawlenty said. “It’ll feature performance pay rather than just volume pay to hospitals and clinics and providers, it will allow Medicare to continue as an option, but it will be priced against other options that we’re gonna offer people as well.”
Benjy Sarlin is a reporter for Talking Points Memo and co-writes the campaign blog, TPM2012. He previously reported for The Daily Beast/Newsweek as their Washington Correspondent and covered local politics for the New York Sun.