Alex Massie

Ames to Oblivion

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Being a dreadful sucker for these things I stayed up to watch the Republican presidential debate in Iowa last night. As Jonathan Bernstein notes the stramash, hosted by Fox News, did not really matter very much and nor, of course, does (or should) the preposterous Ames straw poll this weekend. Nevertheless, it was unusually entertaining (by the standards of these things) and, actually, quite interesting.

Like Conor Friedersdorf, I felt the most telling, significant moment came when the candidates - a grim, motley crew to be honest - were asked if they would endorse a (hypothetical) deal that offered ten dollars in deficit reduction in return for one dollar of tax increases. This being the modern Republican party every single one of the blighters said they'd reject any such splendid compromise. Mental, but there you have it.

Clearly Mitt Romney was in a class of his own last night, the only candidate present who actually looked like he could be President one day. This is not an especially cheery thought but then neither is the prospect of Governor Rick Perry, absent last night but due to enter the race tomorrow, winnig the nomination. And it will be one of those two. There may be a long way to go yet but there is, I hazard, no-one else who will become a top-tier candidate. Of course that presumes Perry proves a competent, credible campaigner - something that is not assured by any means.

The only other wannabe who will, I think, have a chance of making an impression is Michelle Bachmann. She was impressive last night. Not, you understand, in a factual sense but in the manner in which she spoke to her core community and gave them what they craved. She was polished and sharp and good at what she does. Plus, she tore the bark off Tim Pawlenty and that alone is worth something and deserves a cheer or two.

Nevertheless, the debate was not especially encouraging for anyone concerned that Obama should face a credible, sane opponent next year. My scorecard, in fact, read:

1. Despair. 2. Mitt Romney 3. Barack Obama 4. Rick Perry. 5. Michele Bachmann 6. Ron Paul 7. Rick Santorum 8. GOP 9. America.

On the other hand, it's been suggested this is too optimistic a verdict. A friend chides me for this and reckons that actually the English language can't quite do justice to the horror: There's probably some German word that combines dread, tragedy, revulsion, with a hint of ennui.  If so, that's the winner.

Other reactions: Toby Harnden. Andrew Sullivan also has round-ups from the right and from the left.

Written byAlex Massie

Alex Massie is Scotland Editor of The Spectator. He also writes a column for The Times and is a regular contributor to the Scottish Daily Mail, The Scotsman and other publications.

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