Seven candidates for the Republican presidential nomination faced off in Sioux City, Iowa, on Thursday night for their final debate before the Iowa caucuses (that's debate No. 13, for those of you counting). Hosted by Fox News, the high-stakes discussion served as their last chance to make an impression. Here are some of the night's best moments.
1. Rick Perry Compares Himself to Tim Tebow
Perry got things off to a memorable start by answering his first question, on what he thinks about voters losing confidence in him after struggling in debates, with a comparison to Denver Broncos' quarterback Tim Tebow:
There are a lot of folks that said Tim Tebow wasn't going to be a very good NFL quarterback. There are people that stood up and said, "Well, he doesn't have the right throwing mechanisms, or he's not playing the game right." And he won two national championships, and that looked pretty good. We were the national champions in job creation back in Texas. And so, am I ready for the next level? Let me tell you, I hope I am the Tim Tebow of the Iowa caucuses.
2. Jon Huntsman Passive-Aggressively Insults Republican Voters
Almost as if he's come to terms with his nonexistent chances of winning, an irritated Huntsman tackled a question about uncertainty over his conservative street cred (especially when he's refused to sign a no-new-taxes pledge) with an answer that seemed to belittle the primary base:
I'm not going to pander. I'm not going to contort myself into a pretzel to please any audience I'm in front of and I'm not going to sign those silly pledges. And you know what else, I'm not going to show up at a Donald Trump debate. (followed by a few beats of silence and a tepid, confused-sounding smattering of applause)
3. Mitt Romney Avoids Fighting With Newt Gingrich …
Despite moderators' best attempts at pitting the two national frontrunners against one another, Romney steered clear of tangling with Gingrich all night. Even when asked to respond to earlier attacks from Gingrich about his failed business ventures, Romney answered the question … by pretending that Obama made the comment instead:
I think this is a great opportunity for us because I think the president is going to level the same attack. He's going to go after me and say, you know, in businesses that you've invested in, they didn't all succeed. Some failed, some laid people off. And he'd be absolutely right. But if you look at all the businesses we invested in, over 100 different businesses, they added tens of thousands of jobs. (For good measure, Romney added that Obama doesn't live in "the real world" and Obama "doesn't know how the economy works.")
4. … But Everyone Else Ganged Up on Newt Gingrich (Especially Michele Bachmann)
Seeing Gingrich as the front-runner to beat, the other candidates wasted no time piling on him. The most skillful example goes to Bachmann, who refused to be put in the corner (at one point telling Gingrich, "I'm a serious candidate for president of the United States, and my facts are accurate") and who put him on blast for denying that he ever lobbied for Freddie Mac:
We know that he cashed paychecks from Freddie Mac; that's the best evidence that you can have. Over $1.6 million. Frankly I am shocked listening to the former speaker of the House because he's defending the continuing practice of Freddie Mac and Fannie Mae … 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. And the bidding was to keep this grandiose scam of Freddie Mac going.
5. Abolishing the Courts Gets the Night's Biggest Applause
Things took a turn for the weird when Gingrich (who got a co-sign from Bachmann, and enormous applause from the audience) advocated abolishing federal courts and subpoenaing judges for controversial decisions:
The courts have become grotesquely dictatorial, far too powerful and I think frankly arrogant in their misreading of the American people. I would, just like Jefferson, Jackson, Lincoln and FDR, I would be prepared to take on the judiciary if it did not restrict itself in what it was doing. (A bewildered Ron Paul, pointing out the separation of powers, countered, "To subpoena judges before Congress, I'd really question that.")
6. Romney Says Obama's Foreign Policy Is Based on "Pretty Please"
Getting into neo-conservative mode, Romney explained why the thinks Obama's appeal to foreign diplomacy is weak:
This is a president with the spy drone being brought down, he says "pretty please"? A foreign policy based on "pretty please"? You got to be kidding … The right course under President Obama's plans is to shrink our military — thinking somehow if we appease or accommodate the tyrants of the world, that the world will be safer. He's wrong.
Who do you think came away in the best position for the Iowa caucus?
Cynthia Gordy is The Root's Washington reporter.