GOP Primary Debate: Who Came Out on Top?

This is a rush transcript from "Special Report," August 12, 2011. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.

REP. MICHELE BACHMANN, R - PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: You are finished in 2012 are you will be a one-term president.

MITT ROMNEY, R - PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Look, I'm not going to eat Barack Obama's dog food, alright.

TIM PAWLENTY, R - PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: If you can find Barack Obama's specific plan on any of those items, I will come to your house and cook you dinner.

HERMAN CAIN, R - PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: America's got to learn how to take a joke.

NEWT GINGRICH, R - PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: This super-committee is about as dumb of an idea as Washington has come up with in my lifetime.

JON HUNTSMAN, R - PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: We need serious regulatory reform. Not just repealing Obamacare but ending the EPA's regulatory reign of terror.

RON PAUL, R - PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: It is time we quit this. It's time -- it's ttrillions of dollars we are spending on these wars.

RICK SANTORUM, R - PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Our country is based on moral laws, ladies and gentlemen. There are things the states can't do.


BRET BAIER, ANCHOR: All eight candidates last night in the debate, a debate that was fiery, contentious, interesting. You guys think it was interesting? OK. I have a crowd here. Let's bring in our panel and see what they think, Steve Hayes, senior writer for The Weekly Standard, Karen Tumulty, national political correspondent for the Washington Post, and Jeff Zeleny, national political correspondent for The New York Times. They are all just up the road in Ames and as I said, we are here at the Iowa state fair.

Let's go down the row, Steve, first to you. Thoughts about the debate, how it affects the brand picture and this race?

STEVE HAYES, SENIOR WRITER, THE WEEKLY STANDARD: Well, I thought it was a good debate, I thought it was fiery, it was interesting, lots of interesting exchanges. I thought it revealed something about what each candidate was hoping to do with the debate going into the straw poll. I mean, you had Tim Pawlenty taking on Michele Bachmann; Michele Bachmann returning fire, I think very aggressively. Rick Santorum trying to express himself, Newt Gingrich trying to sort of arise from the slumber that he's been in. So I think you had a bunch of candidates doing a number of different things hoping to give themselves some kind of energetic push going into the straw poll.

What you didn't have really was much of a vision that came out. There wasn't a big moment for any of these candidates where conservatives or Republican primary voters sitting at home would say yes, that is my guy or that's my woman. This is why I am a conservative, this is why I am a Republican, nothing that expressed a broader vision of Republican governance in the way that I think a lot of Republicans still are hungering for.

BAIER: Karen, your thoughts.

KAREN TUMULTY, WASHINGTON POST: Well, to the degree they drew any distinctions at all, it was not between and among their policies but among their resumes. And I think the extraordinary exchanges that we saw between Michele Bachmann and Tim Pawlenty showed not only that Minnesota niceness is a thing of the past but also that these two candidates are the two that have the biggest, the most at stake here in Iowa. And they are also the biggest threats to each other here in Iowa.

BAIER: Let's play a quick sound bite of at least one of those little exchanges.


BACHMANN: When the deal was put together Governor Pawlenty cut a deal with the special interest groups and he put in the same bill, a vote to increase the cigarette tax as well a vote that would take away the protections from the unborn. And I made a decision. I believe in the sanctity of human life and I believe you can get money wrong, but you can't get life wrong. And that's why I came down on that decision that I made.

BAIER: Governor Pawlenty, do you have a response, 30 seconds, to that?

PAWLENTY: Yeah, what's wrong in the answer is the answer. Congresswoman Bachmann didn't vote for that bill because of stripping away a pro-life protection. She voted for it and is now creating that as the excuse.


BAIER: Jeff, that is about a Minnesota piece of legislation that increases taxes, cigarette taxes. That was one exchange and there were many others between the two of them. Who do you think bested the other if there was a winner there?

JEFF ZELENY, NEW YORK TIMES: I am not sure that there was a short-term winner. I think the long-term winner in it though, Governor Pawlenty has really been making this case to Iowans, as he's been really here a lot, in small audience and sometimes bigger audiences, he's trying to raise questions about Congresswoman's Bachmann's experience. And I think that that is eventually taking hold.

The Republicans I talked to here like her a lot. They love her energy, they love her enthusiasm, her -- the passion she brings to the race. But you don't find as many people when you ask the second question. Do you think she'd be the strongest nominee? You get a bit of a hesitation and pause. So, short-term I'm not sure that Governor Pawlenty looked all that strong in the debate when he was taking her on. But long-term I think he really opened the door and perhaps helped out some other candidates down the road who will also be making these arguments against her.

But the big question for him is, is time running out? If she does better than him at the straw poll on Saturday, if Ron Paul does, he may never get to complete that argument. But he certainly started something last night.

BAIER: There was a lot of focus on process, there was a lot of focus today on the reaction that I read on the questions, a lot of focus on Newt Gingrich and what he said in the exchange with Chris Wallace and with me, Steve. Your thoughts about that and did Newt Gingrich make a mark in this debate?

HAYES: Ya know, I actually think if you are a debating judge and you are judging the substance of the answers based on what Republican primary voters are likely to want to hear, Newt Gingrich won. And I think, he won rather clearly, his first answer on the economy, I thought was outstanding, actually really addressed the question. He did set aside talking points. His answer on immigration was good. The clip that you played from his answer on the debt committee, calling it stupid, raising the problems with it that I think many Republicans have, I think that was very strong.

The low point was when he was whining about Chris Wallace's question as a supposed 'gotcha'. Look, there was -- Chris Wallace had to ask that question. Newt Gingrich has become a marginal candidate. He doesn't have much in the way of support. He's not affecting the argument in any significant way. The most significant thing that's happened with respect to his candidacy, over the past two months, is the fact that most of his senior staff left en masse at one time. How could a responsible journalist not ask that question. It had to be asked.

BAIER: Karen, there was also some pushback from Senator Santorum, feeling that he didn't get enough time, enough questions. If we put up this graphic. These are the facts about how much each candidate talked throughout that debate, how many questions each candidate was asked. We tried to balance it out as you see in this graphic. Governor Romney 10 minutes, seven seconds, 12 question. Congresswoman Bachmann second, there you see Congressman Paul third, Governor Pawlenty fourth. Senator Santorum had nine minutes and 12 seconds, that is a 54 seconds -- 55 seconds difference than Governor Romney, then you see Gingrich, Cain and Huntsman. Cain and Huntsman both answered questions relatively short. They didn't take their full minute.

So that's just the facts about that. Thoughts about the debate and the questions in the process?

TUMULTY: Well, first of all on Newt Gingrich, I think that whatever his plans for the future may be, it does not appear that getting his Fox contract renewed is very high among his priorities. But I do think that Rick Santorum's complaints were based in part on how much this straw poll means to him. And what you hear from people on the street here, is that, ya know, this straw poll, these candidates are not only running against each other. They're running against the expectations for them.

And a lot of people think that Rick Santorum is, in fact, a candidate who does have the potential to surprise here tomorrow. So he knew the stakes are very high and he was looking for a breakout moment, and I think that's really where his complaints came from.

BAIER: OK, next up, the Friday Lightning Round. And again, we are here live at the Iowa state fair. We'll be right back in just a minute.

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