ALLISON KEYES, host: I'm Allison Keyes, and this is TELL ME MORE, from NPR News. Michel Martin is away. Coming up, the biggest album of the season just hit the shelves, but is "Watch the Throne" worth a listen? That in just a moment. But first, it was a busy week in politics with the Republican presidential candidates squaring off in a contentious debate in Iowa last night. Reports that Texas Governor Rick Perry plans to throw his hat into the ring and, here in Washington, all 12 members of the so-called super-committee that has to find at least $1.2 trillion in government savings were finally revealed.
Here to make sense of all that's going on are two of our trusted political watchers. Cynthia Tucker is a Pulitzer Prize-winning columnist formally with the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. She's now a visiting professor at the University of Georgia's Grady College of Journalism and Mass Communication. Also with us is Mary Kate Cary. She's a columnist for U.S. News and World Report. Both join me now in our Washington, DC studios. Ladies, welcome back.
CYNTHIA TUCKER: Thanks.
MARY KATE CARY: Great to be here.
KEYES: Mary Kate, have to start with last night's debate in Iowa. Who won, and what were some of the significant moments?
CARY: Well, if you weren't able to watch it, I found it highly entertaining, lots of laughs. One of the most raucous debates I've seen in politics in a while. Hands down better than that lamo Twitter debate we just had two weeks ago. I would have to say - you know, I wrote a blog this morning on last night, and I was doing it sort of like high school yearbook awards. Most likely to succeed would be Mitt Romney. He - nobody really laid a glove on him. He's still the frontrunner.
KEYES: He came above the whole...
CARY: Yeah, he sort of stayed above it all. Nobody really knocked him out. Most improved would have to be Newt Gingrich, even though I don't think he's going to win the nomination or anything like that. My 14-year-old was watching with me, and she thought he was very sassy. And Mr. Congeniality would have to be Herman Cain. He still came across a very charming, amiable, decent guy. Biggest disappoint for me was Jon Huntsman.
I'd never really seen him speak before. I didn't really know. I wanted to kind of size him up. He had one good line, where he talked about Rick Perry leading the prayer rally and hoping he's praying for all the people on the stage tonight. That was kind of cute. But Huntsman seemed very nervous and tentative. I thought he'd come in and blow the doors off, and he really wasn't that great. The biggest thing was everybody that answered, I kept thinking, what about Rick Perry? What would he have said? He was sort of missing from the stage.
KEYES: The elephant in the room kind of thing.
CARY: Yeah. Michele Bachmann was good, threw some punches, but, you know, not like the first debate.
KEYES: Cynthia, I have to ask you the same question.
TUCKER: Well, I loved Mary Kate's assessments, using the high school yearbook format.
(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)
KEYES: I'm going to see that in my head the rest of the day.
TUCKER: I thought that was great. I found it a very entertaining debate, too. And I have to say that I would give plaudits to Michele Bachmann. For the most part, she managed to stick to her talking points. She was unruffled. She landed some solid punches on Tim Pawlenty. She was more tentative in the second hour than in the first. She came to...
KEYES: They had a pretty serious thing going on (unintelligible).
TUCKER: They had a very serious thing going on.
CARY: Yeah. It was kind of ugly, there.
TUCKER: You know, in the long run, this debate isn't going to mean very much, particularly after Rick Perry gets in. But who loses matters more than who won, and I think this debate might have been the thing that it certainly didn't do anything to improve Jon Huntsman's chances. But it also, I think, might have put - improved Michele Bachmann's standing over Tim Pawlenty. Tim Pawlenty had the most to lose.
KEYES: We were just saying that former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney kind of stayed above the fray, but it didn't stop him from criticizing President Obama. Let's listen to a little bit of what he had to say.
(SOUNDBITE OF SPEECH)
MITT ROMNEY: He just doesn't understand how the economy works, because he hasn't lived in the real economy. I think in order to create jobs, it's helpful to have had a job. And I fundamentally believe that what we need in this country is someone who's willing to go to work who believes in America, who believes in free enterprise, who believes in capitalism, who believes in opportunity and freedom. I am that person. I love this country.
KEYES: Mary Kate, briefly, how much is that resonating with Republican voters, do you think?
CARY: Well, keep in mind, Romney won the straw poll four years ago in 2008 out in Iowa. Now, he did not go on to win the caucus. Mike Huckabee did. So I do think Romney is respected by the Iowa voters. Three of the last five straw poll winners went on to win the nomination. They like people who are experienced. Romney especially has run before and has a good record. The others in the past were Bob Dole, George H.W. Bush and George W. Bush.
So, they like that kind--they're not into mavericks. I think he did well last night, and he connects with those voters very well.
KEYES: I'm going to come back to the straw poll in just a second, but I actually want to move on, Cynthia - I'm sorry - and ask you about something else, because we were talking about Bachmann. She's been doing well in Iowa, and this week, she was the subject of a profile in The New Yorker, and then there was that Newsweek cover that some felt were not, you know, that flattering. I wonder if you think this is still a case of the media treating female candidates differently than they do male candidates.
TUCKER: I don't think the cover - The Newsweek cover leaves us any other answer but that women are treated differently. I certainly can't imagine that a major news magazine would have portrayed a male candidate looking crazy, looking like a fanatic. Now, we have to point out, however, that the editor of Newsweek is a woman, Tina Brown. So it's hard to call it sexism. But Tina Brown knew if she portrayed Michele Bachmann that way, she'd get buzz for the magazine, and indeed she has. But let me go back to Bachmann and give her some plaudits, here.
Unlike Sarah Palin, to whom she's so often compared, she didn't lose her cool over that. She's given the best answers I could imagine. She's let it role off of her. She's shown how women how are grown-ups in politics have to respond. You can't go around saying I'm a girl, so they're picking on me. She hasn't done that.
KEYES: Mary Kate, we were talking a second ago about how Bachmann, they - in the debate last night she was asked about her statement that she's submissive to her husband, that you said, interestingly, that Bill Clinton basically said when he was running, you get two for one, and didn't get the same kind of drama that she's getting.
CARY: Yeah. I think a man can say you get two for one, and a woman can't. She gave the best response she could have last night - which, by the way, was submission, in my mind, means respect. I respect my husband. He respects me - which is the best answer she could have given in the situation. If she had said submission means my husband's in charge, that would have been the end of her campaign, I think.
KEYES: If you're just joining us, this is TELL ME MORE, from NPR News. I'm Allison Keyes. It's the Friday political chat, and I'm speaking with Pulitzer Prize-winning writer Cynthia Tucker and Mary Kate Cary of U.S. News and World Report. Let's move onto to the super-committee. We just got word yesterday of the final three spots on it. It's tasked was finding at least $1.2 trillion in federal government savings. Cynthia, were there any surprises on who was chosen?
TUCKER: You know, not really, I can't say that there were any surprises. I had higher hopes for the Republican side, that they wouldn't have as many hardliners against any tax increases. But it's full of hardliners. Pat Toomey, who is a Republican on the committee, once headed the absolute no tax increase club for growth. So no surprises, but some disappointment.
KEYES: And Mary Kate, this isn't a group of lawmakers that's expected to stray all of that far from what the leadership has been doing, are they?
CARY: No. These are pretty experienced deal-makers who know how to negotiate in Washington. My personal favorite is Rob Portman, who I think is just a great guy, and former head of ONB, as well as former House Ways and Means. So there's a guy that I think could really pull this thing together very well. But, you know, Newt Gingrich had a good point last night in the debate. He had a great line. The bigger problem here is not who's on the committee. It's that this committee is not winning the trust of the public or the markets, for that matter, as we've seen with this crazy week we've had. And it's still going to be in secret, trillions of cuts, and if they can't come up in secret by November 23rd with trillions in cuts, the choice is either massive tax hikes or massive defense cuts.
And as Newt put it last night, do you want me to shoot you in the head or cut off your right leg? Which one is it going to be? And I think, you know, and that got a huge, you know, roar from the crowd. I think the bigger problem here is that the public doesn't trust this committee.
KEYES: Cynthia, I have to ask, one of the things the pundits were talking about all week was there were almost no people - there were no people of color and only one woman on this committee before Nancy Pelosi named her people. What do you think about that?
TUCKER: Well, I think that's the way Washington works, isn't it? I mean, look at Congress. Look at the heads of committees. Now, it is absolutely true - everybody knows this - the Democrats have more women, more people of color, in positions of responsibility.
KEYES: Does this help them look more inclusive?
TUCKER: You know, when you look at that group, though, it's all middle aged men. There's not a single woman on it. And so...
CARY: There's Patty Murray.
TUCKER: Oh, I'm sorry.
KEYES: Patty Murray.
TUCKER: I'm sorry. Patty Murray, Democratic senator.
KEYES: Although she's head of the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee.
CARY: Yeah, see, I think that's kind of a problem, you know.
TUCKER: Well, that's another problem. That's a different set of problem. But, you know, if you are running a committee in Washington, you probably don't represent the average American. That's just the way Washington works.
KEYES: Really briefly, let me move on to the straw poll in Iowa tomorrow. Mary Kate, who has the best chance of winning this, and what does it really mean in the greater scheme of things? Briefly.
CARY: Briefly. Big, big fun this weekend out in Iowa. I think we should all jump on a place and go out there.
KEYES: The whole butter on a stick. Yeah.
CARY: Butter on a stick at the state fair. Jason Aldean tonight, sold out show. Tomorrow's the straw poll. Michele Bachmann's leading going into the polls, you know, just in the Des Moines Register polls, things like that. Most people think she will probably win. Mitt Romney could easily win as well. The problem is Rick Perry is going to announce over the weekend that he's jumping in the race. He's doing it Sunday at the Lincoln Day Dinner.
Michele Bachmann has now said she's going to be there. Sarah Palin's coming in on her bus. President Obama's coming in on his bus. There's just a lot of noise around it. And I think whoever wins will probably get drowned out by the butter on a stick type stuff going on.
(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)
KEYES: Really briefly, Cynthia, does the rest of the nation besides the media really care about this poll?
TUCKER: Absolutely not. It means very, very little in terms of November 2012. But you can understand how it - once every four years Iowa was the center of the political universe. You can understand why they don't they don't want to give that up.
(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)
CARY: You know, a lot of candidates have ended there after the straw poll.
KEYES: That's true.
CARY: Dan Quayle did. Liddy Dole did. Tommy Thompson did. There could be a lot of people dropping out of the race...
KEYES: So there can be losers, but not necessarily winners.
KEYES: Ladies, I've got to leave it there. Mary Kate Cary is former speechwriter for President George H.W. Bush and a columnist for U.S. News and World Report. And Cynthia Tucker is a Pulitzer Prize-winning writer and a visiting professor at the University of Georgia's Grady College of Journalism and Mass Communication. They both joined us right here in our Washington, D.C. studios. Thanks, ladies, for your insights as always.
TUCKER: Thank you.
CARY: Great. Have a good weekend. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright National Public Radio.