Donnybrook in Iowa Candidates mix it up in last debate before caucuses By Mary Papenfuss, Newser User Posted Dec 15, 2011 8:11 PM CST Updated Dec 16, 2011 12:01 AM CST 42 comments Comments Republican presidential candidates line up for the last debate before the Iowa caucuses. (AP Photo/Eric Gay, Pool) (Newser) – A mostly pit-bull line-up of GOP candidates mixed it up tonight in the final debate before the Iowa caucuses. Their performance could well decide their success or failure in the key state. Rivals and moderators put barely-front-runner Newt Gingrich in the hot seat, and his response was to be more rambunctious than ever. Some highlights: The biggest applause of the night follows Gingrich's threat to strip federal judges of their power if he becomes president because the courts are "grotesquely" dictatorial. The judiciary is "far too powerful and arrogant in their misreading of the American people," he says. Michele Bachmann agrees, but a slightly stunned Ron Paul responds that a president stripping power from judges presents a "real problem" in the separation of powers between the executive branch and the judiciary. A cool and collected Mitt Romney, who didn't go on the attack against Gingrich, explains his perceived flip-flops on gay rights and abortion. He simply changed his mind about abortion to become "pro-life," and has "always" been opposed to discrimination concerning gays—except when it comes to marriage, which "is a relationship between a man and a woman," he says. Bachmann and Paul go for each other's jugular over Iran. Bachmann says "nothing could be more dangerous" than Paul's reluctance to intervene militarily to stop Iran from developing a nuclear weapon. "You cannot solve these problems with war," Paul responds, his voice rising. Rick Perry is grilled on his poor performance in debates. He promises he can do better, and boasts that he's the "Tim Tebow of the Iowa caucuses," referring to the Denver Broncos quarterback, whose faith is a big part of his game. He later thanks the other candidates for allowing him to participate at "such a high level." Bachmann savages Gingrich over "influence peddling" in defending Freddie Mac and Fannie Mae when "we know he cashed paychecks from Freddie Mac" as evidence that he was a lobbyist for the mortgage giant. That's "just not true," Gingrich snaps, saying he "never lobbied under any" circumstance. "People ought to have facts before they go out with allegations." The issue proves to be Gingrich's Achilles heel of the evening. Gingrich slams President Obama as a "Saul Alinsky radical" as the candidates explain how they would get Congress to work with the White House.