It was Baier who asked the question at last Thursday's Republican presidential debate that yielded the notorious unanimous response about taxes.
The debate, held in an auditorium on the campus of Iowa State University, in Ames, was cosponsored by a D.C. newspaper, the Washington Examiner, and the leading adviser to the Republican Party, Fox "News." The candidates participating were two current U.S. representatives, three former governors, a former speaker of the house, a former senator, and a businessman.
Baier began by asking the participants "to put aside the polished lines that get applause on the campaign trail" and instead "to speak from the heart about how you would navigate this country."
And so they did.
Mitt Romney, former Massachusetts governor: "Look, I'm not going to eat Barack Obama's dog food, all right?"
Michele Bachman, Minnesota congresswoman : "When it came to cap and trade, I fought it with everything that was in me, including I introduced the Lightbulb Freedom of Choice Act so people could all purchase the lightbulb of their choice."
Newt Gingrich, former speaker: "We should have English as the official language of government."
Jon Huntsman, former Utah governor: "We need serious regulatory reform, not just repealing Obamacare, but ending the EPA's regulatory reign of terror."
Tim Pawlenty, former Minnesota governor: "National Review I think is a respected publication from a conservative and Republican perspective, and they did an online article that said... that I'm perhaps the most pro-life candidate in this race."
Pawlenty has since withdrawn from the race, leaving the other contestants to fight for the pro-lifest title.
About two-thirds of the way into the debate, Baier popped the question about taxes.
"Say you had a deal, a real spending cuts deal, ten to one...spending cuts to tax increases," Baier said. "Who on this stage would walk away from that deal? Can you raise your hand if you feel so strongly about not raising taxes, you'd walk away on the ten to one deal?
All eight participants dutifully raised their hands. Not one had the courage to say, "C'mon—ten to one? Of course I'd take that. I'd be a fool not to." That would have been thinking outside the Fox.
The audience cheered.
"OK," Baier said. "Just making sure everyone at home and everyone here knows that they all raised their hands. They're all saying that they feel so strongly about not raising taxes that a ten to one deal, they would walk away from. Confirming that."
This was like saying, "For the record: all eight candidates have confirmed they're buffoons." Though Baier of course didn't mean it that way. What he meant was, "The candidates have been cornered into a loyalty oath, and I'm the hero who cornered them."
In his closing statement, Gingrich said, "I think in many ways this was a very important next step in the national conversation."
It was indeed, if the nation's key problems are its official language, restricted lightbulb choice, and the EPA's reign of terror.
Many Republican commentators had no problem at all with the response of the eight candidates to the ten-to-one tax question. But consider Peter Wehner's appraisal. Wehner is a tried and true Republican—he worked in the administrations of Ronald Reagan and both George Bushes. Now he blogs for Commentary magazine, and he misses few chances to slam Obama. Wehner wrote last Friday that the candidates' responses to the ten-to-one question may have been political posturing. But he added:
"What if what we saw on the stage last night revealed their authentic bottom line? What if there is no spending-cuts-to-tax-increases ratio that any of the GOP nominees would accept? If that were the case—and perhaps it is now the case—it would be a serious indictment against the modern-day GOP mindset."
Wehner went on, "There is something amiss when the political pressure in a party, any party, is so intense that it prevents a serious intellectual conversation from even taking place. Lower taxes are a very good idea, but it is not a talisman. And if we have reached a point where Republicans running for President cannot envision (or at least admit to) any scenario in which they would raise taxes...then it’s time to consider loosening the philosophical straightjacket they are in. It’s not healthy for the GOP, or the nation, or even conservatism."
But the candidates are on record now, thanks to Baier, and if any of them veers into a serious intellectual conversation, Fox can slap them back in line with their Iowa pledge.