Texas Gov. Rick Perry had to return to his state in the midst of the wildfire emergency. His spokesman, Ray Sullivan, told me, “We cancelled the remainder of today’s South Carolina schedule and tomorrow’s planned California schedule. No change to Wednesday schedule. [He is] still going to debate.” While some might think he escaped a tough grilling, he (for understandable reasons) also left the Tea Party turf to Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-Minn.), who turned in one of her better performances.

She focused on her favorite theme — constitutional conservatism, which she defines as strict adherence to the text of the Constitution and limitation on the federal government. She was able to give specifics of unconstitutional conduct that she would address:ObamaCare, appointed czars, failure to defend the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), failure to enforce deportation laws, and ending the Department of Education. On her economic views she said simply, “Profit is good!” Then she made a pitch for allowing repatriation of foreign earnings without any tax consequence, reduction of the corporate tax rate to 20 percent (and lower over time) and a moratorium on implementation of ObamaCare.

She was tossed a softball on right-to-work legislation (she approves) and hit the Obama administration on the Boeing case which would prevent a plant from opening in South Carolina. A solid double.

Her home run came when she was asked if America is still the shining city on the hill. She noted its biblical origin (the book of Matthew), the sermon in which it was famously used (John Winthrop) and even the year (1630). No history errors there.

Unfortunately she was asked only briefly about foreign policy. But her answer would surely disappoint the Ron Paul-ites when she said , “American has been the greatest force for good in 5,000 years of recorded history.” She didn’t have the opportunity to expound, but she’s firmly in the Reagan-esque school of foreign policy.

Toward the end things went a bit haywire. Professor Robert George tried out his own pet theory, that under Article 5 of the 14th Amendment Congress can act to reverse Roe v. Wade. This is far-fetched stuff and an example of the sort of flexible constitutional reasoning that Bachmann deplored. She however readily agreed that she’d be up for that.

Even worse, she argued that the Constitution prohibits a state individual mandate for purchasing health insurance, claiming this is “implicit” in the Constitution. Umm. No. There’s really nothing in there about that, and she should have stayed on track with her respect for strict constitutional interpretation.

That said, she gave a solid, fluent and otherwise impressive performance. Perhaps Perry was fortunate not to have had to compete with her head-to-head.