January 27, 2012

onceupon The final GOP debate before the Florida primary was as entertaining and combative as was expected, with lots of fireworks and sharp contrasts being painted by each candidate against the others. At the outset it looked like it was going to be a tiring tit-for-tat between Mitt Romney and Newt Gingrich, but that ended pretty quickly after Rick Santorum (displaying a far more combative and colorful persona than he has to date) brought everyone back to earth and refused to let moderator Wolf Blitzer play willing antagonist. While the debate was far better than Monday night’s snoozefest – primarily because the audience’s questions were excellent, putting old Wolf to shame – there’s just no point in expecting any debate hosted by the main TV networks or cable channels to be anything than “gotcha” questions asked for the purposes of a cheap sound bite.

Still, any good gundown has winners and losers, and there were some tonight. Given the theme of this post, let’s rate them with bullets:

1. Mitt Romney (4 bullets). Not because he had a better debate than all the others (that goes to Rick Santorum, for which I’ll explain below), but because Santorum did so well compared to Newt Gingrich. If the sense was that Newt hit his ceiling after winning the South Carolina, partly because of the Romney’s attacks at the Monday debate, partly because Newt once again drifted off message and back into dream-weaving, Romney’s performance was enough to keep that going. Last night showed a more forceful Romney while displaying the same annoying weaknesses that Republicans and conservatives tear their hair out over: he got caught not knowing one of his ads criticized Gingrich out of context, and he got absolutely pistol-whipped by Santorum on RomneyCare. Still, he had good answers on his private sector experience, and he showed a more human side to him on the (stupid) Blitzer question on how his wife would make a good First Lady. His answer on why he was the most qualified to beat Barack Obama was solid, if not totally convincing. Because Newt didn’t win, Romney wins on points.

2. Rick Santorum (3 bullets). Santorum was much more animated, more substantial, and thus better able to separate himself from Gingrich and Romney last night than he had been able to do previously. Most will think he came out ahead in terms of style and substance, but one can’t help feel that this is all too little, too late for him. Unless GOP voters suddenly (and overwhelmingly) decide that both Romney and Gingrich are so flawed as candidates they can’t trust or take a chance on either of them, I don’t see Santorum as a major player in the primaries going forward. Lacking the money and the organization, a good debate alone is just not going to propel him anywhere at this juncture.

3. Ron Paul (2 bullets). Same Ron Paul. If you love him, nothing he can do will change your mind. To me he looked more pale and tired than usual. Got in his usual effective one-liners and quips that endear him to his following, but he’s not going to win the nomination.

4. Newt Gingrich (1 bullet). Newt needed a big performance tonight and came up short. Started off going negative on Romney before turning on Wolf Blitzer with another blame-the-moderator response that seemed forced and awkward (ultimately leading to a Romney counterpunch that left Newt ducking for cover), then spent the rest of the debate again emphasizing his Washington experiences in the ’70s, ’80s, and ’90s. When Newt concentrates on substance and problem-solving, he’s the best up there, but lately this continous walk through the Reagan and Clinton administrations just makes him seem like a well-connected Washington insider living out past gun battles. I’ve counted out Newt before, so I’m hesitant to do it again, but his star seems to be fading, and fast.

So there you have it. Thankfully, there are no more debates for a month! My prediction is that Romney wins Florida by 7-8 points, which will send conservatives into a panic. In the unlikely event Newt arises again, it will only be because of a GOP repudiation of Mitt Romney and the thought of nominating yet another weak-kneed, spineless moderate as the nominee.

Make no mistake about it: the fear and trembling in conservative quarters is palpable and could turn into full-blown panic if Romney wins Florida. Santorum’s campaign is on fumes, and while Paul will continue to rack up enough delegates to make him a player at the August convention, no one seriously considers him a viable nominee. There’s a huge schism forming in the Republican Party – a lot of conservatives (count me among them) very worried about Romney in a head-to-head match against Barack Obama, and it’s not out of the question that someone like Indiana governor Mitch Daniels (who gave a boffo GOP response to Obama’s State Of The Union address the other night) could be prodded to enter late with the goal of gathering momentum into the convention and being a brokered choice everyone could get behind. I’d love to see that happen…

Filed in: Politics & World Events by The Great White Shank at 00:30 | Comments (4)
  1. I wasn’t as impressed as you were with Santorum last night. He seemed more desperate than angry (Mitt’s words) all night long. From throwing this “fact” or that “fact” out in any hope to make something stick, his ” Over here – look at me!” demeanor kinda turned me off.

    Mitt finally got in an answer on Romneycare that I liked. When he told everyone what the vote was for passage he finally exposed a talking point (that he didn’t follow-up on, however) that I believe he should use in addition to his others. When you are in the bluest of blue states and you have a plan that passes 220-2 (or whatever crazy number it was), you have a guaranteed veto override in place. All he could do (and did) was make it better than originally proposed by limiting what it would do, an he’s articulated those points before.

    And frankly, if Beaver Cleaver (Rick Santorum) has medical savings accounts as his only contribution to health care reform in his resume, that isn’t going to help him in an electorate that cannot afford to redirect any dollars away from keeping their heads above water in this economy.

    Finally, Mitt was all over Gingrich like white on rice all night long. He had answers for all of Newt’s charges since South Carolina, was no longer apologetic (or silent) on being wealthy, and really zinged the Pillsbury Doughboy when he got Newt to once again bring up Mitt’s blind investments in Fannie and Freddie (through mutual funds, not direct investment). That “Have you looked at you OWN investments? line had Gingrich looking like “Oh crap, what does he have on me now?” look. And Newt didn’t have a good answer, which was largely drowned out by crowd noise anyway. Newt’s good at slash and burn debate techniques, but Mitt showed the benefits of a deft touch using the “death by a thousand cuts” strategy.

    Comment by Dave Richard — January 27, 2012 @ 8:57 am

  2. Thanks, bro. Next debate I’m going to have you submit a guest review. 🙂

    Comment by The Great White Shank — January 27, 2012 @ 2:21 pm

  3. Doug:

    I watched that debate and wow was it entertaining. I agree with your summary.
    1. Newt & Mitt were going at it again.
    2. Rick Santorum is sticking to the issues
    and seems like the only candidate you
    could take seriously.
    3. Ron Paul had a good response to the space
    program. He thought it would be a good idea
    to send some politicians to the moon.


    Comment by Ron "Cubby" Myerow — January 27, 2012 @ 5:57 pm

  4. That was a good line, Cub. It got me laughing!

    Comment by The Great Whire Shank — January 27, 2012 @ 11:10 pm

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