Monday Night Debates? I Miss Regular Season Football Already.
Funny how the debates get sharper and more clarifying as the stage gets smaller. I was reminded of that line from Fight Club: “A guy who came to Fight Club for the first time, his [tush] was a wad of cookie dough. After a few weeks, he was carved out of wood.”
Romney may have had one of his most troubled performances. His SuperPAC came up twice, and in the first exchange, he insisted for what felt like the millionth time that the SuperPAC is independent and that he has no control or influence over what advertising messages the PAC runs. Legally, that’s true, but that more or less avoids the obvious reason to set up a SuperPAC: you set up your own bad cop with nearly unlimited funds (at least if you’ve got some fans with deep pockets). You — or at least your former staffers and allies — can beat the heck out of everybody else, while you shrug your shoulders and lament the Byzantine rules that limit donations to actual campaigns but permit unlimited donations to SuperPACs.
On his second reference, when Gingrich again pointed out how brutally Romney’s SuperPACs had attacked him in the previous states, and asked Romney to tell his SuperPAC to stop it. Romney turned the tables and asked Gingrich whether it was, indeed, a felony for Romney to coordinate with his PAC. Gingrich responded affirmatively, and appeared to admit that he had just asked Romney to commit a felony.
As many observed, Gingrich had some stellar moments (slamming Juan Williams for not-too-subtly calling Gingrich’s rhetoric racially insensitive, ripping Ron Paul on how to deal with America’s enemies), Santorum pinned down Romney as clearly and uncomfortably as anyone has in this primary, in the unexpected topic of voting rights for convicted felons who have served their time; and Rick Perry had a few moments where he simply and succinctly summarized conservative Republicans’ views, to roaring applause from the audience.
(The audience sounded as if they did whiskey shots during commercial breaks. Newt would begin, “Frankly, I believe that fundamental reform requires–” and then you would hear, “WHOOOOO! FRANKLY! FUNDAMENTALLY! WHOOOO!”)
Of course, if you want to see Romney derailed, you didn’t need all three of the non-Mitt, non-Ron options thriving tonight. You would have preferred to see one excel and two stumble, to give one of them a big win in South Carolina, assuming the mantle of ‘Newtrick Peringrichum’ I’ve been writing about. The longer the Three Amigos of Newt, Perry, and Santorum stay in this race, the better the outlook is for Romney.
Of course, I hate to see candidates disappointing supporters in forty-eight or forty-seven states, by denying them the chance to cast a meaningful vote for them. Should two of the three drop out?
Chuck Todd: “Romney didn’t have great night; But because Gingrich, Santorum and even Perry (that order) shared some moments, Romney has to feel OK.”
Kurt Schilchter: “This was a good debate. Our nominee is going to be tested by fire when he faces BHO, who has been sheltered for 3 years.”
“I think this debate makes it a lot harder to choose between Santorum and Gingrich if you hate Romney,” concludes David Freddoso.
Robert George: “Strong debate for Newt. Perry/Santorum better than usual. Mitt rather weak until end. Ron Paul’s foreign policy didn’t work here.”
Guy Benson: “Newt’s = winner. Santorum pretty sharp, too. Romney had good 1st answer, slumped, then recovered in 2nd hour. Perry mixed, Paul incoherent.”
Susan Anne Hiller: “If Mitt cant even win a GOP debate this far into the campaign, how is he supposed to beat back the media and Obama?”
Larry Sabato thought the early Bain discussion went well for the frontrunner: “This subject is a gimme for Romney. 95%+ of Republicans back ‘free enterprise.’ That’s how Bain issue has HELPED him — within GOP.”
Alex Castellanos thought he saw a slip from the frontrunner when he was touting his economic plan and that he felt he had a more detailed plan than the president: “Romney: ‘I’m not even President.. yet.’ Small slip but dangerous. Can’t seem presumptuous or voters will let him know who’s in charge.”
“Mit’s arguments are so much more generic and modular than Newt and Santorum . . . he’s really going for broad, abstract GOP talking points,” Jeff Greenfield notes.