Some notes from Thursday night’s GOP debate:
How generous: Mitt Romney allows that “there are Democrats who love America.”
Like me, Newt Gingrich is still obsessed with the 1990s: He says Bill Clinton when he means Jimmy Carter, and then he takes credit for balanced budgets in the ’90’s, leaving out the fact that he also impeached the man who was president at the time.
More like John Skelton: Rick Perry says that he wants “to be the Tim Tebow of the Iowa caucuses.”
Context matters: Jon Huntsman brags, “I ran for reelection. I got almost 80 percent of the vote.” Yes. In Utah.
Dangerous ground in the GOP primary: Answering a question about his work for Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, Gingrich insists, “There are a lot of government-sponsored enterprises that are awfully important and do an awfully good job.”
Key exchange of the night: The conservative also-rans pounce on Gingrich. Ron Paul attacks the notion that government should intervene in business anywhere, anytime. Michele Bachmann accuses Gingrich of influence peddling. Moderator Neil Cavuto tries to change the subject, but Perry pulls it back to Gingrich’s work for Fannie and Freddie, arguing that the problem with Washington is “the idea that you can’t tell the difference between lobbying and consulting.” In the last GOP debate, the not-Romneys attacked both Gingrich and Romney. Now, with Gingrich dominating the race, they tear down the former speaker.
Then, it’s Paul’s turn: Like Gingrich, the other candidates and the moderators barely touched Ron Paul in previous debates. But now he’s rising in some polls as yet another claimant to the anti-Romney vote. So the other not-Romneys also go after him. About his opposition to sanctions on Iran, Bachmann says, “I don’t think I’ve heard a more dangerous answer for the security of America than the one I just heard from Ron Paul.”
The bottom line: Romney won, Gingrich lost, and Paul got stung. Amazingly, there was barely any mention of health care, and neither the moderators nor the other candidates really touched Romney until a full hour and forty minutes into the broadcast, preferring instead to attack those who seem to be the dominant anti-Romneys of the moment. Romney played up his above-the-fray presidential manner, sticking to attacks on President Obama. Gingrich couldn’t dismiss fair questions about his past with the ease of previous debates. He’s losing the lustre of his precipitous rise.
Then again, Romney has turned in many debate performances much like this one, and he hasn’t yet broken through his ceiling in the polls, despite the weaknesses of his opponents.