“If there’s anything in there that is going to help us lose the election, we should know it before the nomination,” Gingrich said. “And if there’s nothing in there — if there’s nothing in there, why not release it?”
And Paul said he had no intention of releasing his tax returns — “but for a different reason.”
“I’d probably be embarrassed to put my financial statement up against their income,” Paul said. “And I don’t want to be embarrassed because I don’t have a greater income.”
Gingrich, who has been surging, had to endure his fair share of the attacks not just from Santorum, but from Romney as well, who accused Gingrich of inflating his “rendition of history.”
“You talk about all the things you did with Ronald Reagan and the Reagan revolution, and the jobs created during the Reagan years and so forth,” Romney said. “I looked at the Reagan diary. You’re mentioned once in Ronald Reagan’s diary.”
Strong moment for Paul
At moments, the debate seemed to center on Romney, Gingrich and Santorum; at one point, when King called on Paul, he feigned relief and wiped his forehead.
But Paul seemed to have a particularly strong moment, noting that he has long opposed the Stop Online Piracy Act, a measure to end copyright infringement on the Internet.
“I am pleased that the attitude has sort of mellowed up here, because the Republicans, unfortunately, have been on the wrong side of this issue,” Paul said. “And this is a good example on why it’s good to have somebody that can look at civil liberties and work with coalitions and bring people together.”
The four candidates clashed over who has the temperament, character and know-how to lead the party into a general election, but it was Romney who came under the most intense fire over his record and policy prescriptions as his rivals tried to paint him as insufficiently conservative to be the GOP’s standard-bearer.
Santorum homed in on health care, arguing that Romney had signed a Massachusetts law too similar to Obama’s federal overhaul.
He singled out Gingrich, too, for wanting to require individuals to purchase health insurance — a key part of the Democratic plan — until only a few years ago.
“The problem is that two of the people up here would be very difficult to elect on, I think, the most important issue that this country is dealing with right now, which is the robbing of our freedom because of Obamacare,” Santorum said.
“I’ve been fighting for health reform, private sector, bottom up — the way America works best — for 20 years, while these two guys were playing footsie with the left,” he added.
Romney and Gingrich both retorted that Santorum’s attacks were unfair. Romney said the Massachusetts plan has worked well for the state and remains popular with citizens there. He said his experience with the program would give him a unique perch to explain the weaknesses with Obama’s federal system.
“I’ll return the power to the states, where the power for caring for the uninsured ought to reside constitutionally,” Romney said. “We’ll make it work in the way that’s designed to have health care act like a market, a consumer market, as opposed to have it run like Amtrak and the post office.”
And Gingrich said he could explain exactly why the individual mandate is flawed. “I can say, you know, I was wrong and I figured it out. You were wrong, and you didn’t,” he said of a potential debate with Obama.
As he has repeatedly in recent days, Gingrich suggested voters should question Romney’s leadership of Bain Capital, which made money off companies that later went bankrupt.
“I think there are specific cases . . . where Bain Capital’s model — which was to take over a company and dramatically leverage it, leave it with a great deal of debt — made it less likely to survive,” Gingrich said.
He said Romney “ought to explain” how that happened given that he is citing his tenure at Bain as private-sector experience that would help him as president.
Romney responded with a rousing defense of his Bain work as an example of free enterprise that Republicans should support.
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