Here are my final thoughts on tonight’s GOP Debate in Mesa, Arizona which aired on CNN and was moderated by John King.
Newt Gingrich – Now that Newt has again receded in the polls and he is not expected to win the nomination, he seemed relaxed and gave a good performance. When King asked a question about birth control, Newt drew applause when he said he had wished the mainstream media had asked a single question of President Obama about his support of infanticide.
Given Santorum’s bad night (more on that in a moment), this could help Newt especially on Super Tuesday. On the other hand, twice Newt has risen to the top of the polls and has been unable to withstand Romney’s scrutiny. Are Republican voters prepared to give Newt a third look?
Mitt Romney – Mitt did what he needed to do tonight. He gave a good argument concerning the auto bailout, spoke eloquently about the threat from Iran and, above all else, raised doubts about Rick Santorum.
But Romney shouldn’t smile too much. He still hasn’t closed the deal and Republican voters can very easily find a reason not to vote for him. When King asked all the candidates what the greatest misconception about them was, Romney didn’t answer the question and when King pointed this out, Romney told him he would answer his questions how he wanted. Now Romney has done this before. But this time he did it in such a curt way that the debate audience loudly jeered him. Despite the doubts he’s raised about Santorum, Republican voters still haven’t embraced him.
Rick Santorum – It was his worst debate and it couldn’t have happened at the worst possible time. I’m not sure who was handling his debate preparation but he should fire whoever came up with the idea that he should remind people he voted for No Child Left Behind not once but twice. It’s one thing to admit making a mistake but to explain your votes by saying “politics is a team sport” makes you look like the ultimate Washington insider.
Romney landed his first punch when he said Santorum wasn’t a fiscal conservative and kept landing on Santorum’s jaw especially when he got around to Arlen Specter. It’s not that Santorum didn’t try to fight back. But instead of crisp counterpunches he was reduced to longwinded lunges that didn’t land. It might be enough to cost him Michigan next Tuesday. That is unless Romney says he doesn’t care about the poor.
Ron Paul – When Santorum said politics was a team sport, Paul had a good counter when he argued that public office should be about oath rather than to party.
Paul may think he can be elected President but as long as he maintains his Tehran Ron posture he won’t win. Whatever reservations the American public might have about going to war with Iran, the American public will not back someone who is an apologist for the Iranian regime. But at this point for the Paul campaign it’s about accumulating delegates and influencing the Republican platform rather than actually winning.
There may or may not be another a GOP debate. But if there is it will take place on March 19th in Portland, Oregon and will air on PBS.