Here are my final thoughts on tonight’s Fox News South Carolina GOP Debate which took place in Myrtle Beach.
Rick Perry – He was full of piss and vinegar tonight. Perry scored early when he called upon Mitt Romney to release his tax return, defended his “vulture capitalism” comments against Romney reasonably well and connected strongly with the audience on illegal immigration, national defense, tax policy and getting the federal government out of the housing market. If Perry had this kind of debate three or four months ago we would be in a Romney-Perry race. Paradoxically, should Perry get a bump it would benefit Romney unless both Newt and Santorum’s support were to simultaneously collapse.
Rick Santorum – He started out strong against Romney on the Super PAC ads. However, when he criticized both Newt and Romney on their Social Security reforms he ended up helping Romney. His debate performance was otherwise solid but unspectacular.
Mitt Romney – Began the debate on the defensive over the Super PAC ads against Santorum and seemed less than sure footed about releasing his tax returns. At times, Romney came off sounding too much like a technocrat when discussing his private sector career and if he does that against Obama, he will be pummeled. However, he got stronger as the debate progressed as when he said that the military should be strengthened to the point where “no one would think of testing it.” He also benefited from Santorum and Newt’s discord over Social Security reforms even though Santorum also targeted him in his criticism. Romney agreed with Santorum on his criticism of Newt and simply ignored Santorum’s criticism of his own plan. He also got the better of Newt where it concerned Super PACs, although it will be interesting to see how John McCain reacts to his criticism of McCain-Feingold given how McCain has put himself out there on Romney’s behalf. Romney still hasn’t sealed the deal.
Newt Gingrich – Aside from the Super PAC ads on Bain Capital, Newt had a very strong debate drawing at least one standing ovation on Juan Williams question about President Obama being a “food stamp President.” He also connected with the audience where it concerned unemployment benefits, terrorism and No Child Left Behind. Now whether yet another strong debate performance can translate into votes remains to be seen. Despite consistently strong debate performances, Newt hasn’t been able to demonstrate that he has a strong ground organization.
Ron Paul – He simply lost the audience when he talked about how Osama bin Laden ought not have been killed and given a trial instead. I mean if Republicans are prepared to vote for someone who espouses those views, then the GOP might as well nominate Noam Chomsky. However, what he lacks in debate performance he makes up for in organization. It will be interesting to see if he gets more than 15% of the vote in a closed Republican primary.
The next GOP debate will take place in less than 72 hours from now in Charleston, South Carolina and will air on CNN at 8 p.m. EST.
UPDATE: A reader was kind enough to inform me that South Carolina has an open primary system. In which case, given Paul’s organizational strength, I suspect he’ll probably get more than 15% of the vote in the Palmetto state.