CNN Debate In South Carolina: Newt Owned It From Outset

Making a Monkey of Media

Usually, these debates start slow and wind up to a crescendo.  That’s the way the media likes it, because they want to keep the audience tuned in.  There were really just a few key moments in Thursday night’s debate, and the biggest of these was the opening question to Newt Gingrich on the subject of his second wife’s accusations on ABC News.  His response knocked moderator John King for a loop, and rocked the auditorium, receiving not one, but two standing ovations in rapid succession.  The other candidates really had no choice after that but to follow suit and make statements that more or less followed the former Speaker.  He seized the initiative, and from that point on, it would be hard for anybody to wrest it from him without some fatal error on his part, but no such egregious error on Gingrich’s part ever materialized.

Here’s Gingrich answering that opening attack:

Another key moment in the debate was when Santorum pointed out the flaws of Romneycare, and the notion of a health-care mandate, and how that issue would be something used by Obama to negate Romney’s or Gingrich’s arguments about Obamacare in a general campaign.  Romney was ineffective at deflecting this criticism, but it was naturally strongest against him because he had actually implemented the program.  Gingrich, by contrast, did a much better job of countering Santorum’s criticism with respect to his own record, and pointed out that he helped shepherd Medical Savings Accounts legislation through the House that Santorum was sponsoring.  That had a blunting effect on Santorum’s criticism, but I also must note that Santorum came off a little angry or annoyed Thursday night.  I’m not sure of the cause, or if it was just a bit of the anxiety of “the man on the bubble,” because while he started with a strong positive statement about the fact he had indeed won Iowa, he lost that positive note somewhere along the way, and seemed to get stuck in a bit of a tantrum.

Watch Rick Santorum take Romney to task here:

The last big moment came when it was announced to the audience that Gingrich’s tax return had been released as this debate commenced.  This prompted the question that led Mitt Romney into a pitfall that really made him look poorly.  He was asked, as were the others, when they would release their tax returns, and Paul said he wouldn’t, Newt said “about an hour ago,” and Mitt hem-hawed, as Santorum said he would do so once he had been home to prepare his taxes, something he says he does on his own.  The question returned to Mitt Romney, however, when CNN’s John King asked him about the story I have reported to you, being that George Romney, Mitt’s father, released his tax returns in November 1967, twelve years worth, in preparation for his own run for the nomination.  King asked if Romney would follow his Dad’s example, and he continued to vacillate and in the process, was booed by a segment of the audience.   This moment was Romney’s downfall, and it should be clear that this remains a huge obstacle for him in this primary season. He’d be best to dispense with it quickly, before it does him more damage.  If we have a repeat of this in Florida, it may well cost him the nomination.

Here’s video of John King asking Mitt about his father’s precedent:

Ron Paul actually had a few good one-line retorts, particularly to Santorum, which may have accounted for Santorum being off his game a bit.  At the same time, it should be noticed that there was little mention of foreign policy in this debate, and it tended to focus on economic issues, and practical issues that effect voters directly, apart from the shoddy opening attack CNN engineered for Gingrich, but from which he seemed to have come off the better from the exchange.  There was one other odd moment, and I had to replay it several times to realize what had happened.  Romney was answering a question, but wanted to shift back to an earlier question, and had a momentary lapse in remembering what that other question had been.  He searched for it, and then looked almost pleadingly at Newt, who shrugged and made a joke, which bought Romney a moment, and then he finally remembered his place and went on to attack Newt in answering it. For a moment, and if not for Gingrich buying Romney a second or two, it threatened to be a Perry-style “ooops” moment, but Romney recovered and it probably won’t hurt him.

Mitt Romney’s almost “Ooops” moment:

All in all, it was a good debate, but the biggest fireworks were at the beginning.  That set the stage for Newt to merely confirm his superiority in this sort of arena, and all Newt needed to do thereafter was avoid any huge pitfalls and over-confidence.  He did so, and even though I think the opening question was set up to try to evoke the “angry Newt” we saw after Iowa, he maintained his composure and actually thrived in the moment.

South Carolina will be tight, but I think Newt may have clinched it with this debate performance, particularly that opening, because it permitted him to clear the air right at the beginning, to remain composed, and to return to form throughout the remainder of the evening. While it wasn’t the runaway victory he had on Monday night, I think it’s because he peaked early and effectively, and from there, the rest of it was fairly routine, boiler-plate content, and the rest of the participants really couldn’t catch him.  I think had Rick Santorum come across as a little less angry as he did at several points, he might have done substantially better.  It was clear that while he would take shots at Gingrich and Paul, it was obvious to me that he was angry with Romney, undoubtedly due to Romney’s negative ads in South Carolina.  Romney has a good deal of money to spend, and this is taking a toll on Santorum.  You can read it in his eyes: He’s tired, and he’s running on empty. He’s usually a little better composed, but he seemed anxious or annoyed or both, and this may have been magnified by what looked like plain old fatigue.  At present, he appears to be the man on the bubble, and he seems to know it.

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16 Responses to CNN Debate In South Carolina: Newt Owned It From Outset

  1. dnr says:

    Gingrich's response was exactly what so many Americans are thinking!! So sick of the media launching these ridiculous character attacks in order to protect Obama! Obama is not the pinnacle of character himself, but you would never know it from these hacks. It is all about tearing down others so that BO smells like a rose (pun intended).

    The look on John King's face was PRICELESS!!

  2. fred johnson says:

    Mark I too think Newt walked away with it with that opening comeback. Now the heat will relly be on him from the dems. NO way could Obumma debate him even with his promter. Thanks for the great write up–keep them comming

  3. Laurie says:

    Well, all I can say is,,,,yes yes yes. Great take on it Mark.

  4. gengm7 says:

    Mark, you have made a fine assessment of the Thursday debate, I was over joyed to watch John King squirm, It was delightful, an highlight, Another of Newt's fine ability to stand up like a man, The whole idea of bringing up something so petty like an ex-wife was simply disgraceful and I would not dignify watching such scum, typical liberal mentality. I did find myself irrated at Rich Santorum, it was unbecoming of the candidates to hang on Newt Gingrich, when they run out of things to say, lose their thought, or are unable to stand up to a professional like Newt, I am certain the Carolinian saw that for themselves, . Ron Paul, Well, is Ron Paul, It would be a less exciting day for me, If I had to consider a vote for Paul or Romney, I could express much excitement if Newt were the GOP nominee, being assured, we may have a chance for some type of recovery, anything else would be a let down, However, making that choice would be far better than Obama. Newt for President. Thanks for you input.

  5. mimsborne says:

    Watching Newt assail the Mainstream Media over their smear tactics was the highlight of this debate. If Newt puts clips of this into commercials, he'll win South Carolina. Let's all take a moment of silence to thank CNN and ABC for this unexpected development.

    • josiphine says:

      Well I see his opening statement very hypocritical. Not that I agree with having an affair or open marriage. but all tea party conservitive fox network zombies blasted Clinton when he got caught and the whole time Newt was having an affair himself, asking his wife to allow him to have an open marriage, I wonder what his next step would be? Maybe polygamy?

  6. jan says:

    I agree with supporting Newt. Everyone has a past, some worse than others. I have a gentlemen that I work with and he had the same personality as Newt years ago. He had an epiphany and he is the most valuable asset that I have. I don't think any of the other 3 can do better than Newt. I like all of them. I do feel that Santorum came off as he had a tantrum and tried to destroy Newt…he only made himself look bad. Paul, I like him, but his time is past and it is too late for him. But his son Rand, when he decides to run, I think, will do well. I don't have confidence in Romney. Maybe a good businessman but I feel he makes comprommised decisions and they just don't work in Politics. In politics you have to make a stand.

  7. mytorpor says:

    Santorum was still angry over Newt saying that Santorum and Perry should step down and clear the way for Newt to take Romney out. Santorum still doesn't understand that while he did well in Iowa, he just does not have the attack dog ability that Newt has…and it is going to take a strong attack dog to take down Obama. Romney doesn't have it either. We saw last night that Newt will walk into the fire and put it out with the force of his wit and intellect. Can you imagine poor Obama/Biden coming up against a Newt/Palin ticket! And Newt would not only let Sarah be Sarah, he would applaud her while she takes "the one" apart!

  8. Dick Morris and others are saying Rick Santorum WON the debate last night. What I saw was a whiny, petulant and selfish politician intentionally distorting facts against both Ron Paul (he overtly lied about Ron Paul's abortion record) and Newt Gingrich (Gingrich doesn't stand up to the GOP Establishment? Really?)

    in addition to lying that Newt was kicked out of Congress (Newt resigned to not distract party from Bogus ethics charges), Santorum's biggest whopper was saying he should be President because he has proven he can get elected from a blue state. Facts are Santorum lost his election in 2006 (which allowed Democrat control of Congress and eventually Obamacare) BY 18 POINTS!! So the people that knew him for 14 years not only didn't want him – they REALLY didn't want him.

    Never mind the fact Santorum has never managed more than 20 people in his life, and can't even inspire the majority of social conservatives to vote for him much less persuade Independent Americans to do so. The biggest problem in the debate was exhibited in his attack on Contract With America.

    Newt explained the political reality is that you have a limited amount of political capital to spend. Every one of the 10 points in CWA ALREADY had support by 70% or more of the American people. He eventually DID pass Partial Birth Abortion ban to Clinton (twice) – but not before the votes were ensured for economic reform.

    Santorum doesn't even understand political strategy! Santorum said last night he would push abortion, gay marriage and other SOCIAL issues out of the gate.

    What he will learn is what Obama and Dems did after ObamaCare as well as the GOP Congress in 2004. The rest of America will not stand for a view being PUSHED DOWN THEIR THROATS and will stop EVERYTHING.

    Rick Santorum could literally stop all the work we have fought for since the advent of the Tea Party.

    As I just tweeted – Rick Perry (who has far more capacity to run a national campaign) saw he was going to loose and did the selfless, patriotic thing in withdrawing and supporting the one person who could stop Mitt Romney. Rick Santorum? Not so much. It is certainly his right to stay in the race, but is showing that his desire to be President is greater than his concern for allowing the liberal GOP establishment to elect their nominee. Again.

    • MarkAmerica says:

      He also completely mischaracterized Ron Paul on abortion. Santorum looked like he was angry throughout. It really wasn't good. I don't know why anybody thinks this was a win for Santorum.

    • MarkAmerica says:

      BTW, Dick Morris is a Romney guy. It's understandable why he wants anybody but Newt to be seen as winner.